Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Un-Failed State: Geography Lesson

by Inside the Border/Gary Moore
*The Mexican government “has lost territorial control, and, in sum, governability…in more than 50″ percent of Mexico’s land area.
–Jorge Carrillo Olea, founder of Mexico’s lead civilian intelligence agency, to EFE news service on August 28, 2011.

*“Let’s talk about 40 percent of the national territory where the State no longer governs, a 40 percent that is slowly spreading.”
–retired Mexican Major General Luis Garfias Magaña, in the newsmagazine Proceso, May 5, 2011.

*“Mexican authorities are in control throughout Mexico, in all its states.”
–U.S. State Department, official release, quoted in the Mexican news medium Milenio, September 17, 2011.
How are the above statements to be reconciled?
Under the stresses of the drug war and organized-crime violence, how much of Mexico has become a no-go zone? How wide is the danger?

The statements are all serious assessments of an elusive reality. The violence in today’s Mexico forms a twilight zone. It is not an all-consuming apocalypse, but it is also not the relative peace of Mexico a generation ago.

For example, take the third statement, from the State Department. When translated into Spanish in the Mexican media it sounded absolute, but the original form in English was: “Mexican authorities assert control throughout Mexico, in all Mexican states.” This is less absolute, and is true. Everywhere the Mexican government has sent massive troop surges, criminal resistance has tended to melt before them. But then the problem simply moves, and sets up shop around the corner.

It was December 11, 2006, when a new Mexican president, Felipe Calderon, officially declared war against his nation’s organized-crime cartels. Cartel activity was expanding from drug smuggling into pitched battle, and preyed on the Mexican public through extortion, protection rackets, armed robbery and local drug pushing. This had ballooned over time. The previous president, Vicente Fox (from the same reformist political party as Calderon), had declared long ago–in 2003–that one of the mightiest cartels had been successfully destroyed.

That was the Gulf Cartel–which then regrouped, split into factions and came roaring back, with its heirs now blasting through 2011. The premature declaration of the death of the Gulf Cartel (and its soon-multiplying branch called the Zetas) was made on April Fool’s Day, 2003. The time was right for boastful bubbles. A month later, President Bush would declare “Mission Accomplished” on Iraq, on May 1, 2003.
Mexico has always had isolated “outlaws’ roost” areas, where even locals warned travelers not to go. Through the mid-20th century these were small and often exaggerated by legend. A main one was in the impoverished and politicized highlands of Guerrero state, flanking Acapulco. Other storied mountain hideout zones dotted Mexico’s high sierra both east and west, from Durango to Veracruz. Some involved drug farming; some had seen guerrilla warfare; some were merely remote and attractive to fugitives.

In the 1970s it was natural to assume that these throwback bandido areas were shrinking and soon would disappear, as the march of development brought education, opportunity and civilization.

The harsh news from the drug war is that the reverse has occurred. The landscape of no-go zones has swelled across Mexico, as at no time since the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920.

“Millions of U.S. citizens safely visit Mexico each year, including more than 150,000 who cross the border every day for study, tourism or business and at least one million U.S. citizens who live in Mexico.”
U.S. State Department, April 22, 2011 (statement made in the context of a travel warning)

I feel as safe here as I do at home, possibly safer. I walk the streets of my Vallarta neighborhood alone day or night….Do bad things happen here? Of course they do. Bad things happen everywhere, but the murder rate here is much lower than, say, New Orleans…There are good reasons thousands of people from the United States are moving to Mexico every month, and it’s not just the lower cost of living, a hefty tax break and less snow to shovel. Mexico is a beautiful country, a special place.”
Linda Ellerbee, journalist and frequent resident of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, May 15, 2009

“Drug-related violence does not encompass all of Mexico and much of the country remains safe for visitors and residents alike…According to the British Embassy, the majority of homicides in Mexico have occurred in…less than 3.5% of the country’s 2,438 municipalities. And of these homicides, 9 out of 10 are suspected narco-traffickers killed in fighting over control of drug trafficking organizations and routes…While the issue of narcotics-related crime in Mexico is a serious concern and there are definitely areas of the country one should avoid, it is helpful to keep a reasonable and rational perspective…
–”Living and Loving Mexico,” website by expatriate residents, 2011

“Wages have risen in Mexico, according to World Bank figures…educational and employment opportunities have greatly expanded…Per capita gross domestic product and family income have each jumped more than 45 percent since 2000…Over the past 15 years, this country…has progressed politically and economically in ways rarely acknowledged by Americans debating immigration…Democracy is better established, incomes have generally risen and poverty has declined…Birth control efforts have pushed down the fertility rate to about 2 children per woman from 6.8 in 1970, according to government figures….Quality of life has improved in other ways, too.”
New York Times, July 6, 2011 (In 2009, though previously unthinkable, a $250-million rescue loan to the New York Times Company from controversial Mexican investment helped place near-controlling interest in the company in Mexico.)

