Note: This article originally appeared on El Paso, Inc. publication in the April 25, 2010 edition, page 12A.
Juárez and major parts of Mexico are in a crisis, forcing many in our community to ask, what can be done? The answer is simple yet complicated.
It is simple because the bilateral actions taken by the United States and Mexico are the answer to the crisis. The difficult part is accepting this.
Although many in the U.S. and Mexico view each other with distrust, the reality is that the two countries are symbiotically dependent on each other. In order for both to prosper, we must embrace each other as partners.
Mexico’s engagement against the drug cartels has been ongoing since the early 1960s. Mexican military forces were first deployed in 1966, followed by other operations.
Because of constitutional limitations, these military operations were limited to search and eradicate missions, rather than direct engagement of criminal elements.
In the 1980s, the military was tasked with the interception of overland transportation of drugs across its national borders.
But Mexico’s antiquated legal system was not capable of dealing with a criminal element operating across various states. This is similar to why the FBI was first created in this country; interstate crime required a new type of solution.
In the 1990s, Mexico’s military was engaged with intercepting aircraft incoming from its southern border and intercepting marine craft entering Mexican waters.
These operations signaled a shift from passive and reactive drug interdiction to active interception and destruction missions. But they were still limited by ineffective civilian police forces.
Throughout this time, Mexico was only a transit point between drug cultivation in Colombia, Peru and other South American countries on their way to the U.S.
Few Mexicans were addicted to drugs and the Mexican cartels were nothing more than errand boys for the Colombian cartels. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the U.S. actively engaged the Colombian cartels until about 1993, when the Colombian cartels were largely rendered ineffective.
The insatiable American appetite for drugs and disposable money for drug purchases allowed the Mexican errand boys to become the dominant drug dealers on the world stage.
In the case of Colombia, the end result of America’s drug intervention resulted in a Colombian government that has lost control of portions of its national territory where even its military has no jurisdiction, something that Mexicans are fully aware of and are not interested in duplicating in their country.
After 9/11 and as a result of America’s newfound interest in securing its borders, Mexican cartels turned to addicting Mexican youth in order to keep money flowing to their operations. This turned the drug problem from transit to consumption within its borders and a national security problem for the country.
Beginning in 2007, President Felipe Calderón launched initiatives taking the response to the drug problem from a policing action to fundamentally revamping the country’s internal security and judicial apparatus from the ground up.
Not only did the federal government begin to rewrite its antiquated laws and systems to deal with the complex issues of interstate and inter-country criminal organizations, but it directly addresses the problem of corruption ingrained within Mexico’s society.
Corruption in Mexico is a national problem borne from childhood to adulthood. It is a community issue ingrained in the society that needs to be eradicated. The solution to this problem is a fundamental restructuring of the society that will take years, if not generations, to complete.
It requires fundamentally building societal trust in governmental institutions while at the same time changing the way things have been done for centuries in Mexican society.
The internal security problem was easier to solve but still complicated to implement, as it required removing policing duties temporarily while a new police force was created from the ground up.
This is one of two reasons, the other being the cartels fighting national forces, why the security in cities like Juárez deteriorated so quickly. Calderón fired all police forces, local, state and federal and made them reapply and retrain for their positions.
The Mexican military was tasked with policing duties in cities like Juárez. But the military is not trained or equipped to handle intra-country policing and security duties.
Even under this unprecedented pressure upon Mexico’s military forces, for the most part, they have been a credit to the Mexican flag. There have been isolated instances of abuses and friendly fire incidents, the most recent one being in a college in Monterrey. But many of those are part of the cartel’s disinformation campaigns to discredit Mexican institutions.
Another problem is the distorted perception that the Mexican military is unable to defend the nation. During the Easter holiday, Mexico’s military was actively engaged, for the first time in over 10 years, by a coordinated and well-armed militia at multiple locations. The military successfully and effectively defended its positions and did not lose any portion of the Mexican state to the insurgency.
The Mexican military suffered one minor casualty, while the insurgents lost 18 men. This demonstrates the Mexican state’s ability and willingness to maintain control of its national integrity. These are not the actions of a so-called failed state.
At the same time, Mexican institutions have demonstrated that they are capable of acting responsibly and effectively as a country and as a people. The notion that Mexico is a siesta-taking little country needs to be replaced with the reality that it is a contributing member of the global community and the eleventh largest economy in the world.
In terms of what can America do, the fact is that generally, the American government has acted responsibly and decisively with this crisis. The national media, for the most part, sells sensationalism so the American population is ignorant of this reality.
This has led to the misguided movements for legalizing drugs or mobilizing troops to Mexico’s border. To its credit, the Obama administration has respected Mexico’s need for self-determination and acknowledged that the problem is a shared problem that will only be solved through bilateral solutions.
There are three likely ends to the current crisis. The first is to let the cartels dictate the direction the Mexican state is to take. This is simply unacceptable to both the American and the Mexican people.
The second option is a Colombia-like solution where Mexico abdicates portions of its national territory to organized crime. Even if we are to accept the notion that Mexico is willing to sacrifice its sovereignty, the reality is that such a solution would not be palatable to the United States.
There is plenty of land between Colombia and the United States, unlike with Mexico. Although the stated policy of the U.S. is to deal with issues extra-territorially, the fact is that Mexico is on America’s doorstep, so this will violate the principle of fighting the cartels in faroff places. At the same time, Mexico has historically been hypersensitive to loss of national sovereignty.
The third possibility and more likely scenario is for Mexico to make it so difficult for the cartels to operate within Mexico that it forces them to relocate to another country.
There are several signs that this is already in the works, as both Guatemala and Nicaragua have recently complained of Mexican cartel operations within their national borders.
