Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Mexican Cartels openly recruiting military, courting public opinion

Here's an amazing example of chutzpah in Gulf Cartel recruiting efforts in Nuevo Laredo: The Washington Post has a fascinating story about public recruiting efforts by the cartels:

It was printed on a 16-foot-wide banner and strung above one of the busiest roads here, calling out to any "soldier or ex-soldier."

"We're offering you a good salary, food and medical care for your families," it said in block letters.

But there was a catch: The employer was Los Zetas, a notorious Gulf cartel hit squad formed by elite Mexican army deserters. The group even included a phone number for job seekers that linked to a voice mailbox.

Outrageous as they seem, drug cartel messages such as the banner hung here late last month are becoming increasingly common along the violence-savaged U.S.-Mexico border and in other parts of the region. As soldiers wage a massive campaign against drug trafficking across Mexico, they are encountering an information war managed by criminal networks that operate with near impunity.

The cartels' appeals -- which authorities generally believe to be authentic recruitment efforts -- seem designed in part to taunt a military plagued by at least 100,000 desertions in the past eight years.

That might be the most brazen act by an organized crime gang I think I've ever heard of! The Post also mentions cartel expenditures aimed at winning the hearts and minds of the public:

Last week, clowns entertained 500 children and gave out presents at a party in the city of Acuña, across the border from [Del Rio in] southeast Texas. A banner said the party was sponsored by Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, the Gulf cartel kingpin who is now imprisoned on drug trafficking charges in the United States.

"Your friend Osiel Cárdenas Guillén wishes you a Happy Children's Day," the banner read. "You are the future of Mexico."

The battle against Mexican drug cartels can never be won solely by force. What's equally needed is to facilitate a cultural transformation on both sides of the border to isolate cartels from the general public to make them more vulnerable. From this account, and others I've seen, the cartels are winning the battle for the public's hearts and minds, even when the government enjoys a short-term interdiction success.


ms_saul said...

I love it that the cartel is offering health benefits. In this day and age where companies are dropping benefits like a hot potato, it really amuses me that a profit-driven entity like a cartel would find it worthwhile to offer benefits. Even assuming there's some sort of oral contract, if the cartel doesn't come through with its medical care for your family, could you sue the cartel?

More seriously, it does say a lot when there's open recruitment. Wouldn't mass recruitment just open them up even more to infiltration by government agents?

Daniel said...


Wouldn't mass recruitment just open them up even more to infiltration by government agents?

Yeah, because out of the trillions they spend on their organizations; with all the former military/government folks they employ/bribe... I'm sure they forgot about operational security. :)

Anonymous said...

I durn near choked on my morning Pepsi when I read this.

If anything can illustrate just how much the cartels represent 'free market', 'laissez faire' capitalism, it's recruitment of personnel in the conventional fashion...via advertisements.

This is getting downright Pythonesque; what's next, TV commercials? It'd be funny if it weren't for the fact drug prohibition has left blood in the streets...

Anonymous said...

Return with me now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, when Pancho Villa's army roamed unmolested and dominant across the Chihuahua Desert of Northern Mexico and Southwestern United States.

As Mexico moves closer to all-out armed conflict in Northern Mexico between the government and the cartels, the armies of the latter will undoubtedly use the vast openess of Far West Texas, southern New Mexico and Arizona for tactical maneuvering room. Mexican Army troops may pursue the Los Zetas into the US.

Of course, the US government should not and will not tolerate such incursions. No sir! The US government will----wait for it---BUILD A DAMN WALL.

No, that won't work. If the civil war-like fighting in Mexico starts to spill over into the US, we will need to have a huge troop presence along the border. Those troops will come from where? Our already stretched thin Army? The National Guard? Not unless the Democrats win in November, and not if they continue to crater before President Moron's demand to keep the Iraq occupation going on.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

You know, Daniel, we've talked before about how the Zetas originated from Mexican special forces troops trained at Fort Benning, GA by US Green Berets, but who then defected. This is just a more grandiose version of that recruiting tactic.

That's one of my beefs with the Bush Plan Mexico - training Mexican police and military who are defecting at high rates (or playing both sides against each other), just risks making their operations more sophisticated when those guys flip sides, and a big percentage inevitably will. It's easy for cartels to vet infiltrators - require them to commit a murder or other serious felony as the cost of admission, and thereafter they're pretty much on the hook.

Meanwhile, on the US side, police, border patrol, jailers and prison guards, basically everybody has had to lower recruiting standards to meet extra post-9/11 demand, letting in folks with minor criminal records or even family connections to organized crime figures. If anything, the risk of infiltration is greater on our side because there's no comparable way for authorities to make them prove their overall commitment.

I've repeatedly argued I'd rather see greater resources in Mexico AND on the US side go first to rooting out existing corruption before expanding corrupt systems.

My personal view is that Mexican drug gangs are a FAR greater security threat to America and its way of life than Al Qaeda, but our policies often seem almost aimed to benefit them.

And lawschoolinmate, nobody will need to sue the cartels, I'd imagine, because they're playing a PR game. They'll pay out the health benefits (self-insured, no doubt, given their cash flow), because to fail to fulfill the promise would run counter to the money they're spending to better their public image. It's a relatively small price to pay in the context of black market drug revenue.

They're trying to demonstrate to the public that they're more stable and reliable than the Mexican government. The sad part is, it might be true! Even The Economist considers the cartels to "well-run international business[es]." Who can say the same, after all, for the Mexican government?

My personal view is that Mexican drug gangs are a FAR greater security threat to America and its way of life than Al Qaeda, but our policies frequently seem almost aimed to benefit instead of undercut them.

el_longhorn said...

I heard in Laredo that the banner was a joke and that the phone number was fake, although I haven't called it myself.

Anonymous said...

I can't believe you think the cartel are a bunch of criminals. I thought everyone was innocent until proven guilty beyond the satisfaction of the ACLU. My gosh, are you turning republican, or do just a different set of rules apply for south of the border crooks?

I figured you'd want to hug them and put them in counseling, because like american criminals in your eyes, they are just misunderstood.

Jeez, pick a side.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

2:11, the reason you'd think such a ridiculous thing is that you're projecting your own prejudice and ignorance into the debate instead of reacting to anything I've written. Also, fwiw, I haven't worked for the ACLU in nearly almost two years, and believe me when I tell you I'm now persona non grata in their shop, for a variety of reasons. Trying to link my positions to theirs is just silly. They're not doing a damn thing on these issues.

I never know whether it's the right thing to do to correct commenters, as in your case, who're just puking out ignorant statements based in malice rather than evidence, but regardless of the wisdom of responding, the bottom line is you just don't have a clue what you're talking about. I can't put it more directly than that.

Anonymous said...

Here's some really cheery reading on this subject:

Mexcio: On the Road to a Failed State?