Since 2006, nearly 40,000 people have been killed in Mexico’s drug war. Gruesome violence along the border has escalated, and Mexico’s citizens live in fear from the country’s all-powerful drug cartels. Under the 2007 Merida Initiative with Mexico, the U.S. agreed to contribute $1.5 billion in military and criminal-justice support. But experts and lawmakers agree that new strategies are needed against the cartels. We discuss U.S.–Mexico relations and new ideas for fighting the drug war.


  • Armand Peschard-Sverdrup Senior Associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies; CEO of Peschard-Sverdrup & Associates
  • Ioan Grillo Writer for Time Magazine; Author of "El Narco: Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency"
  • Eric Olson Senior Associate at the Mexico Institute, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars


  • 13:22:49

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe headlines from Mexico's drug war took a particularly gruesome turn this summer. There were reports of beheadings, mass killings. And last week, 35 bodies were dumped in broad daylight in a tourist town. Since Mexico President Felipe Calderon took office in 2006, nearly 40,000 people have died in drug-related violence in Mexico. Drug cartels use al-Qaeda-like tactics to intimidate the public. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton even comparing the cartels to an insurgency.

  • 13:23:19

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe violence has provoked a blame game over who's responsible. As the largest consumer of drugs flowing from Mexico, the U.S. has poured $1.4 billion into an initiative to provide equipment and support to law enforcement on both sides of the border. But atrocities like last week's raises the question, is it working? Experts say we need new strategies for the fight. So, where do we put our money and manpower in this bloody battle against organized crime?

  • 13:23:51

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd how is this unconventional war affecting relations with one of our biggest trading partners? Joining us in studio to discuss is Eric Olson, senior associate of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Eric Olson, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:24:08

    MR. ERIC OLSONThank you. Glad to be here.

  • 13:24:10

    NNAMDIAlso with us is Armand Peschard-Sverdrup, senior associate at the Center for a Strategic and International Studies and CEO of Peschard-Sverdrup and Associates. Armand, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 13:24:23

    MR. ARMAND PESCHARD-SVERDRUPThank you very much.

  • 13:24:25

    NNAMDIJoining us by phone from Bogota, Colombia is Ioan Grillo, writer for Time magazine based in Mexico City. He's also author of the upcoming book, "El Narco: Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency." Ioan Grillo, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:24:43

    MR. IOAN GRILLOHey, how you doing?

  • 13:24:44

    NNAMDIIoan, I'll start with you. Let's start by first discussing exactly who the U.S. and Mexico are fighting in this drug war. You've been covering drug cartels for a decade from Latin America. Can you tell us who makes up this criminal groups and how widespread they are?

  • 13:25:02

    GRILLOThat's a very good question. The drug cartel itself have transformed radically in the last 10 years. So a lot of times I think the DEA and Washington, it makes the city feel very confused about the kind of enemy they're confronting. Well, 10 years ago, you used to get these criminals who are basically drug smugglers taking the longest history of smuggling drugs for years, often some peasant background.

  • 13:25:33

    GRILLOBut that transforms these groups, which are like paramilitary forces with big escorts. And they're recruiting people from all across the Mexican society from the slums and the cast-offs, but also many ex-policemen and many former members of Mexico's military forces. So we really have quite a serious organized paramilitary force now confronting the Mexican military forces and the U.S. agents.

  • 13:26:01

    NNAMDIYou say many, but give us an understanding in numbers of the scope of the activities of these groups, which you say are really a kind of movement.

  • 13:26:11

    GRILLOThat's correct. I mean, we're talking about hundreds of thousands of people involved in cartels in one way or another. Now, although we have tens of thousands of people who are actually men-at-arms, I mean, and some of the numbers (unintelligible) between 40,000 drug-related killings in the last five years. And also another 80,000 or so members arrested and we still have thousands of new guys out there every day, (unintelligible) like the one we saw last week, where they stop the traffic during rush hour and then threw 35 bodies onto a main street. I mean, acting with complete brazenness.

