Things you don’t expect to see on your commute

September 22, 2011

Such as a drug gang dumping 35 bodies on the highway:

Suspected drug traffickers dumped 35 bodies at rush hour beneath a busy overpass in the heart of a major Gulf coast city as gunmen pointed weapons at frightened drivers. Mexican authorities said Wednesday they are examining surveillance video for clues to who committed the crime.

Horrified motorists grabbed cell phones and sent Twitter messages warning others to avoid the area near the biggest shopping mall in Boca del Rio, part of the metropolitan area of Veracruz city.

The gruesome gesture marked a sharp escalation in cartel violence in Veracruz state, which sits on an important route for drugs and Central American migrants heading north.

The Zetas drug cartel has been battling other gangs for control of the state.

Prosecutors said it’s too soon to draw conclusions from the surveillance video.

“We’re not going to confirm or deny anything,” Veracruz state Attorney General Reynaldo Escobar Perez told the Televisa network Wednesday. “We’re looking at it in different ways, we’re seeing different numbers, that’s why we don’t want to get ahead of ourselves.”

Escobar said the bodies were left piled in two trucks and on the ground under the overpass near the statue of the Voladores de Papantla, ritual dancers from Veracruz state. He said some of the victims had their heads covered with blackplastic bags and showed signs of torture.

Authorities said each of the victims (including apparently a cop who had gone missing) had criminal ties, so this looks like one gang, maybe the Zetas, taking out the soldiers of another gang and throwing it in their rivals’ faces.

But it’s also a slap in the face to the Mexican federal and state governments, mocking their authority and denying their sovereignty. Doing this while the city hosts a major judicial conference says, in no uncertain terms, “We rule here, not you. Fear us.” And that’s exactly what the people do, as they lose faith with each atrocity in Mexico’s ability to protect them and render justice.

These aren’t just bodies; these are thirty-five more milestones on the road to a failed state.

RELATED: Was this a message to Los Zetas from a new cartel? (Graphic pic warning.)

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)

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Mexican police operating from US soil

August 27, 2011

At some point, someone in authority is going to have to admit there is a war going on in Mexico and that our national security is at stake, because we’re already fighting it:

The Obama administration has expanded its role in Mexico’s fight against organized crime by allowing the Mexican police to stage cross-border drug raids from inside the United States, according to senior administration and military officials.

Mexican commandos have discreetly traveled to the United States, assembled at designated areas and dispatched helicopter missions back across the border aimed at suspected drug traffickers. The Drug Enforcement Administration provides logistical support on the American side of the border, officials said, arranging staging areas and sharing intelligence that helps guide Mexico’s decisions about targets and tactics.

Officials said these so-called boomerang operations were intended to evade the surveillance — and corrupting influences — of the criminal organizations that closely monitor the movements of security forces inside Mexico. And they said the efforts were meant to provide settings with tight security for American and Mexican law enforcement officers to collaborate in their pursuit of criminals who operate on both sides of the border.

Although the operations remain rare, they are part of a broadening American campaign aimed at blunting the power of Mexican cartels that have built criminal networks spanning the world and have started a wave of violence in Mexico that has left more than 35,000 people dead.

Many aspects of the campaign remain secret, because of legal and political sensitivities. But in recent months, details have begun to emerge, revealing efforts that would have been unthinkable five years ago. Mexico’s president, Felipe Calderón, who was elected in 2006, has broken with his country’s historic suspicion of the United States and has enlisted Washington’s help in defeating the cartels, a central priority for his government.

American Predator and Global Hawk drones now fly deep over Mexico to capture video of drug production facilities and smuggling routes. Manned American aircraft fly over Mexican targets to eavesdrop on cellphone communications. And the D.E.A. has set up an intelligence outpost — staffed by Central Intelligence Agency operatives and retired American military personnel — on a Mexican military base.

