The situation is in the news more so than usual due to the deaths of three people tied to the US Consulate in Juarez, even though the FBI has said there is no evidence U.S. victims were specifically targeted. However, there is the conflicting view that the three were killed by a drug gang to send a message to both the Mexican and United States governments.
If this was intended to send a message, then the question arises whether Mexico is losing the war on drugs:
What message did the gunmen intend to send with the murder of the consulate workers? It is a message easily recognized by students of irregular warfare. Insurgents competing with the government for influence over the population have pain as one of the principal tools in their toolbox. Apply the pain in a terrifying manner against even the most imposing symbols of authority -- in this case the U.S. government -- and political results may follow.Is this the case?
Let's back up to January, 2008:
One year into President Felipe Calderon's crackdown on drug cartels, police and soldiers are confronting heavily-armed commando-style units of gangsters on an almost daily basis. In the first weeks of January, the two sides clashed in deadly firefights in Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez, Rio Bravo and Reynosa on the U.S. border, and even in quaint tourist towns in the heart of Mexico such as Valle del Bravo. The gangsters have also carried out a wave of ambushes and assassinations on security officials, slaying one Tijuana policeman in his home along with his wife and 9-year old daughter. In total, more than 20 police officers, a state judge, dozens of alleged traffickers and at least 10 civilians have been killed in the fighting since the New Year. The violence has also spilled into the U.S., with Mexican police this week arresting an alleged drug trafficker for using a Hummer to run over and kill a Border Patrol Agent in Arizona.So, a little over two years ago, we were being told that the Mexican government was the "new sheriff." But, is that changing? In other words, is the strategy of the cartels - to gain political results through terrorism - paying off?
Anti-drug officials believe the uptick in clashes between the police and gunmen of the cartels is a sign that Mexico's long-running drug violence has entered a new phase. Until recently, most fighting had involved rival traffickers battling over turf, but today most of the violence is between the federal government and the gangsters. The year-long government crackdown has seriously rattled the cartels, the officials say, and they are making an orchestrated attempt to get the government to back off.
"When you see the killings, the cartels are trying to make a statement to the authorities not to interfere with their enterprises. And they are also trying to send a message to the public saying they are in control," said a U.S. anti-drug official, who asked that his name be withheld for security reasons. "It's a P.R. campaign. But it's not going to work. Because, quite frankly, this country has a new sheriff."
Back to This Week at War: Is This the Week Mexico Lost the Drug War?:
In Juárez, this tactic might be working. Despite Calderón's addition of 10,000 federal troops, Juárez has already suffered 500 murders in 2010. According to articles in both the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, many residents of Juárez have had enough of Calderón's war on the cartels. The president arrived for his third visit in a month, promising a list of social programs in addition to the military campaign. But, according to the Los Angeles Times, Calderón was met with nervous and angry protesters, calling for a return to the more peaceful days before he became president.
That's just terrific. Drug cartels are killing people right and left, the government is doing its job trying to establish security, and the people blame the government!
That's so bad, I had to do a double-take: it's the kind of thing I would expect out of people on my side of the border!
Three years into Calderón's escalation, an increasing number of Mexicans may now conclude that the only path to greater peace may be accommodation with the cartels. With their ability to apply intense pain and also distribute their massive revenues within some of Mexico's neighborhoods, the cartels are in a good position to sway public opinion toward a truce. Calderón sought to establish the state's authority as supreme. Juárez could instead show him what defeat looks like.
So, surrender to narcotraffickers is becoming politically palatable.
If the government of Mexico loses Ciudad Juarez, where will it end?
In this series, we'll take a look at what is happening along our southern border, and consider the implications for US security, and for the security of our allies, most notably for Mexico.
Meanwhile, may I suggest for further information an interactive that addresses the cartels and their business, Mexican Cartels: Drug organizations extending reach farther into US, and a series of photos with captions entitled Mexico Under Seige.