Archive for the ‘Mexico Watch’ Category

Capture of Mexico’s Wealthiest and Most Notorious Drug Lord, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

Sunday, February 23rd, 2014

News reports began to appear early Saturday of this capture in the Mexican Pacific coastal town of Mazatlan. Units of the Mexican Marines took Guzman without shots fired along with other men and women and one baby. Photos showed scratches to the face but not substantial injury. Guzman was flown to Mexico City for identification and is held there. Mexican newspapers as well as the Associated Press report that Mexican officials were aided by two American groups, the DEA and the Marshals Service. It is presumed that Guzman was tracked electronically for several years by American law enforcement as he grew the size and sophistication of the Sinaloa Cartel.

23mexico3-master675

The capture will likely have these implications:

  • It comes just after a meeting in Toluca on Thursday, February 20, of the Mexican President, Pena Nieto, with the President of the United States and the Premier of Canada. This will serve to enhance the prestige of Pena Nieto in his counterparts’ eyes and perhaps to the Mexican people. The North American alliance for trade, NAFTA, begun in the 1990s has transformed Mexico from a rural population to one of large urban centers, increased its trade with the United States, but has been inadequate to the employment needs of Mexico and with jobs such as those in auto assembly paying only a fraction of those paid in the United States or Canada.

 

  • Its impact on the population of Mexico bears consideration as “El Chapo” has become a folk hero, a “Robin Hood” in many parts of the country and will likely assume a role in the narcoreligion like that of Jesus Malverde or Santa Muerte. His escape from a Federal high security prison in 2001 and the possible efforts to bring him to trial in the United States could further enhance his notoriety with Mexican peasants and youth.

 

  • If it appears that this capture was orchestrated or heavily assisted by American authorities, it will inflame leftist groups in Mexico that have long contended that their country is subjected to “CIA influence”. Statements by Americans that he should be brought to Los Angeles or Chicago to be tried and that American justice is more assured than Mexican feed into a dangerous game.

 

  • It is unlikely to mean the end of the Sinaloa Cartel. The size and profitability of that enterprise means that a complex of people and commands exist in Sinaloa, at plazas coming into the United States, associates in China, Columbia, Europe and the United States that will function in the absence of Guzman. It may mean more violence in Sinaloa as underlings fight for succession positions. The metaphor of “cutting the head off the snake” may not be as helpful as seeing it as a situation that perhaps furthers the “metastasis” to many centers in the Sinaloa group.

 

  • It may mean more violence in American border cities as this may serve to “level the playing field” in Tijuana and Juarez where Sinaloa operatives have appeared to have bested other Cartels for control or in Nuevo Laredo where a four-sided contest has been underway for several years among the Mexican government, the Gulf Cartel, the Zetas and Sinaloa. It should not lessen the flow of drugs along national corridors such as IH 35 but may rather increase the violence and unpredictability. The strength and influence of groups like the Sinaloa Cartel is not from the personality of a leader but rather a reflection of the characteristics of the state, itself, in this case, Mexico.

Winston Churchill said in a broadcast in 1939 to the British people speaking of Russia that it was “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma…” That seems a good fit to describe events now in Mexico. With Ukraine, Syria, Egypt, Thailand, Venezuela, Argentina, Libya all in some stages of dissolution, we are advised not to neglect events to our south or look for simple solutions.

Growing Corruption In The Rio Grande Valley

Wednesday, December 25th, 2013

Here is a contextual story in the Valley that places a systemic perspective of those involved in police corruption as money and drugs cross in greater numbers the Rio Grande. Questions keep getting closer to Hildago County’s Sheriff Lupe Trevino with the recent indictment of Sheriff’s Commander, Jose Padilla as detailed in this story from the Houston Chronicle. County and city law enforcement have been indicted by Federal authorities in a pattern of involvement with the drug trade for over a decade.The reasons include the proximity to Mexico, the land routes of contraband through these counties and the existence of family and friendship ties.

Hildago’s population is just over 800,000 and adjoins Cameron County to the east that has a population of 415,000. McAllen in Hildago and Brownsville in Cameron are “twin cities” with Reynosa and Matamoros, respectively. A third border town with twin cities is Laredo and Nuevo Laredo in Webb County with a population of 260,000.

Screen Shot 2013-12-25 at 8.51.28 AM

The three Mexican cities are in the State of Tamaulipas which is a major route for drugs from Mexico and immigrants from Central America headed to the United States. For the last decade two Cartels, the Gulf and the Zetas, have fought each other and the Mexican government for the control of the state and its roads and railways to move contraband. State and municipal police are frequently corrupt or impotent in dealing with the far wealthier and powerful cartel forces.

NMEXICO_STEXAS

Poverty is endemic in the Valley but far more so across the Rio in Mexico. The Valley is the poorest part of Texas as well as in the United States with reported unemployment averaging over 10 percent. Coupled with very low education levels, low wage jobs and population growth, it is a region readily susceptible to promises of quick money and corruption of officials.

20130408_poor

 

But in Mexico the unemployment rate is 50 percent in many areas. With a young population Cartels have many ready recruits and the proximity of the continent’s greater base of drug customer draws many into the Valley to move drugs north.

MexicanAdobe

Slippery slope of crime is mapped in Valley

Joel Martinez, AP

IndictedTrevino

Jonathan Treviño (left), seen walking with attorney Robert Yzaguirre, is the son of Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño.

By Jeremy Roebuck

August 4, 2013

It started with a political donation and a request for a small favor in return.

That simple exchange gradually would lead James Phil “J.P.” Flores into a relationship with narcotics traffickers, the former Hidalgo County sheriff’s deputy said as he testified last week in the trial of a colleague accused in a wide-ranging drug conspiracy. A local smuggler with deep pockets knew Flores faced pressure to raise money for his boss’ campaigns. He offered the deputy cash. When the trafficker later asked him to check a few license plates, the request seemed harmless enough. It was the least he could do, said Flores, who pleaded guilty to his own role in the conspiracy earlier this year.

“We were using him,” he said. “But he was using us, too.”

That relationship, detailed in testimony at the ongoing trial of former sheriff’s Deputy Jorge Garza, lays bare a frequently overlooked aspect of how corruption often takes root in Rio Grande Valley law enforcement. In a region where sheriffs, prosecutors and local officials fall with disturbing regularity to federal charges, the descent from upstanding public citizen to corrupt official rarely occurs in one giant leap.vMore often, said Anthony Knopp, a professor emeritus of history at the University of Texas-Brownsville, that slide occurs at a creep.

“There’s a susceptibility there to accommodate people that are compadres or family and who may be doing something on the questionable side of the law,” he said. “But once you start down that path, each new favor tends to push the line a little further.”

SheriffTrevinoJerry Lara / San Antonio Express-News

Although his son has admitted his guilt, Sheriff Treviño (at lectern) has not been charged and repeatedly has denied any knowledge of the Panama Unit’s illegal activities. In Flores’ case, requests to scan license plates became plots to guard drug loads and schemes to rip off competing traffickers, the former deputy said. Eventually, Flores, Garza and seven other law officers, many of them members of a multi-department narcotics task force known as the Panama Unit, found themselves in handcuffs. All but Garza, a retired warrant officer and a man prosecutors have described as a bit player, pleaded guilty to accepting bribes and guarding drug shipments and stash houses.

And as witness after witness took the stand at his trial last week, their testimony detailed tight family connections, pressures at work and longstanding personal relationships that led them to the wrong sort of people. Their stories described a line between the law-abiding and law-breaking that’s often frustratingly hazy. Garza’s own sister, Alma, is a prominent local defense attorney and perennial candidate for district attorney on county ballots.

And testifying Wednesday, Fernando Guerra Sr., Flores’ smuggler contact, said he often stored cocaine stolen by the deputies at the home of a colleague’s girlfriend.

SheriffGuerraAlex Jones, AP

Federal prosecutors alleged in 2008 that Starr Sheriff Reymundo Guerra struck up a relationship with a Gulf Cartel operative. The woman, Aida Palacios, had once worked as an investigator for the county’s district attorney. And her aunt, Mary Alice Palacios, a one-time justice of the peace, often stopped by to visit. Asked whether the ex-judge had ever seen the cocaine her niece allegedly stored, Guerra testified that she did. Mary Alice Palacios’ attorney later declined to answer questions about Guerra’s statements.

Nowhere, though, have those family bonds cast deeper shadows than with Jonathan Treviño, one of Garza’s co-defendants and the son of Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño. The younger man has admitted his guilt; the elder has not been charged and repeatedly has denied any knowledge of the Panama Unit’s illegal activities. Since his son’s arrest, the sheriff has walked a tightrope expressing personal support for his son while loudly condemning his bad acts.

“The actions of those deputies — including the actions of my son — are just despicable,” he said in an interview Thursday. “It’s just something you don’t do as a law enforcement officer.”

But those denials haven’t convinced the sheriff’s critics, who question how he could be unaware of the corruption rooted within his own department and family. That suspicion, said Knopp, is born out of the prominence that family bonds and small favors have played in the recent history of the region’s fallen lawmen.

A string of convictions

A bribery scandal involving a drug trafficker and conjugal jail visits ended the career of Trevino’s tough-talking predecessor, Brig Marmolejo, in 1994. Federal prosecutors charged Sheriff Gene Falcon in neighboring Starr County four years later for taking bribes.

And a decade later, another Starr County sheriff, Reymundo Guerra, found himself in the unwelcome spotlight. Federal prosecutors alleged in 2008 that Guerra struck up a relationship with a Gulf Cartel operative in the neighboring Mexican city of Miguel Aleman. The sheriff later admitted in court that it began with small requests for information delivered over family barbecues and eventually grew to more.

But Alonzo Alvarez, a longtime friend and retired schoolteacher, testified at one of the sheriff’s court hearings that year that he had little trouble reconciling the family man and career law enforcer with the corrupt cop who helped bungle ongoing drug investigations and gave up the names of informants working with police. Alvarez told the court that growing up, he and many of his friends, relatives and neighbors turned to smuggling or knew others who had as a way to make a living.

Asked by the judge whether he was admitting on the stand to involvement in drug trafficking, Alvarez shrugged and replied: “If that’s what you want to call it, then, I guess so.”

Aaron Nelson of the Rio Grande Valley Bureau contributed to this report.

jroebuck@express-news.net

Countryside in western Tamaulipas

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Book Out And Available

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

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My book is now available at Amazon. It is a review of what I see as the cultural factors that give rise to the characteristic low levels of trust of the Mexican for government at the local or national level. I outline major aspects of the Mexican economy and seek to identify what may lie ahead for Mexico and the United States with special emphasis on Texas and my home community of Austin. You may go here for more information at Amazon: Failed State

With the return of the PRI to the control of Mexico we are seeing the expected increased suppression of the media and negative reports about Mexican violence. All of us are compelled then to ask friends what they are hearing. Here is an example that I have heard in the last few months and parallels reports recently from California of extortion cells operating in San Diego and Tijuana.