  • 13:26:53

    GRILLOSo we see a huge scope and especially if you go into these neighborhoods, like the east side of Cuidad Juarez, you walk into these places, the cartels have an enormous presence. They're the main organization who's coming and offering jobs to the young people. They don't seem interested in the factories these days, they feel very outside the system, where the cartels are there offering them pay. And these kids in these neighborhoods will often carry out murders for as little as a hundred, very shocking degradation of society in these places.

  • 13:27:27

    NNAMDIArmand Peschard, you're not only a senior associate of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, you're also a consultant for many clients who do business in Mexico. How do you advise them about the security situation there?

  • 13:27:40

    PESCHARD-SVERDRUPWell, I think it's important to put it into context. I mean, if you look at the headlines, you would think that there's chaos in all of the streets throughout Mexico. And the reality is that there isn't. These organizations are businesses. They're either in the cultivation or in the trafficking business. So if you were to do a mapping of the violence in Mexico, the violence tends to center on the cultivation areas, which for the most part tend to be on a mountain range that crosses all of Mexico on the western side called the Sierra Madre mountain range.

  • 13:28:17

    PESCHARD-SVERDRUPOr if you look at the logistical aspect of the business, the violence tends to center around certain maritime ports and key routes that are used to traffic these drugs throughout Mexico into the U.S. market, which is obviously the final destination for all of these illicit products.

  • 13:28:40

    NNAMDIEric Olson, to many Americans, the heinous crimes we've seen recently in Mexico are reminiscent of what some terrorist groups like al-Qaida do in the Middle East. How do we -- how should we characterize the drug war right now? Is this an insurgency as Hillary Clinton has suggested?

  • 13:28:57

    OLSONNo. I don't think so. I'm completely empathetic to the notion that they sow terror in Mexico. They dumped 35 bodies last week, as we've said. And that does terrorize the population. But, you know, al-Qaida, you know, maybe not now, but five, ten years ago was a well-organized military and religious structure with a clear identity and a clear strategy to overthrow the United States or Western civilization, whatever.

  • 13:29:29

    OLSONI don't think you can make that case for what's going on in Mexico. I differ. They're not well-organized in a military sense. They don't operate with an ideology. They don't operate with the goal of overthrowing a government or they don't have a religion in common that's driving them. They're different. And they're businessmen as Armand has said. They're violent, vicious. I don't mean to make light of it in any way. But their alliances change, sometimes weekly, sometimes monthly.

  • 13:30:08

    OLSONIf you knock them down in one place, they emerge somewhere else in a different form. There isn't the kind of military structure that one imagines when you think about al-Qaeda or other criminal -- other insurgencies, you know, like the Tamil Tigers. There's not that kind of military discipline. There are exceptions, of course. Some of the groups do have it. But there's a great diversity in how they're organized and how they operate.

  • 13:30:37

    NNAMDII'd like to invite our audience to join the conversation at 800-433-8850. Do you think going after the most violent cartels and the most hardened drug users here in the United States is a good strategy for fighting the drug war? 800-433-8850. Should we be sending more money arms and manpower to help Mexico fight the drug war? You can also go to our website,, send us a tweet @kojoshow or e-mail to We have even seen the term failed state applied to Mexico. Should we go that far, Ioan?

  • 13:31:13

    GRILLOI don't think the term failed state is actually that useful in understanding the situation in Mexico. One reason is if you actually look at some of the organizations when trying to evaluate failed states, you see Mexico -- Somalia is often considered kind of the most failed state in the world. And Mexico's quite high up on the scale even ahead of places like China and Cuba. And the reason is, is that those places like China and Cuba ultimately have much stronger governments.

  • 13:31:44

    GRILLOMexico still has a pretty high standard of living for much of the population. Not quite the large middle class. And a lot of basic facilities like electricity and water, at least with most of the population, you have to remember Mexico has a $1 trillion economy, with 12 billionaires. So it's quite an advanced country. So, I actually prefer to look at the concept of a state, which is being captured or part of a state being captured by criminal organizations.

