Ironically, crime in Texas (including our murder rate) has actually declined during a period in Mexico when thousands were slain in battles between competing criminal organizations and the government over access to US consumers. The Los Angeles Times puts the total in Juarez (El Paso's sister city) at 1,300 cartel-related murders in 2008 alone. That's more killings in one city than the entire state of Texas sees in a year - in 2007 Texans reported just 1,172 total murders according to FBI crime stats.
I join the LA Times in their hope that the Obama Administration changes strategies on its Mexico policy because the first installment of President Bush's Plan Mexico anti-drug money takes what I think is exactly the wrong tack - indiscriminately throwing cash at the problem. As I learned from an article in the latest (Sept. - Dec.) issue of Voices of Mexico (an academic publication from the Mexican university, UNAM, not online), a shortage of funds is hardly the biggest challenge facing Mexican law enforcement:
It hardly seems necessary to emphasize that the problem in Mexico is not a matter of limited economic resources allocated for fighting crime. In 2007 public spending programmed for "order, security, and justice" was 60.46 billion pesos. In 2008 this amount was increased to 69.58 billion pesos. This last amount represented an 86.8 percent increase vis-a-vis 2003, when the amount designated was 37.25 billion pesos. Even so, President Felipe Calderon requested a 39 percent nominal increase over the current year in the Federal Spending Bill for2009 presented to Congress. In the last six years, the federal executive has used only approximately 50 percent of the amounts budgeted. Nevertheless, the results do not correspond by far to the [total] amounts spent in this area.In light of these data, the importance of the so-called "Merida Initiative" seems more political and symbolic than practical. Mexico doesn't need our money, they need to clean up their own law enforcement agencies while America needs to focus on reducing both demand and corruption north of the border.
The VoM piece reinforces my sense that the United States shouldn't be spending so much on helicopters and equipment when many in Mexican (and increasingly US) law enforcement are working as much as agents of drug cartels as police.
That became apparent earlier this year when one of Texas' border Sheriffs who'd received Gov. Perry's multi-million dollar anti-drug grant was arrested for allegedly working as an agent of the Gulf Cartel. As state Rep. Jessica Farrar told the El Paso Times: "We may as well just send it directly to drug dealers ... We've been spending money against our own interests."
Driving home that concern are more recent arrests of corrupt officials on both sides of the border. According to AP:
Mexico's former acting federal police chief was accused Friday of collaborating with a notorious cartel and stealing money from a mansion during a raid to bust a drug trafficking ring.In November, Mexico's federal police liaison to Interpol was arrested as an alleged cartel conspirator.
A judge ordered Gerardo Garay's formal arrest on suspicion of organized crime, robbery and abuse of power, according to a statement from the Attorney General's office. Garay had been under preliminary detention for a month, but authorities had not revealed the allegations against him. He has previously denied any wrongdoing. ...
Some of those arrested had been at the helm of President Felipe Calderon's nationwide offensive to take back territory controlled by drug gangs, a two-year campaign involving the deployment of more than 20,000 soldiers.
Similarly, on the US side we continue to see episodic bouts of drug-related corruption among both law enforcement and others in officialdom. Just last week we saw another Texas-based Border Patrol agent "indicted for allegedly accepting bribes in exchange for escorting narcotic loads."
The Brownsville Herald recently told the story of a paralegal who allegedly sold information she had access to through her employer, a private law firm, to a drug gang who used it to commit a murder. While Grits has focused the problem of police corruption, the Herald reminds us that "A cadre of attorneys, probation officers, paralegals, grand jurors and court staff has access to sensitive intelligence for which groups such as the Texas Syndicate or the Tamaulipas-based Gulf Cartel are willing to pay highly."
Finally, one can't talk about press coverage of the Mexican drug war without doffing one's hat to those journalists who risk their lives to bring us those stories. In particular, I can't help but imagine the horrific holiday season faced by the family of Armando Rodriguez, a crime reporter for El Diario de Juarez in Ciudad Juarez who was fatally gunned down Nov. 13 outside his home as he was taking his daughter to school. Keep them in your prayers and hope that we can find some way to combat drug trafficking that doesn't put reporters at risk.
In particular, I'd like to see the government make much more intelligence information about cartel activities public to take the pressure of journalists like Rodriguez, who are frequently killed for reporting things that law enforcement and courthouse insiders already know. Such "open sourced intelligence" could perhaps pressure the cartels in indirect but meaningful ways that can't be had through roadway interdiction or long-term undercover investigations.
I'm not a great fan of the TV show "America's Most Wanted" - about 5 minutes of the breathless, hyped tone turns me off. But perhaps what's needed to reduce risk to journalists may be some sort of "Mexico's Most Wanted," an official or semi-official source of information to heighten public pressure and awareness.
In 2007, the Texas Legislature gave more than $100 million in grants (distributed through the Governor's office) to Border Sheriffs Association members in a pork-laden plan which grew out of Perry's 2006 re-election platform. This year, the Governor wants to boost that amount and expand the grant program to include police departments in interior cities in addition to along the border.
I think Gov. Perry is making the same mistake as the national government with its recent aid package to Mexico. By failing to prioritize reducing corruption, in the case of Sheriff Guerra Perry's plan put anti-drug money directly in the hands of someone who is now alleged to have been a cartel employee.
Though the issue never made it on the the presidential campaign radar screen, the Obama Administration definitely should move ASAP to set a new course for US drug policy, particularly regarding Mexico and Latin America. Reducing corruption (as opposed to purchasing guns and equipment) must become a more central focus of anti-drug law enforcement on both sides of the border, or else we risk witnessing an outcome that's openly feared in the Voices of Mexico article: "the imminent collapse of the Mexican state."