BBC News – 2009-03-18 00:20:39
US Poised to Join Mexico Drug War
(March 18, 2009) — The US is drawing up comprehensive plans to help Mexico in its fight against drug-trafficking, a senior military official has told Congress. Gen Gene Renuart, head of the US Northern Command, told a Senate hearing that troops or anti-narcotics agents would be sent to the Mexican border. The plan could be finalised as early as this week, he added.
Correspondents say Mexico’s mounting drug violence has emerged as a real national security threat to the US.
“Certainly, there may be a need for additional manpower,” said Gen Renuart, who oversees US military interests in the border region. “Whether that is best suited or best provided by National Guard or additional law enforcement agencies, I think, this planning team will really lead us to,” he told the Senate Armed Services Committee.
Governors of states that border Mexico have expressed concern both about the cartels, whose main source of income is exporting drugs such as cocaine into the US, and at the prospect of effectively militarising the US-Mexico frontier.
The military is already employing border security techniques mastered in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan, including unmanned aerial vehicles and technology capable of locating underground tunnels, reports say.
But an inter-agency government team, meeting this week at the Department of Homeland Security, is now expected to produce a broad new initiative to confront a drug war that has killed thousands in Mexico and spilled over into US cities. “I think we’ll have good plans come out of this work this week,” Gen Renuart told the hearing.
A separate Senate committee in Washington heard that the presence of the Mexican drug cartels in the US had more than quadrupled since 2006. The news came as Mexico and the US remained locked in a trade dispute centred on their busy border. The US government stopped a pilot scheme earlier this month which allowed Mexican trucks to use roads in the US. Mexico said the decision violated a free-trade deal between the countries and says it will impose tariffs on a range of American exports.
© BBC MMIX
US Plans to Combat Mexico Drugs
(March 13, 2009) — The US has said it is considering using the National Guard as a last resort to counter the threat of drug violence in Mexico spilling over the border. The plan was outlined by Roger Rufe of the Department of Homeland Security in a House of Representatives hearing.
US state governors with borders joining Mexico have expressed growing concern over the impact of Mexican cartels which have links to US gangs. There were more than 6,000 drug-related killings in Mexico in 2008. Many of the battles over turf and smuggling routes – sometimes involving decapitations – are fought using US weapons smuggled south to Mexico.
Officials say Mexican drug gangs are active in 230 American cities. Phoenix, Atlanta and Birmingham are among the hardest hit, with a big increase in kidnappings and murders.
Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has asked the federal government to send 250 National Guard reserve troops to help 150 already there supporting local law enforcement efforts against drug trafficking. Texas Governor Rick Perry has asked for 1,000 National Guard troops.
Mr Rufe told a House homeland security subcommittee that the deployment of US military personnel and equipment would be a last resort if other agencies became overwhelmed.
“We would take all resources short of DoD (Department of Defence) and National Guard troops before we reach that tipping point,” he said. “We very much do not want to militarise our border.” But, he said, his department was engaged in planning with the National Guard and defence department “to make sure they’re ready when the time comes”.
On the Mexican side of the border, President Felipe Caldeon has sent thousands of extra troops into the city of Ciudad Juarez, just across the Rio Grande from the Texan city of El Paso.
Mr Rufe’s comments echoed those made by US President Barack Obama a day earlier, when he said he did not have a “tipping point” in mind for sending in the military. “We’ve got a big border with Mexico,” he said on Wednesday. “I’m not interested in militarising the border.” Last year, a US justice department report described Mexican drug traffickers as America’s biggest organised crime threat, a view reiterated by Mr Rufe.
© BBC MMIX
Q&A: Mexico’s Drug-fuelled Violence
(February 24, 2009) — Gang violence is surging in Mexico despite the deployment of 40,000 soldiers across the country to root out drug cartels. Beheadings, attacks on police, and shootings in clubs and restaurants are a daily occurrence in some regions. Some 6,000 people died in violence related to organized crime last year and the situation seems to be getting worse.
What is the scale of the violence?
If the violence is judged by the number of homicides linked to organised crime, the situation appears extremely serious. There were approximately 6,000 such murders in Mexico in 2008. That figure is similar to the number of US soldiers and civilians killed in Iraq in the same year. The rate appears to be increasing in 2009, with Mexican media reporting that by mid-February, there had been 1,000 killings. Government officials say that the statistics need to be seen in context, and suggest that nine out of 10 of all the deaths involve people connected with the drug trade, or law enforcement officials.
