New reports about Mexico, the failing state on our border

This provides a very brief look at two excellent reports about Mexico.  Excerpts from each appear below.

  1. Mexico Security Memo – Year-end Wrap-up“, Stratfor, 5 January 2008 — Subscription only. 
  2. After Action Report – Vistit Mexico“, General Barry R McCaffrey USA (Ret), 29 December 2008

Both are disturbing, since the global economic downturn will weigh heavily on Mexico.  Fortunately, Mexico pre-sold most of its 2009 oil production at high 2008 prices.  If low oil prices continue into 2010, the double hit from low prices and declining production will severely hurt Mexico.

(1)  Stratfor

Mexico Security Memo – Year-end Wrap-up“, Stratfor, 5 January 2008 — Subscription only.  Stratfor is IMO the best intel source for generalists, as their coverage of Mexico demonstrates.  Excerpt:

The year 2008 ended up being a record year in Mexico’s fight against drug cartels. Unfortunately for the government, most of these records are related to the country’s deteriorating security situation, not to government gains against criminal organizations. Most notably, 2008 set a new record for organized crime-related homicides with some 5,700 killings, more than double the previous record of 2,700 reached in 2007. The fact that 2008 deaths alone account for nearly half the total number killed over the last four years is a testament to just how much violence in Mexico has increased over the past 12 months.

Shifting geographic patterns of violence over the past year also highlight some of the Mexican government’s challenges. In 2007, for example, much of the violence occurred in the states of Michoacan, Guerrero and Sinaloa, southwestern states with sparse populations, vast rural areas and mountains that proved ideal territory to store and traffic drug shipments received in coastal ports. During 2008, however, much of the violence shifted to the north: Some 48% of all killings during the last 12 months took place in Chihuahua and Baja California states. In addition, much of this northern violence was concentrated in large urban cities like Ciudad Juarez and Tijuana, which present uniquely different operating environments for the Mexican military.

… The prospect of these trends continuing into 2009 does not bode well for the Mexican government.

(2)  General McCaffrey

After Action Report – Vistit Mexico“, General Barry R McCaffrey USA (Ret), 29 December 2008 — His reconnaissance is excellent; his analysis and recommendation IMO far less so.  Almost blind faith in force and money; but little understanding of the dynamics of failing states.  This is just a brief excerpt; I recommend reading it in full.

Excerpt:

3. D. The incoming Obama Administration must immediately focus on the dangerous and worsening problems in Mexico, which fundamentally threaten US national security.

Before the next eight years are past – the violent, warring collection of criminal drug cartels could overwhelm the institutions of the state and establish de facto control over broad regions of northern Mexico. A failure by the Mexican political system to curtail lawlessness and violence could result of a surge of millions of refugees crossing the US border to escape the domestic misery of violence, failed economic policy, poverty, hunger, joblessness, and the mindless cruelty and injustice of a criminal state.

3. E. Mexico is not confronting dangerous criminality — it is fighting for survival against narco-terrorism.

5. A. Mexico is on the edge of the abyss—it could become a narco-state in the coming decade. Chronic drug consumption has doubled since 2002 to 500,000 addicts. Possibly 5% or 3.5 million people consume illegal drugs. (the US figure is 8.3% or 20.4 million). Since 2002— past month Mexican national drug consumption has increased by 30% and cocaine use has doubled. The fastest growing addiction rates are among the 12 to 17 year old population — and the consumption rates among women have doubled.

6. A. The crime rate is staggering. The US State Department notes that crime in Mexico continues at high levels particularly in Mexico City. Criminal assaults occur on highways throughout Mexico. Armed street crime is a serious problem in all the major cities. Robbery and assault on passengers in taxis are frequent and violent. Mexican authorities have failed to prosecute numerous crimes committed against US citizens, including murder and kidnapping. 44% of all murders through November of this year were of unidentified victims— primarily because of fear of becoming involved by family and acquaintances of the deceased.

6. C. Corruption is pervasive and ruins the trust among Mexican law enforcement institutions at local, state, and Federal level. Corruption reaches into the US Embassy with a DEA Mexican national employee recently arrested for being an agent of the Sinaloa Cartel. He was corrupted by a $450,000.00 bribe. Six high-ranking law enforcement officials have recently been arrested and the current and former Director of the Interpol Office in Mexico indicted. (This is a painful personal reminder of the 1997 arrest of the Mexican Drug Czar, General Gutierrez Rebollo, discovered to be working as an agent of the Juarez cartel.)

