The handwriting already was on the wall 14 years ago, in early 1995.
*NAFTA, implemented only a year earlier on 1 January 1994, had opened even more widely what already was an extraordinarily porous US-Mexico border.
*US counter-drug policies in Colombia, the Andean region and the Caribbean had pushed the main drug trafficking routes north to Mexico.
*Mexican drug trafficking groups like the Arellano Felix family (Tijuana Cartel) had already, 14 years ago, grown immensely powerful and controlled the cocaine trade on the US West Coast and parts of the Southwest and Midwest.
*All of the nastiness now being condemned in Washington by the new Obama administration – a steadily rising and unstoppable flow of drugs towards the US, drug wars between rival cartels, corrupt generals, rogue army Special Forces troops, bent cops, prosecutors on the take, and elected officials in business with the drug cartels – already was roiling Mexico in 1995.
True, the body count today is immensely greater, but the deteriorating security trends in Mexico were painfully obvious 14 years ago.
However, the Obama administration has now discovered a new threat to US national security in Mexico, just a stone’s throw across the Rio Bravo.
Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told congressional leaders this week that aiding the Mexican government’s fight against drug cartels is a top priority of the Obama administration.
The violence in Mexico today is “of a different degree and level than we’ve ever seen before,” she said. “US intelligence officials as recently as (24 February) restated their assessment that drug-related corruption and violence against government leaders and the military have limited the Mexican government’s authority. More than 6,000 deaths last year were attributed to the crackdown, twice as many as in 2007, with an additional 1,000 killings this year.”
But the Obama administration is already prepared to manage any spillover from Mexico. UPI reported on 25 February: “The US Department of Homeland Security has contingency plans to rush additional personnel and other resources, including troops, to parts of the southern border if law enforcement agencies on the ground are overwhelmed by spillover effects from escalating criminal violence in Mexico, department officials say.”
The UPI article also said that “several border states likewise are drawing up contingency plans, amid growing concern about possible cross-border effects of the violence in Mexico, which claimed more than 5,300 lives last year – double the number in 2007.”
But Mexico’s government thinks US initiatives like the Homeland Security Department’s Mexico contingency plan are unwarranted. Mexico’s attorney general says he sees no need for US troops to intervene in his country’s war against the drug cartels, or gear up for a spillover of violence across the border.
“I don’t see that,” Attorney General Eduardo Medina-Mora said in an interview with The Dallas Morning News. “I don’t see the U.S. military playing an active role. The size of the problem on the U.S. side is not calling for that, and certainly Mexico has enough institutional capabilities to deal with this.”
Meanwhile, the State Department issued a new travel alert on 20 February warning US citizens to avoid Mexico’s most dangerous areas, the majority of which are near the US border where US tourists usually travel:
“The greatest increase in violence has occurred near the U.S. border. However, U.S. citizens traveling throughout Mexico should exercise caution in unfamiliar areas and be aware of their surroundings at all times. In recent years, dozens of U.S. citizens have been kidnapped across Mexico. Many of these cases remain unresolved.”
“Violence along the US-Mexico Border”
“Mexican drug cartels are engaged in an increasingly violent conflict – both among themselves and with Mexican security services – for control of narcotics trafficking routes along the US-Mexico border…Some recent Mexican army and police confrontations with drug cartels have resembled small-unit combat, with cartels employing automatic weapons and grenades.”
“Large firefights have taken place in many towns and cities across Mexico but most recently in northern Mexico, including Tijuana, Chihuahua City and Ciudad Juarez. During some of these incidents, US citizens have been trapped and temporarily prevented from leaving the area…The situation in northern Mexico remains fluid; the location and timing of future armed engagements cannot be predicted.”
“…Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana and Nogales are among the cities which have recently experienced public shootouts during daylight hours in shopping centers and other public venues. Criminals have followed and harassed US citizens traveling in their vehicles in border areas including Nuevo Laredo, Matamoros, and Tijuana.