  • 13:32:14

    GRILLOThis is a concept that's used in eastern Europe, you know, Russia, (unintelligible) that captured parts of the state there. I think that's better to sort of makes sense of the mayhem and bloodshed and what these organizations are right now in Mexico.

  • 13:32:27

    NNAMDIArmand, care to contribute?

  • 13:32:29

    PESCHARD-SVERDRUPWell, I think, you know, for Americans to understand the concept, I kind of view them more as an interest group. Here in the United States you have interest groups that try to influence the political process. Mexico and organized crime is no different. I look at them as interest groups that try to infiltrate or influence the political system. In Mexico, these organizations have infiltrated the government.

  • 13:32:53

    PESCHARD-SVERDRUPIt has been evolving over time. Initially, they would infiltrate by making sure that the people in charge of security were from their respective organizations with the objective being to try and prevent government from undertaking any type of operation that would impact their business interests. That has been transforming over the last few years with these organizations not only putting people in security aspect or the security posts in various state, local and federal governments.

  • 13:33:26

    PESCHARD-SVERDRUPBut also put people in positions where business can be had, whether it's in the finance offices or in the procurement offices. So, these are business organizations that are in it to make money, whether it's illicit or not. And you have to keep that in mind.

  • 13:33:45

    NNAMDIHow do you deal with that aspect of it, Eric Olson? The fact is that on the one hand, you're dealing with heavily armed individuals who are involved in what we consider to be an illegal business of trafficking. On the other hand, as Armand has pointed out, they are making their way, bribing or however they are doing it into positions in local and federal office.

  • 13:34:05

    OLSONWell, you're right, it's an incredibly complex problem. And I start with the assumption there is no quick fix, no magic bullet, no easy way to deal with this. I think what we try to separate out is what we can do or what could be done in an immediate way in confronting the organized crime people in an intelligent way, you know, from law enforcement. But the bigger problem of corruption, penetration of the state, you know, there is not an easy way to do that unless you really emphasize things like transparency in government, greater accountability, better justice system, better prosecutors, better courts.

  • 13:34:49

    OLSONAnd I think those are long-term struggles. I think Mexico and President Calderon have been committed to that, are making some progress. But there's no question they have a long, long ways to go. And that's a long-term struggle.

  • 13:35:03

    NNAMDIThe Merida Imitative.

  • 13:35:04


  • 13:35:05

    NNAMDIIt was signed by President George W. Bush and Felipe Calderon in October 2007. It was created to improve regional security through counter-narcotics aid programs in Mexico. How effective would you say it's been?

  • 13:35:18

    OLSONWell, you know, I think sometimes everybody pins everything that's wrong at Mexico on the failure of the Merida Initiative. It was a relatively small package, $1.4 billion over three years. The truth of the matter is it hasn't been terribly successful because for a variety of reasons. One, the U.S. has not been able to distribute the money. Congress has approved the money, but really at about 50 percent of the money being distributed, which is a pretty bad track record.

  • 13:35:47

    OLSONSecondly, it's focused a lot on heavy equipment initially -- helicopters, Blackhawks. And, you know, those things are useful, but they're not going to deal with some of these underlying issues like justice reform, police reform, those things are slower. We're moving in that direction. But I think, at the end of the day, it's kind of too small of a package and not headed in the right direction yet.

  • 13:36:15

    NNAMDIIndeed, Armand, early this month, speaking of helicopters, the U.S. delivered three Blackhawk helicopters to Mexico bringing the total to 11 helicopters delivered. U.S. embassy websites touted the delivery along with more than $612 million in other security initiatives. Are these investments bearing fruit?

  • 13:36:34

    PESCHARD-SVERDRUPOkay. Let me just clarify something that Eric said. We're not actually giving the Mexican government money. One of the reasons why the process has been slow is because the U.S. government has been handling the procurement and of the 1.4 billion. And so, part of the issue is that the procurement process handled out of Mexico City at the U.S. embassy at Mexico City has been very slow because the Narcotics Affairs section, which his the office within the embassy that handles the procurement of the 1.4 billion originally had a handful of people.

