Mexico: A Multi-Front War

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April 29,2008: The Mexican government continues to grapple with President Felipe Calderon's proposals to "modernize" the Mexican national oil company, PEMEX. "Modernize" is in quotation marks because many Mexicans –but especially Mexican left-wingers like Calderon's former presidential campaign opponent, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador —say Calderon's plans will lead to privatization of the oil industry (PEMEX). This is a touchy subject for Mexican nationalists. In 1938 the Mexican government expropriated foreign oil holdings in Mexico, with many of the foreign companies being US oil companies. Forming PEMEX threw a punch at the Colossus of the North (ie, the U.S.). Mexico makes a lot of money off of its oil (it is the US's third largest oil import supplier and is currently the world's tenth leading oil exporter). Mexican proven oil reserves, however, are declining and PEMEX needs capital to explore for more, particularly deep prospects off-shore. Calderon claims he is really seeking partners for off-shore exploration. In any case, the plan is another example of Calderon's extraordinary guts. He is fighting a war on the major drug cartels and fencing with various militant groups. He is also fighting a war on police, judicial, and political corruption (which he correctly sees as key to winning the war on the drug cartels and modernizing Mexico's economy). Calderon is proving to be a fascinating and often subtle public leader—a 21st century Mexican revolutionary. It will be interesting to watch his "multi-front war for modernity" play out over the next four years. (Austin Bay)

April 26, 2008: A huge drug gang battle broke out in Tijuana (Baja California Norte). Fifteen gang members died in the firefight, many from multiple wounds because of the many machine-guns being used. Mexican authorities said the shootout occurred between rival members of the Arellano Felix drug gang. The firefight took place near the Mexico-US border. This looks like one of the scenarios that really worry US and Mexican law enforcement officials, that is, a gunfight near the border that could easily "spill over" and involve US police and border personnel in a shootout with Mexican gang members. The scenarios can get even dicier-- US police fight the gangsters on the "north side" while Mexican soldiers are fighting the gang members on "south side" -- and US and Mexican security personnel accidentally hit one another with gunfire. Can't happen? Of course it can, especially when machine guns and grenade launchers are involved.

April 21, 2008: The Mexican government is once again claiming that it has made significant progress in its war against the Gulf drug cartel. The government argues that the beefed up military presence along the Texas-Mexico border has led to the discovery of major weapons caches and the arrest of several key Gulf cartel operatives. This has damaged the organization. However, the Gulf cartel's "Los Zetas" (special paramilitary group) remains a menace and is actually conducting a recruiting campaign. Former Mexican soldiers allegedly formed the core cadre of Los Zetas. The Zetas are encouraging Mexican military personnel to desert the Mexican forces and join the Zetas. This is an interesting information warfare gambit, even if the Zetas fail to get any takers. It says "We have money, you regular soldiers don't." The Mexican Army has discovered several six small "training camps" on ranches in northern Mexico (Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon states). These camps that might serve as sites to "integrate" new recruits into drug cartel hit teams. The Zetas are one reason the Mexican Army became part of the Cartel War – they provided the cartels with a "military strike" capability and a real operational edge over local and state Mexican police forces.

April 20, 2008: A Mexican NGO (Transparency Mexico) claims that Mexican's spent almost $2.6 billion on 197 million bribes paid in 2007. How do you get stats like this? Good question. There is a political point to this: corruption harms Mexico economically and politically.

April 18, 2008: A Mexican Army helicopter crashed (killing 11 soldiers) while on a mission to raid a suspected marijuana-producing site in Michoacan state. The report attributed the crash to mechanical difficulties.

April 4, 2008: Mexican authorities reported s "running shootout" between police and drug cartel hit men south of Nuevo Laredo in the state of Nuevo Leon. Six people died in the gun battles. The first incident began near the town of Lampazos when police confronted two men allegedly wearing "army uniforms."

March 28, 2008: The Mexican government continued to bring more Mexican Army troops into the city of Ciudad Juarez (across the border from El Paso, Texas). The Mexican government portrayed the troop increase as providing : support to the local police. The action is of course much more than that. The Mexican Army troops are conducting large-scale raids on drug cartel "safe houses" and cordoning off areas (a counter-insurgency tactic) so that cartel hit men cannot escape. The tactic may or may not prove to be effective, but it sends the message that the military intends to treat paramilitary "hit squads" as a military threat.

 

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