Monday, June 2, 2014
How Federal Security Deployments in Mexico are Set Up to Fail
By Patrick Corcoran (InSight Crime)
The recent wave of killings that has made the state of Tamaulipas one of Mexico's main drug war battlefields has prompted plans to send in federal troops to try and bring the region's underworld
to heel. But can such a deployment ever loosen the grip of organized crime?
A recent spike in violence has brought Tamaulipas back to the forefront of Mexico's security debate after
months of calm. Reports of gunfights in Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa, two lucrative border crossings that the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas have long fought
over, have again grown common. Over the course of the month, the state registered 75 murders according to the
National Public Security System (the SNSP, for its initials in Spanish), the highest total since 2012. One gunfight alone in Reynosa left 17 people
dead in late April.
years of suffering with some of the highest rates of violent crime in the country, Tamaulipas was one of Mexico's happier
stories in 2013. The SNSP registered
just 555 murders throughout the year, a drop of nearly 50 percent from 2012. The overall murder
rate was just 17 per 100,000 residents, lower than Mexico's national average and significantly better than many American
cities. Coupled with the crippling of the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, this appeared to be a decisive step forward against organized
crime in Mexico's northeast.
See also: Zetas News and Profile
The violence has sparked
calls for the federal government to implement a security plan in Tamaulipas, like the ones it has pursued in Guerrero, Chihuahua, and the area
known as La Laguna that straddles
Coahuila and Durango. Earlier this month, during a visit by Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, the government of
President Enrique Peña Nieto implied that a redoubled federal operation, which would supplement
the Federal Police and Mexican marines that already operate in the region, was in the offing.
proximate cause of the violence in Tamaulipas is a matter of debate, but it's striking that the increase over the past
several months has coincided with the downfall of some of the area's most prominent criminal leaders. Among the fallen
are the Zetas Nuevo Laredo boss Juan Fernando Ramirez Cortes and Zetas founder
Galdino Mellado Cruz, who were, respectively,
arrested and killed in April.
While the arrest or death of Mexican capos provokes a variety of responses, in this case the old cliché that
nature hates a vacuum appears to be holding true: as rivals and allies avenge their bosses' demise and jockey for position
in a shifting landscape, Tamaulipas as a whole has grown far bloodier.
The reports of a coming federal operation have provoked questions about the soundness of the response and
its capacity to actually address both the immediate and deeper causes of Tamaulipas insecurity.
For instance, a recent piece from Jose Ortega, published on
the website of Security, Paz, y Justicia, takes aim at the proposed objective of improving coordination between the local
and federal security agencies. The problem, he says, is that local police bodies are so thoroughly corrupted there is no hope
of productive collaboration with them at all. Jose Manuel Lopez Guijon, the chief of security for Governor Egidio Torre Cantu,
serves as a perfect demonstration of the degree to which the local authorities are untrustworthy; last month Lopez Guijon was implicated in the assassination
of the head of the state's police intelligence unit, a crime allegedly carried out on behalf of the Zetas.
Against such a backdrop, there is no reason to
suspect that a federal deployment would be capable of pushing murder rates back down to their prior levels, much less that
they would reverse the patterns of corruption and extortion that currently prevail.
See also: Coverage of Security Policy
Instead, Ortega says,
the federal government needs to learn from its experiences in Michoacan, and recognize that it has no reliable partners among
the state and local forces. As a consequence, the goals should be to work around or even to replace such bodies.
The typical federal intervention, which is somewhat
improvised and amounts to little more than a mass deployment of Federal Police or armed forces, is particularly ill-suited
to a place like Tamaulipas. There, the surge in violence is ultimately the product of long-standing factors; the local government is among the most thoroughly infiltrated by organized crime,
and has been for decades. A pattern of behavior that stretches back a generation or more is not going to be modified by the temporary deployment of several thousand
Most of the areas
where federal troops are called upon are not unlike Tamaulipas in this respect, which suggests that Mexico needs to rethink
its approach to federal deployments. Swooping in for a much publicized show of force, which criminal groups eventually find a way to work around
or simply wait out, is akin to fighting weeds with a lawn mower. Mexico needs to find a way to destroy the root, and the recent coming incursion into Tamaulipas suggests
that it is not there yet.
This commentary, "How Federal Security Deployments in Mexico Are Set Up to Fail," was first published
in InSight Crime, on May 29, 2014 and reposted per a Creative Commons authorization. InSight Crime's objective
is to increase the level of research, analysis and investigation on organized crime in Latin America and the Caribbean.
Patrick Corcoran (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a writer and international relations student who specializes in Mexican affairs.