Drug War Protesters Block Mexico-US Border

Protesters gathered in border towns across northern MexicoHundreds of people in Mexico have blocked key crossings into the US in protests against the deployment of the army to fight drug traffickers.

Traffic was brought to a halt on a number of bridges in several border towns in northern Mexico.

The protesters accused the army of abuse against civilians. Government officials said the blockades had been organised by drug gangs.

Some 40,000 troops have been deployed since 2006 against the drug gangs.

More than 5,400 people were killed in drug-related violence last year, Mexican officials say.

Violence continued on Tuesday in the border city of Juarez where three police officers were shot dead by unidentified gunmen.

Powerful drug cartels have been fighting both each other and federal forces as they battle to control the immensely lucrative routes trafficking cocaine and other drugs from Colombia to the US via Mexico.

In some parts of the country, the army has taken over the role of the police, which have often proved easily corrupted when bribed or threatened by the gangs, says the BBC’s Stephen Gibbs in Mexico City.

Calderon’s vow

The protesters blocked bridges in Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa.

They chanted “Soldiers out!” and “Stop abuse by the PFP [Federal Preventative Police]!”

The demonstrators also shut roads in the industrial city of Monterrey.

Many of the protesters said border towns had become more dangerous since President Felipe Calderon sent the army in.

But the governor of one state – Nuevo Leon – said he believed the Gulf drugs cartel and its armed wing, the Zetas, were behind the border protests.

“There are reasons to believe it has to do with the Gulf cartel and the group known as the Zetas,” Governor Natividad Gonzalez said.

Human rights activists say there are legitimate complaints about reported abuses by the troops, including alleged cases in which army patrols have fired on civilians at checkpoints.

President Felipe Calderon has vowed to destroy the cartels that make billions of dollars trafficking cocaine and other drugs to the United States.

– Article from BBC News on February 18, 2009.

Don’t Look Now, But Mexico Is Collapsing

by Kelly McParland, National Post

Given the abundance of drama going on elsewhere — the world economy collapses; Congress and the new U.S. president slug it out over a rescue package valued in the trillions; Israel invades Gaza and then deadlocks over a new government — not a lot of attention has been paid to Mexico.

But really, what the hell is going on there?

Reuters released a story from Tijuana that sounds like a reads like No Country for old Men:

“Mexican drug gangs near the U.S. border are breaking into police radio frequencies to issue chilling death threats to cops which they then carry out, demoralizing security forces in a worsening drug war.

“You’re next, bastard … We’re going to get you,” an unidentified drug gang member said over the police radio in the city of Tijuana after naming a policeman.

… “No one can help them,” an officer named Jorge said of his threatened colleagues as he heard the threats in his patrol car.

Sure enough, two hours later the dead bodies of the two named policemen were found dumped on the edge of the city, their hands tied and bullet wounds in their heads.”

On Thursday, the Los Angeles Times ran an interactive map illustrating where most of the 7,337 drug murders since 2007 have taken place. Click on a region and you can see photos of the drug kingpins in that area, and a weekly tally of deaths. The Times points out that the death toll since President Felipe Calderon declared war on drugs last year is greater than the U.S. body count in Iraq. Calderon has 45,000 troops and 5,000 police fighting drug traffickers in 18 states.

Whether Mexico lasts long enough to finish the war is an issue, though. The government had to cancel a bond issue after it failed to find anyone willing to buy them. David Frum, writing at NewMajority.com, notes:

“Mexico’s near term future looks even grimmer. Petroleum revenues are declining. The flow of remittance dollars from north of the border will contract as migrants lose their jobs or return home. And the El Paso Times has its hands on a leak from U.S. Joint Forces Command that Mexico stands alongside Pakistan as one of the two countries to be monitored most closely for risk of sudden collapse into state failure.

“These concerns may explain why Congress has rebuffed suggestions to restrict stimulus-created employment to legal American workers only. They may think that Mexico needs remittance dollars even more than Americans need jobs.”

The violence has spread across the border to the U.S., where the cartels operate branch plants. In August police found five men with their throats slit in an apartment in Alabama. AP reported they had been tortured with electric shocks before being killed over a drug debt of about $400,000.

In Phoenix, kidnappings and home invasions — both common drug gang practices — have skyrocketed. Police reported 350 kidnappings in both the past two years, and a similar number of invasions.

So far it hasn’t turned up on President Obama’s radar. But a collapsing Mexico off the southern U.S. border can’t be ignored forever.

– Article from the National Post on February 15, 2009.