The War on Drugs continues to try hard and fail. Drug dealers continue to, somehow, stay one step ahead of law enforcement. Sure, they pay for a lot of people to look the other way. But that does not account for all of it. Ever wondered why they are so successful?
One Step Ahead
Drug dealers are probably the most cutthroat businessmen in the world. A lot of times, the business is literally cut throat! Dealers, from your street dealer to the big cartels, have to bribe officials to look the other way. Some of the “raids”and “confiscated” drugs are just set up for the press. Many raids are also legit. There are many overworked and underpaid law enforcement personnel who are just trying to keep illegal drugs of streets.
Despite all that, drug cartels and dealers continue to beat governments and international agencies. They adopt many ingenious ways to stay ahead. A recent article looks into the reasons why.
Technology To The Rescue
Smuggling drugs is a game of probability. Cartels are bound to lose some shipments. They, therefore, split the odds by breaking down consignments and dispatching them via different routes.
But perhaps their greatest skills lie in mixing innovation and technology. In the past, cartels have dug tunnels using drills. They have used submersibles for a very long time. Cartels have also used some incredible means to shift inventory; they have even used puppies and breast implants! Cartels and drug dealers have also embraced technology well before the rest of the world. They beat Amazon and Dominos in using drones for deliveries. They have also been using it to smuggle cocaine. Cartels have also hacked US drones to enable smooth border crossings.
The drones are a good example of how the cartels think. While drones are not operations feasible (due to their low carrying capacity), there is no harm in being early adopters of new technology. They have even been using the same ride hailing services that you do. Experts speculate that cartels will eventually “graduate” to UAVs or unmanned submersibles. Street level dealers (or those one level above them) are even taking to the Dark Net to buy their material.
When fighting bureaucracies and governments, it pays to be on top of the tech game. And cartels around the world have understood this very well.
Taking Care of Business
This level of scale requires a sophisticated and responsive organisation. We earlier saw how drug cartels operate like modern businesses. Law enforcement continues underestimate or look at the cartels wrong. Cartels today function more like Silicon Valley venture capitalists. The rest of the chain behave like entrepreneurs focused on growth, profits, and scale. All of this is to grow a brand. Ironically, it is capitalism at its purest, in a manner of speaking.
Cartel bosses recognise that they can be more effective with the right “entrepreneurs”. Therefore, cartels fund dealers and transporters. They supply capital (funds and drugs), enable operations (dealing) and expansion, and expect ROI for such services rendered. They invest in multiple startups in each part of the chain. Cartels don’t look at it as sponsoring competition. It is a move to ensure inventory makes it to the next stage in any way whatsoever.
This de-risks cartel members. Returns are so high that even if one “startup” fails, the cartel still makes its money on the overall “investment portfolio.” Experts estimate that Mexico alone has hundreds of such startups flourishing. It is a weird mix of Silicon Valley and Greek mythology. It’s like a tech/startup hydra. When one falls, others take its place.
People usually ignore one important angle – clearly, very smart people engineer such innovation. Such intelligent people are present all across the chain, from the cartel HQ to the street corner dealer.
Drug dealers break rules but so have all the successful entrepreneurs till date. Napster was illegal but made way for today’s extremely legal Netflix. However, the stakes are a lot more different than your average business unicorn. Cartels will not tolerate a startup engaging with more than one supplier. This thirst for profit and territory can result in gang warfare and death. The cartels, after all, do not have a reputation for kindness.
However people still take to this trade in droves. The reasons include poverty of home, glamour of the trade, local culture, and sometimes lack of choice.
The question still remains: why would an intelligent person chose to get into this life? Why can’t they use their intelligence in more mainstream occupations? They are innate problem solvers and innovators in high risk-high return businesses. These are skills that are in short supply in the “legal” world.
The answer lies in the fact that the War on Drugs does not anticipate a way out for such people. There is no mechanism to identify them and give them exit routes. They are, therefore, stuck in the endless cycle of it all.
There is another way. All their work would be legal if the War on Drugs – the biggest reason for the worldwide “drug crisis” – ended. But we all know that day is still a ways out. The mob bosses more than anyone else will ensure that drugs stay illegal for as long as possible. After all, how else will they enjoy their monopolies in a legal and regulated business setup?