Extortion of Family Members

I have a friend that has worked for the University for many years and now has a business in Austin. He has mentioned that his wife will get a telephone call from her home town in the State of Durango and the caller will say that they are holding her brother and will harm him some way or kill him if she does not send money, usually about three thousand dollars, to an address in that state. They will provide personal information about the brother such as birth date. When she frantically calls and gets him on the phone, she finds that this is a ruse by some party in Mexico

 

Presentation To Law Enforcement Offcials On Border Trade and Drugs

Saturday, September 28th, 2013

Hill Country Law Enforcement Association Thursday, Sept. 26, 2013

Round Mountain, Texas

Border Map

First some geographical and population facts about the border and the several countries that meet along the Texas side of the U.S. Mexico border. I focus upon this 1200 mile section of the 2,000 mile border as in the last two years the level of immigration crossings is highest here and it is also where most trade passes.

BorderStates

Population

Country Population Median Age
Belize

330,000.00

21

Costa Rica

4,500,000.00

29

El Salvador

6,000,000.00

24

Guatemala

13,000,000.00

20

Honduras

8,000,000.00

21

Nicaragua

5,600,000.00

23

Panama

3,400,000.00

28

TOTALS

40,830,000.00

23

Mexico

114,000,000.00

27

United States

314,000,000.00

37

Trade

U.S./Mexico Surface Trade – Texas Corridor

The State of Texas has a 1,254-mile long border with Mexico.  Texas’ multiple border crossings makes it the largest port-of-entry for goods traveling from Mexico into the United States as well as goods heading south from the U.S. into Mexican markets.

The Texas-Mexico auto manufacturing region has emerged over the past decade as the land bridge connecting automakers with plants in Texas, Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Kentucky, and other states of the  \American South to the concentration of assembly plants in central Mexico, such as those in León and Toluca and as far south as Puebla. The auto supply chains run north and south, from Mexico to Canada,  24/7. More of the auto industry flow passes through Laredo than any other U.S.-Mexico port.

In 2010, about $114 billion in international freight crossed through Laredo. Nearly half of it was auto-related. The next-largest category, mainly electronic products and components, amounts only to one-fourth the amount of auto freight. Most, 98 percent, of Texas exports go to Mexico and more than 463,000 jobs in Texas and 700,000 in California rely on trade with Mexico.

Texas is responsible for about 44 percent of U.S. exports to Mexico. A large portion of those shipments are destined for maquiladoras, factories along the border that use cheap Mexican labor to assemble components manufactured in the U.S. into final products before sending them back over the border to be sold. In short, the migration of low-skill manufacturing away from America and into Mexico has had some collateral benefits and problems for Texas.

Texas Exports to Mexico

The major exports from Texas to Mexico are agriculture: cattle, pork, chicken, wheat, cotton and other coarse grains. Refined oil products and natural gas are exported to Mexico and about 1/3rd of Texas refined exports go to Mexico

IH 35 Corridor

These trade items move principally north and south by rail and truck on the IH 35 route. Laredo is the world’s busiest land port with a truck crossing every 8 minutes 24/7.

Core of the Mexican Economy

Export Item Dollar Amount Profit Percentage Profit
  1. 1.      Petroleum
$130 billion 10% $13 Billion
  1. 2.      Tourism
$185 billion 8% $12 Billion
  1. 3.      Visiting Workers
$300 billion 10% $30 Billion
  1. 4.      Manufacturing
$100 billion 15% $15 Billion
  1. 5.      Narcotics
$50 billion 80% $40 Billion

 MexicanOilProduction

 

 

The reality of the foundations of the Mexican economy is that the two most profitable are the most troubling. Oil exports which fund the middle class in Mexico have grown stagnant since 2005. The other very profitable sector is drug trafficking.  Its impact is illustrated by the Cartels and sample efforts such as Project Coronado and Delirium to reduce Mexican presences including command and control operations in the United States. With the immense profits Mexican drug barons look for ways to “wash” the money to make it legitimate. The trials in Austin this year of the Zetas and their quarter horse schemes are only illustrative.

 

CentralAmerica

DrugRoutes

ProjectDelirium

2009 Project Coronado

2011 Project Delirium

2013 Zetas’ Quarter horse Money Laundering

Four Alternative Scenarios For Mexico

A. Collapse in progress

World recession deepens. Oil plays out in Mexico’s top producing fields, Mexico cedes control to private actors over the south and north of the country with 10 million refugees in Mexico from the countries to its south, and 20 million refugees from within Mexico head to the northern cities of Mexico and the United States. Millions will come to Texas alone. Mexico is beset with guerilla bands controlling much of the countryside and several of the larger low-income neighborhoods in Mexico City. Staged attacks on American border cities occur with regular frequency and local police in Mexico are overwhelmed facing cartels that are better organized, funded and equipped and abandon their posts. American border cities are overwhelmed with refugees and violent gangs. American military units are required to defend against armed intrusions from Mexico.

B. American Protectorate

Cartels use hit squads to attack American law enforcement in border cities on both sides. The United States intervenes with military forces as it has done in other countries and creates a protectorate for the Mexican Federal government south to Monterrey, Saltillo and Durango. Wealthy and educated Mexicans move to Texas for safety and call for more American military and police action to defeat cartel armies. The traditional northern Mexican antipathy toward the “chilangos” of Mexico City grows and a process of tying the northern Mexican states closely to the American Southwest accelerates. Leftist and nationalistic mobs burn and sack the American Embassy in Mexico City. The ancient fear of another American invasion of Mexico becomes real and kindles long simmering antipathy toward the north. Norteños from bases in Texas plan to re-take northern cities fallen into chaos and urge U.S. support.

C. Revival of Pax Americana

American economy revives and joint American and Mexican efforts suppress cartel activity with attendant boosts in tourism, maquila employment and domestic growth. America sharply reduces illegal drug consumption. Mexico increases its historical ties with Central America and opens the region to the south to economic growth and channels American technological knowhow through all of Latin America. Mexico curtails the power of its unions and its most wealthy and extends public education to 14 years for all citizens. America provides support for joint educational ventures with American and Mexican universities. The North American continent becomes the model for integrating raw material, labor resources and intellectual creativity in a bursting of prosperity and hemispheric free trade.

D. Reprieve

World economy rebounds. Oil prices rise to $200 a barrel. Mexico permits foreign investments and spins off Pemex, which modernizes engineering, refining and exploration. The rising price of oil removes the labor cost advantage of nations in Asia for manufactured items imported to the United States and Europe. Maquila partnerships and fully domestic manufacturing activity soars in Mexico. Corruption is curtailed and profits soar. Situation stabilizes to a significant degree as the wealth generation exceeds what is loss to corruption. Mexico continues to make progress in developing manufacturing relationships with various foreign companies. Tourism rebounds as the PRI controls press reports of crime.

Adapted from The Dying Elephant-Mexico’s Path to a Failed State ©2013

A Line In The Sand

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

In November of 2012, Michael McCaul, now the new Chair of the U. S. House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee issued an update of that Committee’s regular assessment of events in Mexico and on the U.S.-Mexican Border that affect security. Here is the repeat of an interesting news story involving the Mexican Cartel, los Zetas, and an effort an Iranian to contract for one of the Zetas to conduct an assignation in Washington, D.C. reflecting the likely broadening of threats near the border:

From Page 13 of the report “Iran and Hezbollah have been involved in the underworld of Latin America long enough to become intimately familiar with all of its inhabitants and capitalize on their capabilities. Former DEA executive Michael Braun has an interesting way of describing this dynamic:

“…If you want to visualize ungoverned space or a permissive environment, I tell people to simply think of the bar scene in the first “Star Wars” movie. Operatives from FTOs (foreign terrorist organizations) and DTOs (drug trafficking organizations) are frequenting the same shady bars, the same seedy hotels and the same sweaty brothels in a growing number of areas around the world. And what else are they doing? Based upon over 37 years in the law enforcement and security sectors, you can mark my word that they are most assuredly talking business and sharing lessons learned.”

Braun says as Europe’s demand for cocaine continues to grow and TCO’s operate in West and North Africa to establish infrastructure to move the drugs:

“These bad guys (cartels) are now routinely coming in very close contact with the likes of Hezbollah, Hamas, Al Qaeda, who are vying for the same money, the same turf and same dollars. It’s really a nightmare scenario. And my point being is if anyone thinks for a moment that Hezbollah and Qods Force, the masters at leveraging and exploiting existing elicit infrastructures globally, are not going to focus on our southwest border and use that as perhaps a spring board in attacking our country then they just don’t understand how the real underworld works.”

Iran attempted to leverage this capability in October 2011 with the foiled plot to assassinate the Saudi Ambassador to the United States. According to a federal arrest complaint filed in New York City, the Qods Force attempted to hire a drug cartel (identified by other sources as the Los Zetas) to assassinate Saudi Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir for a fee of $1.5 million. The terror attack was to take place at a popular restaurant in Washington, D.C. without regard to collateral deaths or damage.

The Qods Force made this solicitation because it knows drug traffickers are willing to undertake such criminal activity in exchange for money. Moreover, if this terror attack had been successful, the Qods Force intended to use the Los Zetas for other attacks in the future. Had it not been for a DEA informant posing as the Los Zetas operative, this attack could have very well taken place.

It has been suggested that this assassination was directed by the Iranian government in retaliation for a Saudi-led military intervention in Bahrain against an Iranian-backed Shiite Muslim majority that was protesting a Saudi-backed Sunni Muslim minority government.There are also indications that Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has ordered the Qods Force to intensify terror attacks against the United States and other Western countries for supporting the ousting of Syrian President and Iranian ally Bashar al-Assad.”

Tuesday, November 20th, 2012

The Election Year: Results[i]

Michael Lauderdale

October 2012

Three years ago we looked at the spread of violence across Mexico and offered some explanation of its causes as well as speculating on the ways the violence would spill over from Mexico into the United States. It is now accelerating and the U. S. State Department continues to issue travel warnings[1] not just for border towns like Juarez and Nuevo Laredo but in a third or more of Mexico. We examine some of these changes in this critical year, attempt to spot important trends for public safety and revisit our predictions of alternative outcomes for Mexico and the U.S.