“The situation in Ciudad Juarez is of special concern. Mexican authorities report that more than 1,800 people have been killed in the city since January 2008. Additionally, this city of 1.6 million people experienced more than 17,000 car thefts and 1,650 carjackings in 2008.”
“Criminals are armed with a wide array of sophisticated weapons. In some cases, assailants have worn full or partial police or military uniforms and have used vehicles that resemble police vehicles.”
Mexican President Felipe Calderon, unwittingly, may have fueled US perceptions that Mexico is on the brink of collapse. In a recent interview with the Washington Post, Calderon “acknowledged that the Mexican government does not have control of its most dangerous areas, which happen to be along the US borders in the regions of Juarez (El Paso, Tucson and the Texas and Arizona borders) and Tijuana (San Diego’s southern California border).”
Mexico vs. Afghanistan
Mexico: 6,000+ killed in 2008 narco war
Afghanistan: 8,600 killed in 2008 (UN figure)
Mexico: 45,000 Mexican troops deployed
Afghanistan: 38,000 US troops deployed
Meanwhile, Reuters reported on 26 February that President Calderon is sending up to 5,000 additional army troops and federal police to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico’s most violent city, where drug hit-men have killed 250 people since 1 February 2009. The new deployment could take the number of soldiers and federal police to over 7,000 in Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso, Texas.
“The 2,020 troops and 425 federal police already in Ciudad Juarez, a city of around 1.6 million people, risk being overwhelmed by drug cartels fighting over smuggling routes in league with corrupt city and state police. Mexico’s most-wanted fugitive, Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman, who leads a cartel from the Pacific state of Sinaloa, wants control of Ciudad Juarez, currently in the hands of local drug lord Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, to traffic drugs into Texas.”
The rapid escalation in drug-fueled violence comes at a very bad time for Mexico’s economy, particularly in the country’s north:
“Mexico’s industrial production contracted by 6 percent year-on-year in December and by 4.9 percent over the fourth quarter as a whole… the weakest quarterly performance for more than 13 years, and it affected whole swaths of the economy… The first quarter of this year looks to be as bad if not worse, and after years of healthy growth the Mexican economy is going to shrink this year and is unlikely to recover until the United States does… The real question is how far the Mexican economy will shrink and for how long, and there is no relief in sight…”
“… as the factories along the US border close or go on short time and remittances from migrant workers dry up, one of the few vibrant sectors of the Mexican economy is the drug trade and the shocking wave of violence and murder and killings of policemen that come with it. It is both a tragedy and a disgrace for Mexico, but it is also an economic disaster because it drives away the tourism that might otherwise be attracted by the cheap peso.”
Concern is growing in some quarters that the combination of a sorely weakened Mexican economy and the social/political turmoil resulting from the economic downturn and widespread criminal violence could spur the rise of a populist leftist leader like Hugo Chavez or Evo Morales:
“… on top of all the other damage inflicted on the United States by the drug trade, the weakness of its neighbor on the southern border carries deeper problems. For the past 20 years Mexico has been governed by moderate presidents who believed in free trade, open markets and close cooperation with the United States.”
“But in the last election, Calderon won a hair’s-breadth victory over the resurgent left, and a prolonged economic crisis is likely to bring to power a leftist Mexican government that will have more in common with Cuba’s Castro brothers and the firebrand Hugo Chavez of Venezuela than with the pro-market moderates who took Mexico into NAFTA on the promise of prosperity that is turning hollow.”
But, in a letter to the El Paso Times, Arturo Sarukhan, Mexico’s ambassador to the United States in Washington, denies his country is on the verge of collapse.
“The violence unleashed by trafficking organizations in response to President (Felipe) Calderón’s effort to shut them down cannot be denied,” Sarukhan said. “If one considers the criteria that could lead to a ‘sudden collapse’ — loss of territorial control, inability to provide public services, re fugees and internally displaced people, criminalization of the state, sharp economic decline and incapacity to interact as a full member of the international community — it is obvious that Mexico simply does not fit the pattern.”
