Mexico: Plan Colombia Moves North


January 29, 2011: The U.S. government has decided to halt work on the border security fence program the SBI, or Secure Border Initiative. The program has other popular names, including the smart fence and the virtual fence project. The decision is based on projected costs and potential effectiveness, but remains controversial. The project envisioned extensive use of computers, cameras, various types of radars, communications relay towers, and various types of sensors (eg., motion and seismic). Ultimately, the computers and sensors would link with physical security infrastructure like guard towers (direct visual observation), concrete barriers, and in some places, real fences. The U.S. government contends that there were just too many technical problems, but advocates contend that most of the kinks have been resolved. Budget certainly is a consideration, but so are U.S. immigration politics and political positioning for the 2012 U.S. elections. There are also a number of critics who support increasing border security but contend that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is not competent to build and manage the project.

January 28, 2011: Mexican officials have charged two federal policemen with murdering a bodyguard who was working for the mayor of Ciudad Juarez (Chihuahua state). One accuser is the mayor himself. The shootings took place on January 25. The mayor claimed that the officers told the bodyguard to put his weapon down (which the bodyguard did) after the mayor's convoy was stopped at a roadblock in the city. The police officers then shot and killed the bodyguard.

January 26, 2011: Two U.S. citizens were attacked at an illegal roadblock (south of the border town of Reynosa) manned by drug cartel gunmen. The American couple were missionaries who helped support several churches in Tamaulipas state (which borders Texas). The woman was shot in the head and died at a hospital in McAllen, Texas. Authorities suspected the gunmen were trying to steal the Davis' vehicle. The driver saw the roadblock, turned, and the cartel gunmen chased them, firing on the their vehicle, and hitting the passenger.

The U.S. Border Patrol revealed that on January 11 it had captured a militant Islamist imam (Said Jaziri) who had been deported from France and Canada. The suspect was apprehended in southern California just east of San Diego, hiding in the trunk of a car belonging to a U.S. citizen.  Jaziri is now being held as an illegal alien. Canada deported Jaziri to Tunisia in 2007 and Jaziri now claims his life is in danger in Tunisia. He says he believes the U.S. is the safest place for him to be. Jaziri claimed he paid a drug gang in Tijuana $5,000 to get him over the border. The gang made an arrangement with the U.S. citizen who carried Jaziri in the car trunk. It appears Jaziri has agreed to provide evidence against the American smuggler. Jaziri's odyssey from Tunisia is quite a story, too. He claimed he reached Europe (after fleeing Tunisia) and then got to Belize in Central America. He crossed into Mexico in the town of Chetumal. From Chetumal he rode a bus to Tijuana.

January 25, 2011: U.S. National Guardsmen patrolling the Arizona border reported that on January 21 around 6 PM they observed Mexican drug smugglers using a catapult to fire packages of drugs over a border fence. U.S. authorities alerted Mexican authorities. The smugglers fled before Mexican security personnel arrived. Mexican police reported that security personnel captured the catapult as well as an abandoned vehicle. The catapult was carried on a two-wheeled trailer. It was almost three meters (nine feet) in length and could fire a two kilogram (4.4 pound) package of marijuana over the fence.

The U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) said that 17 people involved in a gunrunning ring had been arrested in a joint police operation. The operation involved the BATF, the IRS, the DEA, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and local police in the Phoenix, Arizona area. The individuals were smuggling weapons into Mexico for use by the Sinaloa drug cartel. Mexican authorities were also involved in the operation (presumably as an intelligence source).

January 24, 2011: Mexico has been discussing counter-drug and counter-insurgency operations with Colombian security forces. Colombian military and police forces have been engaged in a war against Communist insurgents for over four decades. Over time the Communist rebels came to rely on drug money to fund their operations, and the once-upon-a-time revolutionaries became drug gangsters. Colombian paramilitary policemen have trained Mexican security personnel in counter-drug operations and intelligence gathering, and the U.S. has picked up some of the training costs. The training makes sense from several angles, the most important being that the Colombian police know the drill. However, during the prior U.S. presidential administration, a number of critics of Mexico's Cartel War claimed that the U.S.-Mexican Merida Initiative (the diplomatic and financial vehicle for improving U.S.-Mexican counter-drug cooperation and improving Mexican counter-drug capabilities) was simply another Plan Colombia. Plan Colombia critics called it imperialism when it was initiated. The thing is, over time Plan Colombia has worked fairly well, when you honestly compare Colombia's current internal situation to what it was twelve years ago when Plan Colombia began. At that time the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC, the main group of Communist guerrillas) controlled a lot of territory. FARC now controls a few patches of territory, but its power has been greatly reduced. Colombia's war differs and Mexico's drug war have very different historical and political roots. Mexicans argue that the Cartel War isn't about politics, but about cash. But note that the cartelistas do want to influence politics with cash. However, good police and military tactics are good police and military tactics. The FARC loves to attack police stations, ambush police, set boobytraps and detonate bombs. Mexican drug cartels carry out those operations, too. Moreover, the Colombians understand how to conduct cordon and search operations in urban areas. If the quarry is a guerrilla leader hiding in an apartment or a drug lord hiding in a villa, a cordon and search operation is one way to nab him.

January 23, 2011: Cartel gunmen killed seven people in a park in Ciudad Juarez, during a football (soccer) game. Two of the dead were playing in the game. The gunmen drove up in a vehicle and opened fire on the crowd with automatic weapons. It appears this was another terrorist incident designed to send a larger political message. The park had been built with funds from a government anti-violence program.

January 22, 2011: One policemen was killed and three wounded in an incident near the town of Tula (Hidalgo state). Cartel gunmen (possibly from the Zetas cartel) detonated a bomb hidden in an abandoned vehicle the police were inspecting.

January 14, 2011: A gunman fired a rifle across the Mexico-U.S. border at four Americans working on a road. The incident took place in Hudspeth County, Texas (southeast of El Paso). The men were about a half mile from the border. The men were not hit. Texas Rangers and the Hudspeth County sheriff are investigating the attack.

January 13, 2011: Based on official government statistics, 34,612 people have been killed in drug war violence since December 2006. However, 2010 was the deadliest year, when 15,273 people died. Around half of those were killed in the states of Sinaloa, Chihuahua, and Tamaulipas (which is where most of the turf wars for control of drug corridors occur). The official stats claim that 30, 913 people were slain in execution-style killings. 3,153 were slain in battles between rival cartels, while 546 people have died in operations involving Mexican security forces.

January 8, 2011: Police found 15 decapitated bodies in Acapulco. The tourist haven has been the scene of a lot of violent clashes between drug cartels.




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