Monday, October 20, 2008

Mexican Defense Department Plans to Expand Anti-drug Operations

The military will carry out joint operations in Chiapas, Oaxaca, Sonora, Tabasco, Coahuila, and Campeche

by Jorge Alejandro Medellin
El Universal
Thursday, October 16, 2008
Translation and notes by Kristin Bricker

Everything is ready for the National Defense Department (Sedena in its Spanish initials) to extend its joint anti-drug operations to Sonora, Coahuila, the Isthmus region[1], and in strategic points in Tabasco and Campeche.

According to the plan, which Sedena passed on to legislators, the operations will cover zones in Oaxaca and Chiapas, where it hopes to halt drug cartels' trafficking of explosives, weapons, and money.

With these operations the Sedena seeks to expand and strengthen the federal government's offensive against organized crime in the north of the country with a force of a couple thousand agents.

With the expansion of the anti-drug strategy, Felipe Calderon's government hopes to strangle about 50% of the cartel's operations in the north of the country and disperse their operative cells[2].

According to sources in the legislative branch, Sedena is fine-tuning the details of the operations and expects to announce them in a few days. In this new stage in the expansion of the scope of operations to combat the drug cartels, the initiative and planning will be the Defense Department's responsibility[3].

With the measure, Sedena will also speed up its timeline for maintaining the 90,000 agents involved in the anti-drug struggle (45,000 every 40 days) in permanent operations, which should conclude in 2012.

At that time, the police forces will have been cleaned up, restructured, re-armed, put under a central command, and with homogenous operational criteria so that the military can retreat from anti-drug combat and return to its barracks.

If the premise and timeline is not met by civilian authorities, the Army will remain in the streets for an undefined period, carrying out the more delicate actions due to a lack of confidence in the Federal Preventive Police (PFP) and the Federal Investigation Agency (AFI), according to high-ranking officials in Sedena.

Second Offensive

In the southeast, the Army, in combination with federal departments, hopes to cut off the entrance of drugs and weapons into the Gulf region.

Now, Sedena is developing five joint operations in different points in the country, mobilizing close to 8,500 agents in conflict areas.

The joint operations in which the Defense Department participates are: Michoacán (December 2006), Guerrero (January 2007), Chihuahua (March 2008), Tijuana (December 2007), Nuevo León-Tamaulipas (February 2007), and Culiacán-Navolato (May 2008).

An average of three thousand agents participate in each operation, including personnel from the Mexican Army. Not withstanding, in the Nuevo León-Tamaulipas Joint Operation it was necessary to deploy ten thousand due to the reaction of the Gulf Cartel and the groups that support it.

[1] This refers to the Isthmus of Tehuantepec, the narrowest point in Mexico between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans or, more precisely, between the Gulf of Tehuantepec and the Gulf of Mexico. It includes parts of Oaxaca, Veracruz, Tabasco, and Chiapas. The Isthmus region has one of the highest concentrations of indigenous peoples in the country.
[2]The dispersion of drug cartels' operations is widely considered to be one of the biggest failures of Calderon's predecessor, Vicente Fox. As part of "Mexico Seguro" (Safe Mexico), in 2005 Fox deployed federal soldiers to three states in an attempt to crack down on the drug trade. The operation sparked a sharp increase in violence. Drug cartels took advantage of the government's desperate mobilization and redeployed to various parts of the country where they carried out hits on rival cartels.
As in the case of Plan Colombia, dispersion of drug cartel activities is a sign of the drug trade's evolution and adaptation to law enforcement tactics. It is not a benchmark for victory.
Calderon's goal of dispersing cartel operations is an obvious attempt to anticipate the results of his anti-drug strategy and define them as victories even when they are not. One example of this drug war doublespeak is Calderon and Bush's claim that the exponential increase in drug-related violence and homicides since Calderon deployed over 45,000 federal agents in the war on drugs is a sign that the drug cartels are weakening.
[3] This has been Sedena's responsibility since Calderon took office almost two years ago. Previously, these operations were primarily the responsibility of the police (SSP in its Spanish initials) and the Attorney General's office (PGR in its Spanish initials). Calderon's Security Cabinet is comprised of Sedena, the PGR, and the SSP. The cabinet has been plagued with disagreement over how to handle the war on drugs since Calderon deployed the military in the war on drugs. Rather than being a drastic shift in Mexico's drug war strategy, Sedena's increasing responsibility in and control over the war on drugs should be seen as a further concentration of military control over civil affairs.

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