The election for president of Mexico occurs in July and the focus is on the plans to curb the violence that sweeps the country as the several drug trafficking organizations battle to build their share of “the market.”
The border zone of southwest United States and northern Mexico from Texas to southern California has been wild and rugged for all the generations there have been settlements of Europeans — Hispanic and Anglo — mining, ranching and farming this vast region. And before that, Native American tribes raided each other. As the United States moved west, the law on both sides of the border was at best inconsistent and most often corrupt.
There always has been commerce that has been characterized as “illicit” across whatever was deemed the border at any given time between the U.S. and Mexico. Perhaps the most profitable towards the end of the 19th century was the rustling of the vast herds of cattle owned by rich Mexican grandees of several national backgrounds. These unbranded and rebranded cattle would be driven north for sale. Sound familiar?
Brigadier General John Pershing and his American troops chased Pancho Villa and other “freedom fighters” who pillaged the areas on both sides of the border before WWI. After that war, Prohibition and the outlawing of alcohol eventually brought the resumption of large scale illegal border crossing. This “business” may not have been as profitable as the narcotics trade of today, but the pattern of corruption and payoff was similar. There seems to be a historic (and perhaps natural) predilection for the United States’ neighbor to the south to encourage and exploit the bad habits of the gringos to the north.
At the same time, Mexico undermines its own society in the process. More than at any other time in the past, Mexican political and judicial life has become infected by the disease of its own criminal economic ambition. The most recent example has been local Walmart executives caught in payoffs to obtain or expedite building permits to the tune of $24 million spread around the country. The fact is that all aspects of commercial building are the subject of “project participation” in virtually every Mexican community. Of course, this process is not unknown north of the border either.
Local police have been reduced to uniformed gangsters working for whoever is the dominant element of the moment. The reputation of the federal police has suffered from their inability to be effective outside of certain restricted urban areas. Selected units of the army and marines have been in what is ultimately a full-scale counter insurgency campaign against well-organized, well-armed members of the drug cartels.
Other Latin American countries have run into similar problems of having to employ military forces in battles against criminal organizations protecting their territory. The lessons learned in Colombia regarding special paramilitary (PM) units are now looked upon favorably by the Mexican central government. Unfortunately these same Colombian units are charged with extremely brutal tactics while being effective against the drug-trafficking insurgent forces. The proponents of the use of paramilitary units insist these tactics are necessary to counter the terrorist brutality of the drug criminals. Additionally, it is claimed that the PM squads carry the advantage of traditional military discipline and commitment while being less vulnerable to drug organization blandishments of cash and narcotics. This would have to be considered a relative judgment.
The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that had held power for decades before being displaced by the supposedly less corrupt conservative National Action Party (PAN) has made a central part of its presidential election bid the plan to form a special paramilitary force presumably to counter the drug trafficking insurgency. This new organization of forty thousand recruits, it’s said, will be modeled after the similar Colombian “police” force.
The Mexican politicos who support the creation of this new anti-drug police group make a point in public not to discuss the frustration of U.S. military trainers assigned to the Colombian operation. Obviously, any presence of U.S. Special Operations Forces in Mexico would have to be handled with great skill and operational delicacy. In that regard, partnering with the U.S. military within Mexico could be simultaneously of great tactical benefit and a political disaster. It’s one of those concepts that may look good on paper, but in practice is completely unworkable.
Before any of this new PM organization with full police powers is placed in the field to replace the Mexican marine and army units, the federal police must have their hurt feelings assuaged. This is planned to be accomplished by adding ten thousand more federales, making this force 25 percent larger. In other words, while admitting the existing forty thousand federal police cannot do the job, their numbers will be increased so as to salve their organizational conscience. One wonders how much of this will be financed through U.S. military aid?
To build a new incorruptible military force with police powers is a difficult job anywhere. To accomplish this in Mexico would seem to require a complete socio-economic change throughout Mexican political life. The first thing that is needed is strong consistent leadership. That’s something that can come only from the indigenous body politic, and so far there have not been any signs of a conspicuous change in the traditional structure.
It is a good bet that the multi-billion dollar criminal enterprises that control the trade in illegal drugs are already laying the groundwork work for penetration of future leadership. Is that too insulting to say or is it just recognizing historic reality?