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Post Inauguration Threats (v2) - Asymmetric Convergence in Mexico

What we now face in Mexico (clearly one of the most unstable countries in the World today) is a convergence of asymmetric threats. The threats posed by the instability in Mexico are many. It is not only the flow of drugs to the U.S. It is not only the violence related to the cartel turf battles. And frankly, it is not only the inability of the Calderón government to exert any real control over the violence or stem the flow of illegal narcotics across the U.S. border that is troubling. What this means is a combined and ever blending threat and overlay of:

● Mexico's inability to quell the drug violence on its side of the border

● the parallel spill over of that violence to U.S. border cities

● the constant, but often unreported incursions of Mexican military and civilians into U.S. sovereign territory

● the very clear lack of a cohesive and viable border security plan from the U.S. government

● the inability of the U.S. to control illegal immigration across the Mexican border and the apparent forgetfulness that a portion of the illegal crossings are those of people described as "OTM" (other than Mexican)

● the dramatic and widening spread of the upper and lower classes in Mexico

● the deepening unrest in places like Matamoros and Chiapas

● and finally, the reality that beyond Mexico's southern border lies greater danger and Islamic terrorist training camps.

So, this is not a simple matter of adding Border Patrol agents (this was discussed in one of my earlier posts, Meeting a Security Milestone - So?. By the end of 2008, the Border Patrol had increased its forces by 18,000, raising the number to over 800 on the Texas border. Nor is it a question of whether the Merida Initiative will provide functional benefit in the counter-drug efforts. But both questions need to be examined under the broader scope of National attention to the serious convergence of asymmetric threats on the other side of the U.S.-Mexican border.

I repeat one of the statements that I wrote in a recent post :

"...perhaps a 21st Century, North American version of the domino theory in raising the point that instability in Mexico might also lead to unrest in neighboring Guatemala and Honduras, as well as the potential for opening a door for either or both of Venezuela and Nicaragua to step in (with neither of these countries being friendly with the U.S., and both being connected with Iran and Russia to name just two)."

Since the mid-90's, the recognition of the illegal narcotics activities was seen as a threat to U.S. citizens from both public health and security perspectives. This is when I first became involved in the counter-drug technology area and began attending Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) and Counter-drug Technology Assessment Center (CTAC) conferences. Even back then, the tunnels of El Paso and other pathways from Mexico to the United States were being discussed as serious threat issues.

That it has taken the very visible and publicized drug cartel violence in Mexico to bring attention to this threat is unfortunate. Why unfortunate? The answer could lie in the lack of strong policies toward border security and control of illegal narcotics into this country. Those people who choose to blame the Cartel activities on Americans' proclivity to use illegal narcotics, and even more so, the attitude that the firepower of the Cartels is being exported to Mexico from the U.S. notwithstanding, the explosion of violence South of the border is no surprise. As we have looked the other way, Mexico has continued to show its inability to solve the social and economic problems that plague its people. And this situation is not one of the last five years, or ten years. Mexico's very nature is based on a culture of revolution and unrest.

In fact, it was my writing of the growing violence in Nuevo Laredo nearly three years ago that originally brought me to ThreatsWatch. Thus, it is no revelation that the Mexican government has no control over its border states and no real control over Mexican military and civilian incursions across the border, often claimed to be innocent mistakes. It is also no surprise that the Cartels have coerced Mexicans living on the border to act as human shields for their battles against the Calderón government.

But it can be argued that the problem with Mexico is that it has been allowed to devolve over time, probably the last 30 years or so since my first wife and I started to go to Mexico for vacations. It was during the presidency of President Luis Echeverría Álvarez that I have my first memories of Mexican unrest. One striking image is from a trip to the then very unknown spot of Puerto Vallerta on Mexico's mid-west coast in 1973, I believe. It was at that time, when the population in Chiapas first began to express it displeasure with the central government's treatment of the indigenous Indians. That lasting image was one of two armed guards, Mexican military, dressed in black and carrying the 1970's equivalent of automatic weapons patrolling the beach in the early morning hours. Looking back, they were there, probably completing their overnight patrols to protect the vacationers in the sparsely distributed hotels along that beach.

