Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Mexico is burning, but who is watching...

Felipe Calderón's drug war is looking more and more like a whack-a-mole children's and carnival game of chance. This is an appropriate analogy — given that it's a time for State Fairs and it is the final summer weekend before tschool begins. Wherever he sends the army, marines and or Genaro Garcia Luna to bat down a narco, another pops up somewhere else. And even worse, they are popping out of more and more holes — and some of them are even "moles" of another sort.

After a horrendous weekend of violent incidents, pitched battles and widespread bloodshed throughout Mexico, it's even more difficult to take Felipe Calderón at his word when he claims that things are getting better in the drug war. And other events during the past 10 days make it even more risible when examined alongside several optimistic reports that encourage business investments and promote a get back-to-business-as-usual viewpoint: Even an otherwise good Washington Post report nevertheless leaves the impression that the war is coming to an end in Cd. Juarez (http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/in-mexicos-murder-city-the-war-appears-over/2012/08/19/aacab85e-e0a0-11e1-8d48-2b1243f34c85_print.html) and a Forbes/Global Post is even more enthusiastic about the potential for a new business boom in Juarez (http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/americas/mexico/120822/mexican-economy-juarez-exports-outsourcing-multinationals-business?page=0,0 and http://www.forbes.com/sites/nathanielparishflannery/2012/08/27/why-is-mexicos-murder-city-attracting-investors/). And even when those news stories about Mexico manage to make it into print, most of them ignore or downplay the bloodbath that continues and is far from being abated

Perhaps many reporters don't have time for fact checking, or a few are naïve and have been victimized by the deliberate and well-orchestrated public relation campaign to speak only well of Mexico  and convince the world that drug deaths are declining and only "about 50,000" even though Mexico's official statistical agency (INEGI) reports  more than 27,000 murders last year, and almost 107,000 during the first five years of Felipe Calderón's term.

And things are even worse than these INEGI numbers indicate. There is evidence that INEGI data under represents the true number of homicides (cf "Desconfían del SNSP", Rolando Herrera, Reforma 18-Ago-2012). Neither are there statistics to verify the estimated count of 10,000 or more who have simply disappeared from the face of the earth. And sadly, there are no true counts for the number of people who abandoned Mexico and fled for safety and sanctuary north of the Rio Bravo.

With the exceptions of discussions on google groups such as fronteralist or posts from informed bloggers (e.g. http://theragblog.blogspot.ca/2012/08/tom-hayden-javier-sicilias-caravan-for.html ), there has been little notice of the Caravan for Peace march to decry the outrageous levels of violence in Mexico and the uncaring treatment of the narco-war victims.(see http://www.proceso.com.mx/?p=318167)  Unlike the American press and media, France's "Le Monde" boldly describe what is really happening and lamented the  lack of global attention  in a hard-hitting editorial — "Mexique, la spirale de la barbarie". (http://www.lemonde.fr/idees/article/2012/08/23/mexique-la-spirale-de-la-barbarie_1749042_3232.html).

10 days of barbarity: Some of the events during one week of this Mexico that "turned the corner" toward peace.

