Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

MEXICO: More Soldiers in the Streets, More Violence

Emilio Godoy

MEXICO CITY, Jun 25 2010 (IPS) - The Mexican army’s participation in the counternarcotics war led by the government of conservative President Felipe Calderón has triggered a jump in violence in the areas where the troops are on the ground, according to an analysis by a U.S. statistics expert.

In the study “Statistical Analysis and Visualisation of the Drug War in Mexico,” published this month on his blog, Diego Valle analyses the homicide rates in some Mexican states and links them to the military operations against the Mexican drug cartels.

“When Calderón decided to send the army across the entire country, it destabilised the balance of power among the cartels. Some were weaker and the Sinaloa cartel played its cards very well,” Valle, an information systems and database analysis expert, told IPS.

After taking office in December 2006, President Calderón, of the right-wing National Action Party (PAN), ordered the deployment of thousands of soldiers and police to the regions hardest hit by the actions of drug-trafficking groups.

The first phase of this campaign was in the southwestern state of Michoacán, Calderón’s birthplace, where he sent 4,500 troops. Several criminal groups have been fighting over that territory because it serves as an important drug route to the U.S. border.

“The violence depends on other factors, such as readjustments in the power of the criminal organisations. It hasn’t been generated by the participation of the armed forces in the fight against crime,” said Mario Cruz, expert from the public Autonomous National University of Mexico (UNAM).

Initially, the war on drugs was successful: the national homicide rate for 2007 saw a decline, and the rate in Michoacán state dropped 40 percent compared to the previous year, according to Valle, who made his calculations using government data.

A total of about 95,000 soldiers have been deployed, extending to other Mexican states. Since 2006, drug-related murders have surpassed 22,000, according to official figures. Of that sum, legal authorities have investigated more than 1,000.

More than 120,000 people have been arrested for their alleged ties to organised crime. Less than 10 percent of that total is believed to belong to the Sinaloa cartel, commanded by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, whose fortune reaches one billion dollars, according to the U.S. financial magazine Forbes.

The Federal Preventive Police have refused to reveal the number of civilians without ties to the drug trade have been killed in the clashes.

“Before the government began its anti-drug war, each cartel had its own protection networks and lived in peace with their rivals and with the government,” commented Valle.

“They knew that if they started an open war against another cartel, they had a lot to lose. They were equally powerful, or at least powerful enough to defend their territories. So they did not have many incentives to go to war amongst themselves,” he said.

The first joint military operations in 2006 and 2007 reduced the murder rates in Michoacán and the southern state of Guerrero, but the northern states of Chihuahua, Nuevo León and Durango, and southeastern Veracruz saw increases in homicides and attacks from the Sinaloa cartel in their bids to take over the drug-trafficking routes of rival groups.

Since 2006 the alliances amongst the drug cartels have been short-lived, which means those who were partners yesterday do not know if they will be rivals tomorrow.

“It is not ideal for the armed forces to attack this problem, but because there is no other institution to take it on, this was the option chosen. The policing entities are poorly trained, or have not been set up to fight the corruption of organised crime,” said UNAM expert Cruz.

The Mexican government lays the blame for the current levels of violence on the battle to control the routes for transporting and distributing the illicit drugs — primarily cocaine, marijuana, heroin and methamphetamine — to the lucrative U.S. market of drug users.

But Durango, the northwestern state of Sonora and Veracruz did not need military intervention, according to the statistical comparison.

“The expansion of military operations beyond Michoacán and Guerrero was unnecessary. Given the resulting increases in violence it is doubtful that involving the army was the appropriate solution,” said Valle.

Mexican and international human rights defence organisations have criticised the military action, arguing that the troops are not trained to fight drug trafficking. For example, under army presence, the homicide rate in the northern border city of Ciudad Juárez increased 400 percent from 2007 to 2008, while the national increase was 65 percent, with the highest incidence in areas where the drug cartels were fighting each other for control.

In Ciudad Juárez, 1,600 people were murdered in 2008, 2,781 in 2009, and the prediction for 2010 is about the same.

The most violent Mexican municipality in the period 1990-2008 was Badiraguato, in Sinaloa state, birthplace of some of the leading drug traffickers, according to the analysis of the U.S. expert.

Mexico has become the sixth leading country in the world for murders, with 18,900 in 2009, according to the private firm Grupo Multisistemas de Seguridad Industrial. Chihuahua and Sinaloa were the top states contributing to that sum.

According to the government, the Sinaloa cartel is very powerful because of its vast wealth, its ability to intimidate, its great firepower and its tight organisational structure.

“There will not be a quick end to the war of the cartels. Clearly there won’t be peace until a new balance is reached amongst the cartels or until Sinaloa becomes the only one operating in Mexico,” concluded Valle.

Cruz, meanwhile, believes that none of the cartels has the capacity “to dictate the rules” and that they will continue operating as they have for the past several years.

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