  • 13:37:08

    PESCHARD-SVERDRUPAnd it was basically over capacity in terms of trying to procure 1.4 billion worth of equipment and training. So, it's important to kind of make that distinction. The helicopters have been going to the federal police. Some were given to the military. Some airplanes were given to the navy. The Merida Initiative at the outset did give money to the military and to the navy. But really if you look at -- if you study the Merida Initiative, most of the money has been going towards strengthening law enforcement and customs.

  • 13:37:39

    PESCHARD-SVERDRUPSo I think the U.S. government has done a good job in trying to identify the areas where it could strengthen those institutions, 1.4 really is a small drop in the bucket when you look at how much the U.S. government gives other countries, for example, Egypt.

  • 13:37:59


  • 13:38:00

    OLSONJust one thing, and I agree with what Armand said. You know, probably the -- more than the money and the equipment, the most positive thing about the Merida Initiative is it tried to put this problem in a bi-national context where both countries agreeing on a common strategy. Up until then, really, there had been a lot of finger-pointing across the Rio Grande, Mexico blaming the U.S. for not doing enough about consumption and arms.

  • 13:38:28

    OLSONAnd the U.S. blaming Mexico for not doing more to stop the trafficking. That's the old framework. And I think beyond the amount of money, what was an advantage or a positive step when it came to the Merida Initiative is President Bush and President Calderon sat down and agreeing on a plan of mutual support and mutual responsibility.

  • 13:38:48

    NNAMDIIoan, authorities on both sides of the border have touted the capture of nearly 30 leaders of transnational crime organizations, yet somehow the violence continues. What kind of measure of success is it when these bad actors are caught? Because there are those who will say there are other people just lining up to replace them.

  • 13:39:09

    GRILLOWell, see, that's really touching the central issue of this whole thing. The problem that's set upon this is that war on drugs simply doesn't work. And this has really been showing in Mexico. Every time they get a major kingpin like they got the Arturo Beltran Leyva, known as (unintelligible) the biggest trafficking kingpins of the Western Hemisphere, they brought him down in December 2009, the ring shocking death.

  • 13:39:39

    GRILLOA great achievement for the Calderon administration. And what happened after that? Violence exploded in his territory. Because every time you take down a kingpin, he'd left tenants fight among themselves to try and control the game, and his rivals are moving to that territory. Now, in Mexico right now, we've got seven major cartels. It's not like Colombia back in the 1990s when you had two major cartels and they brought down Pablo Escobar and it had a real big impact.

  • 13:40:09

    GRILLONow every time you bring down one leader, it starts strengthening the other six cartels. So all the time, you're seeing a real vicious cycle of violence and an escalation of violence. As long as -- now Calderon himself -- and when we say -- we talk about the fact we've now got the, you know, the United States and Mexico going in the same direction, I don't think we really have. I think we're seeing a lot of confusion in both countries about how to deal with this. Most recently you see Calderon himself after five years of fighting this conflict saying in a recent comment, look, if the United States can't stop its consumers buying drugs, they have to look for alternative markets to drugs. So he's saying that this drug war cannot be won militarily.

  • 13:40:57

    NNAMDIHere is Lynn in Chantilly, Va. Lynn, you're on the air. Go ahead, please. Hi, Lynn, are you there? Lynn doesn't...

  • 13:41:06

    GRILLOI'm sorry?

  • 13:41:08

    NNAMDINo. I was calling Lynn in Chantilly, Va. No. That was not for you. We're gonna take a short break, see if we can track Lynn down. And when we come back, we will continue our conversation on U.S.-Mexico relations and the drug war, but I think Lynn had a question about the demand side of it here in the United States. And we'll go to that issue when we come back. You can still call us at 800-433-8850. Should we be sending more money, arms, and manpower to help Mexico fight the drug war? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:43:22

    NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking about U.S.-Mexico relations and the drug war with Eric Olson, senior associate at the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Armand Peschard-Sverdrup is senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and CEO of Peshcard-Sverdrup & Associates, and Ioan Grillo is a writer for Time magazine, based in Mexico City. He's also author of the upcoming book "El Narco: Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency."

