The first batch of leaked diplomatic cables is out on Mexico’s battle against the drug cartels. What they tell us is no great revelation for anyone who has been reading about the cartel violence for the past few years. But they do cast a harsh light on Mexico’s vulnerabilities and the country’s almost non-existent hold on some regions of the country including Juarez and the state of Tamaulipas.
The Los Angeles Times has a good overall write up on the Wikileak cables released Thursday by the Spanish newspaper El Pais. The media organization released only a small portion of the 2,836 cables that Wilileaks has on Mexico.
According to Tracy Wilkinson at the Times:
“The cables gave a much starker view of the pitfalls and obstacles facing Mexican President Felipe Calderon, a departure from the public statements of unwavering support that have come out of Washington for most of the 4-year-old war, which has claimed more than 30,000 lives.”
In one cable written by John D. Feeley, the number two official in the U.S. Embassy in Mexico, the veteran diplomat pretty much lays out the whole mess in plain English. Wouldn’t it be great if politicians spoke like this in public?
In one section he sums up the battle between the Mexican Army and the Navy thusly. “Mexican security institutions are often locked in a zero-sum competition in which one agency’s success is viewed as another’s failure, information is closely guarded, and joint operations are all but unheard of.”
The cable was written in advance as a briefing for U.S. officials who would be meeting with their Mexican counterparts at the Defense Bilateral Working Group held in Washington last February.
What struck a nerve with me in Feeley’s cable were the following two sections:
4. (SBU) Meanwhile, the opposition Institutional Revolutionary
Party (PRI) is in the ascendancy, cautiously managing its illusory
unity in an effort to dominate the twelve gubernatorial contests
this year and avoid missteps that could jeopardize its front-runner
status in the run-up to the 2012 presidential elections. With a
strategy best described as political pragmatism, PRI insiders
indicate that the party is unlikely to support any major reform
efforts over the next several years – no matter how necessary –
that could be publicly controversial.
The PRI has been angling to take back Mexico in 2012 for some time. The party that had a stranglehold over Mexico for more than 70 years and shepherded the country into this narco mess has been selling itself as “the devil you know” to Mexican voters. The general thinking is along these lines “If the PRI wins in 2012 it can subdue the narcos, make some sort of arrangement with them and everyone is back in business.” I think it’s too late for that though. There’s been too much blood, too many killings and way more vendettas than the PRI can ever put a lid on. The PRI not supporting any major reform efforts is also bad news for Mexico. We in the United States know what that’s like. We’ve got a Congress that does almost nothing but scream at one another on cable TV about “anchor babies,” while our economy tanks and we squander lives and what’s left of the treasury on two hopeless wars.
Here’s the other section that pretty much sums up how screwed Mexico is:
(C) Military surges that are not coordinated with local city
officials and civilian law enforcement, particularly local
prosecutors, have not worked. In Ciudad Juarez, a dramatic
increase in troop deployments to the city early last year brought a
two-month reduction in violence levels before narcotics-related
violence spiked again. The DTOs are sophisticated players: they
can wait out a military deployment; they have an almost unlimited
human resource pool to draw from in the marginalized neighborhoods;
and they can fan complaints about human rights violations to
undermine any progress the military might make with hearts and
This is the thing. Mexico has a 47 percent poverty rate. There are millions of impoverished, disenfranchised Mexicans out there who have received nothing from Mexico’s elite other than disdain and a swift puntazo to the ribs. Mexico’s elite can build their gated communities but what happens when they need to take a drive outside the walls? Well, the answer is narcoblockades. Until Mexico does something about its appalling poverty rate, the government can take out El Chapo or El Mayo and there will be two more drug capos ready to fill their $1,000 python boots.
Which brings me to this final summing up from Sylvia Longmire, a security analyst who has a great blog out today about the leaked memos. Longmire sums it up thusly: Mexico’s drug war can’t be won, only managed.
“One final point I want to make that is relevant to the US government’s assessment in these leaked cables: the Mexican drug war cannot be won—it can only be managed. In addition, I think it’s a mistake for anyone, be it government officials, law enforcement officers, journalists, academics, or casual observers, to look at it from a win/loss perspective.”
Amen to that, sister.