Where are the worst-hit areas?
Is it spreading across Mexico?
Mexico’s northern border towns are experiencing the worst of the violence, with Ciudad Juarez (just across the frontier from El Paso in Texas) standing out as the country’s most violent city. The recent murder of a general in Cancun, violence in Monterrey, and arrests in Mexico City have been cited as evidence that the problem is spreading, but it is probably too early to judge. Mexico is a large country, and there are still many areas where the serious crime rate is unexceptional.
Why is the violence seemingly increasing?
There are two main points of view on this. The Mexican government’s position is that the violence, however regrettable, can be seen as a reflection of the success of its policy of taking a hard line against drug running. It suggests that the “monster” has been wounded, and what we are witnessing is a brutal fight between leaderless cartels for fewer spoils. But others argue that the cartels have become so powerful that they effectively control some parts of the country, and the violence, which is getting worse, is evidence of their gang law.
President Felipe Calderon has deployed troops.
Is this strategy working or is it backfiring?
Around 40,000 troops are actively involved in Mexico’s war on drugs. The Mexican government says that the strategy is working. It is true that record amounts of drugs have been seized, and senior cartel leaders have been imprisoned or killed. But another consequence has been an explosion of violence, as the drug cartels fight both the army, and each other.
Why are we seeing protests
against the deployment of troops?
Polls suggest that most Mexicans support the deployment of troops. The government says that the recent anti-army protests are entirely staged by the cartels. Journalists and observers in northern Mexico say there is evidence that some demonstrators were paid to attend. That in itself could be seen as more proof of the growing power of the cartels, if they are adding street protests to their arsenal of weapons against the government.
What concerns have been raised
about the use of troops?
Human rights groups in Mexico caution against using the military to enforce law and order. Their main concern is a lack of accountability: if a member of the public has a complaint against the army, it is tried by a military court with military judges. Public access to such tribunals appears limited. Others say that President Calderon’s extensive deployment of the army leaves him with few options in the future. They argue that if the army loses the battle, or gets so close to the drug cartels that it is itself corrupted, then there is nothing left between the cartels, and the government.
There are regular cases of police officers
being arrested on corruption charges,
or being in the pay of the drug gangs.
How serious a problem is this?
The problem is far-reaching. One reason why the government has deployed the army so extensively in its war on drugs is that it feels the police cannot be trusted. Drug cartels with massive resources at their disposal have repeatedly managed to infiltrate the underpaid police, from the grassroots level to the very top. Efforts are underway to rebuild the entire structure of the Mexican police force, but the process is expected to take years, if not decades.
Reference is often made to
Mexico’s powerful cartels, who are they?
Who are the Zetas?
The four main cartels are named after the places where their operations are based. They are the Sinaloa cartel, the Gulf cartel, the Tijuana cartel, and the Juarez cartel. They control the trafficking of drugs from South America to the United States, a business that is worth an estimated $13bn (£9bn) a year. Their power has increased in recent years, mainly as a result of increased US anti-narcotic operations in the Caribbean and Florida, which has pushed more of the flow of drugs through Mexico.
Los Zetas is the enforcement arm of the Gulf cartel. Most of its members are deserters from the Mexican army special forces. They carry highly sophisticated weaponry, and are dedicated to the protection of drug-trafficking routes.
Is talk of civil war, or a
threat to the state, alarmist?
The Mexican government vehemently rejects suggestions that Mexico is close to becoming a failed state. As yet, the violence does not appear to be having a significant effect on the economy and most of the country is functioning normally. Government ministers do, however, concede that the stakes are high. Economy Secretary Gerardo Ruiz Mateos recently said that if the cartels were not confronted, Mexico ran the risk of having a drug-runner as its next president.
To what extent is the violence
spilling over the US-Mexican border?
What has been the US response so far?
Most of the violence remains firmly on the Mexican side of the border, although there is some evidence of increasingly violent attacks on US border patrol agents by drug traffickers. A US Congress report last year drew on evidence from intelligence sources suggesting that Mexican cartels have also been forging closer links with established drug gangs inside the US. Congress has authorised the spending of $1.6bn (£1.1bn) dollars to confront the threat of drug trafficking and organised crime from Mexico and Central America. So far, $197m (£138m) has been released for military and law enforcement training and equipment in Mexico.
© BBC MMIX
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