Leadership: The Mexican Generals Lament


April 21,2008: The Drug Wars in Mexico present some tough problems for the army leadership. There are actually several wars going on. The overarching one is between the federal government and the various drug cartels. Then there are a number of wars between the cartels over control of turf, and therefore markets. Over the past year, at least 2,000 deaths can be attributed to the drug war. In the border town of Juarez alone, about 210 people have died in a turf war, which continues despite a heavy infusion of federal agents and troops over the past couple of months.

Federal police and troops have proven useful in the war, as they are usually stationed away from their home areas, and are thus less likely to be subject to corruption or intimidation by local drug gangs. In some areas the drug cartels have either bribed or pressured the local police into neutrality or even cooperation.

The military has been taking an increasing role in anti-drug operations, a matter which is somewhat troublesome, given the penchant throughout Latin America for coups and other forms of interference with civilian rule. Nevertheless, the Mexican side of major border crossings are beginning to look like military check points; troops, machine-gun carrying Humvees, back up border police. Meanwhile, military bases have very tight security at their gates, and while traveling cross country one can spot seemingly random troop patrols or trucks and Humvees, particularly in isolated areas or closer to the frontier, and helping police man random check points along highways.

The army leadership has several things to worry about. First, they have to train and motivate their troops for this new kind of war. Then they have to worry about the danger of corruption. The drug gangs try to intimidate the troops, or bribe them. Either action is bad for morale, and preparing the troops for this sort of thing is difficult.


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