Using drug and racketeering statutes and extradition agreements, federal prosecutors are sending a steady parade of Mexican drug lords into U.S. prisons. The Los Angeles Times reports that although it is having a chilling effect on the smuggling cartels, there is no sign that the convictions are breaking the organizations, which are growing more violent. Ten cartel leaders from Mexico have been convicted in U.S. courts in the last two years, while three in Chicago and a fourth in Brooklyn, N.Y., have been indicted in major drug racketeering operations involving tons of heroin, cocaine and marijuana.
It was hoped that the prospect of U.S. prison time would begin deterring drug violence along the border. U.S. officials say it is having some effect, citing drug lords still at large who admit to being frightened at the prospect of extradition to the U.S. They also say the tactic disrupts the cartels’ activities. Authorities on both sides of the border acknowledge that the cartels have simply promoted lieutenants to the vacant leadership positions and that the violence, especially in the last two years, has turned uglier – in the streets and within the cartels, where junior members are fighting one another for control. “In Mexico, there are hundreds of thousands of young men who are in organized crime and are  ready to step up when a leader at any level is captured and taken prisoner,” said Tony Payan, a political science professor at the University of Texas-El Paso, who for a decade has studied border violence. “While it is good to catch one of these guys, in the end it’s a little like winning a battle even if you’re losing the war. To me it’s a little bit like tilting at windmills.” R. Gil Kerlikowske, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, agreed that the convictions were not breaking the cartels. “I don’t think there’s any doubt there are people who will replace those folks,” he said. “But it is the disruption of the cartels that is helpful, and the chilling effect it causes.”