As Mexico Battles Cartels, The Army Becomes the Law

Posting prepared by Matthew Micka
Thursday, April 2, 2009

Mexican President Felipe Calderón is now deploying nearly 50% (45,000) of his nation’s combat ready troops to wage a war against his nation’s powerful drug traffickers, who supply an estimated 90% of the cocaine entering the United States.

Retired army officers are being called-up as commanders of local police forces, which are in turn being supplied with automatic weapons and, fragmentation grenades and grenade launchers.

Local police departments had by and large been corrupted and cooped by the drug cartels. Vetting and retraining of Mexico’s 450,000 policemen is underway, and almost half of the 56,000 officers vetted so far have failed.

Daily life in affected areas goes on in a virtual war-zone of army patrols, raids and roadblocks. Public reaction ranges from relief to dismay. Both U.S. and domestic officials predict that the troops will be needed for years to come.

An unanticipated consequence of the army’s involvement, however, has been an escalation of violence, against the army, and against officials.

In the southern state of Guerrero the army ratcheted up security last year following by a two-month stretch in which nine soldiers were abducted and decapitated, and a former mayor was shot 24 times in front of 1,000 people attending the coronation of a local beauty queen.

Mexican officials estimate that the cartels operate on a $10 billion annual budget, and employ 150,000 people. The Mexican government will spend $9.3 billion on national security this year, a 99% increase since the ascension of Calderon.

Since December 2006, over 10,100 people have been killed, including 917 policemen, soldiers, and officials. Concurrently, human rights complaints against the army have surged 576%, according to Mexico’s National Human Rights Commission .
The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration applauds Calderón’s decision to use the military an “extraordinarily courageous step.” An ardent conservative and Catholic, Calderon has by now virtually staked his presidency on his war against the cartels.

José Luis Piñeyro, a Mexican military analyst, said the president and his advisers had “launched a war for which they were unprepared.” And U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration Intelligence Chief Anthony P. Placido said he believes that Calderón “is way past the point of no return. . . He has to fight to save himself, his party and his country.”

From Washington Post article by Steve Fainaru and William Booth, Washington Post Foreign Service

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