Mexico: Shaping The Battlefield


December 17, 2007: The government contends that its "war on the cartels" has weakened the drug gangs, especially the Gulf drug cartel. However, the war is a long one; President Felipe Calderon recently called it "a permanent battle." Endemic political, police, and judicial corruption allows the drug gangs and "old left" rebel organizations like the EPR "operational space." Put bluntly, money buys off the cops. This is why one year ago Calderon launched a combined military and police offensive against the cartels and associated gangs. Calderon judged, correctly, that the Mexican military was the most professional and reliable force in Mexico. The multi-state strike force included task-organized federal police units that Calderon's government also rated as reliable Calderon's government decided to fight the "war on the cartels" as an insurgency. This was a smart decision. The cartels employ paramilitary forces that in many respects operate as "the armed wings" of classic political insurgencies. Though there is no convincing evidence that the cartels have co-opted political rebel organizations, there are plenty of rumors. When the money is right, gangsters cooperate with political rebels in the Balkans, South America and in the Middle East. Afghanistan is an example of this phenomenon, where Taliban religious zealots also protect opium smugglers.

A recent statement by the Mexican attorney general's office reiterated a common complaint that Mexico needs US cooperation to defeat the gangs. This complaint serves a political purpose in Mexico, but the statement isn't pure spin. Smugglers bring US weapons into Mexico – that's a fact. The big fact is that the US has a huge appetite for illegal drugs. Critics point out that the US and Western demand for drugs often supports anti-Western guerrilla organizations (Afghanistan, again). Mexican Marxist outfits like the EPR are definitely anti-US. The Gulf drug cartel isn't anti US in a political sense (though it's anti-FBI and DEA), but organized crime is a destructive force in American society. As far as the Mexican government is concerned the illegal narcotics market in the US is financing the "drug insurgents."

The Mexican military now has around 22,000 soldiers and sailors involved in the counter-insurgent war. During the past 12 months the military has at times deployed as many as 30,000 troops in at least ten Mexican state: Guerrero, Michoacan, Sinaloa, Sonora, Baja California (Norte), Chihuahua, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas, Veracruz, and Durango. The military operations began in several western Mexican states the moved north and finally to Mexico's east coast. Combined military and police operations in Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, and Chihuahua have been particularly important, since these are the Gulf cartel's strongholds.

December 12, 2007: The military announced that troops arrested three senior members of the Gulf drug cartel. One of the men was identified as Marco Ramirez, allegedly the commander of the cartel's "hit team" (paramilitary strike force).

December 7, 2007: Call it "political shaping of the battlefield." president Felipe Calderon has told Foreign Ministry consuls in the U.S. to try to counter-act what he called "anti-Mexican" attitudes expressed by presidential candidates. One quote in Calderon's statement was particularly striking: Calderon said he wanted to "neutralize this strategy of confrontation and discrimination…" Calderon said that he does not want animosity to harm the "U.S. and Mexican bilateral relationship." Calderon is worried that Mexicans will react very negatively to the highly-charged U.S. presidential campaign debate over illegal immigration. That negative reaction will make it harder for him to cooperate with the U.S. on what he believes are key bi-lateral security issues. He also thinks (knows) this will harm U.S. border security efforts.

December 6, 2007: The Mexican military reinforced its on-going operation in the state of Tamaulipas with a combined task force of 3,000 army soldiers, Mexican marines, and federal police. That brings the strike force operating in Tamaulipas to approximately 5,000.

December 4, 2007: A police commander in the town of Tecate was murdered by gunmen. Mexican officials suggested the murder may have been linked to a police operation that discovered a "drug smuggling tunnel" that ran under the Mexico-California border. The Mexican police commander had played a central role in finding the tunnel.


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