January 4, 2008

Drug War Militarization Advances into 2008

Concerned that violent drug traffickers had infiltrated the police force, Mexican soldiers disarmed 149 local policemen assigned to the municipality of Rosarito, Baja California, on December 28. Besides stripping local policemen of their weapons, the Baja California State Office of the Attorney General ordered all its Rosarito personnel reassigned to other posts including Tijuana and Ensenada.

“We recognize that the enemy is within and that’s why we are purging the ranks,” said Daniel de la Rosa, state public safety director. “We need to have police who are trustworthy.”

Reminiscent of the Mexican army’s temporary disarming of Tijuana municipal police at the beginning of the year, the Rosarito action came after a December 18 attack against the city’s police chief, Jorge Eduar-do Montero, left the official’s bodyguard dead. Rosarito Mayor Hugo Torres has also denounced death threats lodged against him.

In Baja California, persistent violence during 2007 including hundreds of kidnappings, forced disappearances and robberies of foreign tourists and businessmen, stoked calls for stepped-up federal military intervention in the fight against organized crime. At the state and local levels, new law enforcement administrations are bringing in Israeli anti-kidnapping instructors, restructuring key police units and adding new armament.

Still, as the Rosarito events demonstrate, the Mexican army remains the linchpin in the battle against drug traffickers and organized criminal elements. In 2007, the Calderon administration deployed upwards of 25,000 soldiers and federal police (frequently soldiers on leave) in the drug war. As the year drew to a close, Mexico City could claim some historic successes in the battle, including the record seizures of nearly 35 tons of cocaine at the ports of Manzanillo and Tampico. According to the US Embassy in Mexico, Mexican authorities seized money, drugs, airplanes, vehicles and airplanes valued at hundreds of millions of dollars during the course of the year.

Narco-violence also broke records in 2007, with 2,561 murders attributed to organized crime registered in the January-November time frame-a 14.2 percent leap over 2006’s homicide numbers for the same months. In addition to large numbers of policemen, the victims included 42 soldiers and five marines. On Friday, December 28, seven policemen were slain in the central state of Zacatecas by suspected drug gang gunmen.

The Zacatecas killings are the latest example of how previously quiet areas of the country are now hot spots in the war for control of the lucrative Mexican drug business. Indeed, virtually the entire country is afflicted by violence, with the Pacific Coast state of Colima considered the only relative exception. In border cities such as Tijuana and Ciudad Juarez, drug-related murders are so common as to practically warrant their own section in daily local newspapers.

Reliance on the armed forces as the front-line agency in the drug war is likely to deepen in 2008. Patricio Patino Arias, an undersecretary for strategic intelligence with Mexico’s Federal Ministry of Public Safety, announced December 28 in Culiacan, Sinaloa, that 2,500 soldiers and federal police will be deployed in a new operation in the state beginning the first week of January.

Reprinted from Frontera NorteSur (FNS): on-line, U.S.-Mexico border news Center for Latin American and Border Studies New Mexico State University Las Cruces, New Mexico.

Return to the Frontpage