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July 09, 2009

So much for the surge in Juarez

It shouldn't come as any great surprise that the de facto military occupation of Juarez isn't helping:

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (Reuters) - A massive army surge has failed to calm raging drug gang violence in Ciudad Juarez, a Mexican city on the U.S. border that is at the heart of President Felipe Calderon's drug war.

An influx of 10,000 troops and federal police in March brought temporary calm, but three months later drug murders have resumed and are overtaking 2008 levels, according to police and media tallies. [Reuters]

Of course, the drug warriors will say that the apocalyptic violence is proof that Calderon's brilliant ant-violence plan is working. The cartels are feeling the pressure and turning on each other and the state. That's certainly happening, but few wars are won by attrition. How do we get from tactics that systematically exacerbate the violence to a strategy for bringing the violence under control? The war is costing the cartels money, but they've still got billions upon billions of dollars to spend on weapons and bribes. 

We read a lot about the military's participation in the Mexican drug war, but U.S. media seldom explain the overall strategy. According to a Mexican military historian I interviewed for a forthcoming article, the plan is to split the half-dozen or so large cartels into many smaller factions by capturing their leaders.

A recent analysis by Vanda Felbab-Brown of the Brookings Institution suggests that this is exactly the wrong way to prevent violence.

The Mexican drug trade is unusually violent even by the standards of illegal markets. Felbab-Brown argues that this is partly because the market is getting younger and younger. Today's managers are in their late twenties or early thirties and their foot soldiers are in their late teens or early twenties. That's because the authorities have been steadily picking off cartel leaders. Which sounds like a smart idea in the abstract, until you consider that multi-billion dollar businesses with large private armies are falling into the hands of much younger and less experienced narcos.

Felbab-Brown argues that the older generation of drug dealers survived and prospered because they were more interested in making money than proving how tough they were. They kept the violence in check because bloodbaths were bad for business. A few large cartels divided up the country and focused on trafficking rather than turf battles. Nowadays, every inch of turf is hotly contested, often by multiple parties.

The authorities are betting that messy succession battles will fragment the cartels, which does appear to be happening. They hope that smaller organizations will be easier to mop up, one by one. However, two or three small cartels fighting each other are more violent than one big cartel at peace with itself.

Lest you think the narcos have a monopoly on violence, note that the Washington Post has finally had the guts to acknowledge what human rights organizations and even the U.S. State Department have been saying for years: The Mexican military routinely kidnaps, tortures, rapes, and murders. As Human Rights Watch noted in a recent report, the Mexican armed forces enjoy virtual impunity because the military is almost solely responsible for investigating crimes committed by soldiers.

The higher-ups are doing damage control. Charles Bowden reports in Mother Jones: "Reporters were also issued a common explanation by Mexico's defense department: Yes, there would almost certainly be a spate of robberies and rapes committed by men in uniform but these were to be explained as the deeds of drug traffickers disguising themselves as soldiers to embarrass the Army. Any questions?"

Mexico's human rights record disqualifies the country for much of the U.S. aid it would otherwise recieve under the $1.4 billion training and equipment package known as the Merida Iniative. Is that ironic, or what?


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strategically, if you want to end up with a bunch of hopped up teenagers with machine guns in the street fucking things up, then, this is a perfect way to go about it. it worked in afghanistan for the russians, it worked in colombia for us, it worked in cambodia too.

sooner or later, they will have to face the facts that the "war" on drugs is a complete, total, and horrifically expensive failure that has corrupted whole societies and nations, while eviscerating what illuisions we might have cherished regarding civil rights, personal liberties and such, but, fuckit in a bucket, those were illusions anyway.

if they want to take away the biggest weapon the gangs and the cartels have, which is their fabulous wealth and cash flow, the only thing to do is to do what the did when they repealed prohibition. poof! all gone money.

an oral or ocular surgeon with a clinical use pays right around $50 an ounce for pharmecutical grade cocaine, morhpine is one of the cheapest and most effective analgesics. before control and outlawing many physicians and druggists grew their own poppies and made their own drugs from them.

on the street they are expensive, because they are illegal.


No big Mafia figures have surfaced since that silly prohibition of alcohol was repealed.

Yeah there is still "a mob," I've bumped up against them in NY city, Houston, Denver, San Francico, Eureka, CA and Scottsdale AZ, but nothing like the gang wars of the 20s and 30s.

Anyone who believes that J Edgar Hoover of the Feebs was not being blackmailed by the mob is insane.

FYI: I can't post comments.

Alon, I'm seeing your comments.

I'm only seeing "test" and "I can't post comments."

The problem seems to be comment length. Comments of up to 1 line are accepted; longer comments aren't.

I used to love visiting Texas border towns: Juarez, Nuevo Laredo and Acuña were all great places to visit but have been pretty shot up lately.

more">">more cops die, drug lord wants police chief to resign

dateline tijuana this morning. local drug boss vowed to kill 5 cops a week until chief resigns.


Drugs must be the largest black market the world has ever seen. Weapons can't possibly come close. There's only one answer: legalize the drugs, treat the addicts who want to get free.

The Mexican army didn't used to amount to much. It was the Federal Police, the Federalies, who were the power but apparently and I am no expert on the history of it, the army has risen to the top.

It may not mean much in the big picture. One highly politicized and routinely corrupt armed force for another but none the less it's worth noting and keeping an eye on.

Also there was a razor thin election in Mexico in late 2006 which many think was stolen. It got perhaps 1% of the coverage here as the Iranian election.

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