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Column 040912 Brewer

Monday, April 9, 2012

Drug Lords and Vicious Criminals put Mexico on its War Footing

By Jerry Brewer

Although the Mexican government refuses to acknowledge the similarities with Colombia's criminal violence and deaths of 20 years ago, the threat to both nation's national security and democracy were virtually isotropic.  

Mexico and the U.S. have had consistent trouble in identifying and interpreting the violence at, and south of, the U.S. border since the brutal gun battle that took place on July 28, 2005 in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, between "armed criminal groups" using "unusually advanced weapons."    

Tony Garza, the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico at the time, described the gun battle as "between armed criminal groups."

Immediately following the shootout, Mexico's than presidential spokesman Ruben Aguilar said that federal efforts to stop the violence in Nuevo Laredo "have been successful."

The facts were that the combatants used an arsenal that combined automatic weapons, bazookas and hand grenades in the attack. 

Actually, hundreds of different caliber shells were subsequently found at the war zone-like scene, along with AK-47 assault rifles, handguns and ski masks. And if that were not disturbing enough, a state policeman who asked not to be identified said that investigators found numerous photographs of municipal police officers in a residence at the firefight site, an apparent hit list of officials sentenced to death. Further intelligence revealed that each of the photographs listed the officer's name and assigned location, along with maps to their homes.

And then, on Aug. 5, Nuevo Laredo City Councilman Leopoldo Ramos Ortega was shot dead as he innocently sat in his truck. Ramos also chaired the council's security committee. The attacks and the death toll continued to mount at an alarming rate, as other city officials and police chiefs were gunned down with sophisticated firepower.

It was brazenly stated that Americans were not targets of the violence. Yet U.S. Border Patrol agents were being fired upon, and U.S. border area police officials were witnessing Mexican paramilitary types encroaching on U.S. soil.

There were reported murders of more than 300 young women in and around Ciudad Juarez over a ten year period.  The rule of law and the escalating head-on confrontations and murder of police officials was rampant.

One of the active critics of Mexican government inaction and confusion was Congressman Henry Cuellar (D, Texas), who had been urging Mexican officials to control and end the violence. Cuellar said that the "Mexican government has been offered all sorts of U.S. help to deal with the problem, but has refused."  Furthermore, Cuellar declared that Mexican officials appeared unwilling to do what it took to deal with the growing problem.

The true problem was emphatically a lack of a capable police cadre to even remotely undertake a slight enforcement posture against this well-armed and trained paramilitary enemy of the state.  The fact was that there was no reasonable expectation of any police force in Mexico having, or acquiring on its own, the resources necessary to effectively fight gangs and groups that were so well armed, trained and financed.

Did anyone truly and rationally believe, with some degree of semblance or evidence, that the drug cartels were better left alone to conquer the Mexican homeland with impunity and not be challenged?  Would there have been less death or a more harmonious assimilation of organized and transnational crime and insurgency had they been left alone?

Mexico's political apparatus needed to immediately work to achieve common ground on understanding the real threats to the Mexican homeland even beyond the drug trade, as murder, robbery, human trafficking, kidnapping and extortion became common place events.

Under President Felipe Calderon's direction, the Mexican military and federal police became increasingly fluid strategically and tactically in carrying out enforcement operations. The Mexican Congress passed legislation in 2009 expanding the investigative and intelligence capabilities of the Federal Police, which itself expanded from 20,000 personnel to over 34,000.

In Colombia, an aggressive and unified strategy of zero-tolerance occurred as the U.S. contributed around US$5 billion over a seven year period to the Colombian government for assistance and training to aggressively locate and stop guerrilla insurgency and narcotrafficking.

Colombia's then President Alvaro Uribe had boldly emerged as a no-nonsense leader, and he continued to focus on defeating and demobilizing terrorist groups in his homeland. Vigorous law enforcement, intelligence, military, and economic measures against terrorist insurgents were his mandate.

Security forces captured or killed numerous terrorists and mid-level commanders, debriefed combatant deserters for detailed information, and hence reduced the territory or area of terrorist operations in Colombia.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the main narcoterrorist group, were reduced to around 9,000 irregulars, down from about 18,000 over a six year period. Colombia's homicide rate dropped some 40 percent over a five year period, terror attacks against citizens went down 61 percent, and kidnapping for ransom by 76 percent.

As is the case in Colombia, in Mexico success will ultimately be measured by the recovery of communities and territories in which criminal factions are now operating.


Jerry Brewer is C.E.O. of Criminal Justice International Associates, a global threat mitigation firm headquartered in northern Virginia.  His website is located at

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