Mexico: The Flailed State


January 6, 2011: The Mexico-is-a-failed-state meme is cropping up again in the U.S. media. It does get attention, which is why the media types go with it. Mexico could be a failed state, but it is a long, long way from being in that condition. It is, however, a stressed state finally confronting many destructive long-term social and economic problems,  and corrupt political arrangements. The attack on corruption began in 1997 when the PAN (National Action Party) and PRD Party of the Democratic Revolution) agreed to a tactical coalition, and defeated the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) in the Chamber of Deputies (lower house in national government). In 2000 the PAN candidate, Vicente Fox, became president. Power changed hands, from the PRI to the PAN. The election was free and fair. In 2006 the PAN candidate, Felipe Calderon, was elected president by a narrow margin over the highly controversial PRD candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. That year leftist demonstrators were besieging Oaxaca and had controlled the city for months. In one of his last acts as president, Fox sent in federal police to break up the demonstrations. Drug cartels –making hundreds of millions of dollars a year shipping drugs to the US-- had also taken control of other areas, particularly in western Mexico and in northern Mexico along the smuggling routes to the U.S..

When Calderon launched his war on the drug gangs in December 2006 he cast it as more than an attack on criminal gangs. That was an immediate objective, but systemic modernization was his long range goal. Calderon stressed that economic and political corruption contributed to the problem with crime. The cartels had taken control of judges and police departments, and bought politicians as well. The Cartel War is a mix of counter-insurgency military operations, police action, and social modernization. It will go on for a long time. The point the failed-staters miss is that a failed state would not be able to confront its systemic problems. Mexico, to its credit, is confronting them.

January 5, 2011: The U.S. government authorized an increase of 1200 National Guard soldiers along the US-Mexico border in mid-2010. Several state legislatures and a number of newly elected members of the House of Representatives have indicated they favor further increases. The murder of a U.S. Border Patrol officer in Arizona in December 2010, by a heavily armed Mexican gang, has led to more demands to beef up border security using reserve military forces. The gang was robbing other smugglers when the agent encountered them. The National Guard organizations in several states are reviewing what assets they can offer. Critics point out that the military tends to treat border operations as a military operation requiring lethal force, when it is really a police function. That's true, to an extent, though it ignores the fact U.S. National Guard units take on a variety of non-combat operations (like disaster relief) where they often assist police forces in providing local security. Proponents of increased Guard participation point out that some of the criminals are carrying military weapons (automatic rifles) and using them. This is also true. This use-the-firepower plea, however, begs several questions. There are a lot of legal tangles, starting with the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 which severely limits the use of federal forces in domestic law enforcement. The National Guard, even when functioning in a strictly state (non-federal) mode also has regulations limiting the use of Guardsmen in domestic police roles. But for discussion's sake let's say the lawyers and judges work out an acceptable legal arrangement and Congress authorizes National Guardsmen to deploy to provide extra firepower for the Border Patrol or police units over and above what they already have. 

The training level of individual Guardsmen serving with the cops and Border Patrol become a nitty gritty issue. Experienced National Guard infantrymen (Afghan or Iraq vets) given training by police and the Border Patrol could be assets in a bad situation in the wild border regions along the Arizona-Mexico border and the Texas-Mexico border. They might provide a psychological deterrent of a sort. When the word gets out to the bad guys that they might encounter several battle-hardened infantrymen armed with M-16s, the bad guys might decide to stay away. Even a cartel gunman can exercise discretion. Soldiers without the law enforcement training, however, could be a liability. US policy has been to use National Guard soldiers to provide extra eyes and ears (surveillance assets) for local and state police and various federal agencies (like Customs and Border Patrol). The soldiers man observation posts, the police handle arrests. The soldiers have also taken on construction projects.

December 25, 2010: Three Mexican soldiers have been charged with killing a U.S. citizen in Acapulco in August 2010. The U.S. citizen was a tourist. However, he was found shot to death in a vehicle holding an assault rifle. The assault rifle was an attempt to cover up the murder. The soldiers claimed the tourist had opened fire on him. At first the Mexican government refused to conduct a thorough investigation. U.S. political pressure led to a reinvestigation.

December 20, 2010: Kidnappers finally released former PAN presidential candidate Diego Fernandez de Cevallos. He had been held seven months. Mexican authorities have not identified the kidnappers, but Mexican media believe professional kidnappers committed the crime. Fernandez did not make a statement about whether or not a ransom had been paid. Mexican sources, however, confirmed that one had been paid.

December 18, 2010: The U.S. Border Patrol is talking a bit more about its BORTAC special weapons and tactics teams. BORTAC teams provide a rapid response capability when Border Patrol agents encounter large groups of smugglers and smugglers they believe are carrying military-type weapons.

December 17, 2010: Police began rounding up 140 prisoners who escaped from a prison in Nuevo Laredo (Nuevo Leon state). Investigators stated that they believed corrupt prison guards let the inmates escape.

December 16, 2010: The government reported that 30,196 people have died since the Cartel War began in December 2006. The death toll from January to November 2010 was 12,456. Government officials maintain that the vast majority of deaths are due to inter-gang turf wars. Rival cartels battle over   smuggling routes to the U.S. and over control of key cities (like Ciudad Juarez). The war exacts an economic penalty. The government estimated that the drug war violence reduces the GDP by a little over one percent.

December 14, 2010: A Mexican unmanned aerial vehicle crashed in El Paso, Texas. The UAV was being tested by Mexican security personnel who lost control of the plane. No one was injured when the aircraft crashed about a mile over the border. The UAV was identified as an Orbiter Mini, which is built in Israel. Mexico has purchased several UAVs, including the Hermes 450. The US Department of Homeland Security employs several Predator-B UAVs (one source says seven Predators). Customs and Border Patrol receives the Predators' video feeds.


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