  • 13:43:51

    NNAMDIWe're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. I think Steven in Long Beach, California has the question that a lot of people have on the demand side anyway. Steven, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:44:06

    STEVENYes. I'm a retired deputy chief from the Los Angeles Police Department. I was in command of our narcotic enforcement effort when Nixon first declared the war on drugs. I have seen this war on drugs and our policy in this county, as a result of my experience, to be a complete and total failure. For that reason I've become a member of law enforcement against prohibition, and a corps of speakers involved -- involved speakers from the ranks of the judiciary and prosecutors and police, and to discuss giving more money to Mexico is only to continue a serious problem with our drug policy.

  • 13:44:58

    STEVENAs you know, we originally trained the core elements of what is today Los Zetas, the most dangerous, murderous group of organized criminals in Mexico. Two years ago we saw that the cartels were in 250 American cities. Today they're in 1000 American cities. When Nixon announced the war on drugs, in Los Angeles there was two little gangs that we were getting a handle on called the Crips and the Bloods, maybe a member of 100 to 150. Today, there are 20,000 gangs with a membership of one million in the United States.

  • 13:45:45

    NNAMDIWhat do you think needs to be done in the final analysis, Steven?

  • 13:45:46

    STEVENAnd it's all fueled by drug money.

  • 13:45:49

    NNAMDIBecause we're running out of time. Are you advocating simply legalizing drugs in general, or legalizing marijuana in particular?

  • 13:45:57

    STEVENI'm advocating regulating drugs in a non-criminal fashion so that we turn drugs into a commodity.

  • 13:46:09

    NNAMDIEnding prohibition.

  • 13:46:09

    STEVENMarijuana is a good start because there's a lot of discussion on how that should be done. But we should legalize all drugs in a way that they can be regulated without creating the opportunity for drug money and...

  • 13:46:23

    NNAMDII'll go -- I will go around the table on that, Steven, both in terms of political reality, which we know is -- would make that very difficult at this time, but even more importantly in terms of the impact it would be likely to have on a drug war in a place like Mexico, starting with you Ioan Grillo.

  • 13:46:42

    GRILLOYes. I mean, I think this question so be linked to the Mexican drug war and the discussions that they have in the United States about legalizing marijuana, and other drugs should certainly be linked to the Mexican drug war. Now, we know for a fact that in same case of marijuana, we don't know the exact of money the Mexican drug cartels make selling marijuana to Americans because it's obviously clandestine industry.

  • 13:47:08

    GRILLOWe can only try and estimate a guess. But we do know it's in the billions of dollars, so we do know that if marijuana was legalized in the United States, it would take away billions of dollars from Mexican cartels, and that is money is used to buy guns, to pay assassins, to corrupt politicians, and to really destabilize the country, so it certainly would have a major effect. And it often seems a strange situation when you have the military busting 115 tons of marijuana in Tijuana where just over the border in California they're selling the marijuana legally in medical dispensaries.

  • 13:47:49

    NNAMDIWell, allow me to introduce some figures. There was a piece in Foreign Affairs by UCLA professor, Mark Kleiman, and he says that 80 percent of the drug revenue in Mexico comes from hard drugs like meth, heroin, and cocaine, that excludes marijuana, and a small minority of people in the U.S. account for 80 percent of hard drug or non-cannabis consumption. So Eric Olson, what does this say to you?

  • 13:48:11

    OLSONYeah. Well, I'm very familiar with Kleiman's work, and I think it's right on. Because I think what we need to have an intelligent discussion on here is to separate marijuana, which -- or cannabis which, for one, the U.S. is becoming increasingly self-sufficient in terms of marijuana, right? Its own production. So the impact on organized crime in Mexico of legalizing marijuana is not insignificant, but it's not a death blow to them either.

