Pubdate: Mon, 26 Jan 2009
Source: Wall Street Journal (US)
Copyright: 2009 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Author: Mary Anastasia O'Grady
Bookmark: (Methamphetamine)
Bookmark: (Cocaine)
Bookmark: (Heroin)
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Mexico)


Law Enforcement South Of The Border Is Badly Outgunned.

A murder in the Mexican state of Chihuahua last week horrified even
hardened crime stoppers. Police Commander Martin Castro's head was severed
and left in an ice cooler in front of the police station in the town of
Praxedis with a calling card from the Sinoloa drug cartel.

According to Mexico's attorney general, 6,616 people died in
drug-trafficking violence in Mexico last year. A high percentage of those
killed were themselves criminals, but many law enforcement agents battling
organized crime were also murdered. The carnage continues. For the first
22 days of this year the body count is 354.

President Felipe Calderon began an assault on organized crime shortly
after he took office in December 2006. It soon became apparent that the
cartels would stop at nothing to preserve their operations, and that a
state commitment to confrontation meant that violence would escalate.

As bad as the violence is, it could get worse, and it is becoming clear
that the U.S. faces contagion. In recent months, several important
American voices have raised concerns about the risks north of the border.
This means there is hope that the U.S. may begin to recognize the
connection between American demand for prohibited substances and the
rising instability in Mexico.

The brutality of the traffickers is imponderable for most Americans.
Commander Castro was not the first Mexican to be beheaded. It is an
increasingly popular terror tactic. Last month, eight soldiers and a state
police chief were found decapitated in the state of Guerrero.

There is also plenty of old-fashioned mob violence. As Agence France
Presse reported on Jan. 19 from Chihuahua, 16 others -- besides Commander
Castro -- died in suspected drug-related violence across the state the
same night. Six bodies were found, with bullet wounds and evidence of
torture, in the state capital. Five of the dead were police officers. On
the same day, Reuters reported that Mexican vigilante groups appear to be
striking back at the cartels.

Tally all this up and what you get is Mexico on the edge of chaos, and a
mess that could easily bleed across the border. The U.S. Joint Forces
Command in Norfolk, Va., warned recently that an unstable Mexico "could
represent a homeland security problem of immense proportions to the United
States." In a report titled "Joint Operating Environment 2008," the
Command singles out Mexico and Pakistan as potentially failing states.
Both "bear consideration for a rapid and sudden collapse . . . . The
Mexican possibility may seem less likely, but the government, its
politicians, police, and judicial infrastructure are all under sustained
assault and pressure by criminal gangs and drug cartels."

The National Drug Threat Assessment for 2009 says that Mexican
drug-trafficking organizations now "control most of the U.S. drug market,"
with distribution capabilities in 230 U.S. cities. The cartels also
"maintain cross border communication centers" that use "voice over
Internet Protocol, satellite technology (broadband satellite instant
messaging), encrypted messaging, cell phone technology, two-way radios,
scanner devices, and text messaging, to communicate with members" and even
"high-frequency radios with encryption and rolling codes to communicate
during cross-border operations."

A report by retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the former drug czar, makes
similar observations. "The malignancy of drug criminality," he writes,
"stretches throughout the U.S. in more than 295 cities." Gen. McCaffrey
visited Mexico in December.

Here is how he sees the fight: "The outgunned Mexican law enforcement
authorities face armed criminal attacks from platoon-sized units employing
night vision goggles, electronic intercept collection, encrypted
communications, fairly sophisticated information operations, sea-going
submersibles, helicopters and modern transport aviation, automatic
weapons, RPG's, Anti-Tank 66 mm rockets, mines and booby traps, heavy
machine guns, 50 cal sniper rifles, massive use of military hand grenades,
and the most modern models of 40mm grenade machine guns."

How is it that these gangsters are so powerful? Easy. As Gen. McCaffrey
notes, Mexico produces an estimated eight metric tons of heroin a year and
10,000 metric tons of marijuana. He also points out that "90% of all U.S.
cocaine transits Mexico" and Mexico is "the dominant source of
methamphetamine production for the U.S." The drug cartels earn more than
$25 billion a year and "repatriate more than $10 billion a year in bulk
cash into Mexico from the U.S."

To put it another way, if Mexico is at risk of becoming a failed state,
look no further than the large price premium the cartels get for peddling
prohibited substances to Americans.
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MAP posted-by: Doug