Thursday, January 29, 2009


Mexico: Bordering on Collapse

January 29, 2009 | From

The United States faces a number of serious crises. Here’s one many Americans haven’t yet considered.

Islamic terrorists are not the only ones with a liking for decapitation. In the Mexican town of Praxedis last week, police commander Martin Castro’s severed head appeared in front of the local police station, left in an ice cooler.

A calling card from the Sinoloa drug cartel accompanied the bloodied gift.

Beheading is a tool worn with use in the macabre profession of Mexican drug cartels. Last month, eight soldiers and a state police officer were found beheaded in the state of Guerero. Along with the corpses was the message, “For every one of us you kill, we’ll kill 10 of you.” And if you think that’s sadistic, consider the former occupation of Santiago Meza Lopez. Last week, Lopez admitted to helping a drug cartel dispose of more than 300 bodies by dissolving them in sodium hydroxide.

“According to Mexico’s attorney general, 6,616 people died in drug-trafficking violence last year,” the Wall Street Journal reported this week. That’s in one year. “A high percentage of those killed were themselves criminal, but many law enforcement agents battling organized crime were also murdered. The carnage continues. For the first 22 days of this year the body count is 354″ (emphasis mine throughout). The number of deaths in 2008 was double the figure for 2007.

This trend is indicative of a major crisis. Mexico is coming unhinged.

Drug cartels have stepped up their war against the Mexican government since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderón was elected and began a campaign to destroy organized crime. As soon as Calderón began confronting the cartels, observed the Journal, it became “apparent that the cartels would stop at nothing to preserve their operations, and that a state commitment to confrontation meant that violence would escalate.”

Escalate it did. Emboldened by billion-dollar bank accounts, vast recruitment pools of countless unemployed, desperate Mexicans, friendship with international crime organizations, support from major-league weapons suppliers, and, above all, an insatiable American demand for their supply, Mexico’s drug cartels in recent years have transformed into well-equipped, well-organized, technologically advanced, highly mobile, powerful armies!

That’s no exaggeration.

Retired U.S. Army general and former drug czar Barry McCaffrey, who recently visited Mexico, assessed the struggle between the government and the drug kingdoms thus:

The outgunned Mexican law enforcement authorities face armed criminal attacks from platoon-sized units employing night vision goggles, electronic intercept collection, encrypted communications, fairly sophisticated information operations, seagoing submersibles, helicopters and modern transport aviation, automatic weapons, rpgs, Anti-Tank 66mm rockets, mines and booby traps, heavy machine guns, 50-cal sniper rifles, massive use of military hand grenades, and the most modern models of 40mm grenade machine guns.

These illegal drug cartels are better-financed, better-equipped and better-organized than some national armies!

And that’s not half the story. In addition to their impressive firepower and taste for brutality, both of which they have proven willing to use, these organizations have infiltrated deep within the Mexican government. Corruption infects the government like cancer, giving the drug lords a decisive advantage over Calderón and his dreams of squelching Mexico’s drug trade.

Last October, for example, 35 employees of the Office of the Mexican Attorney General’s anti-organized-crime unit were arrested and charged with corruption. It’s widely recognized that corruption riddles lower levels of the Mexican government, especially in states, cities and towns along the U.S. border through which drugs flow incessantly, but this arrest proved that even the upper echelons of government are not out of the reach of cartels.

After the arrests, it emerged that the top officials were paid up to $450,000 per month to funnel information to the drug lords. In Mexico, local police officers make around $10,000 per year, senators around $48,000, and the president $220,000. Corruption is inevitable when government employees can potentially earn more in a month protecting and facilitating the work of the cartels than they do in an entire year working against them for the government. In some smaller towns, the loyalty of the entire police force has been purchased for a few hundred thousand dollars. In some cases, the support of entire towns has been purchased by cash-rich drug cartels promising to take care of loyal townsfolk.

Further evidence of the cartels’ reach emerged last November, when Noé Ramírez Mandujano, a lead figure in the Mexican government’s anti-drug campaign, was arrested on suspicion of accepting a $450,000 payoff from a drug cartel he was supposed to be hunting down. Manuel Mondragon, a senior police officer in Mexico City, admitted that a “spiderweb of corruption has penetrated many parts of our department.” Corruption plagues every nook and cranny of the Mexican government, from local police officers to police chiefs to mayors to judges to the attorney general’s office to members of the military!

Rejecting a cartel’s advances is virtually impossible—particularly when remaining loyal to Calderón could result in the loss of your head!