  • 13:48:42

    OLSONBut more importantly is the question of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine, and I think those questions are important. Legalizers, or those who want to say that legalization is the solution, have to answer the question, what will happen to consumption if price declines dramatically. If you legalize it, the price of shipping cocaine from Bogota to New York City will go down dramatically because you can send it on Fed Ex, or you can send it on UPS.

  • 13:49:20

    OLSONAnd the price right now is built on the cost of moving it across borders in an illegal fashion. I think the price will go down dramatically, some say as much as 80, 90 percent, and I think it's reasonable to say consumption will increase. If that's the price we want to pay for that, that's fine. But I think it's a serious question.

  • 13:49:43

    NNAMDIYour turn, Armand.

  • 13:49:45

    PESCHARD-SVERDRUPWell, I mean, you know, I think that one of the problems is that we haven't really addressed this issue as a public health issue in this country. I mean, we look at it as a criminal issue in this country, and as a result, the highest number of arrests in the United States is for possess. So if you're a public official in the United States, it's much easier to obviously incarcerate somebody than it is it try to treat them through a rehab program.

  • 13:50:14

    PESCHARD-SVERDRUPAnd I can understand that because like alcoholics, if you talk to most drug addicts, none of them have a drug addiction problem. So it's difficult to get somebody who doesn't think they have a problem to take part in a rehab program. We also are not spending enough money in rehabilitation programs. Most of the rehab programs in this country are carried out by faith-based organizations. So our entire governmental structure is really -- is oriented towards dealing with this problem as a criminal problem, not as a public health problem, number one.

  • 13:50:50

    PESCHARD-SVERDRUPAnd number two, back to Eric's point, we really don't look at this problem as a transnational problem, and it is. And it's not just Mexico's problem, it's Guatemala's problem, it's Columbia's problem, it's El Salvador's problem, and the demand in this country is compromising the institution of integrity of governments throughout the hemisphere.

  • 13:51:13

    NNAMDIIndeed, tomorrow we will be discussing the resignation of the prime minister of Jamaica that had to do with the war on drugs. Ioan, we've been discussing the cartels' work in Mexico, but they've also had a significant presence here in the United States. Where are cartel members here and is U.S. law enforcement tracking them?

  • 13:51:35

    GRILLOWell, the cartels are all over the United States. I mean, like you just pointed out on the phone, I mean, they had a survey saying they were in 230 cities before, now it's increased substantially. One difference is the cost of operating in the United States is a very different way than they do in Mexico. The violence hasn't yet crossed the border in any significant way and that's (unintelligible) . Where you have Juarez, which is the most violent city in the world by many measures with 3,000 homicides last year, over the river in El Paso, it's one of the safest cities in the United States.

  • 13:52:11

    GRILLOThis is quite a bit paradox here. One of the reasons is, is that in the United States the Mexican cartels don't really want to rock the boat. They don't want to carry out these massacres and mass murders and shootouts because it will rock the boat and effect their business, whereas in Mexico, they can try and control parts of the government, control the police forces using violence, and (unintelligible) stay off the police's radar.

  • 13:52:36

    GRILLOSo although the cartels are everywhere right across the U.S., they're not really acting in the same ultraviolent fashion they're doing south of the river.

  • 13:52:45

    NNAMDIEric, do we have a national strategy to track these cartels in the U.S. or is it mainly up to local law enforcement?

  • 13:52:52

    OLSONYeah. I think that's -- that's right. I don't think we have yet a national strategy in the United States to really go after the cartels operating here. Local law enforcement treats it as a local crime problem, and that's important obviously, but I think it's time for there to be a broader national strategy that goes after their financing, goes after their operations, and not just in a case by case basis in Houston and Washington and Philadelphia, but as a structure across the board. I think that's -- it's high time that we do that.

  • 13:53:27

    NNAMDISteven, thank you for your call. Here is Michael in San Antonio, Texas. Michael, your turn. Hi Michael -- I think Michael is no longer there, so we will go to Frank in Washington D.C. Frank, you're on the air go ahead, please.