 

T

here are two major electoral events in North America whose outcomes will provide consequential impacts for the rest of the decade. In some ways much of what we discuss here should be seen as a byproduct of efforts among Mexico, the United States and Canada begun in 1990 and now known as the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA. NAFTA was largely inevitable and, at its sum, desirable but like many efforts there are unintended consequences. Look at the map at the end of this piece to illustrate why we are seeing some of the unintended consequences. By December we should have a better fix of what next may come in the United States and in Mexico.

The Countries

There are three major countries in North America: Canada, the United States and Mexico, seven small countries south of Mexico and thirteen sovereign states in the Caribbean. Canada has a population of 34 million grown 6 percent in the last half dozen years with western Canada having the greatest relative increase. Cities like Calgary and Edmonton in western Canada are the most rapidly growing and are driven by energy booms much like those in Texas. Canada has two major political parties, the Conservatives and the Liberals and many minor parties. In 2011 the Conservatives won a majority in the national assembly. Canada has well-developed transportation and communication systems, energy distribution, excellent health and educational systems. It is a prosperous and stable economy.

 

Like Canada the United States with a population of approximately 310 million, has two major parties, the Democrats and the Republicans, but unlike Canada does not have a large number of smaller parties. It has the world’s strongest economy, the most advanced areas of health care and the best higher education system in the world reflecting enviable rates of innovation and creation of new businesses. Neither political party is assured of election this year and economic challenges, the winding down of wars in the Middle East and budgetary troubles seem unsolvable by either party. Yet all of these challenges must be met in some way. Campaigns are underway and it promises to be a rough run to November.

 

Since the last Revolution from 1910 to 1920, Mexico with 115 million people has had only one national political party, the Party of the Institutional Revolution, the PRI. But in 2000 Mexico ushered in a level of party competition and genuine democracy, not seen since the 19th Century in that country, and that competition ended with the Mexican Presidency going to the National Action Party, the PAN. The predecessor, the PRI was and is a very conservative party that governed through close ties to unions, the wealthy and big businesses. It held all of Mexico in its thrall for 80 years and continued the centuries long dominance of the country by elites from Mexico City.

 

The PAN has its roots in the religiously conservative northern states such as Jalisco and was supported by urban dwellers, small businesses, teachers, homemakers and those that saw the need for a political system characterized in contrast by more of a market of ideas and with alternative centers of power, geographically and socially, to the PRI. Polls indicated early in 2012 that the PRI would return to power and they won the election in July and will assume power in late December. In the last 20 years Mexico has grown to be the third largest and most advanced economy in the Americas, 14th in the world, exceeded by the United States and Brazil.

 

South of Mexico including through Guatemala and to Panama are 50 million people with the partial exception of areas of Costa Rica that are young, poor and have much lower levels of education, health care, and income. Agricultural work is the primary occupation and the wealthy consumer societies north of them in Mexico, the United States and Canada are distant dreams.

 

The United States’ and Mexico’s national elections go much beyond who will win and will set in motion responses especially to Mexico’s national trauma in efforts toward restoring a tranquil society. The economy and unemployment appear to be the major factors in the American election. But, for Mexico, the consequences may be the viability of the Mexican state, itself.

The Cartel Wars

To a limited degree Vicente Fox elected from the PAN in 2000 and to a greater degree, Felipe Calderon in 2006 reduced state control of many businesses and worked to remove corruption from elections. They began the long hoped for modernization of Mexico, its economy and its institutions. Following the initiatives of GHW Bush and Clinton through NAFTA, both Mexican Presidents saw the opportunity for expanded trade and economic exchange with the United States. Fox and Calderon reached out to George W. Bush to increase collaboration between the countries but Bush rapidly became absorbed in the politics of Washington and, all too soon, the Middle East from the 9/11 attacks.

 

Both Fox and Calderon sought to sweep the cobwebs of decades of cronyism and monopoly of the PRI and made some progress in selling off state-owned enterprises and raising standards of living for the middle class and the poor. But it was Calderon’s efforts to pursue organized crime and reform local, state and federal police that have become the central concerns in his administration.

The Roots of Organized Crime in Mexico

Organized crime and the PRI go back decades and the relationship is arguably most entrenched at local levels. Property crime, extortion, prostitution and drugs have long been part of the mixture. All during Prohibition alcohol could be purchased in border cities like Juarez and Tijuana and were sources for bootleggers as well as Americans that were forbidden alcohol in the United States. During the 1930’s the American military encouraged growing of the opium poppy plant by Chinese immigrants in Sinaloa to have access to morphine for medical needs as conflict with the Japanese curtailed imports from south Asia. After World War II ended, opium growing continued as did a flow of black tar heroin from Sinaloa to the United States.

 

But in the last 20 years large-scale movement of drugs has been the defining feature of organized crime in Mexico. What caused this development was the success of the United States with the interdiction of drugs coming from Columbian fields through the Caribbean and the destruction of much of the base of organized crime that produced cocaine in Columbia, Peru and Venezuela and trafficked it to Miami and other cities on the east coast. With that route closed, land movement through Central America and Mexico began as Mexican cartels replaced Columbian traffickers. In the last decade huge profits from the drug trade to the United States have built organized crime empires in Mexico unlike those ever seen there in past decades. And as long as American demand for drugs continues unabated, profits and power accrue to these Cartels.

 

These drug trafficking organizations conduct a number of activities including controlling routes and police in Central America and then through Mexico to bring drugs into the United States. Access to the United States is most frequent through large cities along the Mexican-American border. The criminal empires referred to as cartels, war among themselves, alternatively in conflict and then cooperation with local gangs and police to control these pathways and territories, the ports of entry into the U.S., called plazas. One plaza long in play is the “no man’s land” that used to run for a mile or so north of Tijuana to the International Port of Entry eighteen miles south of San Diego, California. The Tijuana Cartel controlled the plaza. The Tijuana Cartel and corollaries in Mexican states to the south were originally operated by a visible Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, who was active from 1980 to 1989 running most of the cocaine and heroin coming into the western United States.

 

Felix Gallardo was thought to have ordered the abduction of DEA agent Kiki Camareno by corrupt municipal Guadalajara police officers in 1985 where he was tortured and murdered with the body found weeks later in Michoacán. The DEA reaction against the cartel and Felix Gallardo was swift and fierce. Felix Gallardo’s response was to move many of the drug activities back underground, to be run by bosses who were less well-known to Mexican authorities and importantly to the DEA. Félix Gallardo did this by bringing the nation’s top drug narcos to the resort of Acapulco where he designated and assigned the plazas into the United States to separate crime groups. The Tijuana would go to the Arellano Felix brothers. The Ciudad Juárez would go to the Carrillo Fuentes family. Miguel Caro Quintero would run the Sonora corridor. The control of the Matamoros, Tamaulipas corridor-then becoming the Gulf Cartel-would be assigned to Juan García Abrego. Meanwhile, Joaquín Guzmán Loera and Ismael Zambada García would take over Pacific coast operations, becoming the Sinaloa Cartel.

 

The cartels and their territories were long known to the Mexican government but ties with local PRI operatives and the police purchased immunity from arrest. It was also felt in some quarters that immunity and hush money of organized crime ran to the top of the Mexican government and may have dated back to the 1940’s. Perhaps the most notorious example is the involvement of the Mexican President’s brother, Raul Salinas, during Carlos Salinas’ term from 1988 to 94 and the tie with the Gulf Cartel in Tamaulipas, which borders most of south Texas. At any rate Fox in 2000 and more fully Calderon in 2006 brought a new direction from the Mexican Federal government and that was to contest the power of the cartels everywhere but especially on the American border. Those contests to wrest control from the cartels and local law enforcement authorities along with the breaking of the agreements among the cartels on the borders with their respective plazas has ushered in a 6-year period of exceptional violence beginning in border cities like Juarez but now spread throughout Mexico. Since the effort began in 2006 at least 50,000 Mexicans have died, many being among the members of the contesting cartels but thousands of others including Americans as collateral from the violence.

Current Known Cartels

The effort to disrupt the cartels appears to have further weakened the tacit arrangements among the cartels over who controls which territory. It has also seen some cartels disappear and others grow. In 2012 the major cartels are the Gulf that reaches from south of Brownsville, Texas in Matamoros and Reynosa, Tamaulipas down the Gulf Coast through Veracruz; the Zetas, the former enforcement arm of the Gulf, originally American Army-trained Mexican soldiers and now actively contesting the Gulf’s territory with a focus in Nuevo Laredo and into Guadalajara to the west and east in Monterrey and Saltillo opposing the Sinaloa Cartel. The Sinaloa is headed by Joaquin Guzman purportedly next to Carlos Slim, the wealthiest person in Mexico. The Juarez Cartel is headed by Vicente Carrillo Fuentes and in a frantic battle protecting its territory from the Sinaloa Cartel. The Tijuana Cartel is headed by Luis Fernando Sánchez Arellano. The Beltrán Leyva Cartel is headed by Héctor Beltrán Leyva and holding territory in the interior of Mexico and often allied with the Zetas against the Sinaloa Cartel. La Familia de Michoacán is centered in the State of Michoacán. Current leadership in this cartel is unclear and the Mexican government claims the cartel has been exterminated.

 

Michoacán is a very impoverished state and more than a million of its residents are thought to reside in the United States including Austin and San Antonio. In 2006 it followed patterns from Pakistan of beheading enemies and tossed the heads of 5 rivals on a dance floor in a club in Uruapan. Such public brutality has been taken up by other cartels and is another dimension of the cartels’ psychological wars among each other and toward the government. Given the poverty of the area in Michoacán and the natural availability of contacts and cover from immigrants living in the United States, it is unlikely that la Familia is gone. Indeed a large-scale enforcement action against this Cartel including drug busts in several areas of Central Texas including Austin in the summer of 2011.

Loosely structured groups not organized armies

The reality of the cartels is that they are highly fluid organizations that continuously recruit from the millions of unemployed, poorly educated and unskilled youth of Mexico. Half of Mexico’s population is under 26 years of age, 55 million youth and children with many neither in school or employed; so the pool of potential cartel recruits is vast. Drugs are only part of the contraband they move. They also smuggle people, bootleg DVD’s and CD’s, kidnap, extort and deal in a broad variety of stolen items from jewelry to autos. Members come and go with lives often brutal and short. The cartels will commission musical groups, the narcocorridos, to chronicle and romanticize their exploits to intimidate their enemies and support their activities. It promotes a youth culture of potential quick and extravagant wealth, violence and notoriety.

