Saturday, November 7, 2009

Winning Battles, Soon the War?


Mexico continues to improve its federal police forces, with the FBI as its model. The government has concluded that training and education key to improvement and for the past year the federal police have made an effort to recruit college graduates. Increasing pay (to deter the allure of bribes) is another reform.

Improving the federal police, according to government leaders, will have a “trickle down effect” on state and local police – at least that's the idea. The program is another example of President Calderon's “systemic war” (also called systemic reform) to modernize Mexico.

The NGO Reporters Without Borders recently reported that Mexico has become “one of the most dangerous places to work as a reporter...” For years drug cartels have made it a practice to kill pesky journalists.

Police continue to run operations in Michoacan state focused on the “La Familia” drug cartel. The government announced the arrest of drug lord Abel Valadez Orbie (alias “El Clinton”) who has been implicated in the assassination of a mayor in Michoacan. Authorities said that they had received “several tips” on El Clinton's whereabouts. His arrest follows the October 22 arrest of six members of the cartel.

The federal police and military have put a lot of effort into getting intelligence on La Familia, but the arrest of El Clinton suggests that the recent arrests in northern Mexico and the US have produced a great deal of actionable intelligence. La Familia has been a tough nut to crack in Michaocan. The cartel is a “diversified” criminal organization that runs a variety of rackets and has invested in numerous legitimate businesses. A recent government statement said La Familia operates a debt collection service. The cartel also donates to legitimate local charities, which buys good will, especially in the small towns. La Familia has bribed numerous officials. In May the police arrested ten mayors in Michoacan who were on the cartel's payroll.

But police pressure is producing results and the roll-up isn't limited to Michoacan. The government announced that police arrested the “second in command” of Los Zetas, Carlos Adrian Martinez Muniz. The arrest occurred in Nuevo Leon state on October 20.

The police raided a safe house and discovered two kidnap victims and an arsenal of rifles and grenades. A police statement said that Martinez Muniz was also captured with “numerous deposit slips” made out to “various people in various states.”This sounds like another intelligence coup.

The government also announced the October 22nd arrest of five Gulf cartel gunmen who were allegedly involved in four murders in Hidalgo state.

Police in Jalisco state reported a firefight between drug cartel gunmen and a task force of Mexican soldiers and police. The firefight occurred in a “rural area” (likely a ranch occupied by the drug cartel). Four gunmen died in the firefight. The police arrested 17 gunmen. Police helicopters provided air cover during the firefight, but the cartel gunmen fired on and hit one of the aircraft. A Mexican Army helicopter gunship then arrived and attacked the cartel gunmen. One soldier and one policeman were wounded in the firefight.

Is the government's Cartel War effective? In a recent discussion in the US, a number of analysts defended the Calderon government's decision in December 2006 to declare war on the cartels. The main point supporters make is that the Mexican government decided to act vigorously on a broad front and address a spectrum of social problems that contributed to the rise of sophisticated criminal organizations.

Past governments had “looked the other way” as the organizations used terror tactics to intimidate local police and civilians. In some places the cartels had bought off the public officials and had essentially created their own “drug duchies” (separatist enclaves) within Mexico.

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