Leadership: Mexican Army Goes Through Changes


January 2, 2008: The Mexican army is going through some tough times. A decade ago, an independence day parade featured lots of showy stuff, including guys doing gymnastics, jumping through flaming rings and such. These days, when the troops march in a parade, the army sends a much grimmer message. Troops dressed in various kinds of camouflage (jungle, swamp, desert, etc), various kinds of special ops people. It's the drug war, more than the Chiapas thing and other small leftist movements. Sending the army into the war on drugs has forced the army to change. New tactics, new weapons and new leadership styles.

The increasing violence in the border towns, as the drug gangs fight each other and the army, has been bad for the economy. A lot of American factories were built along the border over the last two decades. Until recently they kept expanding and the town attracted a lot of migrants from the interior. It's grown wildly over the past 12-15 years. In the last year or so American factories have begun closing down or cutting back. Lots of shops closed, with many towns having about five percent of downtown stores vacant. Crime has been soaring, what with all the recent migrants being tossed out of work, and the flood of newcomers not diminishing yet. Thieves literally steal clothing off the clothes line. Even dog collars, anything that they can try to sell in a flea market.

Drug use is becoming a problem. In some towns, the local cops won their "war" with the drug gangs, with pretty high casualties all around. The dealers are sure to be back. Reportedly, some cops have shipped their families across the border, it helps that a lot of the long-time local residents have family on both sides. But some of the drug dealers also have kin on the US side, which will likely internationalize the next drug war in town.

While the police have been living with the violence, and the temptation to take bribes, for years, all this is new to the army. The troops have proved to be more resistant to the bribes, but not immune. This is driving senior commanders nuts, especially the ones who believe the army should not be involved in this kind of war. But they are, and it's causing profound changes to the military. The troops are getting combat experience, but in a war against Mexican gangsters.




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