 

The cartels do not operate like American corporations such as McDonalds or Wal-Mart with franchise areas and management development patterns and career ladders. They are loosely coupled organizations quick to seize an opportunity and quick to change. Armies and police forces often assume enemies have similar organization to their own, an army or a police force with a unity of command, specific tasks and clear assignments. We see that assumption of our forces in the Middle East and only as a conventional army is replaced by units like the Special Forces or the Seals does the United States adopt strategy and tactics fitting the land and the enemy. That is a lesson not yet fully learned by those who oppose the cartels.

Cartel Influences in Texas

There are a variety of events that have appeared in Texas that betray the influence and the existence of Mexican cartels in the state. In the last three years arrests and convictions have occurred of persons determined to be members of La Familia, los Zetas and the Gulf Cartels in Austin. The arrests include violent acts, drug trafficking and money laundering through buying, training and selling racehorses. The DEA estimates that somewhere between 20 and 40 billion dollars of illegal drugs are brought annually into the United States and IH 35 is one of, and perhaps the major route, north from Mexico into the United States accounting for a fifth or more of that flow. Highway stops by law enforcement of bulk amounts of marijuana; methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine almost surely have come from Mexico. All of these events are testimony to the spillover of forces convulsing Mexico.

Threats To American Youth From The Cartels

A recurrent fear of families living in northern Mexico and in the Valley is the possibility of their youth being recruited by the cartels to serve as lookouts as well as drug couriers and dealers. There is historical evidence for this in border towns from Brownsville to El Paso. Some years ago an El Paso street gang, the Barrio Aztecas began in that fashion and today are part of the “muscle” for the Juarez Cartel on the streets of Juarez and El Paso as well as being on the list of the 12 most dangerous gangs (Security Threat Groups) in Texas prisons. Another widely reported example is Edgar Valdez Villarreal, who grew up in a prosperous suburb of Laredo, played linebacker for the high school football team and like youth in Laredo and Nuevo Laredo, indeed every border city, 5 years ago and farther back viewed both cities as one. Parties and drinking would begin on the American side and when the bars closed continue through the night in bars and clubs on the Mexican side. Through contacts in nightclubs in the cities, the boy nicknamed “la Barbie” for his Ken/Barbie doll looks, became a small time marijuana dealer and then got to know cartel members in Nuevo Laredo. La Barbie ran afoul of the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, as he was not paying taxes to them.  He had to flee Nuevo Laredo and went to Monterrey where he was befriended by Arturo Beltran and joined their organization later returning to Nuevo Laredo and fought an unsuccessful war in the mid-2000’s to rid the city of the dominance of the Gulf Cartel and Zetas.  In time he rose through the ranks of cartels in Mexico to a high position in the cartel world near Acapulco and was arrested in 2010 in Acapulco on a variety of charges including drug smuggling and murder.

 

The wars across Mexico and especially the north are so widespread that wealthier Mexicans particularly from Monterrey have fled to Texas to avoid the violence. The violence has negatively affected trade and tourism in Mexico most significantly in northern Mexico. This has increased the flow of refugees from Mexico into Texas even as the traditional source of jobs for these persons in home and commercial construction, ranching, restaurant and hotel work, yard maintenance and field agricultural work has lessened because of the American recession.

 

Mexican Americans and their neighborhoods feel the first and greatest impact of this set of problems coming from Mexico and yet caused by American drug use. Cartel operatives will come to these neighborhoods first as they may be less conspicuous. They pose substantial and long-term challenges in dozens of communities. The first area of impact will be in the public schools where compulsory attendance laws bring the children of Mexico into contact with American children. This is the initial area to watch for gang activity and the footprints of the cartels.

Refugee Flows From Mexico

The flow of persons from Mexico is far more complex today than before the cartel wars began. These are the major components:

 

  • Traditional seasonal agricultural workers that follow harvest patterns from Texas to Michigan and Oregon-Washington. These individuals intend to return to rural Mexican areas after the harvest and follow family patterns that go back to the 1920’s.

 

  • Persons seeking longer-term employment in traditional areas such as ranching, meat processing plants, restaurants, construction and hotel work. They follow family contacts to Kansas City, St. Louis, Denver, Chicago and Des Moines as well as Portland and Seattle. They will send money back to relatives in Mexico but in time become partially absorbed in American culture and are the many millions that live in the United States but without citizenship yet with weakened ties to Mexico.

 

  • Persons with some wealth and/or professional skills moving from Mexico to avoid violence and able to secure longer term visas with legal residence. These persons will locate in closer proximity to Mexico in cities like Houston, San Antonio, El Paso and Austin.

 

  • Persons involved in cartel activity either because they must maintain control of the flow of drugs and people, north and the flow of money and guns back into Mexico. They are often higher cartel operatives that prefer the relative safety of the States and the superior access to shopping, schools and medical care that the States offer. They choose cities like Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, and San Diego. The locations are peaceful yet near the supply routes of the drug trade as it moves into and across the United States.

 

  • Youth from Mexico City that are in street gangs and find suburbs in Houston, Brownsville, San Antonio, Austin and Dallas attractive targets for property theft. They will move into Mexican American neighborhoods where they are less conspicuous.

 

  • Very poor migrating people from Central America particularly El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Knowing little about traveling through Mexico or where to land in the United States they are driven by the economic chaos and overpopulated areas in much of Central America.

Bribery and Extortion

These are familiar and well-practiced skills in much of Mexico and no one is more skilled than cartel operatives. From the “mordida” the driver pays to the traffic cop to avoid a trip to the station house and court all the way up to the thousands of pesos to a politician, it is a way of doing business in Mexico.

 

People from Mexico like anyone from another culture bring these cultural understandings with them. It is part of life in Mexico and has been so for decades. The practices will take the form of hiring off duty police officers in cash to look the other way when a drug load is passing through to heavy contributions to political candidates from school boards to district judges and prosecutors to governors and U. S. Senators and the Presidency. Extortion is achieved by providing gifts and special favors at places like clubs and bars and then using photographs and unguarded comments and statements to secure compliance. It is a way of life in Mexico and we are seeing more examples in Texas from Laredo to Arlington to Washington, D.C.

Solutions for Mexico

The surest protection against bribery and extortion is highly transparent procedures in political contributions and conduct of officials. Transparency, trust and reciprocity embodied in mechanisms like a free press, honest elections, public education, etc. are hallmarks of traditional American life and they are the surest protection and remedy in the United States and in Mexico. Fox and Calderon sought to increase this trust and reciprocity, social capital, in Mexico but powerful forces resist the modernization and move to promote and extend civic order. Cartels, organized crime, exist when money and private arrangements with government, especially the police and military, can be secured. Such corruption is no stranger to any culture from tong societies in China to Tammany Hall in New York City in the late 1800’s and the Chicago Mob of the 1920’s and 30’s in the United States. More police and military including American military presence is not the solution for Mexico. The solution is the same forms of transparency and honesty that secure social capital in other societies.

 

Mexico’s economic future has been built on five pillars. Foremost is oil. Second is income from tourism. Third is export earnings from maquila manufacturing and agricultural exports. Fourth is “loaned workers”. The fifth are profits from the drug trade. The ratio of profits to costs in drugs is remarkable as vast markups occur all along the route from starter chemicals or plants in the field to a street sale. Unlike the first four pillars, little capital investment, formal education or training is required and the path to wealth is quick but with so many competitors the stay at the top is short.

Five alternative scenarios are possible for Mexico.

Mexico is at a crisis point. Events are deteriorating rapidly and no longer not just at the border. At this point the first two scenarios now have equal probabilities. The third is the hoped for path of the old PRI. The later two come into play only if events elsewhere in the world come crashing down. The clearest key as to which of the following scenarios will come is how the Mexican election for President is resolved and the subsequent actions of the incumbent and those of the United States.

 

Collapse in progress

Oil reserves play out in Mexico’s top producing fields, Mexico cedes control over the south and north of the country and 20 million refugees head to the northern cities of Mexico and then into the United States. Millions will come to Texas alone. The PRI is returned to power but makes little progress trying to return to the old methods. Mexico is a failed state with guerilla bands controlling much of the countryside and several of the larger low-income neighborhoods in Mexico City as well as other cities such as Veracruz, Matamoros, Monterrey, Acapulco, Torreon, Guadalajara, etc. Staged attacks on American border cities occur with regular frequency and local police are overwhelmed facing cartels that are better organized, funded and equipped. American border cities are filled with refugees and violent gangs. Mexico as Texas’ largest customer of our exports from agriculture to oil exploration and refining expertise, contracts and so does the Texas economy.

American Protectorate

Cartels use hit squads to attack American law enforcement in border cities on both sides. The United States intervenes with military forces as it has done in Haiti, Cuba, and Panama in years past and creates a protectorate for the Mexican Federal government south to Monterrey, Saltillo and Torreon. The traditional northern antipathy of Mexicans toward the “chilangos” of Mexico City intensifies and a process of tying the northern Mexican states closely to the American Southwest accelerates. Border law enforcement and the Texas Department of Public Safety gird for conflict and deploy heavier weaponry including armed defensive craft on the Rio Grande and in the air. Leftist and nationalistic mobs burn and sack the American Embassy in Mexico City. Mexican expatriates in Texas call for American military intervention in the north to permit them to re-establish homes and businesses in cities like Veracruz, Matamoros, Monterrey, San Miguel Allende, etc. It is reminiscent of Cuban exiles in south Florida in the 1960’s but many times the size and consequence.

Return To The Past

The early strength of the PRI suggests that Mexico may attempt to turn the clock back. The PRI regain control, and through the bribery of Chapo Guzman, the Zetas are eliminated.  Mexican cartels go back to an existence of one powerful cartel who controls the plazas much like the Guadalajara cartel did in the 1970’s.  The violent killings are greatly reduced and order among cartels is instituted. America’s unsatiated drug habits are the source of the greatest wealth in Mexico and a return to institutionalized corruption in many parts of Mexico’s government is restored.

Reprieve

World economy rebounds. Oil prices rise to $200 a barrel, Mexico permits foreign investments and spins off PEMEX, which modernizes engineering, refining and exploration. Corruption is curtailed and profits soar. Situation stabilizes to a significant degree as other sources of wealth particularly oil supplants the power of drug money.

Revival of Pax Americana

American economy revives and joint American and Mexican efforts suppress cartel activity with attendant boosts in tourism, maquilas and domestic growth. Mexico tackles its endemic problems of corruption in police, military, elections and the courts and transforms them to honest, open forums for justice. America sharply reduces illegal drug consumption. Mexico deepens its historical ties with Central America and opens the region to the south to economic growth and channels American technological knowhow through all of Latin America.



[i] Excerpt from The Dying Elephant that examines the American consequences of a failed Mexican state, public safety imperatives for cities and directions Mexico will need to take to restore economic viability and civil order. Michael Lauderdale is Professor of Social Work, Board Member of the Greater Austin Crime Commission and Chairs the City of Austin’s Public Safety Commission and the UT Police Oversight Committee.