6. E. The Council on Hemispheric Affairs states that: “Due to pervasive corruption at the highest levels of the Mexican Government, and the almost effortless infiltration of the porous security forces by the cartel, an ultimate victory by the state is uncertain.”

9. B. Now is the time during the opening months of a new US Administration to jointly commit to a fully resourced major partnership as political equals of the Mexican government. We must jointly and respectfully cooperate to address the broad challenges our two nations face.

Specifically, we must support the Government of Mexico’s efforts to confront the ultra violent drug cartels. We must do so in ways that are acceptable to the Mexican polity and that take into account Mexican sensitivities to sovereignty. The United States Government cannot impose a solution. The political will is present in Mexico to make the tough decisions that are required to confront a severe menace to the rule of law and the authority of the Mexican state. Where our assistance can be helpful, we must provide it. The challenge is so complex that it will require sustained commitment and attention at the highest levels of our two governments. We cannot afford to fail.

Afterword

Please share your comments by posting below.  Per the FM site’s Comment Policy, please make them brief (250 words max), civil, and relevant to this post.  Or email me at fabmaximus at hotmail dot com (note the spam-protected spelling).

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Other reports about Mexico

  1. Mexico: On the Road to a Failed State?“, George Friedman, Stratfor, 13 May 2008
  2. Mexico: Examining Cartel War Violence Through a Protective Intelligence Lens“, Stratfor, 14 May 2008
  3. Crime and Punishment in Mexico: The big picture beyond drug cartel violence“, posted at Grits for Breakfast, 18 May 2008

For more information from the FM site

To read other articles about these things, see the FM reference page on the right side menu bar. Of esp relevance to this topic:

Posts about Mexcio:

  1. Is Mexico unraveling?, 28 April 2008 — summary of Stratfor’s warnings about Mexico.
  2. “High Stakes South of the Border”, 13 May 2008
  3. Stratfor: the Mexican cartels stike at Phoenix, AZ, 6 July 2008
  4. “Drug cartels ‘threaten’ Mexican democracy”, 24 July 2008
  5. Stratfor reports on Mexico, news ignored by our mainstream media, 19 August 2008
  6. Nonsense from StrategyPage: Iraq is safer than Mexico, 17 December 2008

36 thoughts on “New reports about Mexico, the failing state on our border

  1. One of the best articles I have ever read on Mexico and how it is turning into a Mafia state is the Wikipedia article on Los Zetas:

    Basically, a defection en masse of troops trained and armed by the United States and its allies to the Mexican Gulf Cartel. They’ve taken the equipment with them, have almost unlimited money to buy more when it runs out, and have set up training bases similar to the bases they were trained in by the U. S. for new recruits.

  2. How difficult are these organizations to eliminate. Assuming a state monopoly for the sale of drugs was established in the US and/or Mexico to seriously undermine the profit margins on cocaine sales etc.

    What alternative sources of revenue could these organizations cast their eyes upon?
    Fake medicine, human trafficking, human organs…?

  3. More seriously stupid pontificating.

    The profits exist only because the drugs are defined as illegal, we learned nothing from prohibition – so down the road we go again.

  4. Well, consider that even after legalization in Amsterdam organized crime type groups continue to maintain a near monopoly in drugs because they already control the infrastructure to distribute them.

    Furthermore, even if drugs were legalized it may already be too late to break the powerful paramilitary cartels in Mexico. I cannot believe that powerful organized crime would shrivel up and die just like that. The problem already extends far beyond simple substance trade, although that trade is a major portion of it.
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    Fabius Maximus replies: All powerful points — thanks!

    Our experience mirrors that of other nations. Prohibition gave organized crime its big opportunity in the US. While repeal reduced its size and reach, it found other lines of business after prohibition. I do not believe (but have no data) that it ever went back to its pre-prohibition size.

    Does anyone have links to any studies on these things?

  5. How different are these gangs from the actual government of Mexico? We complain about Sen. Stevens and Gov. Sptizer in the US, but they remain the exceptions, not the daily rule. I’ve been told that Mexico’s state institutions are so bad that business enterprises thinking of taking advantage of the Maquiladoro (sp?) Program changed their minds when they started modeling their cost of doing business to include baksheesh payments to corrupt officialdom.

    Re: point 6C from McCaffrey above; I guess my question becomes this. How many Mexicans still consider The Federales the good guys in this struggle? If Barack Obama guessed wrong on this, the way I believe John McCain and George W. Bush both have, this could have a profoundly bad consequence for the US.

