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Column 110413 Brewer

Monday, November 4, 2013

Mexico and the Expanding Hemispheric Crime and Terror Crises

By Jerry Brewer

Mexico's apparent unabated rates of homicide, kidnappings and assassinations, of public figures and journalists, continue to lose ground vis-à-vis securing the rule of law for future generations. As well, Mexico is a favorite destination for narcotraffickers to reach a voracious US demand for illegal drugs.

Actually, a violent crime insurgency is being felt from the US border to Argentina.

Evidence of the "spillover effect" from Mexico into the northern cone of Central America was partly reflective of former Mexican President Felipe Calderon's aggressive military response.

In Nuevo Laredo alone, nearly 200 people were murdered in 2005, and many other victims simply vanished. Twenty police officers, including a chief of police, plus a Nuevo Laredo city councilman had been gunned down during that period eight years ago. This armed violence resulted in the closing of the U.S. Consulate there for a brief period of time.

The homicide statistics for 2006 mounted quickly as Calderon took over. Nearly 50,000 uniformed Mexican military personnel manned roadblocks, patrolled cities infiltrated by transnational criminals, and raided houses in search of drug traffickers, weapons and contraband.

In March 2010, Brigadier General  Benito Medina, director of military education at the University of the Army and Air Force, told the El Universal newspaper that the "Mexican military cannot succeed alone against a powerful foe whose reach spans national boundaries. We need the collaboration of the international community."

Mexico's military forced many rival gangs south into El Salvador and Guatemala. Quick to follow were the Zetas, albeit the Zeta movement south was described as being a proactive movement and not a reactive strategy of retreat.  Their reach into Central America was corrupting police, recruiting talent, and training recruits in Guatemalan camps. Similar movement into Honduras graphically marked the Zeta area of influence as a clear indicator of turf superiority, plus they expanded their territorial range from Central America, along the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico coastal states, to parts of the Texas border.

The transnational influence of the Zetas now also reaches into the responsibility for the organization and long distance shipping of cocaine from South America, much of this through the risky Central America drug pipeline into lucrative North American drug markets.  This awesome endeavor required a power that had to prevail against all obstacles designed to interdict.

In El Salvador alone, the strong and violent Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) gang became a ripe recruiting ground for the Zetas.  Law enforcement and government concerns, fears that power alliances by the Zetas would lead to jail breaks to free previously captured gang members, became realities.

Too, captured Zetas in custody in Guatemala escaped with help.  Plus Guatemalan police reported death threats made by the Zetas against that nation's President.

This insurgent-like equation became the new organized crime-terror nexus.  Fear, intimidation, political tampering, kidnappings, murders, bombings, and torture became the norm. The organizational similarities of organized crime and terror merged to essentially form a single merchant of violence and death, available to the highest or most powerful bidder or survivor. Groups emerged as third generation gangs possessing extensive, asymmetrical warfare capabilities.

Eliminating journalists, police chiefs, federal police superiors, mayors, and other military and government officials in these weak nations allows insurgents to break away from state control and form a space that they feel they can control and/or govern.

Yet interdiction efforts along the lines of a successful counterinsurgency campaign can neutralize insurgents, secure the population, and reestablish government legitimacy. Without order and the rule of law the insurgents succeed by inflicting chaos and disorder everywhere they can. Governments will fail unless they can maintain order and reduce fear.

In 2013, Panamanian intelligence officials claim to have identified four major Mexican organized crime cartels operating there, this due to Panama's importance as a regional depot for drug traffickers. In Bolivia, President Evo Morales's administration has acknowledged that Bolivia's drug groups have been linked to Mexico's Los Zetas.

In 2009 it was reported that Mexican organized crime cartels were spreading their tentacles into 47 nations, including the U.S. and Colombia. The expansion was attributed to Mexico's military crackdown.  Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho claims that two of Mexico's most notorious criminal groups, the Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel, had expanded their operations in Argentina and were moving into sex trafficking.  "I have clear evidence of the presence of drug cartels involved in trafficking that are already operating in Argentina ... in many cases building links with small impoverished communities.... Both the Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel are already here. These organized criminals have begun to settle and are buying human beings," Cacho stated.

The full spectrum of past, current and future conflict in Mexico is much more than drug trafficking. It has morphed into a transnational criminal insurgency that is fluid throughout the hemisphere. Mexico has a relatively dismal track record in implementing policing and effective security reforms and cannot do this alone.

Whereas the conundrum for the United States is that these crises also impact U.S. national security and all international partners.

Demobilizing or disarming these criminal insurgents will require a united international model with a goal and methodology to disrupt and deny the insurgent network operating flexibility. A limited criminal counterinsurgency doctrine to cripple infrastructure should include a major focus on interdicting and decreasing cartel revenues and related finances.


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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