Friday, July 25, 2008

Assassination of Mexican prison warden highlights out of control border security crisis

Just more than halfway through 2008, Ciudad Juarez across the river from El Paso has witnessed more than 500 drug-related murders out of 1,800 or more this year nationwide. The most recent victims were a prison warden and his bodyguard:
A group of hitmen armed with automatic weapons ambushed the head of a giant prison in a northern Mexican city on Thursday soon after he received threats on his life from suspected drug gangs, said police.

Salvador Barreno, 66, was leaving work at the largest jail in Ciudad Juarez when a group of men with assault rifles chased down his car, killing him and a bodyguard who was driving.

The car was riddled with more than 80 bullet holes, according to local media. Barreno made it to a hospital but died in surgery. His bodyguard was killed instantly.

The prison director had been receiving threats, likely from powerful drug cartels, before his murder, police said.

Last week Alberto Varela, the head of security at the same prison, was killed in a similar attack after his name appeared on a death list pinned on police offices in May.

Drug gangs have hung banners with the names of dozens of policemen around the city near the U.S.-Mexico border this year and have made good on some of their threats, murdering more than 10 of the officers picked out.
This is all happening right at America's front door, though you wouldn't know it from the US response. Increasingly sophisticated and dangerous drug traffickers in Mexico have begun using car bombs and submarines, murdering or kidnapping police officers, and engaging in open public shootouts both with rivals and police, all the while bribing American peace officers and even expanding their violent tactics onto US soil.

More and more I fear that this crisis will be allowed to fester until it's magnitude is so great it can only be resolved through martial law and draconian violence. Things are getting pretty scary down on the border and President Felipe Calderon's government appears increasingly impotent in the face of cartels' firepower. On the US side, new enforcement expenditures by states and the feds have either done nothing to reduce the crisis or made things worse.

If politics were about issues that matter instead of issues that poll well, we'd see cartel violence and US drug policy become a central debate point in the US presidential race. We appear to be at a turning point, and right now things are turning decidedly in the wrong direction.

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

Here's an awesome idea. Let's keep our nose out of Mexico's business. Arm our border with troops out of Iraq, dig some fox holes, and finish the fence. We have more than enough training in the armed forces to deal with a bunch of drug runners even if they are Zeta's. If they decide to bring the violence across our border in force, we treat it as an invasion, and bomb their butts back to the stone age. We have 100,000 plus soldiers that I am sure would prefer to site in Texas, Arizona, N. Mexico, and California defending something really important, instead of bombing people in a country that we shouldn't have gone to in the first place.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

"Mexico's business?" Cartels have already executed kidnappings in Georgia - when does it become our problem too? This has gone far beyond just a border issue, these are sophisticated, multinational criminal rings.

As for "foxholes"? "finish the fence"? You jest, right? When you know they're also using airplanes and submarines, that's a pretty limited plan.

Besides, the vast, vast majority of drugs coming from Mexico to the US enter through regular, legal checkpoints thanks to bribed cops on BOTH sides of the border.

The spaces in between were more commonly used by coyotes before the recent crackdown for smuggling of humans, but now the cartels run that leg of the business, too, so illegal immigration is increasingly bribery based as well. (And of course, about half of illegal immigrants enter legally and overstay their visa.)

You wouldn't need more cops or troops on the border if it were possible to root out corruption on the US side among the ones there now. And since one bad Border Patrol agent can wave through mountains of dope in a single shift, it doesn't take too many bad apples to undermine the whole effort.

wolf said...

Instead of using stone age thinking and action to address the drug problem, why not try reason and common sense. While our cocktail slurping, beer drinking, unrecovered alcoholic politicians moralize about the evils of "drug use", they keep in place failed drug laws that directly fund drug cartels, terrorists and other criminals. A 21st century approach to drugs would recognize the documented failure of US drug policy, and though legalization, pull the rug out from all those who benefit from drug prohibition.
Not only that, it would free up our law enforcement personnel to focus more on real crime control, and reduce the size of the biggest prison system in the world.

Eric Ogunbase said...