I would also argue that the cartels’ direct engagement of Mexican military forces and increasing violence demonstrates their loss of revenues and operating capability within Mexico.
To those that continue to argue that the Mexican state has been defeated or is supporting one cartel over the others, they ignore the simple fact that the Mexican state is still intact and in control of its sovereignty.
It has not backed down, even after much political and economic pressure to do so. Of course, the perfect solution should be the eradication of the drug cartels, but this is not feasible as long as America’s insatiable appetite for drugs remains and the money to feed it is still there.
And this is where America can play a large part in the solution. America must deal with the problem of drug consumption in its country. As long as there are consumers, there will be money to feed the cartels.
As for what can be done as a community, both the American and Mexican people have to give credit where credit is due: that the Mexican government has been dealing with the problem effectively.
Are there numerous issues that still need to be addressed? Of course. But it must start with us. We need to look well into ourselves and ask ourselves: Are we doing our part by not encouraging or protecting drug habits? Are we doing business with people we know are not part of the problem?
As they say, the ball is now in our court. Are we, as a multinational society, up to the task? The solution is in us, and it begins and ends with us.
The El Paso Inc. (April 25, 2010 issue) was kind enough to publish my article on my opinion about what can de done to resolve the murder crisis in Cd. Juárez. Because of space limitations the article did not include the supporting information about Mexican drug interdiction operations. I have reproduced them below for your convenience:
Operaciones Conjuntas con la participación de la Secretaria de la Defensa
1966 EL “PLAN CANADOR” promedio de 3,000 elementos
1977 FUERZA DE TAREA “CÓNDOR” promedio de 3,000 elementos
1987 FUERZA DE TAREA “MARTE” promedio de 3,000 elementos
1996 FUERZA DE TAREA “AZTECA”
1998 OPERACIÓN “GUARDIÁN” en la frontera norte, sur y PENÍNSULA DE YUCATÁN.
Diciembre (December) 2000, DIRECTIVA “AZTECA XXI“.
Noviembre (November) 2001, EL PLAN GENERAL CONTRA EL NARCOTRÁFICO “MILENIO“.
16 Junio (June) 2004, APLICACIÓN DEL “PLAN ESTRATÉGICO DE COMBATE AL NARCOTRÁFICO DE LA S.D.N.“.
“DIRECTIVA PARA EL COMBATE INTEGRAL AL NARCOTRÁFICO 2007-2012”
1986 – 1994, 26,000 elementos en promedio.
1994 – 2000, 28,000 elementos en promedio.
2000 – 2006, 30,000 elementos en promedio.
Comandantes FUERZA DE TAREA CÓNDOR
I. GRAL.DIV.PRCDTA.D.E.M.A. José HERNÁNDEZ Toledo (16-ENE-1977 – 15-SEP-1977)
II. GRAL.BGDA. Roberto HEINE Rangel (16-SEP-1977 – 15-MAR-1978)
GRAL.BGDA. D.E.M. Manuel LOMELÍ Gamboa (16-MAR-1978 – 31-AGO-1978)
III. GRAL.BRIG.D.E.M. Manuel Díaz ESCOBAR Figueroa (01-SEP-1978 – 27-JUN-1979)
IV. GRAL.BGDA.D.E.M. Jesús GÓMEZ Ruiz (28-JUN-1979 – 15-DIC-1979)
V. GRAL.BGDA.D.E.M. Luis BARQUERA Trucios (16-DIC-1979 – 31-MAY-1980)
VI. GRAL.BGDA.D.E.M. José CORTEZ Alfan (01-JUN-1980 – 30-NOV-1980)
VII. COR.INF.D.E.M. Salvador ÁLVAREZ Nahara (01-DIC-1980 – 15-ABR-1981)
COR.INF.D.E.M. Ricardo SOLARES Sánchez (16-ABR-1981 – 31-MAY-1981)
VIII. COR.NF.D.E.M. Ricardo SOLARES Sánchez (01-JUN-1981 – 19-DIC-1981)
IX. COR.INF.D.E.M. Ricardo CAREAGA Eesrambasaguas (20-DIC-1981 – 31-MAY-1982)
X. COR.CAB.D.E.M. Salvador GÓMEZ Resendiz (01-JUN-1982 – 11-NOV-1982)
XI. GRAL.BRIG.D.E.M. Fidel MARTÍNEZ Pineda (12-NOV-1982 – 28-FEB-1983)
GRAL.BRIG.D.E.M. Jaime PALACIOS Guerrero (01-MAR-1983 – 31-MAY-1983)
I-83. GRAL.BRIG. Juan LÓPEZ Ortiz (01-JUN1983 – 17-DIC-1983)
III-82-88. GRAL.BRIG. Salvador GONZÁLEZ Medina (01-DIC-1983 – 28-FEB-1984)
GRAL.BRIG.D.E.M. Mario PÉREZ Alarcón. (01-MAR-1984 – 31-MAY-1984)
IV-82-88. GRAL.BRIG.D.E.M. Agustín VALLEJO Álvarez (01-JUN-1984 – 15-AGO-1984)
GRAL.BRIG.D.E.M. Juan DE DIOS CALLEROS Aviña (16-AGO-1984 – 30-NOV-1984)
V-82-88. GRAL.BRIG.D.E.M. Gregorio GUERRERO Caudillo (19-DIC-1984 – 15-JUN-1985)
VI-82-88. GRAL.BRIG.D.E.M. Tito VALENCIA Ortiz (16-JUN-1985 – 30-NOV-1985)
VII-82-88. GRAL.BRIG.D.E.M. Jorge Isaac VELÁZQUEZ Fuentes (01-DIC-1985 – 30-JUN-1986)
VIII-82-88. GRAL.BGDA.D.E.M. Manuel ÁVILA Pérez (01-JUL-1986 – 31-ENE-1987)