 

 

This is one of several renderings of the developing rail and highway travel and trade corridors coming from NAFTA growth. The second map is a planned extension with more attention to the west. The trade patterns are essential and well-established. Less understood is how the Cartels use this economic resource and the emerging realities in North America.

Free Trade and Cartels

Saturday, May 5th, 2012

Michael Lauderdale

O

ne of the great features of the close of the Twentieth Century was the expansion of world trade along with the collapse of alignments of nations posed for war. Out of the collapse emerged major trading blocs. The foremost became the European Common Market that tied the highly educated and stable states of northern Europe such as Germany and France to states with populations with less education but cheaper manpower such as Italy, Spain, Turkey, Greece, etc. Products were envisioned, designed and engineered in the north and then manufactured in the cheap labor regions of the south. Asia followed a similar path with Japan and Taiwan as the designers and South Korea and China as the manufacturers. Watching this emerging alignment with an expansion of world trade, the leaders of Canada, Mexico and the United States began taking similar steps in the 1970’s leading to the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA. Following diplomatic negotiations dating back to 1986 among the three nations, the leaders met in San Antonio, Texas, on December 17, 1992, to sign NAFTA. U.S. President George H. W. Bush, Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and Mexican President Carlos Salinas, each responsible for spearheading and promoting the agreement, ceremonially signed it. The agreement then needed to be ratified by each nation’s legislative or parliamentary branch. It was ratified in the United States during the Bill Clinton Administration on January 1, 1994.

The intent of the legislation was to remove trade barriers such as tariffs between the three countries, facilitate the flow of trade in North America and leverage the inherent advantages of each country to create growth and prosperity. Highways and railroads were improved. Utilities and communications infrastructure expanded and banking arrangements for credit and payments created. Using the Common Market and the patterns of Japan and Taiwan, the United States and, to a lesser degree Canada, become the design centers and much of the labor-intensive manufacturing developed in or was moved to Mexico. Raw agricultural flows expanded with grains from Canada and the central United States exported to Mexico and tropical fruits and vegetables flowed from Central America and Mexico north. Manufacturing expanded greatly in Mexico with automobile assembly plants being among the more visible. Ford has made recently more than a billion dollar investment in its plant in Puebla and General Motors and Volkswagen have substantial manufacturing in Mexico for domestic sales and exports. Jobs were created in Mexico but less substantially in Canada or the United States but products were cheaper.

The growth of NAFTA has required transportation platforms to move product and spurred urban developments at crossing points along the Mexico-United States border and created one of the largest land ports in the world at Laredo-Nuevo Laredo. Traffic there moves across 4 international bridges with 8,500 trucks a day and 3/4ths of all Mexican exports flowing through the port. This averages about 1 truck every 3 minutes, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week!

Import-export trade at other border points such as Tijuana-San Diego or Juarez-El Paso pales to insignificant to the flows that have developed in the last two decades where IH 35 ends at the Mexican border. Part of the reason for the growth of this trade corridor is that it reflects the fact that the major portions of the populations and manufacturing areas of Mexico and the United States are along the corridor and to the east not areas farther to the west. Texas is far and away the exchange, the pivot point for NAFTA.

Trade and Cartels

Trade is always both legal and illegal and borders are important. Clearing borders for NAFTA has a similar impact on illegal trade. These NAFTA facts then make the Texas border area the most attractive in North America for organized crime groups to establish a strong presence for contraband headed into either country. Until twelve years ago crime groups throughout Mexico and on the border built local franchises by seeking arrangements with the Party of the Institutionalized Revolution, the PRI. But in 2000 with the election of a PAN President and the first time that the President of Mexico did not come from the PRI since the Party’s creation about 1929, this relationship was upended. Mexico had a public face that it was a democracy and that ordinary citizens controlled all levels of the government. But that was never true and the individual Mexican had no doubts. There was little trust and faith in the government. Every Mexican suspected that the local cop was likely crooked and the requirement of mordita proved the point. Every Mexican suspected that each President served first his interests and those of his circle and rarely the needs of the citizen. But in 2000 with the election of a PAN President and the first time that the President of Mexico did not come from the PRI since the Party’s creation about 1929, this relationship was upended. In the new Century Mexicans saw a glimmer of hope that the authoritarian old ways may be changing. But as the top-down controls of the Mexican state weakened and the possibility of a civic culture appeared; there came a paradox as well. That election essentially created a free-for-all in controlling crime venues across Mexico.

The most lucrative venues were always at the border between Mexico and the United States. Efforts to secure these venues, the plazas, saw the development and rise of strongly organized and armed groups, the Cartels. One emerged in a marijuana and heroin-producing region of Sinaloa and came to be dominant at the San Diego crossing. Another became visible in Juarez, the Juarez Cartel. A third was the Gulf Cartel in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas that borders Texas cities like Brownsville and McAllen. The Gulf Cartel began to recruit Mexican Army members of its special forces some trained by the American Army for urban warfare as “muscle” to intimidate and control local, state and federal police and to keep other Cartels out. This unit was called the Zetas for the call letter of the leader when he was with the Mexican Army. In a few short years the Zetas broke from the Gulf Cartel and became a separate and competing group. In a few years the Zetas became the dominant organized crime gang in Nuevo Laredo.

Today at least four Mexican Cartels compete to control the plazas of the Mexican cities that lead into the United States. They are the Sinaloa, Juarez, Gulf and Zetas. Their conflicts appear elsewhere in Mexico and there are other groups such as la Familia centered in Michoacán but these four are the most powerful, brutal and wealthy. And the most important prize for which they compete is the busiest crossing along the border, Nuevo Laredo-Laredo.

The Probabilities of Smuggling

Smuggling is a game of probabilities and subterfuge. Smugglers spread the product across several carriers and time crossings when detection is most unlikely. Ideally it is placed with persons and vehicles to avoid drawing attention. Open, empty areas along the border are ready targets for sophisticated detection. Small towns betray unusual and heavy traffic. It works best in conditions of high normal traffic and Nuevo Laredo-Laredo is ideal. Other crossings have a fraction of the volume of traffic. Remote areas are readily observed by American authorities using technology. The evolving Cartel business strategy is to move contraband in the flow of legit goods and the higher the traffic area, the more the appeal for the Cartels.

For these and likely other reasons, Nuevo Laredo has become a prize fought over by the Cartels. In the past the Gulf and Sinaloa have contested the Zetas for the control of Nuevo Laredo. The Zetas have proven the stronger. There are other contest points among the Cartels including Veracruz, Monterrey, Guadalajara, Juarez, Acapulco, etc. Reports by Dudley Althaus and Dane Schiller on the Nuevo Laredo violence suggest pieces are moving into play on the chessboard to contest the control of this greatest prize of the plazas. The murders three weeks ago in Nuevo Laredo and then with 23 on Friday, May 4, 2012 are signs of gang warfare, Cartel warfare to control that plaza. The hanging of 9 bodies from bridges is a Cartel tactic, psychological warfare with warning declarations to other Cartels

Perhaps members of the Mexican Cartels suspect that the PRI will secure the Mexican Presidency and revert to the concession arrangements of the past. Thus Laredo becomes the most valuable prize and one to be secured this year. Whoever is dominant there is in the best position to seal the deal with the PRI, if it wins the election and reverts to its patterns of old.

That is why Nuevo Laredo may well become this year, Mexico’s most dangerous city! Two hundred and 40 miles south, a 4-hour drive down IH 35. This shift may have well begun. The seizures of record amounts of contraband by the Austin Police in March of 2012 and the fact that the smugglers were all Mexicans citizens is proof of this shifting strategy to IH 35.


[i] Michael Lauderdale is Professor of Social Work, The University of Texas at Austin, Board Member of the Greater Austin Crime Commission and Chairs the City of Austin’s Public Safety Commission.

The Prime Minister of Canada and the Presidents of Mexico and the United States in 2009

 


[i] Michael Lauderdale is Professor of Social Work, Board Member of the Greater Austin Crime Commission and Chairs the City of Austin’s Public Safety Commission.

The Need for All-Hazard Awareness and Risk Assessment in a Devolving Border Environment

Tuesday, April 10th, 2012

President of Signature Sciences and Senior Scientist examine bio and other hazards from a fragmenting Mexican-American border.

 

Adam L. Hamilton, P.E., President & CEO

E. Norman Furley, Senior Strategist

Signature Science, LLC

 

22 July 2011

 

 

“Risk comes from not knowing what you are doing.”

Warren Buffett

The Problem

The risks associated with an increasingly unstable United States/Mexico border are growing national concerns in both countries. Headlines often include quotes from leaders of both nations that express outrage over reports of human trafficking, drug cartel activity, and the murder of civilians and government officials. And while the threats resulting from lawless behaviors are real, any consideration of the dangers that both nations face along the border is incomplete without a recurring, informed deliberation on the risks associated with the aforementioned threats and other hazards. Security and risk management along the U.S./Mexico border is a pressing issue that will require well-informed decisions to make effective mitigation investments. Until both countries and the affected states join in collaborative efforts to periodically assess the full spectrum of threats and hazards to identify and prioritize the real risks, it will be increasingly difficult to distinguish perceived or sensationalized threats (often highlighted in the news media) from hazards that are potentially catastrophic to one or both nations and develop the best risk mitigation plans for residents on both sides of the border.

Good Fences, Good Neighbors?

It has often been said that good fences make good neighbors. If the next door neighbor is the president of the Home Owners Association and a part-time dog breeder with four kids and a pool, a good fence will certainly make him a better neighbor. But this analogy implicitly assumes that only a physical and visual barrier is required and that the delineation of the properties is of manageable dimensions. If the neighbor is a nation with which you share a border in excess of 1,900 miles, establishing boundaries (not simply in the physical sense) and developing mutually-beneficial solutions becomes a much more difficult task.

For example, insidious non-violent hazards from biological pathogens (disease-causing organisms) present risks to public health and agriculture (plant and animal) that no practical “fence” can stop. Fungal diseases (Figure 1) that can damage or destroy important commercial plant products such as corn (Mexico will produce over 24 million metric tons of corn products this year—an increase of nearly 14% over last year) [1] reproduce by spores that are spread by natural mechanisms, and enhanced by anthropogenic activities. In 2008, the top vegetable exports from Mexico to the United States included tomatoes, peppers, onions, and fruits—all susceptible to common and adapting pathogens and parasites. In other countries, viroids (single-stranded RNA viruses without a protein shell) responsible for tomato decline have been inadvertently imported on ornamental plants and other asymptomatic food plant products [2]. There is no fence that can protect against all of these agricultural threats—even if the deliberate movements of all agricultural are stopped.

