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Mexico - Drugs

Drug-related violence along the US-Mexico border increasingly looks like a civil war. President Calderon has made combating organized crime a priority of his administration and, to that end, has deployed the Mexican military to 10 Mexican states to assist (or replace) the weak and vulnerable local and state police. Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) have responded to increased pressure on their activities with unprecedented levels of violence directed at both the government's security forces and each other. Each year some $20 billion [plus or minus $5 billion] heads south across the US border to Mexico's drug cartels.

A variety of concerns strained the Mexican-United States relationship in the 1980s. Perhaps the most dramatic was drug trafficking. The consumption of cocaine rose steadily in the United States during the late 1970s and early 1980s, becoming a major law enforcement and public health problem. Mexico has never been a major producer of cocaine. Geography, however, made Mexico a conduit for the transshipment of cocaine hydrochloride from South America to the United States. Difficult terrain; sparse population in many rural areas; an adequate infrastructure for transporting goods by land, sea, and air; and the relative ease of bribing both local and federal officials all lured drug traffickers to use Mexico as a conduit.

Eventually, an isolated incident came to symbolize Mexican drug corruption and the friction between the two nations on the issue of drug trafficking. The United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) maintained a comparatively large presence in Mexico. One of its resident offices operated out of the consulate in Guadalajara. In March 1985, Mexican authorities unearthed the body of DEA special agent Enrique Camarena on a ranch in Michoacn state, some 100 kilometers from Guadalajara. Mexican drug traffickers, reports later revealed, had tortured Camarena to death, perhaps in retaliation for his discovery of a major marijuana cultivation operation. Initial protest from the United States government brought little or no response from Mexican officials. As a result, the United States Customs Service closed nine lesser points of entry from Mexico to the United States and began searching every vehicle that passed northward. The resultant traffic backups, complaints, and economic losses infuriated the Mexican government. Mexicans claimed that the appearance of their inaction stemmed from misperceptions of the Mexican legal system, not from efforts to protect drug traffickers.

Despite the eventual arrest of a key suspect in the Camarena murder, relations between the United States and Mexico on the drug issue followed a rocky course. On April 14 and 15, 1985, United States Attorney General Edwin Meese III met with his Mexican counterpart, Sergio Garca Ramrez. The two agreed to closer monitoring of the two nations' joint counterdrug programs. The Camarena case, however, continued to cast a pall over these efforts. Leaked information from the United States Department of State and from law enforcement agencies indicated that Mexican authorities had made only token efforts against drug production and trafficking. According to Department of State figures, by the end of 1985, Mexico was the largest exporter of marijuana and heroin to the United States. Efforts at eradicating these crops had failed abysmally, and output in 1985 exceeded 1984 levels.

President Miguel de la Madrid mobilized troops in the mid-1980s to fight drug gangs, and every subsequent Mexican president has followed suit. According to Shannon O'Neil, "Ties between the PRI and illegal traders began in the first half of the twentieth century, during Prohibition. By the end of World War II, the relationship between drug tra/ckers and the ruling party had solidified. Through the Mexican Ministry of the Interior and the federal police, as well as governorships and other political offices,the government established patron-client relationships with drug traffickers (just as it did with other sectors of the economy and society). This arrangement limited violence against public offcials, top traffickers, and civilians; made sure that court investigations never reached the upper ranks of cartels; and defined the rules of the game for traffickers. This compact held even as drug production and transit accelerated in the 1970s and 1980s. Mexico's political opening in the late 1980s and 1990s disrupted these long-standing dynamics. ... Electoral competition nullified the unwritten understandings, requiring drug lords to negotiate with the new political establishment and encouraging rival tra/ckers to bid for new market opportunities.Accordingly, Mexico's drug-related violence rose first in opposition-led states." ["The Real War in Mexico" Foreign Affairs, Volume 88 No. 4]

In the early 1990s, conflict between the Tijuana and Sinaloa cartels engulfed the city of Tijuana and the entire country in violence - including the assassinations of Cardinal Juan Jess Posadas Ocampo and Luis Donaldo Colosio, the PRI's presidential candidate. The violence subsided in 1997, after the Tijuana cartel solidified its hold over the border crossing at San Diego. Another spike of violence came in Ciudad Jurez, bordering El Paso, Texas. Following the death of the Jurez cartel leader Amado Carrillo Fuentes, both the Tijuana and the Sinaloa organizations attempted to take over the territory of the shaken cartel. The violence ended in 1999, when Amado's brother Vicente Carrillo Fuentes gained clear control of the Jurez cartel. Violence visited the border town of Nuevo Laredo in 2005, when the Sinaloa cartel tried to take over the the Gulf cartel's border crossing. Shootouts continued until 2007, when the Sinaloa cartel agreed to pay the Gulf cartel for use of the Laredo border crossing.

