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Column 011816 Brewer

Monday, January 18, 2016

Sine qua non, Mexico must restructure its Security Intentions

By Jerry Brewer

Early into his presidency, Mexico's Enrique Peña Nieto pledged an earnest attempt to battle traditional street crime and violence, in lieu of countering narcotics and transnational organized criminal strategies.

His initial thoughts were to reject former President Felipe Calderon's "kingpin" strategies, as well as what could be perceived as the U.S. and Mexico's "war on drugs."

What went wrong with that formula, if anything?

Perhaps his biggest failure was to not simply utilize a sensible set of priorities in defining the problem and the enemy, which is clearly a criminal insurgency.  To engage strategically required a flexible framework of fundamental and expanded law enforcement interdiction activities. And interdiction initiatives need to be fluid, balanced, and coordinated to achieve effective containment and necessary efficiency.

What has resulted is a predicted and expected head-on battle against the drug trade and its transnational organized networks that are supplying a voracious U.S. illicit drug habit estimated at US$80 billion.

In that regard, Mexico's military and law enforcement entities have been successful in taking down many at the top levels in the drug cartel hierarchies. In contrast, when not engaging in pursuing kingpins and the drugs themselves, they were often forced to relocate across the country to respond to other critical areas of violence, shootings, and death due to acts of crime.

President Peña Nieto was correct in believing that it was critical to reduce the overall level of violence in the country. Plus, he soon learned that drug interdiction and the basic principles of policing a homeland require delicately balanced and shared law enforcement objectives.

Mexico’s relatively new Gendarmerie was originally set to focus on rural, industrial, and business crime that extended throughout the country and was “strangling commerce in many regions” with extortion, kidnapping, and thefts. The current 5,000 allocated manpower has also been reported being sent from one corner of Mexico to the other under emergency deployments in spikes of violence. 

Another of Mexico’s critical dilemmas is its southern border of 514 miles with Guatemala. The constant deteriorating factors of death and violence in the northern triangle of Central American nations is a serious threat to Mexico and all points north.

The breakdown and situation regarding a truce between the area's two largest and rival street gangs (MS 13 and Barrio 18), most specifically in El Salvador, have been described as “reaching levels not seen since the civil war.”  El Salvador is currently known as the hemisphere’s murder capital.

The government of El Salvador has also been ineffective, and unable to formulate a functional security plan. MS 13 is a transnational organized crime organization that is clearly sophisticated with heavily armed capabilities.

Criminal insurgents in Mexico and along its southern border have become uncommonly adaptive in their skills of killing, corrupting, and engaging police and the military head-on with equal-to-superior armaments. Beyond drug trafficking, they also excel in oil theft, “wildcat iron mining,” extortion, rackets, and other acts of violence.

An alarming aspect of their modus operandi is the entry into local politics, and their involvement in the election process. Nearly100 mayors have been murdered in Mexico in the last decade. As well, much of the media is regularly threatened in a nation “where rising violence against journalists impedes rigorous investigative reporting.

A curious aspect of U.S. government assistance to Mexico and many Central American nations, in police training, may relate to cultural dissimilarities.

Many U.S. law enforcement policing concepts and programs being introduced in those nations, albeit being successful in numerous cities of the U.S. (and many not so), due to cultural differences, claims of racial profiling, tension within those areas, and other claims of anxiety and tension because of police presence, may not be timely for those nations south of the U.S. border.

Populations within those war-like regions are more likely to be secured with strategic counterinsurgency operations to neutralize heavily armed criminals, as well as give local governments a starting chance at legitimacy. 

Many Central American cities and states suffering heavy violence and criminal controls may not be ready to achieve safe streets at this time, and they might not benefit immediately from the philosophy of community oriented policing, problem oriented policing, and related community-based programs.

And of course there is the history of many of those areas that have never felt safe with local police, and have seen routine corruption at the highest levels as part of their day to day process. Systematic use of partnerships and problem solving techniques of some of the initiatives do not match reality when the community is under threat by those with automatic weapons and grenades, and/or roving bands of thugs that the local police fear or are on their payrolls.

Mexico’s challenges require effective regional saturation policing infrastructures within their homeland. Not necessarily more police, but the importance of how those police perform through training and mandate. The military will not be able to serve the law enforcement and investigative role of police. There must be a transformation from national security to a proactive law enforcement role with effective oversight to gain a homeland’s trust and community engagement to achieve results.

Mexico’s current cultural and socioeconomic maladies clearly reflect their true needs and their vulnerabilities. Governments trying to help a struggling nation to stop this culture of death and violence with impunity, must recognize that public trust will be the cornerstone of victory.

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Jerry Brewer is C.E.O. of Criminal Justice International Associates, a global threat mitigation firm headquartered in northern Virginia.  His website is located at www.cjiausa.org.

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