  • 13:53:42

    FRANKThanks Kojo, and great show, cutting edge stuff. I have a question, or I just want to pick up on something that Eric was talking about, and Eric, this is Frank Smite from the Committee to Protect Journalists.

  • 13:53:53

    OLSONHi, Frank.

  • 13:53:53

    FRANKWould -- I think you're right when you talk about the cartels as not being like an insurgency, at least not like what we think of traditionally as insurgencies. But I also think they're moving out of the realm of what think of when we think about normal organized crime groups in the sense that they're attempting to control territory, they're also attempting to influence and terrorize the population, especially in the north. At the same time, they're using the press, and they're using acts of violence for a demonstration effect, both to keep people quiet like the threats against those using social media to talk about violence by the cartels, and also to telegraph their strength and their muscle literally to other cartels through their violence and through the press.

  • 13:54:38

    FRANKSo I think they may fall somewhere in between what we think of when we think of a traditional insurgency, and what we think of as organized crime groups. Thanks a lot, and I'll -- I'll hang up now and listen.

  • 13:54:49

    NNAMDIWhat does that tell us about how we need to be fighting these wars?

  • 13:54:52

    OLSONWell, I think Frank's exactly right. I think we have to be first very careful about our analysis and our understanding of who it is we're fighting, and so simply to call them terrorist groups or insurgents kind of can lead us astray. But he is right, they are enormously violent and powerful groupings of criminals. They're not always coherent or work together, and so one of the number one challenges that Mexico is facing right now is how to bring down violence in Mexico.

  • 13:55:29

    OLSONWe originally didn't consider that as to be a priority, you know. The violence is a byproduct and we should be looking at the underlying -- but the violence becomes in and of itself an import factor here, and there are strategies to bring violence down that won't eliminate organized crime, but after all, organized crime has existed in Mexico and the United States for centuries, or decades if not centuries.

  • 13:55:54

    NNAMDIBut Mexico has a presidential election in less than a year. Armand, how could a change from the ruling party pan back to the long ruling pre-party change Mexico's approach to the drug war?

  • 13:56:07

    PESCHARD-SVERDRUPWell, that's one of the questions I think that is being asked here in the United States and in Washington in particular. I mean, the Calderon administration has demonstrated an incredible commitment and resolve to addressing the issue. I think they've been effective. The cooperation between the U.S. and Mexico has reached unprecedented levels. There is a question as to whether an incoming administration would continue to demonstrate to same level of commitment and resolve.

  • 13:56:33

    PESCHARD-SVERDRUPAnd so I think it is a question that people are asking themselves moving forward, and I -- my opinion personally is that there is no going back. I mean, we have organizations in Mexico that are -- are wielding an incredible amount of influence, intimidation, as Ioan mentioned, here in the United States these organizations fear that crossing the line would end up impacting their business interests. In Mexico, the state institutions aren't strong enough to instill that type of fear in these organizations.

  • 13:57:10

    PESCHARD-SVERDRUPAnd these organizations are very, very shrewd. They realize the public opinion is part of the game, and the intimidation of the media, the fact that they recently murdered last week two bloggers that were blogging against these cartels, they know how to play the game both in the streets, and in the hallways of the political system in Mexico.

  • 13:57:32

    PESCHARD-SVERDRUPAnd let's -- one point that I want to close my comment with is let's not kid ourselves that this is a problem that exists just south of the border. Our institutions have been penetrated by these organizations, especially at the border, and this is not just a Mexico problem.

  • 13:57:50

    NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. Armand Peschard-Sverdrup is senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and CEO of Peshcard-Sverdrup & Associates. Armand, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:58:02

    PESCHARD-SVERDRUPThank you, Kojo.

  • 13:58:03

    NNAMDIEric Olson is senior associate at the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Eric, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:58:09

    OLSONAlways a pleasure, thank you.

  • 13:58:10

    NNAMDIAnd Ioan Grillo is a writer for Time magazine based in Mexico City. He's also author of the upcoming book "El Narco: Inside Mexico's Criminal Insurgency." Ioan, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:58:22

    GRILLOThank you.

  • 13:58:23

    NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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