Monday, October 06, 2008

Cartel violence so far stays in Mexico but corruption has crossed the river

Will Mexican drug cartels really stop at the Rio Grande because they're afraid of American law enforcement? To believe so seems like hubris to me, but the Houston Chronicle ran a piece over the weekend putting out this theme that's long been conventional wisdom. The article begins ("Juarez's drug bloodbath rarely spills over into neighboring El Paso," Oct. 4):

Ciudad Juarez, Mexico's sprawling industrial city of 1.3 million, has notched more than 1,000 killings so far this year amid a gang war for control of its smuggling routes and street-corner sales. Just 13 killings have been logged across the river in El Paso, an Army garrison community about half the size of Juarez.

Juarez now easily ranks as one of the hemisphere's most dangerous cities. El Paso boasts of being the second safest large city in the U.S., behind San Jose, Calif.

"We are joined at the hip, and we have such a contrasting situation," said Lucinda Vargas, a Juarez community development specialist, as she compared her city to El Paso. "The difference is institutions — the lack of rule of law on one side and its existence on the other."

North of the river, John Lanahan, a retired chief of the El Paso police homicide division, said the drug gangsters "pretty much toe the mark when they're on this side." He explained, "They know that law enforcement in the United States has a lot of resources and will go to no ends to solve some of these crimes."

That assessment belies the alarms about border violence ringing from Washington and Austin to sheriff's offices and city halls along the border.

That analysis ignores the extent to which cartels maintain extensive smuggling networks within the United States. Though we've seen a few documented examples of outright violence, including murders by Los Zetas as far north as Dallas, the Chronicle story is right that stories of cartel-related violence on the US side have so far been exaggerated, frequently for political purposes by those seeking re-election or federal grants to fund their local departments. But the article only mentions in passing the biggest problem with cartels on the US side - corruption of police has so far been a lot bigger deal along the border than violence against them. The Chron alluded to the problem with this caveat:

Not that El Paso has been squeaky clean.

A three-year federal corruption investigation — aimed at government contracts and not involving narcotics trafficking — already has netted nine guilty pleas

Some 30 El Paso police officers, [former El Paso Police Chief and current Sheriff's candidate Richard] Wiles said, were fired for corruption or misconduct during the four years that he was chief of the department.

Many more stories of corruption could be added to that list, starting with the head of the FBI field office in El Paso earlier this decade losing his job over corruption allegations. Hundreds of law enforcement officers along the border and elsewhere in the state have succumbed to corruption in recent years, and those are just the ones we know about.

That's exactly why I think new "border security" funding should go first to fight official corruption, not just to subsidize whatever the local sheriff decides to do. If that local Sheriff turns out to be corrupt, as has sometimes been the case, then that strategy just takes money meant to protect the border and gives it to those aiding smugglers.

It would be a terrific error to equate a relative lack of violence by Mexican cartels in the United States with a lack of their presence - the truth is they they have a great deal of infrastructure on the US side.

Speaking of US-side cartel infrastructure, Daniel Hopsicker over at Mad Cow News must feel vindicated after the MSM finally picked up the story he first broke a year ago, in which he revealed that an American-registered plane that had earlier been used by the CIA for rendition flights and trips to and from Guantanamo Bay went down in the Yucatan carrying large amounts of cocaine. Hopsicker's reporting was validated by the official record uncovered by Mexican investigators, and he continues at MCN to track American aircraft allegedly involved in drug smuggling. So I wanted to alert readers to several items from Mad Cow News updating the saga since we discussed the topic last year:


Dan Kowalski said...

On a smaller scale, recall this from Sam Quinones' book, True Tales from Another Mexico: "Epilogue: Leaving Mexico
My last Mexico tale, the story of how I went to the traditional German-speaking Mennonite settlements in Northern Mexico. I wanted to understand why so many of these old-world peasants have become alcoholics, crackheads, and proficient drug smugglers. In the end, though, it is the story of how asking the wrong Mennonites the wrong questions forced me, finally, to leave Mexico, too."

Anonymous said...

Another issue avoided in this article was the number of El Paso residents killed among the 1,000 in Juarez this year.

Anonymous said...

All to keep some fools from sticking powder up their noses or needles in their veins. We don't spend scores of billions of dollars (that we fervently wish we had for other things now, thanks to the financial meltdown) trying to keep drunks from 'putting the bottle to their head and pulling the trigger' as one C&W song went a few years back. Why do 'druggies' rate so highly?