Two things I’ll say about this. The first is that I’m glad it’s happening. For too long Mexico has hidden behind a chest-thumping nationalism (1) and refused almost any serious cooperation. That the Calderon administration is changing this policy, albeit quietly, at great political risk to itself shows they recognize the serious problem they have, that it’s also a military and no longer just a law-enforcement problem, and that they need help. While Mexico is not yet a failed state, the danger signs are there.

Second, while I’m glad we’re cooperating with the Mexicans and giving them help, it would be really nice if our own government would admit there is a serious security problem on our southern border and make a credible effort to secure it, including fencing where appropriate and Border Patrol forward operating bases (FOBs) in others.

And if the US government really wants to help Mexico, maybe it should stop helping to arm the cartels.

So, when do we resume cavalry patrols?

via Big Peace

Footnotes:
(1) Just because of that little dust-up in 1846 that cost them half their country. Jeez, what grouches.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Businesses fleeing Ciudad Juarez

March 5, 2011

Can you blame them? The city is descending into a Hobbesian state of nature, a war of all against all. Small wonder businesses are looking to get out:

About 80 business owners in Ciudad Juarez, a border city that has become Mexico’s murder capital, attended a seminar on how to move their operations to neighboring El Paso, Texas, business networking group La Red said.

The seminar, which took place on Tuesday and featured immigration lawyers, real estate agents and bankers from El Paso, provided participants with information on visa application procedures and requirements for establishing new corporations or moving companies currently based in Ciudad Juarez, La Red, which organized the event, said.

About 300 bars and 4,000 restaurants have closed in Ciudad Juarez since 2009 because of the violence in the city, the Restaurant and Prepared Foods Industry Association says.

Business owners have been targeted by attacks, kidnappers and extortionists linked to drug cartels and other gangs.

Many businesses have closed out of fear or lack of customers in the city’s increasingly empty streets.

Ciudad Juarez has been plagued by drug-related violence for years.

This is part of a larger process of depopulation taking place in the area, as people try to find safety and the region effectively becomes ungoverned outside the range of a rifle.

Mexico isn’t a failed state yet, but the risk is growing — for us as well as the Mexicans.


Mexico border violence watch: Brownsville, Texas

February 8, 2011

Battles between Los Zetas and their former bosses in the Gulf Cartel in Matamoros prompt increased patrols on the Brownsville side of the border:

Brownsville Police and Border Patrol Units are on increased patrols near the (Brownsville & Matamoros) Bridge after reports of violence inside Mexico.

Mexican soldiers have been called in to restore the peace.

It all started around 5:00pm. Mexican officials say the Gulf Cartel set some Zeta money houses on fire near the B&M Bridge.

Two hours later, sources inside Mexico tell CHANNEL 5 NEWS two grenades were thrown at a hotel near the bridge.

A little later, the Mexican Army showed up to “restore order.”

When you have to send in the soldiers, that’s more than a police problem.

 


What happens when you start a war and lose it?

January 18, 2011

That’s the question Sara Carter asks about Mexico in the Washington Examiner:

The violent deaths of nearly 35,000 in Mexico in the past four years symbolize a growing crisis for the United States as its southern neighbor is increasingly destabilized by competing drug organizations that have infiltrated every level of government, according to numerous U.S. officials.

President Felipe Calderon’s efforts to dismantle the drug gangs since taking office in 2006 has increased the number of grisly killings without diminishing the strength of the various criminal groups so far, experts said. That has placed U.S. security and Mexican security at risk.

“Mexico needs to take down the major cartel players or ask for our help to get it done,” said a U.S. official who is familiar with operations in the region. “Mexico is at a crisis point, and the situation is getting worse. We are left with an insecure border controlled by drug cartels, and our ability to limit their operations starts on our side. Unfortunately, that’s not good enough.”

There’s no doubt the situation in Mexico is bad and getting worse; as Carter points out, cartel-war related killings have increased 60% in just a year. The border city of Reynosa actually saw the Mexican Army trapped on its base as rival cartels fought a gun battle in the streets. The State Department has warned Americans to get their children out of Monterrey, because of the danger of kidnapping and being caught in a crossfire. Ciudad Mier is now a ghost town — government control is a sick joke. The discovery of beheaded corpses is now commonplace.

