Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Dance of Death, Mexican Narcoterrorism and its Response

The Guardian's Jo Tuckman has an interesting post on the strategy taken by Mexico's new president to battle drug-trafficking (or narco-terrorism, if you prefer). The strategy is to involve the military more in policing, but as the analysis below indicates, this strategy is not without risks.

Most analysts link the spiral of narco violence to the greater importance attached to territorial control since Mexico became a market, as well as a transit point, for illegal drugs. Some also say a near obsession with catching kingpins in the past triggered bloody internal power struggles within trafficking organisations, and encouraged provocative territorial grabs by rivals in areas previously dominated by the imprisoned leaders....

Leading drug analyst Luís Astorga associates the current chaos with the collapse of the one-party system that governed Mexico until 2000, which had both provided an orderly framework for corruption and been powerful enough to set limits on the violence.

[Mexico's new] President Calderón is right, he says, to try to fill the authority vacuum left by the new democracy, but to rely so heavily on the army to do this is potentially disastrous. Mexicans largely trust the military - seen as a clean alternative to the deeply corrupt civilian police forces. "We could have the Zetas* phenomenon multiplied," Astorga says, referring to the notoriously well-trained and ruthless hitmen of the Gulf Cartel formed from military deserters in the late 1990s. "That would take the violence associated with drug trafficking to a whole other level."

Human rights activists, meanwhile, see massive army involvement as a recipe for abuse. Earlier this month two women and three children died when soldiers opened fire on a car passing a mountain checkpoint. In another incident in May soldiers allegedly raped five young women.

"Calderón is playing with fire," says political analyst Jorge Zepeda. "It took an enormous effort to remove the generals from power in the 1940s; there are huge dangers with giving them such a key role again." | Battles and beheadings as vicious [Mexican] drugs war spirals out of control - Guardian |

Los Zetas are an example of how dangerous it is to involve the Mexican military in anti-narcotics operations. In 1991, a battalion of Mexican paratroopers known as the Special Air Mobile Force Group were being used to interdict drug-smuggling. One day the entire battalion deserted en masse, taking their equipment with them. The Gulf Cartel was able to outbid the Mexican government and gain the loyalty of these soldiers, they had become mercenaries.

Los Zetas are now expanding into the southwestern US and are a growing concern for law enforcement, according to FBI testimony before Congress.

Paramilitary groups such as the Zetas, Los Negros, Los Numeros, and others who work for Mexican drug cartels as enforcers are a serious threat to public safety on both sides of the entire U.S./Mexico border. They are well financed and well equipped. Their willingness to shoot and kill law enforcement officers on both sides of the border makes these paramilitary groups among the most dangerous criminal enterprises in North America. | Testimony before U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Judiciary |
I can only wonder how the recent proliferation of security companies (or mercenaries as we call them when they aren't on the Pentagon's payroll) in Iraq will affect geopolitics in the years to come.

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