Friday, May 23, 2008

Drug cartels targeting Mexican police

You know your crime problem is bad when your entire police department resigns in fear, as happened recently in Zirandaro, a Mexican city in southern Guerrero state. Reported AP:

Zirandaro was the second town in less than two weeks to be left without its police force as Mexico's drug cartels wage increasingly bold attacks against security forces. On Monday, the military took over a town near Texas after all 20 of its police officers were either killed, run out of town or quit.

Eight members of Zirandaro's police never returned to work after a May 13 shootout with gunmen that left a 32-year-old man dead, said Juan Heriberto Salinas Altes, the public safety secretary of the southern state of Guerrero.

The other seven officers — including the police chief — quit days later.

"The Zirandaro police quit the service because they feared the criminals would return to seek revenge," Salinas Altas told a news conference.

Despite heightened threats against police, most of the violence isn't between the government and drug cartels, but the drug cartels and one another. According to Reuters, "Some 1,300 people have died in Mexico's drug conflict this year but most of the deaths are still among rival traffickers." In other words, the government is not the biggest threat to Mexico's drug cartels; they're (rightfully) more fearful of one another, according to these data.

Will the government be able to reduce violence through brute military force? I'm increasingly doubtful. With police so clearly outgunned and the military stretched thin, one fears we could soon witness Mexico fall outright into the malaise of a failed state.

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6 comments:

Anonymous said...

All that money we spent trying to fix Iraq should have been spent fixing Mexico.

They have oil in Mexico.

doran williams said...

Grits, can you post a map showing the centers of drug related activity such as the killings, trafficing, whatever. I tend to be a bit dubious as to whether the entire Mexican government/nation will become a totally failed state. I do think it likely that some Mexican states, or maybe only portions of some Mexican states, are likely to fall to one or more of the cartels to govern, or fall into some kind of anarchy. I suspect some of those states share the Rio Grande boundary with North American states, but a map would be handy to sort it all out.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I'll see if I can locate such map, Doran, I'm not sure I have the data to create a comprehensive one. One of the two PDs that fled was near the US border, another in the west-central state of Sinaloa. Here's a clickable map of Mexican states.

However, the police killings are now happening nearly everywhere, coast to coast, where even a year ago it would have been accurate to say most such violence was confined to the border. In any event, the assassination of the head of the federal police in Mexico City recently, and soon thereafter intimidating entire police departments off the job, not to mention the Juarez Police Chief, doesn't bode well.

Richard Grabman said...

Zirandaro, Guerrero is a very tiny, poor town in a very poor state. They're lucky if they can afford cops with a 6th grade education and can pay them a living wage. If you've ever been in these rural communities, you're well-served if the police are more Barney Fife than Walker, Texas Ranger types.

while a few larger communities and departments have started paying the police enough to recruit better educated officers, most small town police departments are made up of losers who can't get any other job. If they quit, it's not the end of the world.

This idea that Mexico is a "failed state", or on the verge of collapse, is total nonsense. I live in Sinaloa, and yes, the gangsters have been bumping each other off at an alarming rate (and policemen have been killed), but we're hardly paralized by it, and life continues. The markets are running, the stock market is not collapsing, the taxes are collected, and we're frankly more concerned with the effects of the drought than the fallout over management shakeouts in the U.S. narcotics supply business.

We would, however, appreciate it if you did something about all those weapons and cash you keep sending to those jokers. The Army has on occasion killed some of us civilians, and we don't want the gangsters making the same mistake.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

At this point, for sure, "failed state" is too strong, Richard. But what happens if Calderon continues to lose on the ground to the cartels, and local police (not just in the small towns, either) are intimidated into complete submission? Arguably, the state's already only about two or three steps above a kleptocracy, and cannot successfully tax huge portions of the economy (and not just drugs).

That said, perhaps I'm making too much of what's happening in the border towns, where Juarez and Nuevo Laredo basically can't keep a police chief and Los Zetas publicly taunt the military with signage along the sides of the road! Then when they assassinate the federal police chief in the D.F., I guess I wonder if there's anyone they CAN'T successfully intimidate in the government.

I appreciate the Mexfiles a lot, btw. Thanks for your work there.

Richard said...

If the Zetas are so desperate they're having to advertise, they can't be doing well. And, word is out that the working conditions aren't that hot... the pension plan sucks!

There is a substantial body of opinion within Mexico that the Calderon administration (even among those who believe it was legitimately elected) is only using this "drug war" to bolster the Admistration's claims of legitimacy... and incidentally, to give a rationale for using military force in a civilian police matter.

The Mexican position is that the country that buys the narcotics, and supplies the money and weapons used by the criminals cannot then demand that Mexico control their problem; nor that the country that invaded Iraq and holds prisoners at Guantanamo can dictate "human rights" demands.