And that anarchy is more and more spilling over the border onto our side, most recently in the murder at Falcon Lake, the killing of a Border Patrol agent, and shots fired at a Hudspeth County, Texas, road crew.

Treating it as a law-enforcement matter looks less viable with each passing day. The corruption of local and state authorities in Mexico is notorious — and often fatal to those seeking redress under the law. It’s even a serious problem at the federal level.

And yet, to ask Lenin’s famous question, what is to be done? President Calderon has already involved the Mexican military, with at best mixed results: Mexican Marines, for example, captured 30 gang members in Reynosa,but then there’s that embarrassing incident with the Army. Should Calderon declare formal state of insurrection, give up any pretense of this being a law-enforcement matter, and go to full-scale war? And, to be blunt, is the Mexican state up to the task?

The anonymous US official cited above hints at more than police cooperation between our two countries, yet US military involvement would be controversial, to say the least. Even if it were limited to intelligence and Special Forces assistance, Mexican pride has been sore ever since that little dust-up between us from 1846-48, and any Mexican president openly acquiescing to US military operations on his country’s soil would pay political Hell for his choice, no matter how logical it may be.

But it may come to that, especially if the violence spills over to our side in ways that even Washington cannot ignore, whether directly or from a flood of refugees.

The risk of Mexico becoming a failed state is a serious problem for us, and it is one that has no good answer.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)


Failing states: is Mexico the new Colombia?

September 28, 2010

I’ve suggested in recent postings that Mexico and its cartel-spawned violence is coming to resemble Colombia’s war with leftist guerrillas and allied drug cartels, including the loss of state sovereignty over territory. Secretary of State Clinton made a similar observation, causing a minor diplomatic flap.

A recent article in the Los Angeles Times criticizes this comparison, arguing that the analogy to Colombia is flawed:

As the death toll from drug-related violence nears 30,000 in four years, the impression that Mexico is losing control over big chunks of territory — the northern states of Tamaulipas, Chihuahua, Nuevo Leon and Durango at the top of this list — is prompting comparisons with the Colombia of years past. Under the combined onslaught of drug kingpins and leftist guerrillas, the South American country appeared to be in danger of collapse.

The Colombia comparison, long fodder for parlor debates in Mexico, gained new energy this month when Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the tactics of Mexican cartels looked increasingly like those of a Colombia-style “insurgency,” which the U.S. helped fight with a military and social assistance program known as Plan Colombia that cost more than $7 billion.

But is Mexico the new Colombia? As the Obama administration debates what course to take on Mexico, finding the right fix depends on getting the right diagnosis.

The article then look at four facets of the comparison to see if the Colombian experience really does map to Mexico:

The Enemy: the authors correctly point out that Colombia’s problem originated with political rebellion – various flavors of Marxists trying to overthrow the state- while Mexico’s is, so far, more one of organized crime. Very bold and violent, but there is no political agenda. However, Colombia’s Leftist (and some Rightist) guerrilla groups eventually allied with the drug lords and even went into the business, themselves. There’s no reason to think the Mexican cartels couldn’t evolve in the opposite direction, to out and out rebellion, if the Mexican state weakens.

Land Grab: Journalist Ken Ellingwood is somewhat right when he asserts that, while the Colombian guerrillas at one time controlled vast swathes of territory from which Colombian authorities were banned, that hasn’t happened in Mexico. I say “somewhat,” because it almost seems like a distinction without a difference. Yes, no territory has been formally ceded to the cartels, as happened in Colombia. But what’s the practical difference when the Mexican Army gets blockaded in its bases; a newspaper gives up and says to the cartels “You win;” and the police chief of a major city has to live in an office closet with a gun under his pillow for his own safety? The cartels may not claim territory, but it’s clear who rules.