@ wolf: It would make sense to kill the funding of drug cartels through legalization. But such a thing would have an effect across the law enforcement community. First of all, there would be no need for the DEA. In addition to that, we could probably cut the amount of correctional officers by at least 30% (just a conservative estimate), as we wouldn't be jailing those dangerous criminals who get caught with a joint on their person.

Do you think law enforcement would go for it? Not a chance. They don't even like the idea of private citizens having guns to defend themselves.

Anonymous said...

Put more funding and ingenuity into drug rehab and prevention so the demand for drugs is reduced on the American side. Americans are the ones funding the cartels with their recreational drug use and addictions.

Public schools and colleges should educate students about the violence and death in Mexico caused by their drug consumption. If they don't care about their own health because they think they're invulnerable, maybe they'll care about dead families and mass graves.

Anonymous said...

I can't see Bush and the federal government getting involved unless the perpetrators adorn themselves in turbins and kill innocent civilians in the name of Allah. The mexicanos responsible for all these killins are merely considered border trash. It's a local and state government problem. Perry is unlikely to send National Guard troops. He has more important things to do, like finding the fire fiend who torched his crib.

Richard Grabman said...

One small correction. The "car bomb" was a couple of tanks of propane in the back seat of a car some yin-yang set on fire attempting to storm AN EMPTY HOUSE ... and they didn't explode, though U.S. reports tend to overlook details that don't fit the "out of control drug war" scenario.

And that "out of control drug war" is exactly what's wrong with the whole discussion. Because the U.S. seems frustrated with its own narcotics addiction problems and the failure of its own response, it is exporting their failed program to Mexico, then is surprised that the results are more violence.

The best solution for Mexico is deal with the violence and disregard the effect on the United States. If it means pushing the gangsters north, so be it.

Anonymous said...

Amongst useless or even counterproductive border initiatives, you left out Operation B.S.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Richard, while I didn't mean to overstate the car bomb story, I think it's unwise to undersell the import and scale of the violence that's happening. Juarez is on pace to approach 1,000 drug-related murders this year, and the military presence hasn't helped matters like they'd hoped. At what point is it reasonable to call the situation out of control?

I don't think Mexico can stop the violence on the border without using extralegal means - like the Los Pepes death squads that went after Pablo Escobar and his family in Colombia. Local cops are corrupt and the military inept. By what possible means will the government begin "pushing the gangsters north"? As long as Mexico is an international transportation hub for goods headed to the US, I don't see how it's possible to dislodge the cartels from the border. They seem pretty well entrenched.

Regrettably, the way most likely to reduce violence in Mexico (though it'd piss off the US something fierce) would be to pick a winner in the cartel wars and create a corrupt partnership with the most powerful cartel, like every Mexican President before him has done. In any event, IMO some economic/political solution along those lines must ultimately arise; the state appears unable to end the violence solely through its own use of force.

Richard Grabman said...

Actually, in some ways I agree. What's really the difference between these "cartels" and the 1930s rum-runners or 1850s opium exporters? Within a generation or so, they're just rich people with shady ancestors. I wouldn't be particularly upset if the Autonomous University of Sinaloa had a Chapo Guzman Memorial Library or Chapo's grandson some day runs for high office in this country.

My point is that the U.S. can't expect Mexico to pay for (with it's own citizens blood) a "solution" to someone else's problem.

And, frankly, it's been in the U.S. interest to keep violence on the border... it allows the U.S. Administration to continue it's so-called "war on terrorism" indefinitely. Look at the rhetoric (which even you seem to buy) that these gangsters are creating a "war", that they're "terrorists," etc. Nah... they're run of the mill gangsters.

Anonymous said...

Said it before...

We should violently invade Mexico and replace its gov't with one as much like ours as possible. Their power center is shifted, thereby making a decent life a bit more accessible for the have-nots.

Anonymous said...

"We should violently invade Mexico and replace its gov't with one as much like ours..."
You mean, like we did in Iraq? I don't see why not-we already have a reputation of launching pre-emptive strikes against sovereign nations. Bush might have a little problem, though, if we send our Christian army to kill other Christians. It might not look right in the eyes of God.

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