Friday, July 28, 2006

The drug war in Mexico

Laurie Freeman of the non-partisan, non-profit Washington Office on Latin America has written an outstanding report on the violence and corruption in Mexico flowing from the war on drugs.

Even someone who is used to the endemic corruption of Mexican law enforcement will be shocked by the pervasiveness of the drug cartel corruption.

Even more profound than the corruption is the effectiveness of the bloody violence that the cartels have inflicted to silence the news media and the public at large. Ms. Freeman writes,

"As the war between cartels rages, no one -- not police, not journalists, not ordinary citizens -- knows whom they can trust, so they trust no one."
Freeman details how the cartels manipulate the news media with bribery, violence and their own news managers. Cartels tell media outlets what stories cannot be covered or what facts must be omitted. Cartels provide incriminating videotape of their rivals crimes.

Ground zero of the violence and corruption is at America's doorstep. Nueveo Laredo is the Mexican city at the Southern end of Interstate 35 -- a vital artery of the American heartland that flows north to San Antonio, Dallas - Fort Worth, Oklahoma City, Wichita, Kansas City, Des Moines, Minneapolis and Duluth. Every day over 6000 trucks leave Nuevo Laredo for the U.S. carrying 40 per cent of all Mexican exports.

The cartels' rivalry is at an all-time high because of the efforts of law enforcement. In early 2002, the principal Arellano-Felix brothers of the Tijuana cartel were killed or captured. This strengthened the Sinaloa cartel to focus on Nuevo Laredo.

The Gulf cartel was also focusing on Nuevo Laredo. It enticed specially trained Mexican soldiers from the Grupos Aeromoviles de Fuerzas Especiales, reportedly given U.S. military training, to work for them, now known as the Zetas. The Zetas were hired by Osiel Cardenas to eliminate the local Nuevo Laredo traffickers, who were murdered in May 2002. But in March 2003, Cardenas was imprisoned, and Nuevo Laredo was "up for grabs."

Drug traffickers are now "the law of the land" in Nuevo Laredo.

Nuevo Laredo is now Mexico's "murder capital." Earlier this year the murder rate was more than double last years -- 114 murders through May 2006, compared to 45 in the same period in 2005. Shoot outs are frequent, some lasting as long as 30 minutes.

The report notes that, "as bodies piled up, on June 8, 2005, Nuevo Laredo's mayor appointed Alejandro Dominguez the new chief of police. Leaving office the first day on the job he was ambushed and killed by gunmen.

One feature of the public concern with the corruption and violence is the government's response, a special anti-crime operation, "Operation Safe Mexico," announced June 11, 2005 But this response has become merely a public relations effort.

Now every mundane law enforcement activity and achievement is lauded as a feature of "Operation Safe Mexico."

One of the principal objectives of the Operation is the investigation of major drug traffickers in Nuevo Laredo, but there have been no arrests of major traffickers in over a year of the intense federal effort.

Particulary noteworthy in the WOLA report is the recognition that it is illegality of the drug trade that is driving this violence. The report clearly explains the connection between absence of the usual market protections against fraud and violence of the established legal system, and the role of violence as the primary instrument of commercial regulation.

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