“Professor Josiah Heyman, a Mexico expert at the University of Texas at El Paso, agrees with Mexico’s Ambassador, saying it’s unlikely that Mexico’s governability has reached such a crisis stage. Heyman says a counter or alternative state must exist before a current state can collapse. While certain factors can lead to a government’s collapse, Mexico still lacks a strong counter-state to fulfill all the conditions for a political meltdown.”
“Part of the alarm was sparked by the fact the drug violence is taking place right next door to our border, in Juárez,” Heyman says. “There are things in Mexico that are very negative, but others that are very positive, too. For example, it is managing its economy very well, it has stabilized the price of oil, and it’s a real functioning democracy… But it has not spread the wealth, and many decades have passed while the purchasing power of the Mexican people has fallen below what it was in 1982.”
Mexico’s drug cartels, with vast resources and military-grade weapons, have used submarines, airplanes, trains, ships, trucks, cars and people on foot to transport drugs like cocaine, marijuana, methamphetamine and ecstasy. About 90% of the cocaine that enters the US comes in through Mexico and Central America, and border corridors at Tijuana, Ciudad Juárez, Nuevo Laredo, Nogales, Ojinaga and Matamoros are considered crucial crossings for the cartels.
Other links on the Mexico drug wars
What we now face in Mexico (clearly one of the most unstable countries in the World today) is a convergence of asymmetric threats. The threats posed by the instability in Mexico are many:
*Mexico’s inability to quell the drug violence on its side of the border.
*The parallel spill over of that violence to U.S. border cities.
*The constant, but often unreported incursions of Mexican military and civilians into U.S. sovereign territory.
*The very clear lack of a cohesive and viable border security plan from the US government.
*The inability of the U.S. to control illegal immigration across the Mexican border and the apparent forgetfulness that a portion of the illegal crossings are those of people described as “OTM” (other than Mexican).
*The dramatic and widening spread of the upper and lower classes in Mexico.
*The deepening unrest in places like Matamoros and Chiapas
* The reality that beyond Mexico’s southern border lies greater danger and Islamic terrorist training camps.
“…perhaps a 21st Century, North American version of the domino theory in raising the point that instability in Mexico might also lead to unrest in neighboring Guatemala and Honduras, as well as the potential for opening a door for either or both of Venezuela and Nicaragua to step in (with neither of these countries being friendly with the U.S., and both being connected with Iran and Russia to name just two).”
Blame game continues along US-Mexico border: Mexicans and Americans have more in common than either cares to admit. Neither wants to take responsibility for its failures, and each finds it convenient to blame the other for its problems. More here.
Gallup Opinion Briefing: Mexico’s War on Drug Traffickers: More Mexicans perceive gangs, drug trafficking in their neighborhoods. Gallup.
More Guns from Texas: Officials say weapons from George Iknadosian’s store in Phoenix ended up in the hands of a cartel that included Alfredo Beltrán Leyva. When the shooting was over, eight agents were dead. Among the guns the police recovered was an assault rifle traced back across the border to a dingy gun store in the US called X-Caliber Guns owned by George Iknadosian, who will go on trial soon on charges he sold hundreds of weapons, mostly AK-47 rifles, to smugglers, knowing they would send them to a drug cartel in the western state of Sinaloa. The guns helped fuel the gang warfare in which more than 6,000 Mexicans died last year. In 2007, the ATF traced 2,400 weapons seized in Mexico back to dealers in the United States, and 1,800 of those came from dealers operating in the four states along the border, with Texas first, followed by California, Arizona and New Mexico. More here.
And on Youtube:
A catchy Narcocorrido: Los Zetas
And some Narco-Hip Hop: Los Zetas de Laredo – Los Mate
The Tijuana Cartel: This is Tijuana