Several optimistic reports (English language) about Mexico have appeared in the past few weeks and many of them reported the 50,000 casualty figure. Even reports that were intended to be sympathetic, have used this 50,000 number as if it were fact. Meanwhile, these are some of the other horrorific events in Mexico during last week that scarcely rated a notice north of the border:
  • 11 people were executed and narco messages left on their corpses beside a highway in Guerrero that leads to the popular resort communities of Zihuatanejo and Ixtapa (http://www.lemonde.fr/idees/article/2012/08/23/mexique-la-spirale-de-la-barbarie_1749042_3232.html)
  • The bloodiest major cartel (Los Zetas) appears to be fracturing amidst an internal and brutal fight for turf. Long time leader and founder Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano ("El Lazca) is being challenged by the even more brutal Miguel Angel Treviño (El Z-40) . There are bloody, inhumane and horrrendous consequences that have been documented by both the Zetas and by others (http://www.blogdelnarco.com/2012/08/decapitan-al-comandante-charro-de-los-zetas-en-zacatecas/ and http://www.blogdelnarco.com/2012/08/lucha-al-interior-de-los-zetas-en-varios-estados/#more-14409) Also see http://www.proceso.com.mx/?p=318153
  • Elements of the Mexican Federal police reportedly captured the leader of the New Generation of the Cartel of Jalisco (with alleged links to Sinaloa) and unleashed urban chaos. The arrest of Nemesio Oceguera Cervantes "El Mencho" was followed by at least 22 narco blockades in the Guadalajara area. Buses, vehicles and trucks were burned and blocking streets in Mexico's second largest city. (see http://www.blogdelnarco.com/2012/08/detienen-a-nemesio-oceguera-cervantes-el-mencho-y-causa-22-narcobloqueos/ ). And a later report indicated that the police were mistaken — El Mencho wasn't captured even though everyone thought that he had been. (http://www.proceso.com.mx/?p=318298)
  • Another turf war involving the Caballeros Templarios and Jalisco New Generation resulted in at least 17 executions and the widespread posting of narco messages and warnings throughout Michoacan .(http://www.proceso.com.mx/?p=318158)
  • The weekly newsmagazine Proceso reported a confrontation involving unknown forces and army forces in Mexico State that left an estimated 30 "sicarios dead". (http://www.proceso.com.mx/?p=318139) The official death report is lower, since no bodies were left the site. Only hundreds of spent cartridges and bloodstains remained as evidence of the skirmish. Eyewitnesses report that the bodies were retrieved by survivors of the shoot-out.
  • There was an ambush and attack directed at an US embassy vehicle driven by a Mexican Marinero. The driver and his passengers — 2 men linked to the US embassy and a mysterious 4th person who was rumoured to have been a protected witness providing information about Beltran Leyva cartel operations in the area. Proceso (#1859) immediately reported that the two Americans were not registered diplomats and claimed that they were DEA agents (http://www.proceso.com.mx/?page_id=278958&a51dc26366d99bb5fa29cea4747565fec=317968). Later reports identified these two wounded survivors as CIA agents (see La Jornada http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2012/08/28/politica/005n1pol). Fortunately for everyone in the embassy vehicle, it was "blindado" and "bullet-proof" to level 7 (the highest possible armour and bullet proofing available). Twelve Federal Police officers were arrested and remain in detention in Cuernavaca. Their families claim they had been acting under orders and they have filed a protest and complaint about their relatives treatment with the National Human Rights Commission. 

These are just some of the of events from the past 10 days, and the level of violence reported in these examples makes it unimaginable how anyone might conclude that Mexico has turned the corner and is ready for the return of international investment and normalcy.

Furthermore, there are far too many outbreaks of violence within such short time-frame to treat these as isolated occurrences that are unconnected to a larger political and economic context. Something bigger is going on, but at the same time there are too many different dynamics at play to suggest that there is only one thing going on. We can only guess about the big picture, and must be content to offer impressions about what might explain this recent rash of violence.

Many of these incidents are indicative of a renogotiation of business "partnerships" and realignments that always occur during presidential transitions. Mexicans speak about the year of the Hidalgo (Hidalgo's figure is on the 1947 issue 5 peso coin and the modern 1000 peso bill, http://www.sandiegoreader.com/weblogs/fulano_de_tal/2011/jul/14/the-year-of-hidalgo/ ) when they try to explain the mysterious personal enrichment that happens during the last year of a sexenio, and it is very probable that there is a narco-equivalent to the year of Hidalgo that results in a mad scramble and period of chaos not unlike those seen in Gold-Rush frenzies or the rush to claim land when territories are opened to those who get their first..

That is, many of the skirmishes and battles described above are probably about claiming, staking and preserving turf. Violence is a necessary and symbolic demonstration that someone has the huevos to control the plaza or to take it over. The escalating casualty count is the consequence of their strutting, and uncontrolled brutality  is represents both a threat to others and a reaffirmation that someone is strong enough to be the boss. Remember, there will be major bureaucratic change in the upper levels of most institutions in Mexico, and all external connections to bureaucratic power must be renegotiated; the narcos, the money launderers, the politicos, the police, the military, customs agents, border agents, air authorities or anyone else who wants to retain their to stake out an institutional turf in Mexico will be doing whatever it takes to preserve their place. With the return of a PRI president it is even more likely that there will be a wholesale bureaucratic switchover to placate PRI loyalists and place them in positions currently occupied by the true believers of PAN (...although many PANistas have been converting).