Of potentially greater concern is the movement of animal pathogens. The most contagious disease of food production animals is Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD). FMD is caused by a virus (FMDv) that affects nearly all cloven-hoofed animals (Figure 2). FMD is of particular concern to the cattle and swine industries. However, this disease also affects sheep, goats, deer and other animals. Animals can become infected with FMDv after exposure to contaminated facilities, vehicles, humans (FMDv does not cause disease in humans), feed, water, or wild animals that may carry the virus but do not become sick from it. A single case of FMD in a country is likely to have significant economic impact because of the international trade bans that will immediately close export markets. The United States has been free of FMD since 1929 [3]. The rest of North America (Mexico and Canada) is currently FMD-free as well. However, FMDv is endemic in many parts of the world and is still a significant concern to animal-exporting countries.

An FMD outbreak started in Mexico in 1946 after infected cattle were imported from Brazil. Once the outbreak had been diagnosed, an immediate ban was put in place to prevent the importation (to the U.S.) of all cloven-hoofed animals from Mexico. The coordination (between countries) of the eradication effort was laborious and time-consuming and the outbreak expanded to an area of nearly 260,000 square miles. It wasn’t until September, 1952—nearly six years later—that Mexico was declared “FMD free” and the U.S. embargo was lifted. The extended value of the coordination efforts between the two countries was illustrated during a subsequent outbreak of FMD in Mexico that began in May, 1953. This time, it took less than a year for the outbreak to end and trade to be re-established [4]. As commerce and traffic increase across the border, the United States and Mexico need to ensure that plans and mechanisms for similar cooperative arrangements are already in place—before another FMD-type outbreak occurs.

On 6 July 2011, the United States and Mexico signed an agreement that will allow trucks from both countries to traverse the other’s highways. This accord provides resolution to a dispute over part of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The U.S. Department of Transportation states that safety concerns related to the operation of Mexican trucks on U.S. highways have been resolved [5]. Unfortunately, the resolution of operational safety concerns does not mean that there is no additional threat to agricultural health from the bi-direction flow of commercial vehicles across the U.S./Mexican border.

As a further example of this real threat, while there are some unresolved scientific issues, the cause of the 2007 FMD outbreak in the United Kingdom (Figure 3) has generally been attributed to the inadvertent transfer of FMDv by in mud on a truck tire. According to the government’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) report [6]:

“We established that some of the vehicles, probably contaminated, drove from the site along a road that passes the first infected farm. We conclude therefore that this combination of events is the likely link between the release of the live virus from Pirbright and the first outbreak of FMD.”

Thus, there should be some concern that more liberal access for trucks (American and Mexican) could enhance the potential for the spread of FMD and other agricultural/animal diseases with undetected rapidity. A clear understanding of sanitary animal shipping practices and methods of inspection and verification must be in place to help minimize the potential for the enhancement of disease spread if an outbreak was to occur.

Additionally, there are human health issues that are potentially exacerbated by the deteriorating conditions along the U.S./Mexico border. Many Mexican and American nationals along the Texas/Mexico border live in colonias—small and usually impoverished communities. It is estimated that there are 2,300 colonias in Texas [7]; it is difficult to enumerate the colonias on the Mexican side of the border. The U.S. government and the State of Texas have committed the talents of many individuals and agencies to address human health issues in the colonias; significant resources have been invested to improve the conditions for the colonia residents and much progress has been made. However, the evolving issues in the border area will potentially add to the public health problems that plague these residents and may provide a border-area “foothold” for larger public health crises.

In Texas, nearly 45,000 people live in 350 colonias classified as “highest health risk.” These colonias are lacking potable water and/or wastewater disposal systems and/or solid waste disposal systems, etc. [8]. The inhabitants of such colonias are already suffering from higher than normal rates of water-borne and vector-borne (i.e., mosquito) diseases. Accommodating additional persons (either transient or permanent residents, who may also bring new disease concerns) will likely apply an additional burden to the existing public health infrastructure and increase the potential for localized disease outbreaks. A growing number of Mexican nationals are leaving Mexican border areas (like Ciudad Juarez) to seek a more peaceful, but perhaps more impoverished, lifestyle in the U.S. [9]. Meanwhile, non-governmental agencies that have historically provided assistance and support to the inhabitants of the border have become less active because of the threats of border violence. An increase in the morbidity of easily treatable bacterial diseases and other vaccine preventable diseases should be expected.

An unfortunate and continuing illustration of this concept is taking place in Haiti. Parts of Haiti were devastated by a magnitude 7.0 earthquake that struck near the capital of Port-au-Prince on January 12th, 2010. The international response to the Haiti disaster was swift—governmental and non-governmental agencies rushed to provide relief to the victims. Unfortunately, in October 2010, the beginning of a Cholera outbreak, certainly enhanced by the lack of infrastructure and sanitary conditions resulting from the earthquake, was identified. Cholera is a bacterial disease (causative agent Vibrio cholerae) that can generally be avoided if clean water is available and the disease is easily treated (with a high success rate) by using a combination of hydration and antibiotic therapies. Documented cases of Cholera had not been reported in Haiti for decades. Even with significant levels of international assistance, over 360,000 people were sickened in Haiti by Cholera and more than 5,500 died of the disease—as of the end of June, 2011 [10]. An ironic twist came from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in a July, 2011, report. The CDC report states the evidence “strongly suggests” that the source of the Cholera outbreak was a United Nations camp—housing Nepalese peacekeepers. This illustration is presented to make two points:

1)     Even when response personnel and logistics are available to address the needs of a growing population without adequate infrastructure, human health issues can be overwhelming;

2)     An all-hazards risk assessment should have identified the potential for unanticipated introduction of disease to a vulnerable population and been used to inform the relief coordination efforts.

While gun violence, kidnapping for ransom, human trafficking, and other “high profile” incidents capture much of the public and media attention, with respect to border issues, other hazards (agricultural and public health threats) also continue to pose significant, and escalating, risks. It is imperative that when both countries invest in solutions for the current crises that these hazards are considered alongside the attention-grabbing violent events with which we have become so familiar.

The Plan

Consistent with the perspective engendered by the quotation of Warren Buffett, we must identify all of the hazards and assess them to appropriately address the risks. In common vernacular, risk is something that causes injury or loss. In this sense, risk is often subjectively assessed on personal experiences and expertise or the perceived level of personal (or family) peril. In technical terms, risks are commonly defined as the product of the likelihood of an unfavorable outcome and the consequences of that outcome. That is, the level of risk depends on how frequently a negative situation is expected and how bad the situation gets. An objective and systematic review of the likelihood and consequences of all hazards is the basis for a any useful risk assessment.

Images and imagined catastrophic situations can artificially (high) bias the perception of risk because these catastrophic situations may be very damaging in terms of health, finances, liberties, etc., however infrequent. Other hazards may be inappropriately perceived as low risk if the consequences are less damaging but occur more frequently or are more likely to occur. It is suggested that using a systematic approach to an all-hazards border risk assessment can help differentiate the real risks from the perceived risk—removing subjective biases and subsequently informing the decision-making authorities about the best use of collective resources for the most effective mitigation measures.

A systematic approach would include multiple steps and would be repeated periodically as new hazards are identified, as additional data fidelity is available, or as underlying circumstances change the assumptions and likelihood of events. The steps may include, but are not limited to:

1)     Identifying hazards and threats to public health & safety, business and economic stability, infrastructure, and national defense;

2)     Development of event sequences (and semi-quantitative estimates of the probability of each step in the sequence) that represent scenarios leading up to an event with an unfavorable outcome;

3)     Developing and using models that will estimate the consequences of each scenario in some common and measurable term—typically expressed as economic consequences—even for illnesses (loss of productivity) or death (loss of life);

4)     Ranking of hazards and threats by an established risk (probability x consequence) metric;

5)     Testing the effectiveness of hypothetical hazard and threat mitigation costs to reduce the estimated consequences; and

6)     Providing recommendations on the tactical and strategic use of resources to address the assessed hazards and threats.

Using a systematic approach should, theoretically, result in the maximum risk mitigation (benefit) for any fixed allocation of resources (money) that a state (like Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, or California) or federal government (Mexico, United States) has available. It is already evident that using a haphazard approach to inform resource investment decisions for solutions to perceived or misperceived border problems may lead to counterproductive outcomes, including wasteful spending and even new threats. For example, The United States Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) has disclosed [11] that a an operation designed to help mitigate threats from trans-border weapons traffickers (Operation Fast and Furious) has resulted in more small arms being delivered to organized crime cartels in Mexico. ATF Special Agents and support staff are outstanding public servants and are committed to their profession and roles in border security. However, it is postulated that the resources used to cover the cost of this operation and all of the subsequent investigations could have been put to better use if an all-hazards awareness perspective and risk assessment process were used. Without a complete and systematic assessment of all related hazards and threats, however, it is difficult to determine if similar operations (i.e., risk mitigation techniques) directed against arms trafficking provide more benefit than risk mitigation techniques designed for other hazards—like agricultural and public health concerns.

Summary

The increasing instability of the U.S./Mexico border area is a local, state, regional, national and international concern that affects public health, agricultural (plant and animal) health, public safety (rising levels of violence), and regional and national economies. A collaborative, all-hazards/risks assessment approach should be employed to objectively address these risks in order to understand the consequences of each type of hazard and the likelihood (or frequency) of significant high-consequence events. Addressing individual threats/hazards without having an associated governing strategy provided by a systematic approach to risk assessment will often lead to the ineffective use of resources and/or unintended outcomes, which in turn may lead to additional unanticipated risks. Until both countries (and states) join in a collaborative effort to periodically assess the full spectrum of hazards and threats, it will be increasingly difficult to distinguish perceived threats from those that are potentially catastrophic to one or both nations. Consequently, our resources may be misapplied by providing solutions (or attempted solutions) to problems that have minimal impact.

Many collaborative efforts have successfully demonstrated the benefit of international and interstate cooperation. The United States—Mexico Border Health Commission (BHC), with its mission to optimize health and quality of life along the border, has identified many worthwhile strategic priorities and has plans to support additional conferences, forums, summits, and projects in the future [12]. The BHC mission, being focused on human health issues, could provide useful input to an all-hazards threat assessment and risk assessment. The Texas Animal Health Commission and the Texas Department of State Health Services are also well positioned to contribute to an all-hazards assessment, but state budget have made it difficult for these agencies to advance such initiatives. (The “across the board” Texas budget cuts are another example of a solution that may have benefited from a broader assessment of all hazards risk assessment and consequences analysis.) Other state agencies (in Texas and other border states on both sides of the border) could also provide useful input to a high-level, all-threat border risk assessment. However, there is apparently no functional organization with such a mission.

