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Mexico – Failed State/Failed Policies?

It is a harsh, but probably true, reality. If Mexico is not yet a failed state, it could well be on its way to that end. Arguably, if a country cannot quell violence within its borders, it is on its way to failure; if a country has multiple gangs, in this case drug cartels operating seemingly freely within its borders, it is on its way to failure; if, despite increasing the deployment of troops to combat the drug cartels, the cartels continue to kill, the state is on its way to failure; finally, if thousands of its citizens are murdered by the unceasing drug violence and hundreds of its law enforcement officers are killed in the process, the state is on its way to failure. Yes, it is a harsh reality.

My position on the situation in Mexico has been clear since before I began writing on ThreatsWatch. The unrelenting drug violence south of the border represents a threat to our National Security.

Despite Felipe Calderón’s efforts to take on the drug cartels, he seems to be losing. Since taking office, 4000 people have been killed, with 450 law enforcement officers have died, including 4 of the top anti-drug officers being gunned down last month alone.

One of the problems is that the drug cartels and their militia are better trained and better equipped than the Mexican military. And perhaps even more problematic is that the drug cartels are often better equipped and armed than our own Border Patrol agents.

The United States has a clear interest and a clear obligation to help. This country is the main market for the methamphetamine cooked in Mexican labs and the cocaine moving through Mexico from the Andes. It is also the source of the traffickers’ weapons. And no fence will stop the gun battles from moving across the border.

Not only is the $1.4 billion dollar anti-drug package proposed by the Bush Administration paltry compared to the funds available to the drug cartels, but Congress (both the House and the Senate) have allocated less than the funds requested. This happens at a time when the drug cartel related violence has not only bled across the border, but is now occurring in places like New York and Florida cloned police cars are intercepting opposing cartel drug shipments. Often, the cartels are using extreme violence to extract information regarding drug shipments and locations of drug and arms caches.

So, in the final analysis, the question must be asked, who controls the country of Mexico? By some accounts, Calderón has committed 30,000 troops to the battle against the cartels, and yet, the violence continues and in many parts of the country, the cartels “influence” local politics. The battles and the bloodshed is both cartel against Calderón’s troops and the cartels against each other in an ongoing internecine war to control territory and the overall and lucrative drug transport to the United States.

According to the U.S. military, a civil war is a "war between factions of the same country; there are five criteria for international recognition of this status: The contestants must control territory, have a functioning government, enjoy some foreign recognition, have identifiable regular armed forces, and engage in major military operations." Mexico's drug cartels control, albeit unofficially, vast expanses of the country that are out of the range of government supervision. Even the U.S. government, which under the Merida Initiative plans to give $1.4 billion to Calderón to fight the cartels, seems to recognize that the criminal enterprises endanger the stability and sovereignty of the Mexican state. The hired guns of the Gulf cartel, known as the "Zetas," are black-clad Army deserters and vets who engage in regular major military operations, often against their former peers.

Recently, there was a discussion of whether Mexico was experiencing an “insurgency.” At that time, I commented that I believed that the situation was beyond the point of an impending insurgency, especially since the drug wars involved multiple disparate players and was really a turf battle. As discussed in one of my earlier entries, Mexico is a country of great instability, widely separate economic classes, and corruption. We need to pay attention to what is happening South of the border. Be assured that this is a problem that will last past the next Presidential election.


They are not only better armed, but clearly much more ruthless (and therefore effective, given the realities in Mexico) in their methods of achieving control and loyalty, including in the use of financial power. Once such a movement establishes itself and its ways within a society, alternatives effectively find themlselves rejected. How far this will be able or allowed to encroach on civilian structure and politics, and to what extent concerned outside forces are willing and able to intervene may provide an insight as to the outcome. Should the state eventually be considered largely unworkable with from the outside, the subsequent pressures on society there might well lead to very serious internal conflict. I do not think that any cartel would blatantly try to assume political power, being aware that internationally such is beyond their credibility or standing. What cannot be discounted is that certain political forces come into power backed and aligned with one cartel or another. This also may bring open civil conflict. Ultimately the main question being of the loyalties, and the degrees of such, within the police and armed forces - open warfare and martial law being a differently balanced equation in comparison with gang warfare and assassinations. Hopefuly Mexico will not have to go through any of the above extremes to find its center again, though to do so it must be largely with an effort exerted by itself, in line with its own identities and good sentiments.

Renshaw, actually, I believe that one of the base articles discusses that the cartels are already influencing local political elections. I continue to look at Mexico as having layers of problems. The socio-economic issues are essentially the foundation; when you add the open conflicts between the drug cartels and the drug cartels with the police/Mexican military you have a situation of chaos. Is there an inevitability to this? No, probably not. Can or should the US play an active role in helping Calderón stabilize the situation? I think we have neough to deal with given the overflow of drug violence on the border.

Its a complicated situation.

I didn't miss the base article, I am just wondering if in the future the central government might end up heavily compromised, there are already enough fractions in the politics of the country, adding another centrally could be disastrous. At the end of the day the solutions do have to come from within the country. Controlling the flow of narcotics and related finances would obviously go a long way to help, and that clearly is a US objective, even if it is applied solely within US territory.

Sorry for the assumption. IMO, the problem is that the Mexican federal government is already compromised.

In your opinion, are the armed forces loyal to any ideology or political grouping or authority which would ensure their reliability in maintaining civil order more or less independently ?

As your question is stated, "No." The key word is "ensure."

Many thanks. If the general population also holds this perception, then much is already lost maybe. Remains to be seen then if a conservative sector of society can whip up enough trust and support to regain control of the country, but without cooperation in large areas, such would be difficult. Some kind of socialist revolution would be the other alternative. Quite possibly Mexico might end up with death squads and extra-judicial asassinations serving those interested in maintaining control, thus bypassing any government corruption, and fighting back on equal terms. Other similar examples exist. Not good.

Renshaw. I am not sure if my views are extreme, or held by others. However, because of the apparent socio-economic issues, coupled with the drug cartel focused violence, a revolution, in my opinion, is not beyond imagination.

Mexico should be moved to the highest priorty list for National Security reasons. The possibility of civil disturbance and unrest generating mass immigration to the US in next five years is high. Basically the Distant Shore Plan and its successor have not been thought through by the Executive Branch. We could have several million walking north just for reasons of food and security over and above the normal legal and illegal immigration load. Special attention to Mexico should be given immediately.