“The U.S. Mexico relationship is increasingly being designed as a security issue. The bilateral relationship is becoming militarized. The people who define this crucial relationship to both countries are increasingly in the Pentagon and the military.” –Laura Carlsen, the American Policy Programme at the Centre for International Policy.
In covering Mexico’s drug war, it appears that most of the US media has split its time between counting found heads around Ciudad Juarez and honking alarms about the cartel invasion of American suburbs.
But the Mexican cartels, especially the Los Zetas/Golfo consortium, have been busy beyond Mexico’s border to the south– dropping bodies and heads, building transhipment networks, buying cops and bureaucrats, recruiting from the military, from off the streets and in the countryside.
Mexican cartels now have their mitts in coca field production in Peru.
Peruvian claims of Mexican cartels expanding echo those by officials in other Latin American countries, from Honduras to Argentina, where Mexican gangs have supplanted once-powerful Colombian cartels as kings of the illicit-drug underworld.
Peru’s top anti-narcotics official, General Miguel Hidalgo, said 32 suspected Mexican cartel members were arrested in Peru during the past two years, compared with “almost no one” during the previous comparable period. Four arrests occurred in September when police seized 2.5 tonnes of cocaine hidden in rubber ship bumpers that were about to be sent to Mexico from Lima’s port district.
Mexican cartels have established a criminal presence in other Peruvian ports to facilitate the transport of cocaine, said the top anti-drugs prosecutor, Sonia Medina. The northern port city of Paita near Piura is considered especially corrupt.
Several Mexicans were arrested and tried with 20 others in connection with the 2006 assassination of judge Hernan Saturno, who was bringing a drugs case against members of the Juarez drug cartel. Judge Saturno’s killing is one of 16 cases since 2006 in which Mexican sicarios, or assassins, are thought to have been involved. Ms Medina said paid Mexican killers are operating in Peru as enforcers for their bosses back home.
That Mexican drug lords are sending emissaries is no surprise to General Hidalgo. Peru and the US estimate that 80 per cent of all Peruvian cocaine – about one-third of world production – is shipped north via Mexico.
They essentially control traffic from the ‘boutique’ cocaine outlets in Colombia. They control the shipping routes across the Gulf and along the Pacific coast from Peru, Colombia and the Venezuelan coast. Their coke and weapons truck through Costa Rica, Honduras and Guatemala .
While operating in the US, they are careful to keep the violence indoors and off the streets–unlike their Colombian counterparts in Miami in the late Seventies. Unlikely we will see the running gun battles that took place back in that day when Miami was referred to as Dodge City.
I’ve covered organized crime, drug smuggling, terrorists and murder for many years and haven’t seen anything quite like these Mexican cartels–especially Los Zetas. While some obvious comparisons can be made with the Mafia/Cosa Nostra in the USA, we’re in another realm with these folks. For those who care to take some time reading, here are two interesting, and important, analyses that portend a broader war and the increased militarization of the war on drugs.
In January 2008, Max G. Manwaring, professor of military strategy at the US Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, weighed in on the security threat that these new narcos and other criminal organizations pose to an increasingly unstable Latin America, comparing the cartels to a Fortune 500 company
These more horizontally organized criminal entities are among those evolving from the generalized pyramid structure into a flat, transnational organization that communicates and makes decisions instantaneously via cell phone and the Internet. In this context, gangs and their TCO (Transnational CriminalOrganization) allies in Mexico, as in other countries, share many of the characteristics of a multinational Fortune 500 company. Thus, the phenomenon is an organization striving to make money, expand its markets, and move as freely as possible in the politicaljurisdictions within and between which they work. By performing its business tasks with super efficiency and for maximum profit, the general organization employs its chief executive officers and boards of directors, councils, system of internal justice, public affairs officers, negotiators, and franchised project managers. And, of course, this company has a security division, though somewhat more ruthless than one of a bona fide Fortune 500 corporation.
The 66-page report in pdf can be downloaded at the Strategic Studies Institute. While there I recommend downloading Manwaring’s latest mongraph published last week : State Supported and State Associated Gangs: Credible “Midwifes of New Social Orders” .
Like insurgencies and other unconventional asymmetric irregular wars, there is no simple or universal model upon which to base a response to the gang phenomenon (gangs and their various possible allies or supporters). Gangs come in different types, with different motives, and with different modes of action. Examples discussed include Venezuela’s institutionalized “popular militias,” Colombia’s devolving paramilitary criminal or warrior bands (bandas criminales), and al-Qaeda’s loosely organized networks of propaganda-agitator gangs operating in Spain and elsewhere in Western Europe. The motives and actions of these diverse groups are further complicated by their evershifting alliances with insurgents, transnational criminal organizations (TCOs), drug cartels, warlords, governments that want to maintain a plausible denial of aggressive action, and any other state or nonstate actor that might require the services of a mercenary gang organization or surrogate.
Lessons derived from these cases demonstrate how gangs might fit into a holistic effort to compel radical political-social change, and illustrate how traditional political-military objectives may be achieved indirectly, rather than directly. These lessons are significant beyond their own domestic political context in that they are harbingers of many of the “wars among the people” that have emerged out of the Cold War, and are taking us kicking and screaming into the 21st century.
They may be too wonky for popular ingestion, but are very important as guides to where this narcoguerra is likely heading.