  6. However, based on my years of watching Mexico — the bottom line is this: the population is tic, and family oriented. The culture and art are rich and fiercely admired by the people. The senior elite political and military leadership is world class — broadly educated, sophisticated, multi-lingual, and very easy to deal with. At a people-to-people level the affection and cooperation between the Mexican and US populations are unbelievably strong. (More than 500,000 Americans live in Mexico.)

    In sum, Mexico and its people are a joy to visit— and a trusted partner in business cooperation.
    Mexican and Central American labor is a central pillar of US economic strength. However, Mexico is fundamentally at risk from drug-fueled crime which is so powerful that it could threaten the viability of the state.

    If the people are so good, why did the state fail?

  7. I’ve read more than once of a “Bush” plan to create a North American trade group, linking Mexico, the US and Canada, with a common currency and major North/South highway links. I put “Bush” in quotation marks because if there is such a plan, it’s bi-partisan.

    Such a plan would seem to run up against the emerging failed-state condition in Mexico, but on the other hand, neo-liberal foreign ventures often have a military as well as an economic dimension, and the war on drugs has always been as much about propping up unpopular governments as stopping the flow of drugs.

  8. It seems the “war on drugs” policy is a complete failure because the “war” has focused exclusively on supply and ignored stemming the demand. As long there are huge dollars to be made on the supply side of the drugs (or other illicit activity), then efforts to attack/ kill the suppliers will just create room for more suppliers. If we, the US (as a large buyer of drugs from Mexico) could focus more money and attention to reducing the demand, then the suppliers would eliminate themselves as the size of the pie shrinks. So what is being done to reduce demand?

  9. Really, we have to consider the decriminalization of marijuana and cocaine in this country.

    The nations south of the Rio Grande are dominated by our nation’s love of drugs. They bear the costs of our indulgences.

    Addressing this issue would definitely go a long way to solving our immigration problem as well.

  10. One of the best articles I have ever read on Mexico and how it is turning into a Mafia state… How different are these gangs from the actual government of Mexico?

    The question we SHOULD be asking is: Aside from window dressing, how different is Mexico’s government from ours – aside from degree?

  11. Crime on the highways in Mexico? Come on, there are quite a few of us American and Canadian citizens who spend time in Mexico and drive down these, “crime filled” highways. Nonsense! In six years I have yet to see any sign of attack or high crame rates. High homocide rates? Why don’t you look at the per capita homocide rates inside the U.S.A. Try those figures on for size. I think you’ll come to the conclusion that our government isn’t in control of the situation either. A Mafia state? Whose the middleman supplying the streets in the U.S. with the drugs that Americans demand? And take a good look at the corruption that is becoming ever more apparent in both the government and population of the U.S. Greed is obvious the name of the game. It’s a true case of the kettle calling the pot black.

  12. I agree, legalize pot and coke and the problems will disappear.

    The Cartels will decide to operate flower and balloon shops instead, their vicious hit men will spend their days making balloon animals rather than beheading rivals.

    It’s not like they would turn to other drugs such as heroin, meth or acid, no no no, that could never happen.

    Or I suppose we could just legalize all drugs, our kids could get their older friends to buy them a pack of PCP to try out in the basement while mom and dad are having dinner with the neighbors. Oh joy, wouldn’t that be great, kids experimenting with meth and LSD?

  13. Fabius on McCaffrey: “His reconnaissance is excellent…” With respect, McCaffrey did not mention what the (democratic and non-democratic) Mexican political opposition (perhaps abetted by Venezuela, Cuba and others) is doing. His reconnaissance is incomplete.

    “…his analysis and recommendation IMO far less so.” I had little confidence in McCaffrey while he was Drug Czar. To what extent have the drug cartels suborned the American government?
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    Fabius Maximus replies: All reconnaissance is incomplete. Complete pictures, to the extent possible in the real world, result from multi-disciplinary teams — different kinds of recon supplemented by different kinds of analysts.

  14. Crime on the highways in Mexico? Come on, there are quite a few of us American and Canadian citizens who spend time in Mexico and drive down these, “crime filled” highways. Nonsense! In six years I have yet to see any sign of attack or high crame rates.

    Totally. A number of bloggers have been blowing this stuff ridiculously out of proportion and really need to get a grip. I’ve been living in Mexico for about 6 months and as far as I can tell the overwhelming majority of Mexicans are simply unaffected by this stuff. Yes, there is gang violence in certain cities, and kidnappings have recently started becoming a problem (but AFAICT, are more common in next-door Guatemala). I’ve ridden my motorcycle through much of Mexico (including from Juarez to Chihuahua) and I have never felt unsafe on the highway. I don’t know where you guys are getting this shit from.

