Mexico: The Coming Collapse


January 19, 2009: The internet has been rife with reports that US Joint Forces Command (JFCOM) is predicting the collapse of Mexico. The root of this story lies in a study produced by JFCOM entitled; The Joint Operating Environment (JOE). The report appeared in November 2008, and was intended for use in "long range planning guidance." It was not meant to predict anything. Media sensationalists latched on to the comments about "rapid collapse" scenarios in the JFCOM speculative study and totally missed the point that this was a "what if?" scenario for planning purposes, not a prediction. JFCOM's long-range planners thought Pakistan and Mexico were "worst cases" of rapid collapse. Okay, this is fodder for wargaming and long-range planning excursions. No doubt a Mexican collapse would have huge effects on the US. However, the direct comparison to Pakistan was a huge stretch. For numerous reasons we will get to in a moment -- though we were glad to see JFCOM discussing Mexico and its complex security challenges.

Mexico is a huge security concern for the US, but that isn't a new phenomenon. We've been covering Mexico since 1999 and have covered the Cartel War (our original name, by the way) since December 2006 when the Mexican government decided to treat the cartel threat as the serious national threat it is. But Mexico is not Pakistan. It is not collapsing. It is not a "near failed state." Mexico is a threatened state, but the country has political will to confront the threats posed by violent drug cartels and its own legacy of corrupt politics. Even accounting for Chiapas (Maya land) and numerous wannabe separatists, Mexico also has money, education, and a comparative political-social coherence the entirety of South and Central Asia should envy.

Meanwhile, there are economic issues. From the Mexican perspective, NAFTA has been a means of "modernizing" the Mexican economy by evolution rather than revolution. The government, albeit slowly, has used NAFTA as a tool for streamlining the economy and reducing corruption. The government is directing a complex war that includes judicial and legal reformation ? dead serious counter-corruption drives that have put senior officials in jail. No, bliss is not around the corner, but this is a real path to real change.

GEN Barry McCaffrey's recent report to the West Point social sciences department on Mexico (memo dated December 29, 2008) makes the point about political will in Mexico is very explicit, "Now is the time during the opening months of a new US Administration to jointly commit to a fully resourced major partnership as political equals of the Mexican government. We must jointly and respectfully cooperate to address the broad challenges our two nations face. Specifically, we must support the Government of Mexico's efforts to confront the ultra violent drug cartels. We must do so in ways that are acceptable to the Mexican polity and that take into account Mexican sensitivities to sovereignty. The United States Government cannot impose a solution. The political will is present in Mexico to make the tough decisions that are required to confront a severe menace to the rule of law and the authority of the Mexican state?" McCaffrey's report also noted:  "President Calderon has committed his government to the "Limpiemos Mexico" campaign to "clean up Mexico". This is not rhetoric. They have energized their departments of Social Development, Public Education, and Health to be integral parts of this campaign. Finally, there is a clear understanding that this is an eight-year campaign-not a short-term surge?" The former SOUTHCOM commander and US drug czar sees the problem but sees what Calderon and his government are doing. --Austin Bay

January 14, 2009: Mexican media reported that a member of the Beltran-Leyva drug cartel operating in Acapulco had "impersonated a police recruiter." The cartelista claimed he was offering police jobs but was really trawling for new gang members.

Police in Tijuana (Baja California) found a weapons cache with over 500,000 rounds of ammunition, including 195,000 rounds of 5.56mm (M-16 and AR-15 ammo) and 160,000 rounds of Russian-type 7.62 mm (AK-47 ammo). The police also seized 135 sacks of assorted ammunition, including .357 caliber, .38 caliber, 10 mm, and .45 caliber ammo.

January 13, 2008: Hey, it's a counter-insurgency idea that a lot of military analysts think would help: legalization of now-prohibited narcotics. The El Paso, Texas, city council toyed with the idea of recommending the US government "go for legalization" as a means of striking at the finances of Mexico's violent drug cartels. In early January the El Paso city council took a preliminary vote that requested a national U.S. "dialog on ending the prohibition of narcotics." The politics in this is, of course, very complex. Several Texas state representatives got upset by the city council's resolution (which the mayor vetoed as "unrealistic"). The state representatives said the resolution suggested El Paso had "given up" in the battle against illegal narcotics. The reps said the region could face a cut-off in police support funding from the state of Texas and the federal government. Well, maybe. The thing is, the El Paso city council had the courage to point to the problem ? an American market for illegal drugs. --Austin Bay

Mexico would consider "reviewing environmental and labor provisions" in the NAFTA agreement (North American Free Trade Association agreement) with the U.S. The new U.S. president wants to make "environmental and labor"-related chances to the treaty. Trade among Canada, Mexico, and the US in 1994 was around $300 billion a year. Recent estimates put the "trilateral trade" at around a trillion dollars a year. Canada is the US's top trading partner, China number two, and Mexico is number three. The Mexican government is interested in producing a new agreement to permit, regulate and protect Mexicans working in the US. That could become part of the "NAFTA review" but would certainly involve examining the issue of illegal immigrants and undocumented Mexican workers in the US.

January 10, 2009: The government is reviewing its own "economic bailout" plans. Remittances from Mexicans working in the US have declined (by as much as half) as the US recession continues.

January 2, 2009: He's back. The 15th anniversary (January 1, 2009) of his Zapatista revolt in Chiapas gave Subcomandante Marcos a huge media platform. Marcos used it, crafting a two-day "celebration" of the rebellion. He objected to Israel's offensive in Gaza. He also objected to President Calderon's Cartel War by claiming that "Calderon promised he'd use all the force of the state against organized crime, but it's evident that organized crime directs the force of the state."

The government passed a new security law that creates a "National Information Center" to collect information on criminals. The database will hold identification data, list prior convictions, and include "methods of operation" (ie, by the criminal).

January 1, 2009: An estimated 1653 people died by violence in the city of Ciudad Juarez (across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas). In 2007 318 were killed. A "final" national death toll has yet to be tabulated, but it is likely the figure will be "over 5,500."

December 28, 2008: The government reported that it has detained an army officer on charges of spying for a drug cartel. Mexican Army Major Arturo Gonzalez Rodriguez is suspected of spying for the Beltran-Leyva cartel.

December 27, 2008: At least 20 gunmen were involved in an attack on a train in Michoacan state. Some of the gunmen carried military assault rifles. The police believe the men stole some chemicals on board the train that can be used in the manufacture of methamphetamines.




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