Mexico: Getting Ready For War


November 22, 2007: The Mexican government and media continue to complain about weapons smuggled from the US ending up in the hands of drug cartels and criminals. They may also be getting into the hands of revived guerilla organizations (like the EPR). Mexican cartel gunmen and other criminals seem to prefer American-made AR-15 assault rifles. Various Kalashnikov models, bought in the US and smuggled to Mexico, also show up in the criminals' arsenals. How big a problem is this? There is a lot of debate on the number of guns smuggled from the US to Mexico, but there is no debate that it occurs. One Mexican government source claims that 2,000 weapons a day are smuggled from the US into Mexico; that seems a bit high even with big money drug cartels that have a big appetite for weapons. The weapons smuggling issue does give the Mexican government a "you do it, too" political issue to use to counter US criticism of Mexican drug trafficking. It also allows the Mexican government to say, "the US has a smuggling problem that needs to be solved" and stopping it requires Mexican cooperation. Some folks may call it face-saving, most will accept it as smart politics. If you're a Mexican cop shot with an American-made weapon you'll know it isn't just politics, it's low-grade warfare. The fact is, both operations, going south and going north, need to be stopped. US and Mexican police have reported that criminal gangs often purchase very sophisticated weapons at gun shows in Arizona and Texas and then smuggle them across the border. The Mexican Army frequently uncovers caches of weapons that its officers believe came from the US. For example, on October 13, a Mexican Army unit found 13 AR-15s and 11 AK-47s in a stash in Tamaulipas, just south of the US-Mexico border. The haul reportedly included a grenade launcher of some unspecified type. Policemen in western and northern Mexican states complain that cartel gunmen often have a "firepower edge" in armed confrontations. (Austin Bay)

November 20, 2007: The Mexican military is trying to recruit more women. Women will be allowed to serve as engineers and pilots in addition to a range of administrative jobs. For decades women have served as nurses, doctors, and dentists in the Mexican military. Of the 191,000 people serving in the Mexican military, approximately 6,300 are women. The Mexican military is planning on recruiting an additional 2600 women by 2012.

November 18, 2007: US and Mexican government officials are saying they are delighted with America's initial $500 million dollar plan to support Mexico's anti-drug campaign. Most of the attention so far has been on the equipment – helicopters, light transports, communications gear, etc. But the program has another dimension that dovetails nicely with Mexican President Felipe Calderon's anti-corruption drive. The money would help fund a new system of court clerks. No one has said precisely what that means, but security officers and prosecutors in both the US and Mexico acknowledge the Mexican judicial system is "inefficient and suffers from corruption." Calderon may be planning on creating an "alternative" courts system for trying drug-related crimes, but that is speculation. The US wants Mexico to pass legislation that will require "forfeiture of illegally-gained assets" – a legal tool the US uses to attack the financial assets of criminals.

November 16, 2007: The death toll continues to mount. The Mexican government estimated that 2,350 people have been died so far this year drug-related violence in Mexico. The majority of the dead have been killed in "turf wars" among drug cartels.

November 14, 2007: A recent US government report to Congress estimated that 90 percent of the cocaine entering the US transits Mexico. The study concluded that Mexican drug cartels now "dominate" the illegal drug business in the US. The "Big 3" cartels (Sinaloa, Gulf, and Juarez) dominate the business, with two other cartels (Valencia and Tijuana) also involved. A "Federation" cartel sometimes shows up on the list of Mexican cartels. The "Federation" is a cooperative venture involving the Valencia, Juarez, and Sinaloa cartels. Two other cartels occasionally appear in Mexican media reports: the Oaxaca cartel and the Colima cartel. The big three are really national organizations. The Juarez cartel operates in at least 21 Mexican states, the Sinaloa in at least 17, and the Gulf in 13. The Gulf cartel, however, has very prime turf: Nuevo Laredo and Matamoros, two cities on the Texas-Mexico border, and the major industrial city of Monterrey. All of the cartels employ "hitmen" (sicarios) as enforcers. Mexican officials who talk about "drug cartel armies" aren't exaggerating by much. The Gulf cartel controls a very sophisticated paramilitary force called the Zetas. Allegedly a cadre of Mexican Army deserters established the Zetas. The thirty or so deserters had served in the elite Special Air Mobile Force Group (Grupo Aeromovil de Fuerzas Especiales, GAFES) which serves as a Mexican military special operations force. Mexican officials also claim the Zetas have recruited former members of Guatemala's "Kaibiles" special forces group. The Kaibilies are modeled on the US Army Rangers. "Hitmen" of this caliber aren't just hitmen who carry out gangland slayings, they are sophisticated combat soldiers. The Sinaloa cartel employs two "enforcer groups," the Negros and Pelones. The existence of sophisticated, highly-trained, and very well-armed paramilitary organizations like the Zetas is one reason President Felipe Calderon decided to fight the anti-cartel war as a counter-insurgency operation.


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