    Some folks need a serious reality check.

  15. For some ways in which Mexico is different from our own, try a populace living in fear of kidnapping that shoots people over the border, or cartels so powerful and bold that they actually control law enforcement, or a government actually at war with crime in more than rhetoric in the urban centers of our country.

    I can’t read sarcasm over the Internet, but in Mexico the fear is actually impacting the stability of the state, while here it’s mostly an inner city problem.

    also:
    * “Amsterdam targets sex and drug crime“, UPI, 7 December 2008
    * “Kidnappings in Mexico Send Shivers Across Border“, New York Times, 4 January 2009

  16. As is usual in these discussions, several people have recommended legalization of drugs as the solution to these problems. As others have pointed out, the end of Prohibition did not result in the end of organized crime.

    Other nations like Taiwan and Singapore have taken a different approach which does seem to have dramatically reduced drug crime in their countries. To be honest, I don’t think that we would be able to use their approach in this country given our current political and legal environment but if things get worse it is always nice to know of methods that have been successfully applied elsewhere.

  17. Gilligan : DEATH sentence for traffickin’ of abusive substances is what the legal system has imposed in said minuscule state. Not as simple as it seems. Hypothetically, what if some b****** stashes some s*** in your auto when you’re enterin’ the state? Guilty? Or till proven?

  18. Simply put, Mexico is and has been a hell-hole for centuries. Incompetent and highly, highly corrupt are their national heritage.

    Given the open borders mentality of most first-league US politicians, most of all, Jorge Bush and Jesus Obama, Americans can expect to “welcome” tens of millions more of illegal amigos – a never ending stream to help solidify the North American Union.

    Mexico is “sensitive” to it’s sovereignty? American citizens who are sensitive about our sovereignty are routinely called bigots, racists and xenophobes by the enlightened political/media class. Hmm, interesting.

    “There shall be no borders; everyone is a migrant!” That will be the clarion call.

  19. The obvious and underlying problem here is drug prohibition, but I don’t think that a complete legalization of drugs in this country would be the best solution, or even necessary. For soft core drugs like marijuana and mushrooms, the trade should remain illegal, but home production and consumption should be legalized. This would greatly reduce street demand, while still keeping it mostly out of sight. Some drugs, like cocaine, could be legalized in less harmful products, like coca wine. More dangerous drugs could be given to those already addicted, as a prelude to treatment.

  20. YT

    Hypothetically, what if somebody stashes some plutonium in your luggage when you are flying into the country. Is that something that you worry about?

  21. Last October while visiting China, I watched The Evening News with some Chinese teachers. The Breaking Story of the day was the arrest of a drug dealer who sold a marijuana joint outside a high school.
    The Braking Story concluded with footage of the execution by gun shot of said taxi driver. Bang – Plop footage.
    While my colleagues cheered. They remembered the Opium Wars in nineteenth century China. You can look it up…

  22. Other nations like Taiwan and Singapore have taken a different approach which does seem to have dramatically reduced drug crime in their countries. To be honest, I don’t think that we would be able to use their approach in this country given our current political and legal environment but if things get worse it is always nice to know of methods that have been successfully applied elsewhere.

    The problem with this approach, of course, is that the relevant violence is taking place in Mexico while the demand is domestic.

    Anyone who wants to go down to Mexico in an effort to adopt your approach is free to try – just keep me out of it, ok?

  23. I have lived in Mexico for 22 years. The difference between the Mexican reaction to crime, economic instability, and political mafeasance is that while the American will panic, and vote for an inknown Messiah to “save” them, Mexicans just shrug and say, “We have put up with a lot of shit. A little more won’t matter.”
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    Fabius Maximus replies: Quite a few Mexicans obviously take a different view, and say “let’s go north to a better governed and more prosperous nation.” Some work here then return, many stay.

  24. America gives Mexico 197 million a year to fight a 30 billion dollar drug a year drug market. The major problem in Mexico is the military and federali wanting to take over the drug market which is much more lucrative. I have lived in Baja, Mexico for over a year now. I have never felt threatened, I have also lived in Los Angeles and New York City and wish I could say the same.

  25. Very Interesting…In Mexico officials are bribed with drug money while corporations bribe American officials with campaign donations…Corruption is corruption no matter the source of the money…Therefore I recommend that we take the beam out of our eyes first so that we can then see to take the mote out of Mexico’s eyes…

  26. Mexico has beeen a narco country for some time…Whomever has the gold makes the rules. Everyday Mexicans know the government is, has been and will be corrupt; “It is in Gods hands.”

