Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Mexico on the brink?

Regular readers will recall that I've written before - several times - about the dangers of crime and corruption in Mexican society, its criminal gangs, and the 'ripple effects' of these problems on the USA. My most recent post was last month, and it contains links to five earlier articles.

Strategic Forecasting is putting out a series of articles on Mexico in its series on 'Countries In Crisis'. Summaries of the subscriber-only content are presently available on its Web site, and I strongly urge you to read them while they're available. The warnings they give are prescient, in my opinion. I truly believe that the single biggest danger to social stability in the USA over the next few years is likely to come from Mexican crime spilling over the border and affecting US communities. I speak as one who's been exposed to this in both law enforcement and other capacities. It's not in any way a racist or knee-jerk anti-Hispanic reaction.

Let me give you a few snippets from Stratfor to illustrate my point. On the Mexican economy:

Mexico appears to be a country coming undone. Powerful drug cartels use Mexico for the overland transshipment of illicit drugs — mainly cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine — from producers in South America to consumers in the United States. Violence between competing cartels has grown over the past two years as they have fought over territory and as the Mexican army has tried to secure the embattled areas, mainly on the country’s periphery. It is a tough fight, made even tougher by endemic geographic, institutional and technical problems in Mexico that make a government victory hard to achieve. The military is stretched thin, the cartels are becoming even more aggressive and the people of Mexico are growing tired of the violence.

At the same time, the country is facing a global economic downturn that will slow Mexico’s growth and pose additional challenges to national stability. Although the country appears to be in a comfortable fiscal position for the short term, the outlook for the country’s energy industry is bleak, and a decline in employment could prompt social unrest. Complications also loom in the political sphere as Mexican parties campaign ahead of 2009 legislative elections and jockey for position in preparation for the 2012 presidential election.

On Mexican geography and institutions:

Not incidentally, the revolution, which began in 1910, involved a near-identical challenge for the central government in terms of territorial control, with rebels of Emiliano Zapata’s Liberation Army of the South in southern Mexico and Pancho Villa’s army in the north. The geographical similarities between the revolutionary-era strongholds and those of today’s drug cartels underscore how historically difficult it is for the government to control its territory. The absence of natural geographic connections such as interlinking rivers, which would provide easy and rapid transit for federal security forces, mean that the Mexican central government must overcome mountains, deserts and jungles to assert its authority in the hinterlands.

Today, the cartels take full advantage of the government’s lack of control in the northern and southern parts of the country. Drug traffickers move cocaine into southern Mexico after traversing Central America, on the way north from the cocoa-growing Andean countries of South America. To the north, and along the transportation corridors of the two coasts, Mexican drug cartels enjoyed limited government interference during the decades of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) rule and established de facto kingdoms where their word was law and drugs moved efficiently northward — into the United States.

. . .

As the cartels became more powerful the level of violence also began to rise, and by 2006 Calderon’s government decided to make its move. By this time, however, the drug cartels were so entrenched that they had become the law of the land in their respective territories. Local and federal law enforcement authorities had become corrupt, and the influx of military troops had the effect of destabilizing these relationships — as the planners intended — and wreaking havoc on the business of the cartels. With the dissolution of their networks, the cartels began fighting back, leveraging their established links in the government and aggressively defending their turf.

The problem of corruption boils down to the lure of money and the threat of death. Known by the phrase plata o plomo (which literally translates to “silver or lead,” with the implied meaning, “take a bribe or take a bullet”), the choice given to law enforcement and government officials puts them under the threat of death if they do not permit (or, as is often the case, facilitate) cartel operations. With the government historically unable to protect all of its personnel from these kinds of threats — and certainly unable to match the cartels’ deep pockets — Mexico’s law enforcement officials have become almost universally unreliable. Death threats have increased as the government has intensified its anti-cartel operations, resulting in high turnover and difficulties recruiting new personnel — especially qualified personnel. (The city of Juarez has been without a police chief since mid-summer, after previous chiefs were killed or fled to the United States. Similar fates have befallen local law enforcement agencies in nearly every Mexican state.)

On the war against drug cartels:

One apparent paradox for the Calderon administration has been that, even while the government has clearly succeeded in damaging the cartels, the country’s security situation has continued to deteriorate at what appears to be an unstoppable rate. Just last week, the total number of drug-related homicides in Mexico in 2008 surged past 5,000. This puts Mexico on track to more than double the previous annual record of 2,700 killings, set in 2007.

In addition to the drastic rise in the number of killings, the violence has escalated in other important ways that are more difficult to quantify. For one, Mexican cartel violence has remained a brutal enterprise, with this past year registering perhaps the most significant beheading incident. Second, attacks on security forces have increased. Law enforcement and military personnel have represented some 10 percent of cartel casualties, compared to approximately 7 percent during 2007.

In addition, a series of assassinations of high-ranking government officials in Mexico City made it clear that almost anyone can be considered a cartel target. An expansion of the cartels’ arsenals also contributed to the escalation in violence, including the July discovery of explosive-actuated improvised incendiary devices in vehicles near a cartel safe house, and the February failed assassination attempt with an improvised explosive device (IED) in Mexico City.

Finally, 2008 witnessed the first clear case of the indiscriminate killing of civilians, when alleged members of the La Familia crime organization threw two fragmentation grenades into a crowd during Mexico’s Independence Day celebration in Morelia, Michoacan state.

Of particular concern to the United States is how this rampant violence continues to cross the border. No single incident better demonstrates this than the Phoenix home invasion in June. In that incident, cartel hit men armed with assault rifles and wearing Phoenix Police Department raid shirts killed a drug dealer. The assault had all the makings of a Mexican cartel hit, especially in the attackers’ willingness to engage police officers if necessary.

. . .

... the obvious danger is that the cartels have shown themselves to be remarkably innovative, vicious and resilient when backed into a corner. Given their powerful arsenals and deep penetration of the country’s institutions, a further increase in attacks against security forces and government officials seems all but inevitable.

Friends, this is a very serious and potentially deadly dangerous situation for Americans. If you live within a day's drive of the Mexican border, or in a community with a substantial Mexican/Hispanic population, you are at risk.

I'm not being in the least racist by stating that. I know there are many good, sober, honest, upright Mexicans in this country, many of them citizens, who contribute daily to our society. I work with many of them, and I'm profoundly grateful for them. However, the criminals in Mexico will stop at nothing to perpetuate their reign of terror, and they'll move in on their countrymen to force them to provide shelter, support and funds. This is made easier for them by the US Government's failure to comprehensively secure our borders. They can cross almost at will. Very often these criminals will use terrorist methods to obtain co-operation. I know. I've seen some of the people who did that after they were incarcerated, and I've tried to help some people locally who were targeted by such criminals.

Please, friends, take the trouble and make the time to keep an eye on what's happening South of the border. It's going to take an increasing toll of American lives over the next few years. Click the underlined links at the beginning of each quoted section above to read more about the issues. (Note that the articles may not remain posted on Stratfor's Web site forever, so read them while you still can!)


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