IN MEXICO'S WAR ON DRUGS, CARTELS HAVE UPPER HAND
by Louis Nevaer
(PNS) MEXICO CITY -- Within weeks of taking office last December, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, with the White House's blessing, cracked down on the drug cartels operating throughout the country -- and sent in the Mexican Army.
The bold moves were stunning:
Calderon's decision to take on the drug cartels saw his approval ratings soar, which has helped consolidate his power after a razor-thin margin victory in last year's presidential election was accompanied by massive demonstrations in support of his opponent. He has won accolades from the White House, after its years of frustration with former president Vicente Fox, who was reluctant to use the military.
But the backlash has begun.
With major drug kingpins languishing in U.S. prisons, power struggles are unfolding, scenes familiar to Americans in documentaries about ruthless Chicago mobsters who controlled trafficking in alcohol during Prohibition. Taking a page from events in Iraq, drug kingpins have outraged Mexicans with their tactics:
The drug cartels are striking back with violence and ruthlessness unlike anything Mexico has ever experienced, as new drug kingpins consolidate their power, and challenge Mexico's president. In the first half of 2007, more than 1,000 people have been slain by rival drug traffickers. Those targeted range from outspoken newspaper reporters, to narcotics police investigators, to politicians pushing for more action against the cartels. What is beginning to sink in amidst this gangland violence is the simple realization that Mexico's army is not able to do the job.
At the end of the Mexican Revolution in 1917, Mexico's civilian leaders made the decision to have a weak military -- one that would never be able to challenge civil authority and stage a coup. Designed to function more as a "national guard" and an active army, this compromise worked: Mexico, alone in Latin America, has never suffered a military takeover.
But there has been a price: Mexico's armed forces are capable of assisting in national disasters, and in rooting out domestic insurgents, but little else. The standoff with the Zapatistas in Chiapas since the mid-1990s, for example, underscored the limited capabilities of the Mexican military.
Now the task of fighting drug cartels, which are armed with sophisticated weapons and have begun to contract paramilitary fighters -- another lesson learned from the American military's adventure in Iraq -- is unnerving Mexican generals and civilian leaders alike.
Does the Mexican army have the equipment, weapons, and trained personnel capable to wrestle control back from the drug cartels? And what happens if Calderon loses?
In this equation, there is another factor infuriating Calderon's officials: the United States' indifference.
"The firepower we are seeing here has to do with a lack of control on that side of the border," Patricio Patino, assistant secretary of public safety, said in an interview this month. "What we have asked the American government ... is that they put clear controls on the shipments of weapons."
Borders are notions, fluid and changing, like the tides. Americans complain that drugs flow north from Mexico, but are blind to the fact that paramilitary weapons flow south, escalating the level of violence now unfolding.
"There's a greater realization that this is a shared responsibility," Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Median Mora said, noting that it was "cynical" for U.S. officials to turn away from their responsibilities: reducing drug consumption among Americans, the world's most chemically-dependent population on Earth; ensuring that American financial institutions comply with U.S. laws, and stop turning a blind eye to the billions of dollars in drug profits that are laundered; and spending more time to make sure that shipments leaving the United States bound for Mexico are not loaded with weapons and paramilitary equipment.
Calderon has not, by any means, capitulated to the drug cartels. And his determination is steadfast, even if the drug organizations have more money, can buy better weapons and have no qualms about resorting to terrorist tactics.
For American officials, there are two developments that offer insight into Mexico's thinking:
This is to say, Calderon is beginning to understand that, as the Mexican army reels from the drug cartels striking back, the solution lies in the meticulous and long-term intelligence law enforcement that breaks down the drug organizations one arrest at a time, while looking at ways, in concert with Canada, to have a more "rational" and "sustainable" decriminalization policy.
In the meantime, the Mexican army is in full retreat, gripped by internal dissent and stunned at its public humiliation. It has becomes clear that the army is unable to defend the country from what Mexico's president declared a "threat to the nation."
As the violence continues, there is a sense of a deepening crisis. Jose Nemesio Lugo Felix, a top intelligence official who worked with the National Center for Planning and Analysis to Combat Organized Crime, was gunned down in the capital earlier this month. Mario Cesar Rios, a deputy in Nuevo Leon State, was assassinated last week, after demanding that more action be taken to stop the flow of weapons (caches of hand grenades and assault rifles) coming from the United States. The army's takeover of the Mexicali airport was meant to stop smuggled U.S. weapons from being flown to the interior of the country.
Mexico is now well on its way to having more people slain in drug-related violence than Colombia. "In play are... liberty, the rule of law, justice, the state itself," political analyst Federico Reyes Heroles wrote in Mexico City's Reforma newspaper. "It's that simple and dramatic."
Albion Monitor June
21, 2007 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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