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Friday, May 13, 2011

The Calderon Prophecy

It's uncharacteristically quiet along a Juarez avenue, the silence broken only by the slow beat of a solitary drum. 300 marchers took to the streets in Juarez, hardly a drop in the ocean compared to the city's 1.5 million residents.

It's the latest call to end violence in a city that has seen over 8,000 people killed over the last three years. Mexico is at war, make no mistake about it, the beat goes on without pause or remorse. The procession was led by several protesters carrying banners with the names of all 8,000 victims. Julia Monarrez of The Northern Border College in Juarez explains the significance of the banners: "If their names are not registered, it's like their deaths are not worth crying for and their lives were not worth living" she stated emphatically. 

Can a people stoically resigned to their fate rally for a cause?  Other demonstrations took place across Mexico, the largest gathering converged on the plaza of El Zocalo in Mexico City. There banners decried corruption and the escalating violence, gangs of youths dumped red dye into fountains to symbolize the continued bloodshed. We as Americans have long held onto the notion that a life has less value in Mexico. Given the current circumstance, who's to say that we're wrong, the carnage has reached levels that make it a reasonable assumption.

Calderon's government is engaged in mortal combat with powerful and violent drug trafficking organizations. The President is under mounting pressure to either negotiate with the cartels or to back off his strategy of aggressive engagement, either would be suicidal both for his administration and Mexico as a nation. "It's not an option for the government, nor can it be for anyone in our country, to quit the fight against this criminal and social disease," says Alejandro Poire, the government's spin doctor on these matters. Calderon brought the military into the fray upon taking office in 2006, there are now 50,000 soldiers engaged in the battle. Nobody in Mexico from the Halls of Moctezuma to the shores of Rosarito Beach expects the battle to end before Calderon's term expires in 2012. 

Mexico's defense ministry reported that soldiers have either killed or recovered the bodies of 338 cartel gunmen so far this year, many of the slain sicarios died in gun battles with rival cartel gangs.  This is just in the area along the Texas border in the Mexican states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon. By comparison so far this year, 22 American soldiers have died in Iraq, 165 in Afghanistan. Since 2003, 4770 coalition soldiers have been killed in Iraq, an additional 2446 in Afghanistan. 

Since Calderon took office, a 4.5 year period, 35,000 have died in Mexico as a result of the drug war. Almost 4,000 were gunmen killed in shootouts between various gangs, another 550 died during attacks on authorities (military or police) Compare these numbers to U.S. losses and you can see that the cartels are bleeding themselves to death. This lends credence to the government line that Los Zetas and other cartels are using forced recruitment to replenish their rapidly depleting ranks. 

However, if the army is taking far fewer casualties and yet the cartels still hold their ground, then what does that tell you? It seems that the real war is between the cartels, with the Mexican Army picking and choosing when and whom to engage.  A cynic would say that each Army Commander is either cutting his own deals or involved directly in the drug trafficking.

Los Zetas are locked in a fierce turf battle with the Gulf cartel that has turned much of Tamaulipas state into a virtual war zone. In addition Los Zetas are engaged in a rapidly escalating battle with The Sinaloa cartel in the state of Durango. The discovery of mass graves in San Fernando,Tamaulipas, the same area where 72 immigrants from Central America were found murdered, underscores the area's severe security crisis. Even with thousands of soldiers and marines massed along the border, large swaths of  the region remain under the control of cartel gunmen.  

The deteriorating conditions along the Texas border were brought to light in this country, by the unsolved murder of David Hartley. Falcon Lake, a dammed section of the Rio Grande has become a choice location for smugglers bringing their payloads across the vast sprawling body of water. On Sept 30th. 2010, Hartley and his wife journeyed across the lake  on personal watercraft, they photographed a historic church on the Mexican side of the lake and then headed back to the U.S. side.  

Along their route they were intercepted by  river pirates or cartel gunmen, who shot and killed David Hartley, his wife was able to escape unharmed. Hartley's body has never been found and the investigation was further stymied by the murder of the Tamaulipas state police commander and chief investigator, Rolando Flores. He was murdered while the search for Hartley's body was underway and his decapitated head was delivered to a nearby army base.

Mexican investigators then surmised that Tiffany Hartley, David's wife, had in fact killed him and was now covering up the crime by blaming cartel killers. This story was quickly quashed and discredited by Texas law enforcement officials also investigating the murder. There have been no further leads or breaks in the case since. Falcon Lake was back in the news on Mother's Day, Mexican marines patrolling along the shore stumbled upon a drug gang camp on an island, the ensuing gun battle left 13 suspected Los Zetas gunmen dead along with one marine. A Mexican naval spokesman said that the camp was used as a launching point for speedboats smuggling marijuana into Texas.   

The drummer keeps drumming, only now the beat is accented by sirens and the distinctive rattle of the AK47, as darkness falls not even the drummer has the courage to continue, the city is returned to the men in black.

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