The drug war in Mexico - TIME Magazine
Fri Aug 17, 2007 15:10

-------- Original Message --------
Subject: The drug war in Mexico - TIME Magazine
Date: Fri, 17 Aug 2007 15:48:36 +0000

The War Next Door 

Thursday, Aug. 16, 2007


Marcelo Garza Y Garza didn't want a lot of security around when he went out with
his family one night last fall. Like most residents of Monterrey--a modern,
U.S.-friendly metropolis in northern Mexico--Garza believed his city was still
one of the safest in the country. But Garza was the top criminal investigator
for the border state Nuevo León. That made him a marked man not just to the drug
lords who had moved into Monterrey's posh suburbs but also to certain members of
the local security services who, police say, have been recruited as hit men for
drug cartels, earning as much as $15,000 for each kill.

Garza went to a children's art exhibit that night at a church in San Pedro, a
wealthy suburb of Monterrey. As he stepped out for a moment with his daughter to
take a cell-phone call, a gunman shot him repeatedly in the head with a
semiautomatic pistol. A witness testified that the triggerman was
left-handed--leading investigators to suspect Israel Ibarra, a rogue member of
the suburb's élite SWAT unit, police sources say. But before police could arrest
Ibarra, he was eliminated by another narco gunman. Like most of the more than
100 other drug-related killings that have occurred in or near Monterrey since
Garza's death, the case remains unsolved.

This year Mexico as a whole has logged more than 1,300 drug-related murders,
well on pace to eclipse the 2,000 of 2006. The atrocities would seem more
familiar south of Baghdad than south of the border: mass executions, contract
shootings carried out at funerals and ghastly videotaped beheadings posted on
the Internet while victims' heads are tossed into the streets. Mexicans have
long held the view that drug traffickers kill only one another, but the latest
surge in violence is claiming a broader range of victims, including police,
businesspeople, journalists and politicians. "Now people realize these animals
finish off innocent lives as well as one another," says Fernando Margáin, San
Pedro's mayor.

The security meltdown has sparked concern in Washington. Mexico's $25 billion-
a-year drug-trafficking industry moves at least 75% of the Colombian cocaine
that enters the U.S. Law-enforcement officials fear drug violence is spilling
into the U.S. and sending more Mexicans across the border illegally. "Whenever
something impacts the border as dangerously as this does," says a high-ranking
U.S. law-enforcement official, "Americans need to consider it a
national-security issue." Mexican President Felipe Calderón, who has pledged to
"give no quarter" to the cartels, has deployed 25,000 army troops to battle
them--but to limited effect. The narcos aren't shy about attacking military
barracks, and Mexican soldiers, who have a long history of human-rights abuses,
are often mistrusted by locals. Officials in both countries expect that when
President George W. Bush meets with Calderón in Quebec on Aug. 20-21, the
leaders will unveil an antidrug aid package for Mexico totaling at least $500
million, including advanced crime-fighting technologies and Black Hawk

Why is Mexico's drug war worsening? Democracy may be one culprit. As countries
like Russia know, democratic transitions often create power vacuums that benefit
organized crime. Under the authoritarian Institutional Revolutionary Party
(PRI), the drug cartels were tolerated but regulated by party bosses. After the
PRI's 71-year rule ended in 2000, the government took steps to dismantle the
cartels, only to watch them atomize into smaller but more sinister gangs. The
most vicious is the Zetas, a 2,000-member army led by ex-commandos hired by the
border-based Gulf Cartel because of their military skills. The Zetas recently
recruited ex-members of an infamous Guatemalan-army commando unit, the Kaibiles,
which is believed to be responsible for the growing use of beheading as a
terrorizing tactic. "That militarization of Mexican drug trafficking was a
watershed," says Sergio Aguayo, a public-security expert at the Colegio de
Mexico in Mexico City. "It raised the violence far beyond what
anyone ever imagined."

Nowhere is the drug war's resurgence more stunning than in Monterrey, a city of
3 million where 1,200 U.S. businesses have major operations. As recently as
2005, the global consulting firm Mercer ranked it Latin America's second safest
city (behind San Juan, Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory). But then the Zetas
arrived. They terrorized the border by day and retired by night to garish
mansions in Monterrey and suburbs like San Pedro, not far from the city's
business nobility. "No one wanted to admit that we'd become a dormitory for drug
lords," says Monterrey publisher Ramón Alberto Garza, head of the online
newsmagazine Reporte Indigo.

Even in affluent places like San Pedro, where police salaries are double those
of most local and state cops in the rest of Mexico, drug kingpins can be
attractive employers. Some San Pedro officers have been spotted moonlighting as
security guards at Zetas' homes, police sources say. A rival cartel, the Sinaloa
mafia, has countered by recruiting members of San Pedro's SWAT unit. More than
200 police officers in Monterrey and Nuevo León have been either arrested or
investigated for involvement in organized crime this year. "We never imagined
the penetration of drug trafficking in our society was this vast," says San
Pedro's Margáin.

Calderón insists that the U.S.'s voracious demand for drugs--as well as the
deluge of U.S. guns being smuggled into Mexico--is the key factor driving the
drug war. But inside Mexico, security experts say the only long-term solution is
to clean up the police culture. This month Public Security Secretary Genaro
García Luna, who recently replaced 284 federal police commanders, ordered
federal and state officers to undergo training courses with U.S., Canadian and
European experts. Many cities and states have announced pay raises of as much as
40% to dissuade cops from joining the narcos. In San Pedro, Margáin has created
trusts to finance better housing and benefits for police, and he'll spend
$500,000 this year to give them heavier weapons, like AR-15 automatic rifles.
"Mexico has no choice," he says, "but to start treating police with more human

But until then, the daily lives of many Mexicans will remain laden with fear. On
a recent Friday night, scores of regiomontanos, as Monterrey residents are
known, crowded into the upscale bistros and cafés of San Pedro. Then the rumors
began circulating on cell phones and BlackBerrys: gunfights had broken out again
in local restaurants and nightclubs. Almost immediately the cafés emptied, and
the streets were clogged with frantic regiomontanos racing in their Lexuses and
BMWs to save their kids from the cross fire.

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