Monday, September 10, 2012
The Mexican Navy is Spearheading the War vs. Organized Crime
By George W. Grayson
In late 2009, U.S. and Mexican
intelligence agents located the luxurious bunker of Arturo "El Barbas" Beltrán Leyva and his BLO criminal
organization, which trafficked in drugs and bribed high officials in Mexico's Attorney General's Office.
Compelling evidence indicated that the BLO was enjoying the good life in Cuernavaca, Morelos,
a colonial gem 47 miles from the Federal District.
The Mexican Army showed
no interest in attacking the site even though its 24th regional headquarters lay only a few blocks from El Barbas' bailiwick.
The regional commander had apparently bonded with the so-called "boss of bosses."
In view of Army indifference, the Marines -- an arm of the Navy -- took charge. On Dec. 16, 2009, ski-masked commandos
assaulted the compound and killed Beltrán Leyva and several bodyguards in a frenzied firefight.
President Felipe Calderón called the action "a heavy blow" against one of
the most dangerous criminal organizations in Mexico.
The episode marked
the first -- but by no means the last -- land engagement against traffickers by a naval force. Long regarded by Army brass
as its "little brother," the Navy has emerged as the most efficient ally of U.S. security agencies participating
in Mexico's protracted drug war, which has consumed 45,000 lives since Calderón took office almost six years ago.
In February 2009, the Navy even signed a pact to keep secret all communications with the U.S. Department of Defense.
Besides the Beltrán Leyva slam-dunk, the Navy/Marines have distinguished themselves
in the takedowns of Gulf Cartel co-boss Antonio Ezequiel "Tony Tormenta" Cárdenas, and the regional chief
of the sadistic Los Zetas cartel, Lucio "El Lucky" Hernández Lechuga.
The 200,000-member Army has registered successes, but the Navy with 50,000 cadres, including 18,000 Marines, has
captured or killed disproportionately more kingpins.
Several factors account
for the Navy's rise in stature. To begin with, many mossback generals exhibit a toxic nationalism toward the U.S. -- exemplified
by speeches and ceremonies that revive memories of the "War of North American Aggression" when Mexico lost nearly
half its territory to Uncle Sam in the mid-19th century.
Nor will visitors
to the country find statues of Gen. John J. "Black Jack" Pershing, who in March 1916 led the 10,000-soldier Punitive
Expedition in a vain attempt to apprehend the iconic Pancho Villa whose forces had raided Columbus, New Mexico.
In 1914, a misunderstanding involving American sailors in the oil-exporting harbor of Tampico
morphed into a six-month occupation of Veracruz; however, the Navy incurred neither the losses nor the humiliation suffered
by the Army at the hands of the invaders.
The imperative for sea duty
enables superiors to buffer subordinates from criminals. Port calls give Mexican seaman a chance to hobnob with foreigners
-- an opportunity lacking for most Army personnel.
In addition, conduct
of land operations, staffing of highway checkpoints, patrolling airports and occupation of cities exposes Army units to ubiquitous
The culture of graft long prevalent in the military combined
with the abuses of civilians exposed by human rights organizations has forced action by Defense Secretary Guillermo Galván.
At least five retired senior generals accused of accepting lavish bribes from the BLO now languish in the Almoloya maximum-security
The Defense Ministry rotates most Army regional and zonal commanders
on a regular basis, which gives these men a chance to conceal shady deals. Naval commanders get no warning before being transferred
to another post.
In contrast to Army officers, many more naval leaders
speak English, and some marry women from other countries. Men and women in blue are more likely to be middle-class and cosmopolitan
than their lower-class brothers and sisters in olive drab.
the Navy's superior intelligence service, which cooperates smoothly with its U.S. counterparts. And there is no discounting
the "Semper Fi" élan of the Marines.
The recent shooting
by a dozen Federal Police at an embassy SUV carrying two CIA operatives and a Navy captain may reflect the underworld's
animus toward the ever-stronger links between the U.S. and the Mexican Navy.
George W. Grayson, Professor Emeritus at the College of William & Mary, has coauthored,
with Sam Logan, The Executioner's Men: Los Zetas, Rogue Soldiers, Criminal Entrepreneurs, and the Shadow State They
Created (Transaction Publishers, 2012); and written, among other books, Mexico: Narco-Violence and a Failed State?