Border report: No 'spillover' violence from Mexican drug-cartel wars
By Diana Washington Valdez \ El Paso Times
Posted: 04/20/2012 12:00:00 AM MDT
The Mexican drug-cartel wars that fueled soaring homicide rates south of the border have not led to significant "spillover" violence on the U.S. side of the border, according to a new national report released Thursday.
The report, "Beyond the Border Buildup," was produced by the Washington Office on Latin America, a think tank that advises U.S. policymakers, and Mexico's Colegio de la Frontera Norte, a prominent research college with branches in Tijuana and Juárez.
"While Mexico has suffered over 50,000 organized-crime- related murders since 2007, this violence is not spilling over the border," said the report based on a yearlong investigation on both sides of the border.
However, cartel-related kidnappings did take place in the United States, although less is known about them because victims fearing reprisals are reluctant to report them.
"Beyond homicide, Mexican organized crime groups do hold kidnapped migrants and smuggled drugs in safe houses throughout the border region," the report said. It added that statistics show the abductions appear to be on the decline.
The FBI's Southwestern offices identified 62 cartel-related kidnapping cases on U.S. soil that involved cartels or undocumented immigrants in 2009.
The count fell to 25 in 2010 and 10 as of July 2011, according to the report.
The 83-page report also said that despite record investment by the U.S. government in border security, U.S. law enforcement agencies lack a coordinated border security plan, and drugs continue to flow into the United States through understaffed international bridges.
Last week, Mexican presidential candidate Enrique Peña Nieto told the Reuters news service that if elected he would work to create a 40,000-strong paramilitary force with police powers, or gendarmerie, to battle cartels. He also said his priority is to curtail the violence.
George Grayson, author of several books on Mexican drug organizations, said Peña Nieto's proposal would require broad political support that he's not sure exists in Mexico right now.
"Politicians don't want a strong police force in Mexico," Grayson said. "Half the governors are probably linked to the cartels or turn a blind to them."
He said the dynamics in the drug-cartel wars change rapidly, and they will change again before a new president is elected.
For example, he said, reports that Joa quin "Cha po" Guzman has issued a challenge to Los Zetas could, if true, result in more violence. Los Zetas operate along the eastern coast of Mexico, up to South Texas. Guzman's cartel operates in Central and Western Mexico.
Last month, forces claiming to represent Guzman killed and dismembered alleged Zetas and wrote a message on a "narco banner" aimed at the Zetas.
"Things could get thicker and more toxic," said Grayson, a professor at William & Mary College who has a book on the Zetas coming out soon.
Guzman is still fighting the Carrillo Fuentes drug cartel in the state of Chihuahua, a conflict that has killed more than 9,400 people in Juárez. Rumors of a cease-fire have surfaced at times, but the killings continue.
El Paso lawyer Carlos Spector, who has represented U.S. asylum petitions by Mexican citizens, views the paramilitary proposal as bad for Mexico.
"The only thing that differentiated Mexico from Colombia in the drug-trade issue was the creation of a paramilitary force," Spector said. "This is the worst thing that Mexico could do. It would perpetuate the violence and abuses with less accountability.
"This would be like setting loose a military on steroids, and like in Colombia, I fear that the right-wing elements would take advantage of a paramilitary."
Robert Bunker, a national security expert in California, said he supports Peña Nieto's paramilitary proposal, assuming it's carried out correctly.
"Such a paramilitary force would have to be national in scope and utilize both top-down (centralized) and bottom-up (networked) organizational attributes," Bunker said.
"Further, such a force would need to draw upon both military and policing capabilities. For example, it would have to be able to utilize both military and criminal intelligence protocols.
"This would allow it to effectively operate in the 'blurring of crime and war operational environment' in which the criminal insurgencies are taking place in Mexico," said Bunker.
He added that the drug-cartel landscape may be narrowing. "In Mexico, I think we are seeing both increasing centralization and decentralization of the narco wars," he said. "We appear to now have a two-cartel conflict between the Zetas and Sinaloa alliances, while at the same time numerous baby cartels, or cartel factions, have also emerged.
"The old landscape of half a dozen or so middle-size cartels based on the 'plaza' system, which dates back to the late 1980s, is no more."
According to the "Border Buildup" report, "The threat of the horrors in Mexico reaching U.S. soil is a regular theme of speeches and declarations from legislators, governor and state officials in Texas and Arizona, local political and law-enforcement leaders from counties near -- but not on -- the U.S.-Mexico border, and some ranches in remote border zones."
But statistics show that crime along the U.S. border generally is lower than statewide averages.
"The four (U.S.) border states themselves are becoming rapidly safer. (FBI) statistics show all violent crime dropping by 11 percent, and homicides dropping by 19 percent, between 2005 and 2010 in Arizona, California, New Mexico and Texas," the report said.
The report said U.S. sources speculate that drug cartels follow an unwritten understanding to keep wholesale violence from crossing the border.
Otherwise, they are likely to be repelled by U.S. federal and local law enforcement, and by the U.S. military, which has already deployed resources to help in counternarcotics missions.
Diana Washington Valdez may be reached at dvaldez@...
; 546-6140; follow on twitter @ eptimesdiana