Solutions to these problems may be suggested from policy-level recommendations and analysis provided by a newly formed committee of border state representatives: a Texas—México border committee on all-threats mitigation and response planning. Such a committee would comprise leaders from academia, industry, and government with expertise in organized crime, agricultural diseases (animal and plant), human health, immigration, drug trafficking, economics, human trafficking, and other pressing border issues. These leaders would be supported by risk assessment professionals using a systematic, evidence-based approach to quantitatively (or at least semi-quantitatively) identifying mitigation and response strategies that provide the broadest and most beneficial benefits from the use of our limited resources. Of course, the political support and funding needed to initiate such an effort becomes part of the overall conundrum. Perhaps this is an issue that may be best addressed by a “grass-roots” initiative to coordinate the use of resources provided by civic organizations in the affected border states.

References

[1]        United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), ‘Mexico Corn Production by Year,’ retrieved 13 July 2011, http://www.indexmundi.com/agriculture/?country=mx&commodity=corn&graph=production

[2]        Matthews-Berry, S., The Food and Environment Research Agency, “Emerging viroid threats to UK tomato production,” July 2010, Crown copyright.

[3]        USDA, “Foot-and-Mouth Disease,” Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) Factsheet, Veterinary Services, February 2007.

[4]        USDA, Agricultural Research Service, “History of Foot-and-Mouth Disease Outbreaks in North America,” May 1969, retrieved 13 July 2011, http://members.bellatlantic.net/~vze4hqhe/history/fmdars.htm

[5]        Katz, Jonathan M., Associated Press, “US agrees to let Mexican trucking in all states,” updated 6 July 2011, retrieved 13 July 2011, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/cleanprint/CleanPrintProxy.aspx?unique=1311183027054

[6]        Health and Safety Executive, Final report on potential breaches of biosecurity at the Pirbright site 2007, September 2007.

[7]        Ramshaw, Emily, “Red Tape, Catch-22s Impede Progress in Texas’ Colonias,” The Texas Tribune, 8 July 2011, retrieved 13 July 2011, http://www.texastribune.org/texas-mexico-border-news/texas-mexico-border/red-tape-catch-22s-impede-progress-texas-colonias/

[8]        U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey, “CHIPS: Monitoring Colonias Along the United States-Mexico Border in Texas,” USGS Fact Sheet 2008-3079, September 2008.

[9]        Giovine, Patricia, Reuters, “More Mexicans fleeing the drug war seek U.S. asylum,” 19 July 2011, retrieved 20 July 2011, http://www.reuters.com/article/2011/07/19/us-usa-mexico-asylum-idUSTRE76I6P020110719.

[10]     Associated Press, “Haiti cholera outbreak blamed on UN force,” 30 June 2011, retrieved 22 July 2011, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/jun/30/haiti-cholera-outbreak-un-force .

[11]     FoxNews, “ATF Chief Admits Mistakes in ‘Fast and Furious,’ Accuses Holder Aides of Stonewalling Congress,” 18 July 2011, retrieved 20 July 2011, http://www.foxnews.com/world/2011/07/18/atf-chief-admits-mistakes-in-fast-and-furious-accuses-holder-stonewalling.

[12]     United States – México Border Health Commission, “BHC Initiatives,” January 2011, retrieved 1 August 2011, http://www.borderhealth.org/bhc_initiatives.php

 

Connect The Dots

Saturday, March 31st, 2012

Here are the headlines of three separate stories appearing in the Austin media this week. One details a long running investigation into a Lebanese family that runs several downtown very popular bars. A second story knits together three separate arrests by the Austin police to contraband trafficked on IH 35. The third story is of a missing traveler from San Marcos, Texas who is overdue to return from a visit to family members in Monterrey.

The Dots provide the complexity of the dimensions of spillover violence from Mexico. The Connection requires one to see the impact of low employment and education levels in Mexico, the attractiveness of the American market for drugs and the aggressiveness of the Cartels to increase vertical control of the movement and sale of their products.

Investigators link nightclub owner, associates to drug deals, militant Islamic group, homicide case

APD puts massive drug bust loot on display

Lockhart man still missing after trip to Mexico

Many still function under a normalcy bias of the community and Mexico that was familiar some years ago. These three articles all coming in one week signal times have changed.

These stories are simply a view of an iceberg. The iceberg is far larger and more complex that one can readily imagine. Here is another view from a different perspective: Central Florida

 

The Election Year

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

Michael Lauderdale

Two years ago we looked at the spread of violence across Mexico and offered some explanation of its causes as well as speculating on the ways the violence would spill over from Mexico into the United States. It is now accelerating and this week the U. S. State Department issued travel warnings not just for border towns like Juarez and Nuevo Laredo but in a third or more of Mexico. We examine some of these changes in this critical year, attempt to spot important trends for public safety and revisit our predictions of alternative outcomes for Mexico and the U.S.

February 2012

T

here are two major electoral events in North America whose outcomes will provide consequential impacts for the rest of the decade. In some ways much of what we discuss here should have been seen as a byproduct of efforts among Mexico, the United States and Canada begun in 1990 and now known as the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA. NAFTA was largely inevitable and at its sum very desirable but like many efforts there are unintended consequences. Look at the map at the end of this piece to see why we are seeing some of the unintended consequences. By December we should have a better fix of what next may come in the United States and in Mexico.

mexico_map-1

The Countries

There are three major countries in North America: Canada, the United States and Mexico, seven small countries south of Mexico and thirteen sovereign states in the Caribbean. Canada has a population of 34 million grown 6 percent in the last half dozen years with western Canada having the greatest relative increase. Cities like Calgary and Edmonton in western Canada are the most rapidly growing and are driven by energy booms much like Texas. Canada has two major political parties, the Conservatives and the Liberals and many minor parties. In 2011 the Conservatives won a major in the national assembly.

Like Canada the United States with a population of approximately 310 million, has two major parties, the Democrats and the Republicans but unlike Canada does not have a large number of smaller parties. Neither party is assured of election this year and economic challenges, the winding down of wars in the Middle East and budgetary troubles seem unsolvable by either party. Yet all of these challenges must be met in some way.

Since the last Revolution from 1910 to 1920, Mexico  with 115 million has had only one national political party, the Party of the Institutional Revolution, the PRI. But in 2000 Mexico ushered in a level of party competition and genuine democracy not seen since the 19th Century that ended with the Mexican Presidency going to the National Action Party, the PAN. The PRI was and is a very conservative party that governed through close ties to unions, the wealthy and big businesses. It held all of Mexico in its thrall and continued the centuries long dominance of the country by elites from Mexico City. The PAN has its roots in the religiously conservative northern states such as Jalisco and was supported by urban dwellers, small businesses, teachers, homemakers and those that saw the need for a political system characterized by more of a market of ideas in contrast and alternative centers of power, geographically and socially, to the PRI.

This year both the United States and Mexico will have important national elections that should have consequences for years to come. The economy and unemployment appear to be the major factors in the American election. But for Mexico the consequences may be the viability of the Mexican state, itself.

The Cartel Wars

To a limited degree Vicente Fox elected from the PAN in 2000 and Felipe Calderon in 2006 reduced state control of many businesses and worked to remove corruption from local elections. Both Fox and Calderon reached out to George W. Bush to increase collaboration between the countries but Bush soon became absorbed in the politics of Washington and all too soon the Middle East from the 9/11 attacks. Following the initiatives of Clinton and NAFTA both saw the opportunity for expanded trade and economic exchange with the United States.

Both Mexican Presidents sought to sweep the cobwebs of decades of cronyism and monopoly of the PRI and made some progress in selling off state owned enterprises and raising standards of living for the middle class and the poor. But it was Calderon’s efforts to pursue organized crime and reform local and state police that have become the central Mexican concerns in his administration.

The Roots of Organized Crime in Mexico

Organized crime and the PRI go back decades and the relationship is most entrenched at local levels. Property crime, prostitution and drugs have long been part of the mixture. All during Prohibition alcohol could be purchased in border cities like Juarez and Tijuana and were sources for bootleggers. During the 1930’s the American military encouraged growing of the opium poppy plant by Chinese immigrants in Sinaloa to have access to opium for medical reasons as conflict with the Japanese curtailed access to imports from south Asia. After World War II ended, opium growing continued as did not a flow of black tar heroin from Sinaloa. But in the last 20 years large scale movement of drugs has been the defining feature. What caused this development was the success of the United States with the interdiction of drugs coming from Columbian fields through the Caribbean and the destruction of much of the base of organized crime that produced cocaine in Columbia, Peru and Venezuela and trafficked it to Miami and other cities on the east coast. With that route closed, land movement through Central America and Mexico began. In the last decade huge profits from the drug trade to the United States have built organized crime empires in Mexico unlike those seen in past decades.

These drug trafficking organizations conduct a number of activities including controlling routes and police in Central America and then through Mexico to bring drugs into the United States. Access to the United States is most frequent through large cities along the Mexican-American border. The criminal empires referred to as cartels, war among themselves, alternatively in conflict and then cooperation with local gangs and local police to control these pathways and territories, ports of entries called plazas. One plaza long in play is the “no man’s land” that used to run for a mile or so north of Tijuana to the International Port of Entry eighteen miles south of San Diego, California. The plaza was controlled by the Tijuana Cartel. The Tijuana Cartel and Mexican states to the south were originally controlled by Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, who was active from 1980 to 1989 running most of the cocaine and heroin coming into the western United States. Felix Gallardo was thought to have ordered the abduction of DEA agent Kiki Camareno by corrupt municipal Guadalajara police officers in 1985 where he was tortured and murdered with the body found in Michoacán. The DEA reaction against the cartel and Felix Gallardo was swift and fierce. Felix Gallardo’s response was to send much of the drug activities back underground, to be run by bosses who were less well known to Mexican authorities and importantly to the DEA. Félix Gallardo did this by bringing the nation’s top drug narcos to the resort of Acapulco where he designated the plazas into the United States to separate crime groups. The Tijuana would go to the Arellano Felix brothers. The Ciudad Juárez would go to the Carrillo Fuentes family. Miguel Caro Quintero would run the Sonora corridor. The control of the Matamoros, Tamaulipas corridor-then becoming the Gulf Cartel-would be left to Juan García Abrego. Meanwhile, Joaquín Guzmán Loera and Ismael Zambada García would take over Pacific coast operations, becoming the Sinaloa Cartel.