Even President Calderón is not safe. Reporting on the chaos in Mexico, the Telegraph in London reported earlier this month that “an officer in the elite presidential guard was recently accused of taking thousands of dollars from traffickers in exchange for reports on President Calderón’s movements.” Analysts at Stratfor have been tracking the deteriorating situation in Mexico for more than two years. Last December they explained the reason for, and the sobering extent of, the corruption within the Mexican government:

The problem of corruption boils down to the lure of money and the threat of death. Known by the phrase plata o plomo (which literally translates to “silver or lead,” with the implied meaning, “take a bribe or take a bullet”), the choice given to law enforcement and government officials puts them under the threat of death if they do not permit (or, as is often the case, facilitate) cartel operations. With the government historically unable to protect all of its personnel from these kinds of threats—and certainly unable to match the cartels’ deep pockets—Mexico’s law enforcement officials have become almost universally unreliable.

No wonder President Calderón is losing his war to the drug cartels: Mexico’s law enforcement system is being infiltrated, undermined and hijacked by the drug cartels!

There’s a term for a state that is incapable of enforcing law. It’s a failed state!

And that is what many are saying Mexico is on the road to becoming. In America, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and the National Security Council have all, in one way or another, recently expressed alarm that Mexico could collapse under the strain of drug cartel violence.

In its “2009 National Drug Threat Assessment,” released on December 15, the U.S. Department of Justice stated that Mexican drug traffickers “represent the greatest organized crime threat to the United States.” With that statement, said Stratfor, “the Justice Department is acknowledging that Mexican drug cartels are the number-one criminal enemy of the U.S. government—a position held in the past by Irish, Italian, Russian and Colombian criminal enterprises”—a reality that has been extant for some time (Dec. 17, 2008).

The U.S. Joint Forces Command released a similar warning recently. “In terms of worst-case scenarios for the Joint Force and indeed the world,” warned the command’s “Joint Operating Environment (joe 2008)” report, “two large and important states bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse: Pakistan and Mexico. … In particular, the growing assault by the drug cartels and their thugs on the Mexican government over the past several years reminds one that an unstable Mexico could represent a homeland security problem of immense proportions to the United States.”

Pause for a moment and think about that: American military officials believe Mexico is at risk of a “rapid and sudden collapse” in the same way that Pakistan is!

That may sound preposterous to some. But it’s not so hard to believe if you consider that other major crises are converging on Mexico in addition to the chaos being caused by the rapidly deteriorating security situation.

First, Mexico’s economy, which is tied closely to the American economy, is being hit hard by the global economic crisis. Economic growth is slowing, the peso appears unstable and has devalued by about 20 percent since the beginning of 2008, less cash is flowing from America into Mexico, and, perhaps most dangerously, unemployment is rising, which ultimately leads to a disgruntled, restless society. In addition to those economic woes, oil revenues, which comprise 40 percent of the federal budget, will soon begin to plummet.

In short, the Mexican economy verges on collapse!

Second, Mexico’s political landscape is shifting and steadily growing more unstable. “Mexico has seen a massive spike in crime and drug-related violence coincide with the first eight years of rule by Calderón’s National Action Party (pan),” Stratfor reported. “To make things worse, the global financial crisis has begun to impact Mexico … and the impact on employment could be devastating. Given the confluence of events, it is almost guaranteed that Calderón and the pan will suffer political losses going forward, weakening the party’s ability to move forward with decisive action” (Dec. 9, 2008).

Stratfor concluded its analysis with a warning similar to the one issued by the American government:

Mexico’s most critical challenge is the convergence of events it now faces. The downturn in the economy, the political dynamics or the deteriorating security situation, each on its own, might not pose an insurmountable problem for Mexico. What could prove insurmountable is the confluence of all three, which now appears to be in the making.

Perhaps it’s difficult for Americans to replace the images of Mexico’s white, sandy beaches, deluxe hotels and bright, cheap tropical fruit with images of a failed state.

Try this.

Think about Pakistan. Nestled between the Middle East and Asia, it can be much easier to consider Pakistan in those terms. Its economy is tanking and unemployment is growing. Infrastructure is crumbling, and social unrest and dissatisfaction are seething. Handicapped by political gridlock, Pakistan’s central government is weak and ineffective. It has lost control over large swaths of territory, and is now unable to make major decisions, enact legislation and implement a united foreign policy. In short, the nation cannot set itself back on the path to success.

Worse still, Pakistan’s government has been deeply infiltrated by radical Islamists who wield significant influence over the nation’s military and intelligence departments. Entire regions of Pakistan are now controlled by radical Islamic groups, which, blinded by their religious aspirations, have little desire to ensure people are fed, create jobs, stimulate an economy or guarantee social stability, thereby exacerbating the nation’s spiral toward disaster.

Now take it one step further. Pakistan’s internal chaos makes it a national security threat to adjacent states, and even the world. The terrorist attacks last November in Mumbai, India, you might remember, were traced back to radical Islamists operating out of Pakistan.

In Pakistan, chaos reigns supreme.

Finally, imagine if Pakistan was situated on America’s southern border!


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