January 2, 2008:
The Mexican army is
going through some tough times. A decade ago, an independence day parade
featured lots of showy stuff, including guys doing gymnastics, jumping through
flaming rings and such. These days, when
the troops march in a parade, the army sends a much grimmer message. Troops dressed in various kinds of camouflage
(jungle, swamp, desert, etc), various kinds of special ops people. It's the
drug war, more than the Chiapas thing and other small leftist movements. Sending the army into the war on drugs has
forced the army to change. New tactics, new weapons and new leadership styles.
The increasing violence in the border
towns, as the drug gangs fight each other and the army, has been bad for the
economy. A lot of American factories
were built along the border over the last two decades. Until recently they kept expanding and the
town attracted a lot of migrants from the interior. It's grown wildly over the
past 12-15 years. In the last year or so
American factories have begun closing down or cutting back. Lots of shops closed, with many towns having
about five percent of downtown stores vacant.
Crime has been soaring, what with all the recent migrants being tossed
out of work, and the flood of newcomers not diminishing yet. Thieves literally steal clothing off the
clothes line. Even dog collars, anything that they can try to sell in a flea
Drug use is becoming a problem. In some towns, the local cops won their "war" with the drug gangs, with pretty high
casualties all around. The dealers are
sure to be back. Reportedly, some cops
have shipped their families across the border, it helps that a lot of the
long-time local residents have family on both sides. But some of the drug dealers also have kin on
the US side, which will likely internationalize the next drug war in town.
While the police have been living with
the violence, and the temptation to take bribes, for years, all this is new to
the army. The troops have proved to be more resistant to the bribes, but not
immune. This is driving senior commanders nuts, especially the ones who believe
the army should not be involved in this kind of war. But they are, and it's
causing profound changes to the military. The troops are getting combat
experience, but in a war against Mexican gangsters.