J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Mexican Attorney General Eduardo
Medina Mora

Threat of Violence on the Mexican Border Could Draw Federal Troops Into the Fight

January 12, 2009 12:02 PM
by findingDulcinea Staff
Escalating drug violence in Mexico and a fear that it may soon spill over into the United States has resulted in a comprehensive defense plan that could see an unprecedented military presence along the southern border.

Homeland Security Offers Plan

Although there have been no reports of drug trade-related violence in the United States, and there has been a decrease in drug activity in the valley area surrounding Brownsville, Texas, the plan was proposed as a direct response to the surge in murders and kidnappings occurring just south of the border.

Concentrated around busy drug routes, especially the town of Ciudad de Juarez just across the border from El Paso, Texas, the violence has resulted from a struggle to control the lucrative narcotics trade into the United States, representing the “greatest organized crime threat to the United States," according to a 2009 threat assessment prepared by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Although the Department of Homeland Security kept exact details of the plan under wraps, the Associated Press reported that it would likely include “federal homeland security agents helping local authorities and maybe even military assistance from the Department of Defense, possibly including aircraft, armored vehicles and special teams to go to areas overwhelmed with violence.”

Meanwhile, state officials have been pursuing their own measures to deal with the threat of increased violence, though few expressed much awareness of the DOHS plan or their proposal to send federal troops to the border region.

"We haven't seen a specific operational plan for a specific region or specific threat. The use of Defense Department resources ... would have to be an extreme situation," Tim Manning, the New Mexico Homeland Security director, told the AP.

The plan follows one of Mexico’s most violent years, with attacks spiking against law enforcement officers and soldiers, while kidnappings have grown more frequent and brazen, leading to a general sense of frustration and unease with the state under President Felipe Calderon.

Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora said earlier this month that the drug trade has claimed the lives of 5,376 people in 2008 so far, more than twice the number for the first 11 months of last year, according to the Los Angeles Times. Mexican newspapers had previously provided much lower numbers.

Mora’s statement presented the first total number of drug-related killings. In addition, “The announcement of the jump in deaths comes days after the US released $197m, the first instalment of a $400m aid package to support Mexican police and soldiers in their fight against drug cartels,” Sky News reported.

Since Felipe Calderon assumed the presidency in Dec. 2006, 8,150 people have had drug-related deaths. November 2008 marked the worst month, with 943 such deaths. And Mora added that the numbers could get worse.

“I don’t think we’ve reached the top of the curve,” he said.

Mexico has requested help from the United States to battle its deadly drug gangs, though it is unclear whether the Mexican government was consulted in the creation of the DOHS plan. Most of the drugs trafficked by the gangs funnel into the United States for consumption, and the gangs procure most of their weapons from America.

An extensive corruption scandal within Mexican law enforcement has also deteriorated the situation in the country. The scandal involves “dozens of senior officials and agents accused of accepting money to pass secrets to traffickers,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

Background: Explosion of drug murders in Mexico

According to the BBC, 443 people were killed in drug-related violence in Mexico this past July—more than in Iraq or Afghanistan. BBC correspondent James Painter said, “On one notorious day in July, a group of heavily armed men shot dead 12 people in three separate shoot-outs within a period of eight minutes.”

Mexico serves as the halfway point and main channel for drugs in transit from Colombia to the United States. A BBC world service poll reported that 42 percent of the 1,266 Mexicans polled in seven cities “felt less safe than they did a year ago.” Additionally, the BBC found conflicting responses: 68 percent of respondents believed in a military solution to drug trafficking, but 80 percent said the government should consider seeking other alternatives to end the problem. Since his 2006 election, President Felipe Calderon had installed 40,000 soldiers to battle the drug cartels as of late September.

On Sept. 15, a day before the 198th anniversary of Mexican independence, Calderon’s hometown of Morelia, Michoacán, was the site where unknown assailants launched grenades on a crowd of thousands, killing eight people in the first-ever attack aimed at civilians. 

In May, Edgar Millan Gomez, one of Mexico’s top security officials and the national coordinator of the war on crime, was murdered in what appeared to be a revenge killing by one of Mexico’s most notorious drug cartels, the Sinaloa.

Police officer killings in Mexico have prompted many officers to quit or flee to the United States. According to the Los Angeles Times, “Many municipal and state officers also work as hired gunmen for drug traffickers and often are caught up in feuds between rival gangs.”

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