While the cartels pay fewer taxes then their fellow Fortune 100 companies, their security overhead is more expensive. They cross the border for those purposes, too, where we welcome them with (open) arms. In Mexico, civilians need approval from the military to purchase firearms and cannot own high-powered pistols or large-caliber rifles. In the US, however, gun dealers can sell multiple military-style rifles to citizens without even reporting the sales.
The cartels hire people without criminal records to buy a handful of weapons at a time, from licensed dealers – there are 6,600 along the border alone – or private individuals at gun shows, and then drive them across the border. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms, and Explosives estimates that 90 percent of the traced firearms recovered in Mexico originated in the US.
Flush with American money and guns, the cartels have wreaked havoc in Mexico, especially in the northern states along the 2,000-mile border. Since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderón declared war on the cartels and deployed more than 45,000 troops, at least 23,000 people have been killed in drug-related battles.
The cartels’ violence features, among other tactics, beheading police officers, branding victims, shooting up newspaper offices after they post articles on corruption, intimidating voters, and assassinating leading law enforcement officials, elected leaders, journalists, and political candidates. The fear is so great that in some towns political parties cannot find anyone to run for mayor.
The parade of horribles is long. The list of Mexican officials either charged with drug conspiracy or placed in the cartels’ crosshairs indicates the level of internal corruption and terror the cartels can generate.