January 11, 2013:
Americans visiting Mexico are often surprised to see Mexican soldiers, in full battle rattle (combat gear), manning border checkpoints. This is part of an effort to halt corruption by Mexican border police (who are bribed or intimidated by drug cartels to cooperate with drug smuggling). The cartels don’t like this and fight back with attacks on the troops, which often includes snipers and roadside bombs. In response the army detachments sent to border posts (usually 8-12 troops in two hummers) never use the same route from their base to the border post. One of the hummers usually has a vehicle mounted machine-gun and the troops present a very professional and no-nonsense appearance. The cartel, despite having a lot of former military men on the payroll, have taken notice and generally backed off from direct confrontation with these troops.
Seeking to reduce the number of former troops going to work for the cartels, the government is completely rebuilding some city police forces. Nearly all the existing cops are fired and new ones recruited. The catch is that the pay is now higher and so are the standards. This makes it attractive to former military men. This won’t eliminate corruption completely but is expected to reduce it considerably.
Mexico has endured a fierce war with drug cartels during the last six years. Most of the violence takes place on or near the U.S. border, and in the last three years there have been over 60,000 killed (and 80,000 since 2007, when 2,800 died for the entire year). Even the soldiers and marines sent in to back up the police have been corrupted by bribes. A new president was elected last year, partly on the promise to end the violence. It is feared that the solution will be an old one, where the government leaves the cartels alone as long as the cartels do not go around killing a lot of people.