Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Concerns about 'spillover' from Mexican drug fighting belated, naive

It's becoming hard to know what to think about news out of Mexico about crime and the drug war. What few reports we get from northern Mexico sound goddawful, and we know we're not getting the whole story, by a longshot. But friends who've traveled recently in Mexico reported few concerns for safety, and thousands of spring breakers just returned without incident. Meanwhile murder rates in southern Mexico are lower than they've been in years after long-stewing land disputes were essentially resolved by force in favor of large landowners.

That said, recent news has been filled with reports of drug violence in the north and in Acapulco, events which have Governor Perry and others talking about "spillover." But that's a misnomer, one which Jerry Brewer at Mexidata.info corrects:
The simple fact is that DTOs [Drug Trafficking Organizations] have been on U.S. soil for quite some time. They have established highly sophisticated smuggling infrastructures within the country. And for distribution they utilize, among others, U.S. street gangs, prison gangs, and outlaw motorcycle gangs. Much of this assimilation by Latin American gangs has been from within U.S. prison walls.
Bingo. People don't get it. The Mexican Ambassador was dead right when he told the Houston Chronicle that Texas officials' statements about spillover are “disingenuous or naive.”

“The term ‘spillover' would, at least in my eyes, seem to be a bit of a false dilemma,” [Ambassador Arturo] Sarukhan responded. “You speak of ‘spillover' as if you had the pristine waters of Alaska contaminated by the spill of the Exxon Valdez. That is, there was nothing there before the Exxon Valdez created the accident.

“To assume that in Texas there are no distribution networks, drug traffickers don't have safe houses, they don't have banks, they don't launder money, is disingenuous or naive at the least,” he told reporters and editors from the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News. “So ‘spillover'? They're already there.”

This idea that the border is some defensible wall, or ever could be, is a farcical myth. That's never been true and in the era of globalism, cannot be. There's too much cross-border trade and traffic, too many entangling business and family relationships. When DTO fighting begins to "spillover" into the United States, it probably won't be along the border but in Houston, Dallas, New Orleans, Phoenix, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles - all the big-city transportation hubs where these organizations have deep, longstanding networks. And once they're underway, those wars will largely be fought by proxy; their local face will largely be that of homegrown gangs and crooks, not necessarily Spanish speaking Mexican capos. We will have finally met the enemy and it will be us.

With that in mind, any possible solution must recognize and embrace that interconnectedness instead of pretending we could ever become "Fortress America" and simply wall the border off. Anyone who has spent much time in border towns (before the last few years, anyway) knows that day-to-day life there is more tightly bound with folks across the river than outsiders know. Post-NAFTA, the rise of the maquiladora industry added a layer of daily business interconnectedness that includes many of America's largest companies.

The Fortress America crowd would demand that border communities sacrifice those relationships in the name of security, but the better approach is to leverage them. We've only seen hints of that possibility along the Texas border, where instead our leaders' focus has been on pork barrel politics and installing web cams so citizen volunteers could monitor stretches of wilderness for immigrants in their spare time. However, Andrew Selee, director of the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington, D.C., told the Dallas News' Alfredo Corchado that there may be another model to consider out of California in San Diego/Tijuana, where he said:
It was startling to see some of the cross-border cooperation going in between agencies in Tijuana and San Diego. Not just federal government agencies, but also city and county police departments, nongovernmental organizations, and business networks. It gave us hope. In Tijuana, they seem to have limited the role of the military to pursuing high-value targets and worked on strengthening courts and police to make it harder for criminal organizations to operate. I'm not sure that's the magic bullet, but it seemed like there were lessons there that might work well elsewhere along the border, especially in Juárez and some of the other cities along the Texas border.
There are challenges to doing that in Juarez, where, for example, there's a good chance relying on local police would mean handing enforcement over to the control of a DTO that for many years had thoroughly corrupted them. (Officials say they've fired the corrupt officers - which was a large proportion of the force, but quien sabe?) Of course, that's sometimes also been true on the US side. Still, perhaps border cities and state officials on both sides of the river should look to the San Diego-Tijuana example for a more integrated approach, one that builds up local institutions instead of supersedes them?


Anonymous said...

Yes, tone it down. The rhetoric is hurting our businesses and driving away tourists.

Anonymous said...

What most commentators ignore about drug related border issues is that the crime and violence in Mexico are largely driven by prohibition policies on this side of the border. It is what makes control of smuggling routes so valuable and worth fighting and dying over. It is what empowers the drug cartels and funds them. If we really want to control the border and get undercut drug cartels we have to attack their money supply -- the one approach most likely to work is the legalization and regulation of all illegal drugs. As long as these substances remain prohibited and outside a regulated system that would allow access to adults (think alcohol and tobacco) there will be demand (higher demand than if legally accessible) and a black market system to supply those drugs.

