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Column 010807 Wall

Monday, January 8, 2007


Calderon, Mexico’s Drug War Commander in Chief

By Allan Wall


In his first month in office, Mexican President Felipe Calderon hit the ground running in his war on drugs.  As Commander in Chief of the Mexican military, Calderon first sent the military, along with federal police from both the PFP (Preventative Federal Police) and the AFI (Federal Investigation Agency), into cartel-infested Michoacan.


Now Calderon has launched a new operation in violent Tijuana on the U.S. border, a major thoroughfare for drug smuggling.  The office of the PGR (Mexican Attorney General) has just released a report showing the extent to which Tijuana and Mexicali have been penetrated by narcos that points out the importance of combating this problem. And the United States has just offered to sell Mexico military hardware including ships, vehicles, weapons, ammunition, uniforms, transports, aircraft, electronic equipment, and office equipment at a 10 to 50 percent discount to confront terrorism and the drug war. (After all, in Mexico the drug traffickers are terrorists.)


To close out the Michoacan operation, Calderon visited the state on January 3rd.  Speaking at a military base in Apatzingan while partially clad in military attire, he said, “I reiterate that this is not an easy task nor will it be quick, but it will take much time. It will imply enormous resources of Mexicans, including the lamentable loss of human lives. This is a job which may not bear fruit rapidly, but it is indispensable to assure the future of Mexico.”


Calderon laid out an ambitious goal: “We are determined to recover the security, not only of Michoacan or Baja California, but of every region of Mexico that is threatened by organized crime.”


In Apatzingan, Michoacan Governor Lazaro Cardenas Batel, a member of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), accompanied Calderon.  This is an example of the good working relationships Calderon has with PRD governors who, despite the intransigence of losing candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador and the party leadership, have recognized Calderon’s presidency and are cooperating with him.  In fact, in Apatzingan Cardenas Batel emphasized the importance of cooperation between the various levels of government, regardless of political party.


Just how successful was the recent operation in Michoacan?


The security forces destroyed 5,023 marijuana plots, confiscated 629 kilograms of marijuana, 151 kilograms of marijuana seed, and 4 kilograms of poppy seed.  They confiscated 127 arms, 32,800 cartridges, 41 grenades, 35 vehicles, $19,341 pesos and US$2,321.  Security forces detained 80 persons.


Drug executions in Michoacan decreased when the operation began, but now they have started to increase again. Drug cartels have a Medusa-like ability to recover from attacks against them.


There is no doubt that Calderon is presenting a tough image, emphasizing his role as Commander in Chief in the Mexican war on drugs.  When he visited Apatzingan, Calderon wore a Mexican army fatigue jacket of the style worn by high-ranking officers in the Mexican Army. He also wore an army cap, emblazoned with five stars and the Mexican eagle.


To don an army uniform, even partially as Calderon did, is rare for recent Mexican presidents.  Certainly, the post-Revolution generation of presidents included generals such as Alvaro Obregon and Lazaro Cardenas, who frequently donned a military uniform.


But in recent years it has been rare. Jose Lopez Portillo (1976-1982) once wore a full uniform, including helmet, at a ceremony. Vicente Fox (2000-2006) only utilized military attire twice in his presidency.


Calderon is sending signals of solidarity with the military and determination to wage war on the cartels.


Besides the military attire, Calderon frequently utilizes a vehicle with the Mexican national eagle and five stars.


The significance of the five stars (on the vehicle and his cap in Michoacan) is obvious because nobody else utilizes five stars. The Mexican secretary of defense uses four stars, and the highest regular ranking generals (general of division) use three stars.


Calderon’s use of five stars is a way of saying “I’m Commander in Chief and am serious about the war on drug cartels.”


Symbols are important, and military and security actions have their place. But much more must be done to combat the scourge of Mexican cartels.  Legal actions must also include actions against money laundering and corrupt officials.


On the market side, the high demand for drugs in the United States is financing the cartels, and that part is out of Calderon’s control.


Still, I can’t help but give Calderon high marks for getting off to a strong start — whereas he certainly has his work cut out for him.



Allan Wall, a MexiData.info columnist, recently returned from a tour of duty in Iraq.  He currently resides in Mexico, where he has lived since 1991. He can be reached via e-mail at allan39@prodigy.net.mx.

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