The cartels and their territories were long known to the Mexican government but ties with local PRI operatives and the police purchased immunity from arrest. It was also felt in some quarters that immunity and hush money ran to the top of the Mexican government. At any rate Fox and more fully Calderon brought a new direction from the Mexican Federal government and that was to contest the power of the cartels everywhere but especially on the American border. Those contests to wrest control from the cartels and local law enforcement authorities along with the breaking of the agreements among the cartels of the borders of their respective plazas has ushered in a 5 year period of exceptional violence beginning in border cities like Juarez but now spread throughout Mexico. Since the effort began in 2006 about 50,000 Mexicans have died, many being among the members of the contesting cartels but thousands of others including Americans as collateral from the violence.

Current Known Cartels

The effort to disrupt the cartels appears to have further weakened the tacit arrangements among the cartels over who controls which territory. It has also seen some cartels disappear and others grow. In 2012 the major cartels are the Gulf that reaches from Brownsville down the coast to Veracruz; the Zetas, the former enforcement arm of the Gulf, originally American Army-trained Mexican soldiers and now actively contesting the Gulf’s territory and into Guadalajara opposing the Sinaloa Cartel. The Sinaloa is headed by Joaquin Guzman purportedly next to Carlos Slim the wealthiest person in Mexico. The Juarez Cartel is headed by Vicente Carrillo Fuentes and in a frantic battle protecting its territory from the Sinaloa Cartel. The Tijuana Cartel is headed by Luis Fernando Sánchez Arellano. The Beltrán Leyva Cartel is headed by Héctor Beltrán Leyva and holding territory in the interior of Mexico and often allied with the Zetas against the Sinaloa Cartel. La Familia de Michoacán is centered in the State of Michoacán. Current leadership is unclear and the Mexican government claims the cartel has been exterminated. Michoacán is a very impoverished state and more than a million of its residents are thought to reside in the United States including Austin and San Antonio. In 2006 it followed patterns from Pakistan of beheading enemies and tossed the heads of 5 rivals on a dance floor in a club in Uruapan. Given the poverty of the area and the natural availability of contacts and cover from immigrants living in the United States, it is unlikely that la Familia is gone.

The reality of the cartels is that they are highly fluid organizations that continuously recruit from the millions of unemployed and unskilled youth of Mexico. Drugs are only part of the contraband they move. They also smuggle people, bootlegged DVD’s and CD’s, kidnap and extort. Members come and go with lives often brutal and short. They do not operate like American corporations such as McDonalds or Wal-Mart with franchise areas and management development patterns and career levels. They are loosely coupled organizations quick to seize an opportunity and quick to change. Armies and police forces often assume enemies have similar organization to the Army or a police force. We see that assumption of our forces in the Middle East and only as a conventional army is replaced by Special Forces Units does the United States adopt strategy and tactics fitting the land and the enemy. That is a lesson not yet learned by those who oppose the cartels.

Cartel Influences in Texas

There are a variety of influences that have appeared in Texas that betray the influence and the appearance of Mexican cartels. In the last three years arrests and convictions have occurred of persons determined to be members of La Familia and the Gulf Cartels in Austin. The DEA estimates that somewhere between 20 and 40 billion dollars of illegal drugs are brought into the United States and IH 35 is one of the major routes perhaps accounting for a fifth of that flow. Stops by law enforcement of bulk amounts of marijuana, methamphetamine, heroin and cocaine almost surely have come from Mexico.

Threats To American Youth From The Cartels

A recurrent fear of families living in northern Mexico and in the Valley is the possibility of American youth being recruited by the cartel to serve as lookouts as well as drug dealers. There is historical evidence for this in border towns. Some years ago an El Paso street gang, the Barrio Aztecas began in that fashion and today are part of the “muscle” for the Juarez Cartel as well as being on the list of the 12 most dangerous gangs (Security Threat Groups) in Texas prisons. Another widely reported example is Edgar Valdez Villarreal, who grew up in a prosperous suburb of Laredo, played linebacker for the high school football team and like everyone in Laredo and Nuevo Laredo 5 years ago and farther back viewed both cities as one. Through contacts in nightclubs in the cities, the boy nicknamed “la Barbie” for his Ken/Barbie doll looks became a small time marijuana dealer and then got to know cartel members in Nueva Laredo. In time he rose through the ranks of cartels in Mexico to a high position is a part of the Sinaloa Cartel and was arrested in 2010 in Acapulco on a variety of charges including drug smuggling and murder.

The violence across Mexico and especially the north is so widespread that wealthier Mexicans particularly from Monterrey have fled to Texas to avoid the violence. The violence has negatively affected trade and tourism in Mexico most significantly in northern Mexico. This has increased the flow of refugees from Mexico into Texas even as the traditional source of jobs for these persons in real estate construction, ranching, restaurant and hotel work, yard maintenance and field agricultural work has lessened because of the American recession.

Mexican Americans and Mexican American neighborhoods will feel the first and greatest impact of this set of problems coming from Mexico and yet caused by American drug use. It poses substantial and long term challenges.

Refugee Flows From Mexico

The flow of persons from Mexico is far more complex today than before the cartel wars began. These are the major components:

  • Traditional seasonal agricultural workers that follow harvest patterns from Texas to Michigan and Oregon-Washington. These individuals intend to return to rural Mexican areas after the harvest and follow family patterns that go back to the 1930’s.
  • Persons seeking longer-term employment in traditional areas such as ranching, meat processing plants, restaurants, construction and hotel work. They follow family contacts to Kansas City, St. Louis, Chicago and Des Moines.
  • Persons with some wealth and/or professional skills moving from Mexico to avoid violence and able to secure longer term visas with legal residence. These persons will locate in closer proximity to Mexico in cities like Houston, San Antonio, El Paso and Austin.
  • Persons involved in cartel activity either because they must maintain control of the flow of drugs and people, north and the flow of money and guns back into Mexico or higher cartel operatives that prefer the relative safety of the States and access to shopping, schools and medical care. They choose cities like Houston, San Antonio, Austin, Dallas, Denver, Los Angeles, and San Diego. The locations are peaceful yet near the supply routes of the drug trade as it moves into and across the United States.
  • Youth from Mexico City that are in street gangs and find suburbs in Houston, Brownsville, San Antonio, Austin and Dallas attractive targets for property theft. They will move into Mexican American neighborhoods where they are less conspicuous.
  • Very poor migrating people from Central America particularly El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Knowing little about traveling through Mexico or where to land in the United States they are driven by the economic chaos in much of Central America.

Bribery and Extortion

These are familiar and well-practiced skills in much of Mexico and no one is more skilled than cartel operatives. From the “mordida” the driver pays to the traffic cop to avoid a trip to the station house and court to the thousands of pesos to a politician, it is a way of doing business in Mexico. People from Mexico bring these habits with them. They will take the form of hiring off duty police officers in cash to look the other way when a drug load is passing through to heavy contribution to political candidates from school boards to district judges and prosecutors to governors and U. S. Senators and the Presidency. Extortion is used by providing gifts and special favors at places like clubs and bars and then using photographs and statements to secure compliance. It is a way of life in Mexico and we are seeing more examples in Texas Laredo to Arlington.

The surest protection against bribery and extortion is highly transparent procedures in political contributions and conduct of officials. Transparency, trust and reciprocity are hallmarks of traditional American life and they are the surest protection and remedy here and in Mexico.

Mexico’s economic future has been built on five pillars. Foremost is oil. Second is income from tourism. Third is export earnings from maquila manufacturing. Fourth is “loaned workers”. The fifth are profits from the drug trade. The ratio of profits to costs in drugs is remarkable as vast markups occur all along the train from starter chemicals or plants to a street sale. Unlike the first four pillars, little capital investment or training is required and the route to wealth is quick but with so many competitors the stay at the top is short.

Five alternative scenarios possible for Mexico.

Mexico is at a crisis point. Events are deteriorating rapidly and no longer not just at the border. At this point the first two scenarios now have equal probabilities. The third is the hoped for path of the old PRI. The later two come into play only if events elsewhere in the world come crashing down. The clearest key as to which of the following scenarios will come is how the Mexican election for President is resolved. That will be determined by July of 2012, this year.

Collapse in progress

Oil reserves play out in Mexico’s top producing fields, Mexico cedes control over the south and north of the country and 20 million refugees head to the northern cities of Mexico and then into the United States. Millions will come to Texas alone. The PRI is returned to power but makes little progress trying to return to the old methods. Mexico is a failed state with guerilla bands controlling much of the countryside and several of the larger low-income neighborhoods in Mexico City as well as other cities such as Veracruz, Matamoros, Monterrey, Acapulco, Torreon, Guadalajara, etc. Staged attacks on American border cities occur with regular frequency and local police are overwhelmed facing cartels that are better organized, funded and equipped. American border cities are filled with refugees and violent gangs.

American Protectorate

Cartels use hit squads to attack American law enforcement in border cities on both sides. The United States intervenes with military forces as it has done in Haiti, Cuba, Panama in years past and creates a protectorate for the Mexican Federal government south to Monterrey, Saltillo and Torreon. The traditional northern antipathy of Mexicans toward the “chilangos” of Mexico City intensifies and a process of tying the northern Mexican states closely to the American Southwest accelerates. Leftist and nationalistic mobs burn and sack the American Embassy in Mexico City. Mexican expatriates in Texas call for American military intervention in the north to permit them to re-establish homes and businesses in cities like Veracruz, Matamoros, Monterrey, San Miguel Allende, etc. It is reminiscent of Cuban exiles in south Florida but many times the size and consequence.

Return To The Past

The early strength of the PRI suggests that Mexico may attempt to turn the clock back. The PRI regain control, and through the bribery of Chapo Guzman, the Zetas are eliminated.  Mexican cartels go back to an existence of one powerful cartel who controls the plazas much like the Guadalajara cartel did in the 1970’s.  The violent killings are greatly reduced and order among cartels is instituted.

Reprieve

World economy rebounds. Oil prices rise to $200 a barrel, Mexico permits foreign investments and spins off PEMEX which modernizes engineering, refining and exploration. Corruption is curtailed and profits soar. Situation stabilizes to a significant degree.

Revival of Pax Americana

American economy revives and joint American and Mexican efforts suppress cartel activity with attendant boosts in tourism, maquilas and domestic growth. America sharply reduces illegal drug consumption. Mexico increases its historical ties with Central America and opens the region to the south to economic growth and channels American technological knowhow through all of Latin America.

Michael Lauderdale is Professor of Social Work, Board Member of the Greater Austin Crime Commission and Chairs the City of Austin’s Public Safety Commission and the UT Police Oversight Committee.

This is one of several renderings of the developing rail and highway travel and trade corridors coming from NAFTA growth.

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