Wake up and smell the coffee....

We cannot deal with this problem through prohibition strategies... that approach results in the absence of control and anyone of any age can readily access illegal drugs as long as they have the cash.

What we are doing is killing us, our children and thousands of Mexicans.

It is about time to rethink this problem from the ground up.

doran said...

Ambassador Arturo Sarukhan's suggestions about the extent of DTO presence in Texas is bothersome and puzzling.

Texas, under two or more decades of unrelenting legislative and judicial assaults on Constitutional rights, is about as close to a police state as an American State can get and still function with some attributes of a constitutional republic. The judiciary has rendered the protections of both the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and Section 9 of the Texas Bill of rights almost meaningless. Rules of evidence have been warped and wrought by the judicial and legislative branches to make it easier for law enforcement to apprehend and to convict accused persons.

The Texas Legislature has almost never denied law enforcement the "tools" that LE claims to need, no matter how awful those tools are used and without much regard for Constitutional provisions.

Police departments across this State routinely stage questionable searches, make unlawful arrests, and all too often simply lie to magistrates to get search warrants.

Prosecutors, using sophistry worthy of a UT sophomore, aid and abet that activity with the most outlandish legal arguments to support positions which insult common sense.

So, in the context of a nascent Texas police state, what is this all about:

“To assume that in Texas there are no distribution networks, drug traffickers don't have safe houses, they don't have banks, they don't launder money, is disingenuous or naive at the least....”

Perhaps the Ambassador was speaking hyperbolically. Texas and the U.S. government have the facilities and authority -- to discover and penetrate those elements of DTO infrastructures -- of a sophisticated nature and in numbers which would excite the jealously of any 20th Century police state dictator. Federal and State law enforcement have no excuse for allowing those safe houses, etc., to continue to function. It makes no sense at all that the DTOs can continue to operate their distribution and money laundering facilities. We should conclude, then, that the Ambassador was blowing smoke.

On the other hand, if the Ambassador is accurate in his assessment, then something is rotten in the chambers of federal and state drug law enforcement agencies.

So, which is it: Hyperbolic language by the Ambassador, not intended to be taken literally, or corruption of Texas and Federal law enforcement?

There is a third possible explanation: Federal and Texas drug law warriors are just plain incompetent.

And a fourth, which is All Of The Above.

Anonymous said...

It’s a shame this state I love has become such a closed minded police state in the last several decades. In 2001 I said I felt safer in Israel than I did in America and we lost the World Trade Center. I just recently came back from a 10 day trip on the Texas Border to see for myself just how scary it is down there. The only thing to fear is fear itself came to mind. The fear mongering coming from our crazy supporters of a pro police state is so ridiculous. Even worst the same nut jobs talk about an independent Texas. How stupid do our politicians think we are?
I felt safer on the boarder than I do in Dallas or Houston. I was also surprised at the number of people from Arab nationalities I met who were intermingled with Mexican nationals who were crossing the border. As a joke, I would start rattling something off in farce or slang Hebrew and whoops their cover was blown. How stupid is our border patrol and other agency’s who are there protecting us. With the help our border patrol appears to be getting from the UN you would thing they could distinguish between Arabs and Mexicans. As an American and a Texan I think with the people they have down there and the money that is flushed down there, there should be more effort to stop illegal Arab immigration than the stopping the evil Mexican weed flowing into the state. Now that’s something to be afraid of. Besides I was told the UN is useless at dealing with DTO’s, so what the hell are they down there doing?

el_longhorn said...

Just came back from a visit to Laredo, talked to many friends and family with close ties to Mexico who regularly travel or have business there. The situation is very bad in Mexico. Heard reports of an attack by the Mexican Marines on a narco training facility in Bustamante, nueveo Leon - reports of dozens dead, dozens arrested and dozens fled into the mountains. The town was on lockdown for a couple of days. Large parts of Nuevo Laredo and other Mexican border cities are controlled by the narcos, who have set up checkpoints to monitor there areas. Talked to friends who work for US Customs and get regular reports on the situation in Mexico. Very grim.

diognes said...

My students (99.99% Hispanic in a border town community college) have been reporting that things are bad indeed on the Mexican side (they and their families travel back and forth on a regular basis). They report that the cartels will only allow people outside during a few hours in the morning. My students are upset about the situation and were asking "When are we (the U.S.) going to do something about this?". They were wanting U.S. military force to be used to cross the border and quash the problem.

Anonymous said...

Hey Doran,
Are you saying we are like Iran?

Anonymous said...

2:57 - Did yoy recommend that we invade with fullforce and destroy anything we dislike? Are you part of the problem?

Anonymous said...

When half of the employees in state gov't are kin of these thugs, what do you expect? Fire them all or take them out. Its the only way to get real control back to the respected public.