I don't think that this institutional reshuffling and realignment will affect all areas and States in the same way.  Not much may change in Sinaloa (which had no governor election), but changes will definitely impact other territories that are permanent fixtures in the drug scene, and will also affect other areas that had gubernatorial elections (Guerrero, Michoacan, Vera Cruz). Institutional realignments are also certain to leave the greatest impact in those regions that emerged as fracture points and contested plazas during the last half of Felipe Calderón's sexenio.(Coahuila, Nuevo Leon, San Louis Potosi and even Guadalajara itself) 
Perhaps another possibility for explaining this recent surge in violence is that they have been triggered by initiatives related to the US election and American politics. After all, think of the beneficial bounce to be gained by finally capturing El Chapo or any of the other big capos. Might it be the case that the DEA/CIA was turned loose with the blessing, encouragement and full cooperation of Felipe Calderón. If such operations are successful, President Obama would be able to showcase another bad guy brought to justice , and Felipe Calderón could ride into the sunset (or the University of Texas) and boast that he was in charge when El Chapo was finally captured. This is a less likely explanation for all of the violence that is occurring, but is a scenario that should never be dismissed in the land of magic realism led by a president hoping for a miracle to salvage his reputation. Furthermore, this scenario is believable given that the US political administration has begrudgingly acknowledged that there might be a "hit list" that allows the takedown of enemies of the State. Perhaps it is not farfetched, and maybe there is a justification for believing all of the rumours and reported increase of DEA and CIA agents in Mexico and Central America as part of the "Obama Policy". (see the review of Sanger's "Confront and Conceal" at http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2012/aug/16/obama-abroad-report-card/)

More specifically, the ambush on the road to Cuernavaca (Tres Marias) must certainly be connected to recent incidents and the dismissal of federal police from their assignments at Benito Juarez International Airport (http://www.jornada.unam.mx/2012/06/26/politica/003n1pol and http://www.jornada.unam.mx/ultimasal /2012/08/19/112057506-reasignan-policias-federales-del-aicm-a-otras-areas-seran-201cnuevos-agentes201d-los-que-atiendan-la-seguridad-en-la-terminal). The shoot-out between fellow agents in the Federal Police in the middle of Mexico International Airport is evidence that there are competing factions within the PGR and Federal Police agency. Who knows whether the Tres Marias ambush and attack was a deliberate maneuver by corrupt Federal Police, or whether it was carried out by colleagues who had been set up to be stooges by "colleagues" who were directly feeling theheat form the Benito Juarez shooting and and the firings and reassignments in its aftermath.

From Fisgón — La Jornada, Aug 28
In fact, we don't know where those airport police were "reassigned" after the airport incident.  Were any of those reassigned to the Tres Marias area? What happened to the uniforms and guns of those who were sacked? Where are the 29 Federal Police who were reported missing in the aftermath of the firings?

Personally, I suspect that those Policia Federal on those backroads near Tres Marias were stooges who were set-up with incomplete,false or misleading information — that's a common modus operandi in the byzantine political world inhabited by denizens at the upper echelon drug trade. "Machiavelli for narcos" is really a bible for those involved, and the Tres Marias incident has more twists and turns than found cumulatively in both seasons of the Borgias.

Meanwhile, bodies are piling up and disappearing before they can be retrieved by the police and the army and counted by authorities. Los Zetas and its military code "to leave no one behind" suggests that they were certainly involved in that 30-reported-dead shoot-out and missing bodies in Edomex, and the increasing rumours of an internal dispute between El Lazca and El Z-40 make that an even more likely scenario. And authorities in Guadalajara are left to figure out how to get traffic moving and look for funds to replace the burned out buses and government vehicles destroyed in the 22 blockades.

Almost no one in the english language press is paying attention to these incidents of violence, nor are they providing widespread coverage to Javier Sicilia's march for peace and justice that has included events such as the destruction of AK-47's and visits to gun markets to directly demand that gun merchants refrain form shipping weapons to Mexico.

I have a sickening sense of foreboding that the next two months will continue in much the same way as last week, and the world may not be watching. After all, it is is the year of Hidalgo and a time for self-preservation and enrichment.

1 comment:

Ernesto Ibañez said...

Now Mexico is in NAFTA, its macroeconomic numbers are so cute, the most billionnaires are mexicans, and the people witout jobs!!!!, running out Mexico crossing the border to the USA, and now there is a big Wall from R¡Texac to California to stop poor mexicans go USA!!!!!

see the hand backwards this issue THE HAND!!!