Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Martial law in border towns; masked soldiers oust local police in Tamaulipas

After the most remarkable week of news for Mexican drug enforcement in recent memory, I can only imagine this astonishing scene, via the Dallas News ("Drug operation targets police," Jan. 23):

Elite army soldiers took over police stations along Mexico's border with Texas on Tuesday, disarming police, checking for unregistered weapons and searching patrol cars and personal vehicles for any items that might link the officers to drug cartels, according to an official and the Mexican media.

Special-forces soldiers wearing ski masks took control of police stations in Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa, Matamoros and other cities in Tamaulipas state during the morning change of shifts.

Can you envision the chaos when masked, gun-waving soldiers first descended on local police stations unannounced at dawn? If there were any honest cops left in those agencies, they probably at first thought it was the cartel attacking!

In the annals of police corruption I can think of very few similar scenarios to ski-masked soldiers taking over their own government's local police stations by force, particularly on this scale. What a mess!

RELATED: Pete Guither at Drug War Rant says this is just one of several recent examples of drug-related police dysfunction and corruption.


DAC said...

Sure I miss the Cabrito and the cheap margaritas, but are the factories safe?

Anonymous said...

Upping the ante militarily won't work; those soldiers will have to head back to garrison someday, and the narcos are like Mao's partisans in the ocean of the people. They'll just blend back in with the populace until the military leaves. And of course, you have to ask how many of those troops are already on the narco's payroll...and how many will be after this.

The DrugWarriors have always been whining that they wanted a 'real' war; well, now they have it. The problem with this is the DrugWar has never been a stand-up fight, but an insurgency. One in which the advantage has always been on the side of the narcos. You simply cannot know for sure who is friend or foe. I'm afraid this latest operation will underscore that fact in the most painful of ways...

Anonymous said...

I can't come up with ANY situation like this in the US since the Civil War, although possibly something along this line happened in Chicago in the 20s or 30s. What scenarios were you recalling, Grits?

But look on the bright side: It easily could have been US Army forces which conducted the raids.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

In the US, Doran, you've named the two I'm aware of. In Chicago I think the feds (not the military) walked quite a few cops out of hostile precincts in the Capone era, though not on this scale. And during Reconstruction, perhaps more aptly, the feds simply ousted local law enforcement and ruled directly through martial law.

There was and is significant police corruption in Colombia, though not on the scale of Mexico, that may have caused similar, more isolated anti-corruption takeovers of local police. For that matter, Edward Gibbon writes about how when town leaders under Roman rule would defy the emperor, troops would be sent in to dismiss the local constabulary in response.

So I was thinking pretty globally, and assuming there are situations of which I'm not aware. But outside of a true, counterrevolutionary setting (as in Recconstruction or Roman colonialism), you're right it's hard to think of a modern parallel.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Actually Doran, here's another recent example in Iraq, again, more of a counterrevolutionary setting, but the kind of thing that made me reticent to make an absolutist claim that the Mexican event is unique unto itself. Still, though, it's a startling development on top of a week full of them.

Anonymous said...

The feds also ousted the Klan like they did Capone et al, but it was the feds not the military as Grits mentioned.

As for the military not doing this since the civil war--several thousand Japanese Americans who remember being stuck in internment camps after Pearl Harbor would disagree with you.

As would a few Branch Davidians (I know, smaller scale...).

I'm not as troubled by this as Grits is. We all know corruption runs rampant in the border towns, and this shows that the Mexican government is actually trying to do something about it. They have to go in masked, because if they're identified by the cartels their family will die first, and then they'll be targeted.

You don't have to have this sort of situation to see troops in Mexico. They're on every street of every major city, and patrol the smaller ones as well. Private guards with freakin' Tommy guns stand guard outside shops in many cities. Their crime is rampant, and is aided and abetted by officials at virtually every level of their government.

Good for them. Go get 'em.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I don't think I said I was "troubled" by it, rage. I said it was "remarkable" "astonishing," and virtually unprecedented. It is potentially a very good thing. (Remember the Tamaulipas state police chief was implicated within the last week, along with local police commanders - the corruption runs incredibly deep.) But it's a high-profile gamble, any way you look at it. As in Iraq we may reasonably ask, "What is the exit strategy?"

I'm not judging Calderon's initiative yet, and if anything I favor direct confrontation of the cartels and corrupt police by the military. I just wonder, as always in Mexico, what happens next?

Anonymous said...

In answer to your question, Scott, I believe it will be little more than 'business as usual'. Particularly when so much of the Mex and US banking systems are dependent upon all that dirty money. The military being used to supplant the civil authorities vis-a-vis the War on Drugs will only change the players, not the game itself.

Anonymous said...

I'm not judging Calderon's initiative yet

Gotcha. I read into it a little too much. Wasn't the first time, won't be the last.

Next? Who knows. Can't get much worse though.

I think they're trying to make it look like they're doing something in response to the wall-building initiative. If they want a more open border, I think they realize they have to help clean it up as well.

Anonymous said...

Do you not worry, Scott, that some kind of political terrorist could not exploit the mexican-narco corruption to gain entry into America? Is this not a dangerous scenario?

I'm not sure I agree that Columbia is LESS CORRUPT than Mexico. I mean really, they had taken the murder of judges/prosecutors, kidnapping and international corruption to new levels long before this recent border drug war was going on. Like back in the
80's at least.

Of course, as the port of entry, Mexico is now in the catbird seat for corruption.

Build that wall. Make it thick so it stops bullets.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Terrorists enter in airports, carpenters and fruit pickers swim the river. There's just no evidence of what you describe - every claim to that effect has turned out to by false. If I were a terrorist, anyway, I'd choose the Canadian border, not Mexico's. It's barely guarded at all.

Anyway, the wall won't stop drug smuggling. It comes in through checkpoints, by boat or by air. The wall is aimed at immigration.

As for Colombia and Mexico - the reason they assassinated judges, etc., is because many weren't corrupt. In Mexico, heads of police departments routinely turn up as cartel leaders. It was never THAT widespread in Colombia, even in the 80s, to my knowledge. I never heard of whole police departments in Colombia being sent home! best,

Gritsforbreakfast said...

BTW, on the wall that stops bullets - they're building it on a river basin! Not just bullets, but water must be able to get through. As a result, of course, it will stop nothing.

Anonymous said...

Surely there is some way for Grits to blame this whole situation on the US drug war...we're waiting.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

I'll bite: US drug demand keeps cartel profits high, and US interests sell the cartels the high-powered weapons they're using to fight the government. There's plenty of blame to be found on the US side, don't worry.