Who Gets Killed: Ellingwood  argues that the Colombian guerrillas attacked government officials and business men in an effort to topple the state. The Mexican cartels, on the other hand, while they they have killed cops and mayors (and even a gubernatorial candidate), are doing so as part of their war with each other. Yes, but the difference is… what? If government officials are getting whacked, it represents the breakdown of the state and civil society, regardless of whether it is part of an attempt to overthrow the government, or simply because they backed the wrong cartel. As with the territory issue, the end result is roughly the same.

A Weakening State: Here the article seems to argue that Colombia was in a better situation than that in which Mexico currently finds itself. State institutions fought back with the active support of the media and the public, particularly after an aggressive president, Alvaro Uribe, came to power. In Mexico, while President Calderon has launched his military against the cartels in some area, they’ve been largely ineffective. In addition, the police and court are notoriously corrupt. While Ellingwood describes the Mexican Army as more reliable that the police, it may be a question of relative positions on the scale of rottenness.

The article concludes with an argument, correct in my opinion, that Plan Colombia, which was tailored to specific Colombian needs, cannot be applied to Mexico as a “one size fits all” solution. Any solution (or solutions) will have to be designed with the particular qualities of Mexico’s problem in mind.

To come back to the original question, the analogy of Mexico now to Colombia of the 1980s and 1990s, while Mr. Ellingwood draws useful distinctions between the two nations, in my opinion they are largely academic. The essential quality of the situations in both countries is that rule of law, government, and civil society are under deadly assault by armed groups, whether directly targeted in an act of rebellion or as a byproduct of a war between criminal gangs. In that regard, the comparison is quite valid.


Mexican town resorts to mob justice

September 24, 2010

With the authorities unable to protect them, the residents of a small town in the state of Chihuahua that has suffered an average of three kidnappings per week finally had enough:

Ascension is a farming community of some 15,000 people, about 100 miles south of the border with New Mexico. In the past two years, kidnapping and extortion have been rampant.

“Our problems with public security have spoiled our progress in this town,” says Rafael Camarillo, the outgoing mayor.

The public fury happened Tuesday when an armed group allegedly kidnapped a 16-year-old girl from her family’s seafood restaurant. The kidnappers escaped down a gravel road, and word of the missing girl spread quickly.

Soon, a group of about 200 residents began the chase. Three of the alleged kidnappers were captured by the Mexican military, who have a presence in the town.

Three others fled into a nearby cotton field, where one was later found dead. The other two were hunted down and beaten by the mob from Ascension.

“When they found them, it was a direct aggression,” says Ignacio Rodriguez, a local kitchen-cabinet maker who was elected to head city council next month.

The girl was rescued unharmed by the residents.

Two of the kidnappers were taken by federal police to a nearby Mexican Army base, but the mob wasn’t done with them: they stormed the base, seized the kidnappers, and locked them in a hot car until they died.

Let’s be blunt: these three deaths were acts of murder. But it is both hard to sympathize with the victims and not hard to sympathize with the townsfolk. What are they supposed to do when their own government can’t or won’t protect them? The local force was so useless that the Mayor of Ascension fired them all after this incident. Corruption is rampant in the local, state, and federal police forces. At some point, the people are left with a choice: wait like sheep to be slaughtered  or fight back. The people of Ascenscion made their choice.

Of course, fighting back against teenaged kidnappers is one thing, but striking back at heavily armed, ruthless cartels is another altogether. Mexico’s gun laws are very strict, so law-abiding citizens are effectively disarmed from the start. Yet the presence of such laws implies a clause in the social contract: in return for not bearing arms, the state promises to protect its citizens. If the government cannot do this, then the contract is broken and the state loses legitimacy. Society reverts to a state of nature and residents are forced to take justice into their own hands.

While Mexico is not yet a failed state and may never become one, the incidents at Ascension are nevertheless further signs of a fraying social fabric that, unmended, could one day fall apart.

(Crossposted at Sister Toldjah)

UPDATE: A newspaper in New Mexico sees similar dangers.