Saturday, September 15, 2007

Calderon and the drug cartels: Who's intimidating who?

I'm afraid the Texas Youth Commission has soaked up much of the mental bandwidth with which I was focusing on border security last year, but right now in Mexico some dramatic moves on all sides of the government's anti-cartel initiative will likely shape what happens at the border in the near future, perhaps far more than US policy.

Of immediate concern, consider this week's brazen "daytime killing of two federal officers in a hail of some 250 high-caliber bullets and a couple of grenades in downtown Monterrey." The SA Express News' Beyond the Border blog said the assassination is being investigated by Internal Affairs, and the suspects may be federal police. Also this week, the state police chief in Guerrero was assassinated while eating at a restaurant in San Luis Potosi.

Adding to the chaos, Reuters reports that a terrorist group is responsible for blowing up six Pemex pipelines in the south. Indeed, Mexico's southern states, formerly immune to cartel violence, are getting a taste of the same medicine as Monterrey:

Mexican police found the head of a police officer kidnapped by drug hitmen in the southern state of Guerrero on Thursday, El Universal newspaper said.

More than 1,600 people have been killed in drug-related killings in Mexico so far this year and some 2,000 died in 2006.

By comparison, according to federal data, the United States had less than 600 drug-related homicides in 2005, down from more than 1,400 in 1989. The spectacular beheadings and daylight assassinations of police in Mexico outpace any killing spree by American organized crime since Al Capone's Chicago.

Worse, the playing field isn't even. Anti-drug investigators must round up and prosecute offenders one at a time, but when a police officer is killed it sends an intimidating message to all his compadres - "Plata o plomo?," which means silver or lead? - making other officers easier to buy off for fear of their lives.

When Mexican cartels gain power it's at the expense of the central government and local authorities, which are weak, corrupt and in President Calderon's case distracted by tax reform from sinking the necessary political capital into tackling the cartels. Part of the reason for Calderon's shift in focus may be blowback from his initial anti-drug efforts, which exposed alleged corruption in his own ruling party. Those charges will play out during the pending American prosecution of a Chinese businessman named Ye Gon who is currently being held without bail:
Mexican police raided Ye Gon's mansion in Mexico City in March and discovered a stash of $207 million (€150 million) in cash. Mexican prosecutors allege the money came from trafficking in a chemical used to make drugs. Ye Gon claimed $150 million (€110 million) of the cash belonged to Mexico's ruling party, and that he was forced to hold the money during last year's presidential campaign.
Could this unraveling tale explain why Calderon's focus has shifted from the drug war to taxes and foreign affairs? I'm guessing it might.

On the US side, with the death toll also mounting, President Bush last month offered to pump money into an ill-defined anti-drug plan inside Mexico, one that he said will include no US military presence. I've been waiting ever since for details, and wonder whether that statement may leave open room for hiring private mercenaries like Dyncorp, discussed on Grits here, which operates the US anti-drug programs in South America and Afghanistan? That company has already been shopping their services to replace US Border Patrol agents, so they're clearly thinking about creative money making opportunities in the theater.

In any event, most of the recently publicized captures of cartel personnel, particularly on the US side, have been little fish, while in Mexico recent arrests demonstrate that imprisoned cartel leaders continue to control their organizations while incarcerated. For all the hype about Calderon's decision to bring in the Army, the money stash that implicated his own political party, to date, has been the largest success of the campaign.

Calderon has his nation's support today, but he could squander it easily if violence continues to escalate or if the Army and federal police are seen as too corrupt to combat the cartels. His plans to rein in and tax the "informal economy" (read: the black market) likely cannot succeed without addressing the most lucrative black market product of all - illicit drugs.

Calderon probably has a brief window of time to face the problem before it spirals so far out of control his government ceases to be relevant to the outcome. The same could perhaps be said for President Bush, except that he's probably already missed his window.


Anonymous said...

My understanding is that in Mexico the federal government pays poorly while the cartels pay richly. Poorly paid officers may also be richly paid at the same time. Calling this double-dipping is inaccurate: it's more like spooning-and-ladling.

When practically everybody is on the take -- or worse, also on the grab -- or worse still, on the take, on the grab, and in business for themselves -- reform from the inside is impossible. Reform from the outside is also impossible. Thus, reform is utterly impossible.

Their government has become a bunch of rackets. Pumping money into the rackets is not going to stop racketeering: it will only finance more racketeering.

Anonymous said...

Do you suppose this has impacted the tourist trade?

Anonymous said...

Prohibition of some drugs and plants has just turned out dandy, hasn't it?

Unknown said...

Drug money from prohibition is awesome! If you were the anti Christ, there would be no other enterprise - other than Jihad or Crusade - that would put so much power in the hands of people inclined to do evil! It is so corrupting for those in government and it inspires good people in church leadership to stay silent when those in government deliberately lie to the people about drugs! Satan must love wars of all kinds: especially when people act so righteous when they do evil.

Anonymous said...

A very good article and one that I will link to if you have no objection. Keep up the good work. I blog prison issues myself and have noticed that many times there is drug related chaos south of the border the Mexican Nationals in custody at our local B.O.P. facility in Pecos [contracted to Reeves County and The GEO Group], members from the opposing states and their cartels "act-out" as well. Many, but not all, of our guys claim that Calderon is working to eliminate the competition for either the Gulf Cartel or Sinaloa. both of whom are currently battling for control of Monterey and Nuevo Leon. -cliff

Anonymous said...

Every American needs to read a current book on the shelf called "Remember The Alamo" by William W Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone..The very first chapter of the book is Border Guards being attacked and murdered in broad daylight. I read this fiction about a week ago and now this..sent chills up and down my neck to read your post this morning.

Anonymous said...

Drug Warriors. Supporters of the War on Drugs.

Can you explain to me why you believe in, and support the War on Drugs, as we know it?

What good do you think you are doing society and mankind in general that is equal to the losses?

Is your "War" helping the world and humankind more than it is harming and abusing it?

Why is the expense, collateral damage, imprisonment, legal oppression, lack of reason, intolerance, and loss of life "worth it"?

If all these illegal drugs and plants became regulated and legal for adults to purchase and possess tomorrow, would you really start consuming them at unhealthy rates, or at all?

Do you think legal punitiveness and oppression is the only way to deal with "Other" people's consumption of anything? Why do you think it is a "good" thing?

Explain to me, please, the rationality of your fear of presently "illegal" drugs being legal.

Are you really sure that you aren't pawns and front men for huge and wealthy corporations and financial interests?

Anonymous said...

Protecting children?

Does anyone believe the War on Drugs is protecting children?

Anonymous said...

Does no one want to defend the War on Drugs?

Are we ready to try something different...besides killing more people and imprisoning more people?

This is important. We've killed people, including children, as part of the War on Drugs.

Why is it the right thing to do, or good in any way? Is it money well spent?

The War on Drugs is a wide and spacious gateway to violence, misery, suspicion, disease, dynamic entries into any home, even the "wrong" one, terror, corruption, death, and the creation of more and more proliferation of dangerous and unregulated concoctions.

Are we going to make everything that is dangerous illegal...and therefore, even more dangerous than before?

If you don't care about the lives wasted, do you care about the money wasted? Or are you making money because of the War on Drugs?

Would the drug cartels be cutting off police officer's heads and displaying them, if there was a legal and regulated market for drugs?

Are you hiding your own head in the sand... or in the War on Drugs... and just wishing it weren't real?

It is real...and it is a disaster.

Why do you support it?

Are you afraid not to?