In spite of president Calderon's large-scale efforts to combat organized crime, there was a dramatic increase in drug-related violence in Mexico since the beginning of his administration in December 2006. In 2007 the Army put a force of 35,000 men into combat and eradication efforts against drugs. By the end of 2007 there were 42,370 personnel, 1.780 vehicles, 220 aircraft those involved, along with 145 boats and 355 trained dogs working against drug trafficking. By 2009 Mexican President Felipe Calderon had deployed about 45,000 soldiers and 5000 police officers across the nation as part of the crackdown, launched in 2007. According to media reports, drug cartels killed approximately 2,470 persons, including 300 police officers and 27 soldiers, during 2007. Violence against police officials was particularly severe in the states of Monterrey, Guerrero, Michoacan, and Sinaloa. Street crime and targeted crimes such as kidnapping for ransom are common in major cities. It is estimated that there were over 6,000 drug-related killings in 2008 and more than 1,000 people were killed in the first two months of 2009.

Narcotics-related violence took the lives of over 8,000 individuals in 2009, with over half killed in states along the U.S. border; of this total over 400 members of Mexico's security forces were killed. The Mexican military has demonstrated a willingness to carry out aggressive operations against the DTOs as evidenced by its December 2009 operation against one of Mexico's most notorious drug leaders, Arturo Beltran Leyva, who died in the ensuing gun battle. As the military has stepped up its engagement in law enforcement activities, allegations of human rights abuses against the military have also increased.

In March 2009 it was reported that the US Defence Department estimated Mexico's two most deadly drug cartels have a combined strength of more than 100,000 foot soldiers, an army that rivals Mexico's armed forces and threatens to turn the country into a narco-state. "It's moving to crisis proportions," a senior Defence official told The Washington Times. The official said the cartels' "foot soldiers" were on a par with Mexico's army of about 130,000. The biggest and most violent combatants in the Mexican drug wars are the Sinaloa cartel and its main rival, "Los Zetas" or the Gulf Cartel, whose territory runs along the Texas borderlands.

Various commentators, think tanks, public officials, and media outlets throughout the United States picked up on the label of Mexico as a "failed state" or "narcostate", issuing dire warnings about the "impending chaos" south of the border. That description grossly distorts the facts on the ground. Mexico is not a failed or failing state. In the 2008 Failed States Index, compiled by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, it was ranked 105 out of 177 countries, well above nations such as Russia, China, India, Israel, Egypt, Colombia, and Saudi Arabia. Mexico simply does not fit the pattern of a "failed state". If one considers the most commonly used variables to identify "failed states": control over territory; provision of public services; existence of displaced people or refugees; civil disobedience; inability to collect taxes; economic disarray; infant mortality and interaction with the international community.

In 2009 the rate of violent deaths in Mexico is 10.4 per 100,000 inhabitants. That rate is: 25% lower than in 1990, 2.5 times lower than in Brazil, 3.6 times lower than in Colombia, and 4 times lower than in Guatemala; and, Approximately equal to the murder rate in the United States in the early 90's. The increase in drug-related murders is a response of drug-trafficking organizations (DTO's) to government pressure and the inability to deliver narcotics to the consumer market in the U.S. It is a process similar to the killing spree suffered by the United States during the crack epidemic and subsequent police clampdown of the 80's and 90's. Even Ciudad Jurez, the hardest hit city, has a murder rate that is more or less in line with that of crime-ridden cities in the United States [twice that of Washington DC, 2/3 that of pre-Kaatrina New Orleans], and is, for example, six times lower than the level registered in Medelln, Colombia, during the Pablo Escobar era.



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