Monday, 22 July 2013

Mexico - The drug war of attrition

A Mexican soldier guards acquired contraband
Image: David Maung/Bloomberg News
Mexico has the geography and culture to attract a many variety of tourists around the globe, particularly college students in the Texas/Arizona region during spring-break. Whilst Mexico is famed for its blistering sun and its vibrant history and culture, it carries a burden of infamy as a consequence of institutionalized transnational organized crime.

The drug cartels are not limited to Mexico and the Gulf of Mexico - they are numerous reports of mutual cooperation and influence in Europe with cartel links to the Sicilian mafia. The main reason for this partnership is the ability to transport drugs into Europe with relative ease with actors experienced and knowledgeable of the Palermo's black market. The problem is endemic and requires the tackling of political corruption and the re-attainment of power in regions in Mexico to regain a form of stability.

The fuel of violence is territory or 'turf''. The drug cartels are similar in their organization and methodology. That said, the two largest groups of the belligerents of the war on drugs are the Sinaloa Federation and Los Zetas. The latter are particularly famous for high-profile, scaremongering killings primarily to intimidate three frontiers of the war. Firstly, the rival cartels. Secondly, the government. Thirdly, the civilian populace.

The cartels war of turf is primarily because of the access to trade routes. These include access points into the United States through the US-Mexican border or exploiting the Gulf of Mexico for human, drug or weapon trafficking. The strategic value of these routes into the United States and to the greater region are the centre of the conflict. Secondly, the war between the cartels stem from minimizing operational capability of one another. By operational capability, this is primarily through acquisition arterial routes of supply in and around the regions of Mexico by intimidating the local populace and exploiting the culture of lawlessness.

The war between the Sinaloa Federation and the Los Zetas extends between the government, where the government directly confront the cartels. The Mexican government and law authorities deployed 50,000 troops and 10,000 federal officers to partake in operations curtailing cartel influence in the Mexican regions, most notably in the Juarez of  the state of Tamaulipas and Culiacan. The primary for this strategy is to neutralize senior commanders of the cartels to destabilize the operational capability of these organizations. This isn't too dissimilar from the practices of the CIA and their approach to al-Qaeda in specific targeting of individuals. Secondly, it is visible security presence in the region to deter potential recruits for the cartels.

Climate of fear 

It is worth noting the difference in the Sinaloa Federation and the Los Zetas in their organization. Whilst the two share the same characteristics of an insurgent movement, the dependence on the population to blend defensively into the environment, a modular organizational structure and oscillation of high-kinetic combat, the two cartels are distinct. The Sinaloa Federation is predominantly a familial organization where leadership in the cartel is attributed to ancestry. The Los Zetas are more meritorical the establishment of their hierarchy. This is largely due to the fact that the Los Zetas encompass Mexican ex-elite special forces units that defected and formed their own cartel in competition with the Sinaloa Federation.

The war between the cartels and the civilian population is interlinked with the war against the government as the civilian population are the pivotal point to what governs the cartel's success. This is underpinned through abundant corruption, intimidation and assassination of law enforcement officials and regional politicians. This is the source of the endemic problem; the cartels have a strong grip on regional political processes in the region they operate to be able to establish a power-base to project further drug and human trafficking. This is not even limited to government but to journalism. There have been numerous reports of kidnapping, assassinations and mutilations of journalists in the region who, professionally or not, record events of the drug cartels for the sole purposes of installing a climate of fear. The problem has now entrenched itself in Mexican civil society and as this article has explored, is the apex of the problem.

With the capture of Los Zetas' top commander, Miguel "Z-40" Trevino Morales, the Los Zetas fate is relatively uncertain but with the ability to regain leadership through its hierarchical structure, the Los Zetas turbulence will be temporary. The war of attrition is apparent that, despite the efforts of security forces to destabilize the hierarchy of the drug cartels, the entrenchment of drug cartels in political and Mexican culture is deep. All belligerents of the conflict, including the civilian populace, will sustain heavy loss for little gain in the forthcoming latter year.

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