  27. There is another fix for this problem. A fix that solves a few other thorny geopolitical issues at the same time… “A Proposal to solve the Israel/Arab problem“, The Unwanted Blog, 30 December 2008 — Excerpt:

    I have a suggestion. … It boils down to this: give up on the scrap of land currently known as “Israel.” Pull the Israeli people out, put them somewhere else. However, the entirety of land area on Earth, except for Antarctica, is owned by somebody. So, whereever New Israel might be, is currently already somebody else’s. … But here’s the thing: most people on Earth are sane enough that they can be bought. This was not the case in the Middle East — they’s crazy. But there are lots of scraps of land that can be had, if you just know how to bargain. And I have just the scrap of land: northern Mexico. Specifically, a strip along the US/Mexico border, 50 miles wide, stretching from the Gulf of Mexico to the Pacific.

  28. I have lived in Mexico for the past 15 years. I have watched this country grow from one which was ruled absolutely by the mega-rich, and 99% of the population below the poverty line, to a more stable and prosperous democracy. Of course, there are those who want to destabilize it.

    In any democracy, the middle class is the single most important factor in giving it stability. Middle class people may often remember their OWN days of poverty; so they won’t want their government to harm them, but to give them better ways to prosper. As for the rich, a middle class person inevitably hopes to become even more so – so harming the wealthy is also undesirable. Middle classes want stability in their government, transparency and progress. If their numbers are great enough, the government MUST listen to them.

    The best way to weaken any democracy is to weaken – or eliminate – its middle class. Why do you suppose Bush has brought about such suffering among the average Americans? It destabilizes us when we lose our homes, our savings and our jobs. Which is precisely what the neocon agenda seeks to do.

    Mexico’s middle class has grown with astonishing rapidity since Fox was elected, and it’s still going on. My dollars don’t buy nearly what they did back in 1994, when I first arrived here, but I don’t feel any regret about it, since inflation is a normal result of a growing and prospering middle class. I am delighted to see Mexico growing and stabilizing. I do not recognize claims that Mexico is a failed state. But I do detect a bit of wishful thinking on the part of those who say it is failed.

    Nor do the American franchise businesses, who are opening branches here even now, regard Mexico as a failed state. We just got a new WalMart, and will soon have a new Starbuck’s, KFC, and several others. We’ve already gotten many others, like Golden Fried Chicken, Whataburger, MacDonald’s, Burger King – too many to list. If this state is failing, ask them why they’d take such risks. And THEY are not outsourcing, but are creating new jobs here, for Mexicans, but also for many Americans. It is the healthy kind of international business, and it could not happen if Mexico was on the brink of collapse.

    There ARE serious crime problems. This country still has to grow out of a mindset where corruption is only normal in government officials. They’re getting there, slow but sure. Rely on the middle class to demand – and get – what they ask for. Whereas when I came here, there were few activist groups or watchdog groups, today there are many, and they function without governmental obstruction.

    The drug cartels only exist, I’ll remind you all, because WE, in the U.S., demand our dope. Those of us who use drugs are not only giving these cartels a reason to exist, but are also funding Taliban, from its sales of opium products (like heroin) to OUR illicit drug markets.

    Maybe we ought to consider removing the reasons for these cartels to exist in the first place. It’s easy to diss Mexico about them, while we puff our joints and take dope brought to us by those cartels. But being fair and balanced isn’t in anyone’s minds; prejudice against Mexicans is deep in our culture, though it has no right to be there.

    On the whole, Mexicans are good people, who are as law-abiding as we are. Nor do most of them have any wish to live in the States, and would be outraged if Mexico considered being annexed to it. Mexicans have much to be proud of, but almost none of that gets to OUR side of the border. Instead, we blindly hate them.

    I have experienced generosity of spirit here in Mexico that would be unthinkable back home. How many grocery stores and pharmacies do YOU know, who would deliver? And how many would let you have food or medicines ON CREDIT? More often than not, the “credit” extended is never repaid – and the store owners knew that before they gave the credit.

    I now love two countries, and both deserve to be loved. My American patriotism is higher than my love for my new country of residence, but my respect for Mexicans is often considerably higher than for many of my own countrymen. I wish my own people would work harder on their OWN generosity of spirit.

    And keep this in mind: The world is overrun with oppressive regimes. ALL democracies have to pull together to survive, much less create new democracies. We are open societies, and therefore highly vulnerable. It is in our OWN best interests to forge goodwill among our governments, but even more, among our populations. This hatred of Mexicans has got to be corrected. It goes against our OWN best interests.

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