“The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (affiliated with the Norwegian Refugee Council) warned that because of the violence unleashed by the drug war, some 230,000 persons in Mexico have been forced to leave their places of origin.”
La Jornada, March 26, 2011

(Mexico’s underworld has gone through) “radical transformation from drug smugglers into paramilitary death squads… a criminal insurgency that poses the biggest armed threat to Mexico since its 1910 revolution.”
Ioan Grillo, correpondent for Time magazine, in his book “El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency,” quoted in Time, Oct. 23, 2011



  1. You gotta be kidding! This article does not square with evidence easily garnered daily from BLB and many other Mexican blogs and information sources.

    While it is true that much of Mexico may be peaceful and even prospering, it is also true that the daily atrocities in Mexico (and now Central America) are widespread geographically and particularly heinous in nature. This cumulative violent reality has a chilling effect on public perceptions on those who monitor what happens in Mexico.

    Knowing what I know, I would NOT travel to Mexico despite what Linda Ellerbe says!!!

    Mexico may be wonderful for Gringos like Ellerbe, but I venture to say she would not last a week living in many places that we see featured in violent news stories here at BorderlandBeat.

    Mexico Watcher

  2. wouldn't last a week? Ha! Even in the most violence-affected areas the murder rate tops out at around ~150/100,000 per year. In other words 99.999 are lasting more than a week. Look, there are more than 100 million Mexicans. When they hang a couple bodies off of a bridge it's quite shocking, but it's statistically irrelevant. Non-narcos are only affected when general law and order break down.
    That's not the case in PV

  3. I lived in Mexico from 2005-April of this year. Reading stories online is a far cry from living there in person. In April of this year my family and I left because the Zetas threatened to kill every American that was found in their territory. I bet that was not published. The American consulate for the state that I lived in, contacted me the day after we received news that an American couple had been killed by the Zetas. Unless there is a drastic change in Mexico, I would not take the chance to visit there much less live there. We Americans stand out more than we realize. "Our skin portrays us, our spanish portrays us(even if we speak good spanish) and lets just face it. The Mexican people in general think that if you are American then you have money. It does not matter if you are a rich retiree or a poor missionary. We are all lumped in there together. Americans.

  4. in 2010 111 American deaths occurred in Mx
    the entire country, not defined by what type of deaths this includes all deaths.

    19.5Million Americans visited Mx in 2010
    apx 1 million permanently reside in Mx
    of these 850K were "illegals"

    so over 20M and only 111 deaths

    Los Angeles County has 475-1000 homicides with a poulation of 9 Million

    NYC with 22M people has a low of apx 300 and a high of over 2000 per year

    Deal with facts not assumption

  5. @ 9:04
    It is very true that americans stand out when Visiting mexico could be a huge target.

    Juarez population slightly over a million 3,000 homicides in 2010.. And I live in LA there is not that many homicides..

  6. Actually, PV is already over 50 murders this year which is an extraordinarily high number considering the small population in the Bay area.

  7. The violence in Mexico is directly attributable to the "drug war" policies of the United States. The Drug War is big business in the U.S., providing innumerable jobs in the judiciary, law enforcement and prisons. It fuels manufacturing in autos, guns, buildings, aircraft & watercraft, and so much more. The drug cartels in Mexico exist, and thrive, because it is in the economic interests of corporate America for them to exist. If the U.S. wanted to truly end drug-related violence and decrease demand, the cartels could be cut off at the knees with one simple step: decriminalize all drugs. But that will never happen so long as profits are preferred over peace and people. Occupy!

  8. @November 9, 2011 8:54 AM

    Exactly...our government is making bank off of it!!! The ATF and FBI present a new threat or problem and what happens??? They get all the funding they want! What happens when the drug war comes to an end???? No more money for the "law enforcement" involved. They need conflict to exist long as there is a war there is plenty of work and plenty of pay.

  9. As a gringo who lives in Mexico, it is not just the murder rate that has led me to decide to leave after 15 years and shutter my businnes that employs around 20 people. It is the lack of justice, robberies, bribes solicited, child exploitation, drug abuse in most cities that rivals US urban ghettoes, lack of public services, red tape hassles in most any endevour from renewing a visa to getting a phone installed, pollution, lack of road maintenence, media blackout, awful schools, lack of zoning, a general societal distrust and paranoia caused by the cartel violence and a lack of police and public safety, CORRUPTION THAT permiates society from government officials on down to young children believing that cheating in school and bribing teachers for grades is normal, and an ignorance in society (people aren't stupid, they are just oppressed and brainwashed by propaganda and a lack of education and a society that doesn't value free thinking) I could go on... It is these things that make Mexico an uppealing place for both foriegners and Mexicans alike to live in.

  10. November 8, 2011 5:05 PM Calderon started a war with unexperienced troops ,with guns supplied from USA .these troops come from poverty never even had a sling shot.

    Are trying to tell me that expert soldiers from the U.S will do better? Don't forget that small people nonprofessional from Vietnam defeated the U.S.A and U.S 10 years latter are still trying to kill farmers with out technology in Afghanistan.


  12. It's not only the Americans that stand out, any non latino is dumped on the gringo pile. Even my kids who grew up in Mexico, speak all the slang, know all the sign are still being picked on as the gringos, they are not. And than there is that idiot "expert" Longmire who says it's safe to travel in Mexico, you just have to blend in. LOL


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