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Column 081913 Brewer

Monday, August 19, 2013

Mexico's Major Drug War Blunder in Nuevo Laredo is Reversible

By Jerry Brewer

Plain and simple, Mexico’s major mistakes in the violent drug conflicts of recent years began with failures to properly assess the threats, violence, weaponry and implications that manifested in the city of Nuevo Laredo, in 2005.

And now, Nuevo Laredo may be the place to gain and achieve a much needed strategic foothold. 

The threats that existed were clear in 2005 in Nuevo Laredo, as to who attacked, why, and the sophisticated war-like weapons and even espionage-like tradecraft utilized. Competent threat assessments would have revealed the threats and exposed those vulnerabilities that would ultimately engulf Mexico in increased bloody carnage and lawlessness for nearly a decade. 

This struggle for power would quickly become much more than supplying an estimated US annual drug demand of over US$60 billion. It was an armed conflict for regional control, and also against innocents, the Mexican government, police, city officials, the media, and security forces. Moreover, it has led to an estimated 70,000 violent deaths nationwide, with unconfirmed accounts of those who have disappeared that could set the homicide rate well above 100,000 victims.

The early ambivalence in defining symptoms, and the failure to make critical threat assessments based on at least one battle in Nuevo Laredo on July 28, 2005, had a profound taste of future disaster.

That wake-up call came with what this writer wrote and warned of on August 16, 2005, in a Houston Chronicle piece that included a quote by then U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza regarding the brutal July 28 clash between "armed criminal groups" in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.  Garza described the unconventional terrorist-like action that manifested its sinister footprints in Nuevo Laredo as having "included unusually advanced automatic weapons," plus there were reports of a bazooka and grenades having been used in the attack on an apparent safe house.

The Houston Chronicle commentary continued: "Actually, hundreds of different caliber shells were subsequently found at the war zone-like scene, along with AK-47 rifles, handguns and ski masks.  [As well, …] a state policeman who asked not to be identified said that investigators found numerous photographs of municipal police officers at the residence, 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."  These included where the officer’s and city official’s children went to school – classic terror modus operandi.

The Nuevo Laredo incident clearly demonstrated the sophistication of incredible military weaponry. Yet Mexican and U.S. officials continued to view what they believed would be an isolated incident, unfortunately, through rose colored glasses.

The sole cartel versus cartel theory was quickly debunked.  And many public officials throughout Mexico, and neighboring government officials further south in Central America, began to meet their deaths in flagrant and vicious acts of torture and cold blooded murder.

The government of former Mexican President Felipe Calderon (2006-2012) came into office well after the atrocities had escalated, and the new president launched an all out unfocused war nationwide against the drug cartels in late 2006. And Calderon’s military forces were met head-on in ambushes, plus gun men blockaded key highways and ambushed not only security forces, but too federal police, local volunteer police, residents of rural villages and other innocents.

President Enrique Peña Nieto took office in December 2012, pledging that “reducing violence” would become his security goal. The Mexican government has reported a total of 244 public servants murdered during the first six months of 2013, and 100 police and soldiers killed in the first three months. In three months three Mayors were killed.

The contiguous cities of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, and Laredo, Texas form one of the most important trade related border crossings in the Americas. Laredo is on the primary trade route connecting Canada, the United States and Mexico, whereas Nuevo Laredo is the only Mexico/U.S. border city strategically positioned at the convergence of all land transportation systems.

The former leader of Los Zetas, Miguel Angel Treviño Morales, known as “Z-40,” was captured last month. From his hometown in Nuevo Laredo, he was recruited in the late 1990s by the leaders of the Gulf Cartel and Zetas. He was appointed in 2005 as the regional boss of Los Zetas in Nuevo Laredo, and he was tasked to fight off the Sinaloa Cartel to secure drug routes through Nuevo Laredo in 2006. This insofar as Nuevo Laredo’s strategic importance to the illicit transnational drug trade and organized crime is set in stone and has been for a long time.

Even Mexico's top drug kingpin, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who heads the Sinaloa Cartel, has indicated intentions to fight for control of Nuevo Laredo. Car bombs outside of the city’s police department last April, and a brazen shootout with police clearly telegraphed intentions once again.

How real is the need for concentrated enforcement action for Nuevo Laredo? In Nuevo Laredo the media is practicing self-censorship due to murder, extortion and continuing death threats from the cartels. The cartels need a perception of calm to prevent focused enforcement attention on their resiliency and seeming at least impunity.

Mexican and US officials must not continue to ignore the strategic importance of Nuevo Laredo and the Laredo side of the Rio Grande. There must be a common doctrine for achieving long-term security against the persistent conflicts, this so that legitimate authority and the rule of law and order can truly be reestablished.

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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 www.cjiausa.org.


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