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Column 030314 Brewer

Monday, March 3, 2014

Mexico Must Not Confuse its Own Crime Fighting Mission

By Jerry Brewer

The recent arrest of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is being widely celebrated by the world media, whereas some Mexican citizens could not believe that the perceived “shrewd and elusive businessman” was caught. Still others expressed opinions to leave drug traffickers alone.

Mexico’s President Enrique Peña Nieto faces a major conundrum. His first thoughts should deduce that this is not an end of an era for Mexico’s underworld, nor is it simply time to “get down to business fighting crime now,” as he has said.

Peña Nieto's administration has announced plans to restrict U.S. involvement in its security efforts, causing some U.S. officials to worry that a period of close cooperation may be drawing to a close.

Peña Nieto's security policy prioritizes the reduction of violence rather than attacking Mexico's drug trafficking organizations. He set up a number of “conceptual and organizational changes from the past regime's policy, and one of the biggest contrasts is the focus on lowering murder rates, kidnappings and extortions, as opposed to arresting or killing the country's most-wanted drug lords and intercepting their drug shipments.”

The misnomer for Mexico’s fight is that the violence and death rates clearly show the mission has always been about fighting crime, albeit Mexico virtually had no effective or reliable policing infrastructure to enforce the rule of law. The lucrative and powerful narcotraffickers decided to graphically point that out by telegraphing their warlike armaments and intentions as early as 2005 in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.

It would be late in December 2006 when the new president, Felipe Calderon, stepped in as Mexico’s new leader and faced a homeland besieged with criminals terrorizing cities, murdering and decapitating people with impunity.  Mayors, public officials and police were being murdered or run out of towns, and enforcement measures were met head-on by the gangs.

The military was Calderon’s only viable alternative. It appeared that Mexican officials failed to properly assess this threat that was festering long before 2006, or they simply refused to acknowledge reality. Even US officials appeared to be at a loss with what was a growing threat to the southern border, as the US Border Patrol had been reporting attacks and sniper fire from superior weaponry and specialized tactics being used against them. 

And now, with the persona of the described celebrity, Chapo Guzman is not much different than the morbid celebrity status of others, such as the murderous revolutionary Che Guevara. Some have compared Guzman to the late mafia mob boss John Gotti, who was known as the “Teflon Don” because, supposedly, nothing stuck to him as far as convictions were concerned and he usually avoided apprehension.

Those who profess Guzman’s brilliance for artful elusiveness must remember that he escaped a Mexican prison in 2001 in a laundry cart. Far more escapes than Guzman’s from prison have been more technical. Also, it helps to be wealthy with billions of dollars to buy a free pass.  

Mexico’s lawmakers under Peña Nieto need to reflect on their nation's true weaknesses, in that Mexico’s state presence from an enforcement posture remains weak, especially when transnational organized and heavily armed groups roam randomly.

Reality dictates that it is not all about drug trafficking, as extortion, kidnapping, ransom demands, human/sex trafficking, serial robberies, bribes, corruption, and murder for hire at bargain basement prices permeate Mexico and Central America. The fact is that it is all crime and these perpetrators are all criminals that commit crimes of violence with impunity. with no concern for human life, for personal gain -- and the rule of law essentially does not exist.

The drug trafficking hierarchies have been overanalyzed ad nauseam as to their organization’s identities, and the quests for territory and drug routes, with celebrity-like leaders given far more renown than they deserve. This while thousands of victims, and the countless who are missing, get far too little attention.

Terrorists love identity and strive to commit any act that keeps their affiliations and deadly deeds in the public eye. Osama bin Laden eventually went down, and it is business as usual in the terrorist industry. The drug trade is no different. These are all, collectively, transnational organized criminals and insurgents, and that is the way and manner they must be pursued and brought to justice.

Political posturing via polls and public opinion as to “drug war” and the pros and cons of drug use, legalization, addiction, and prohibition versus enforcement, as well as terrorist ideology, must take a backseat to the meticulous, implacable, relentless application of the basics of law enforcement and the rule of law. Without this, crime will continue to escalate at world record levels -- much like it is now.

Mexico’s priority must be about building a capable policing infrastructure. Without it, the military will have to continue to lead the way to prevent potential failed state status, as in many nations in the northern cone of Central America. Mexico’s own borders at both ends must be protected.

Transnational organized crime is so much bigger than Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman or Osama bin Laden for that matter.  Criminal organizations cannot be merely pruned insofar as they grow back stronger. 

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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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