As I remember the history of the times, the economic recession of the early 1970's spurred a series of events including the rise of a a student movement, strikes, and demonstrations. There has always been an undercurrent of conflict between the European Mexican and the indigenous, Mexican Indian population. The questions of wages, working conditions and rights of the indigenous people has a long history in Mexico.

This is not a new development, but many are only now seeing the unraveling of Mexico as a security threat to the US. It arose again in 1994 when the Chiapas rebellion flared and truly took hold when the Zapatistas exerted their influence.

It must be remembered that revolution is the touchstone of Mexican politics. The Zapatista uprising coincided with the signing of the NAFTA agreement at the beginning of 1994. Mexico sought to convince the U.S. and other nations that it was no longer a country of widely disparate economics and classes. This was further complicated by the Mexican government's and its military shunning aid from the United States, thereby maintaining a degree of independence from U.S. influence. This independence remains today. It is possible that this lack of transparency led to the spinning out of the Zeta paramilitary group that now terrorizes and tortures civilians as well as their adversaries in the other cartels.

In Mexico - Beyond Illegal Immigration and Narcotics, I referenced an article in the Economist. Its first paragraph warrants a repeating here as part of the fundamental analysis of the overarching problems confronting Mexico.

It is not a place where misery reveals itself immediately. Fields climb over mountains, green as Ireland. A smattering of attractive hotels cater to tourists visiting the local waterfalls. Bells ring out from the two churches that dominate opposite ends of Cuetzalán, a small town in the northern mountains of the state of Puebla. But the appearance of a pastoral idyll conceals a poverty trap.

President Obama faces a threat more far reaching south of the border than continuing efforts like the Merida Initiative to try to help Felipe Calderón fight the cartels and stem the flow of drugs to the American end-user. This is Think Tank 2.0. That means thinking out of the box, and going beyond the analysis of a complex problem by looking at a single issue. The time for out of the box thinking is now, not later. And while missions to Afghanistan and Iraq are necessary for the new Administration and its Cabinet to do, the real question is whether the Administration sees what is obvious to some people. It is time for the "Administration of change" to actually change our policies and look closer to home when it comes to National Security issues.

I close with a quote from Doug Farah's recent post:

"My point is that the cross-pollination among terrorist groups, secular and religious, has greatly accelerated and now any group will deal with almost any other group in the mix if the situation is mutually advantageous to do so. We can no longer compartmentalize among them and pretend they don't deal with each other. They do, and often it does not have to be face to face at all. Chat rooms, electronic bulletin boards and virtual classrooms make that unnecessary. The Tigers, FARC and others are far ahead in information sharing than the law enforcement and intelligence community is."

The real question is whether the same skills required to analyze and predict the evolution of conflict in Mexico, a very complex society is at all related to the Middle East.

Other referenced articles from ThreatsWatch:
Mexican President: Gov't Does Not Control Areas on US Border

Mexico - Failed State/Failed Policies?

3 Comments

Excellent point that "this is not a simple matter of adding Border Patrol agents."

I have used the absence of a Border Patrol agent increase within context of the stimulus package to show that it is, instead, indicative of DC awareness and/or commitment to the emerging threat. Not 'the' answer, but can be seen as an indication.

Another good post. Thanks for your attention to this, Jay.

I lived and worked out of El Paso, TX for 9 years, back in the 1980's and I saw things changing before our very eyes then.

The situation that we are faced with now is one that will tear this nation apart, Mexico is in tatters, and as bad as our own economy is, we are infinitely better off than the average Mexican.

Once the REAL shooting war starts in Mexico, and it will, we're going to be inundated with even more immigrants, not to mention the ones that are already here, and the hard core gangsters that are already in place, MS-13, and a point to ponder, those that are in our own military, at this very moment, that have direct ties to Hispanic gangs. Persons that are using our military as a training ground for their troops, and also as an accurate gauge of our ability to actually defend our southern border.

This afternoon I heard that the Sheriff in Hidalgo County just announced that the cartels are the greatest terrorist threat we face (he's sitting there across from Reynosa). Then, Cong. Cuellar, whose district goes from San Antonio down to Laredo has now pledged that they want to help train and reinforce the Mexican police (the last time we did anything silly like that, we ended up with the Zetas).

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