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Column 041513 Brewer

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Need to Boost Surveillance on Mexico's Southern Border

By Jerry Brewer

For decades the United States has too often, and unwisely, ignored the borders to the south of Mexico with the northern cone of Central America. Over the past decade alone U.S. law enforcement officials have played hide-and-seek with a massive and fluid illegal entry of emigrants who have traveled from and/or through Central America.

Barbarous violence and carnage reported from Mexico in 2005 graphically brought the reality to the U.S. media that the U.S. border was unsafe. Immediate cries were vociferously announced to batten down the hatches -- build walls, build fences, move more patrols to the border.

The office of Mexico's Attorney General reported Mexico's nationwide totals of victims were over 900 executions during the first four months of 2005. Murders of police officers and their leaders, along with the killings and kidnappings of Mexican and U.S. citizens, began to outrage both nations.

Two U.S. Border Patrol agents had been wounded near Nogales, Arizona, ambushed and shot by assailants dressed in black commando-type clothing.  More than 50 rounds were fired at the agents.  To aid the perpetrators escape, one apparently remained behind and used a portable radio to pinpoint the agents' location for snipers hidden nearby.  Authorities said the gunmen fled using military-style cover and concealment tactics, while investigators later found commando clothing and other so-called sophisticated equipment at the sneak attack site.

However the aforementioned shooting was but one of a rising number of assaults on U.S. Border Patrol agents in the Tucson-Nogales sector.  Since October 1, 2004, 196 assaults on agents, including 24 shootings, had been recorded.  Making things worse, there was a reported US$50,000 bounty on Border Patrol agents, and state and local police officers.

Also a few years back, on the Texas border in the Laredo (Webb County) area, sheriff officials reported a heavily armed commando-style group escorting a drug load into the U.S., past an outnumbered and outgunned group of Webb County officers. They laid low in order not to be seen.

In addition to concerns of attacks on police officers, members of the Texas Border Sheriffs' Coalition feared and announced that terrorists could easily slip across the U.S.-Mexico border and carry out deadly attacks. Then Webb County Sheriff Rick Flores even announced that, "Staging a terrorist attack in Laredo (Texas), America's largest inland port, would be very simple. We've got 7,000 trucks crossing on a daily basis."

This was a wake-up call that short-sightedly focused on Mexican "illegal aliens" coming to, and residing in, the U.S. What had been missed from long ago is that millions of undocumented migrants, plus transnational organized crime perpetrators, had long since crossed the border and moved into and throughout the U.S.

Mexico's troubles and admitted weakness were due to its unsecured 541 miles of border with Guatemala, and 156 miles with Belize. As such, a paradigm of human folly and historical paradox could describe the U.S. and Mexico each citing a lack of a coordinated regional strategic plan in the areas of security, control and development to prevent their borders from sliding out of control.

Effective border strategies must be comprehensive, flexible and adaptable. Estimates are that over 500,000 undocumented aliens illegally cross the border every year into Mexico from Central America.

Many nations throughout the world lack adequate resources, people, and effective programs to put much of a dent in this scourge without assistance. Their lack of action critically impacts neighboring nations.

There are a myriad of reasons why people leave their homelands for what they perceive to be greener pastures. For the most part this probably can be summed up in financial opportunities that are widely thought to exist. As well, many flee oppressive government regimes, and there are those that flee for their lives due to crime, murder, torture, kidnapping, extortion, and related robberies and crimes of violence.

Furthermore, ineffective policing and the lack of the rule of law is a motivator for quick and needed change.

It is fact that drug trafficking contributes to a significant percentage of the border problems. Over 65 percent of all cocaine leaving South America passes through Central America to Mexican and U.S. markets. But it is also fact that many other violent crimes for massive profits now rival much of the drug trade, this as cocaine profits may be spread thinner and, in part at least, the result of anti-drug law enforcement and military cooperation throughout most of the Americas. 

Regarding gangs and gang violence, last year the U.S. State Department estimated the overall number of gang members in Central America at possibly 85,000 MS-13 and 18th Street gangsters in the northern triangle countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras), this up from 70,000 in 2005.  Furthermore, homicide rates in Central America, some of the highest in the world, have grown to what the UN Office on Drugs and Crime rates at the "near crisis point."

Education, rehabilitation, and economic and alternative development are cited as alternatives to drug interdiction -- but it will be difficult to replace an acquired insatiable hunger for mass illicit revenue that simply requires little more than power and violence.

And with all of this, Mexico's southern border requires critical attention.


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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