Mexico Dispatch: Authorities Jockey for Control in Violent Drug War

BY Jose Luis Sierra  November 1, 2010 at 4:30 PM EST


Funeral for some of those killed in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Photo by Jesus Alcazar/AFP/Getty Images

Less than a month before Mexicans celebrate the centennial of their revolution, some of them have the feeling the country is in a time of turmoil once again.

In the past few weeks, there have been a number of large-scale attacks to add to the negative statistics. In one incident, 14 people, all of them young, some of them children and women, were massacred in the border town of Ciudad Juarez. In another border town, Tijuana, 13 more young men were killed in a drug rehab center. And in Tepic, Nayarit, a city in the western-central part of Mexico, 15 young men were executed while working at a car wash.
“It’s just terrible,” said Sen. Ramon Galindo in a telephone interview. He represents the state of Chihuahua, one of the three most battered in the war against narco-trafficking launched by President Felipe Calderon four years ago.

“It is clear we are not going to win this war with military presence or federal police operations. I think we are trying to govern backwards,” Galindo said after learning of the 15 executions in Nayarit.

Galindo argued that most government decisions are so centralized that local authorities have little or no power to implement actions that might help reduce the increasing rate of executions. These killings dominate the front pages of Mexican newspapers and headline television newscasts on a daily basis.

Galindo cited a report that he helped publicize showing that 60 percent of municipalities in Mexico are under the control of the drug cartels.

The study says that with guns and economic power, the drug cartels have acquired the ability to infiltrate the armed forces, as well as every level of the police force. Even worse, the study reveals that the drug lords are now in a position to influence the political process, and can intervene and in some cases decide who the best candidate to protect their interests is.

“They were smart enough to understand that by taking control of the counties, they could take control of key positions of political power for their protection,” Galindo said. He asserted that it is not unusual for the cartels to show up in the offices of a political candidates with cash for their campaigns, with the unwritten implication that if they don’t take it, they run the risk of becoming part of the execution statistics.

President Calderon insists there is no turning back. Although he has acknowledged that police corruption is a problem, his administration is pushing a plan to create one police force — instead of the existing layers of municipal, state and federal police. Calderon also proposed creating a “unique front” of leaders from other countries suffering the same problem.

But inside Mexico, more local officials are beginning to complain that the central government is imposing anti-cartel strategies without considering the specific problems of every community.

“We had become administrators with no power. Decisions are being taken by people who know nothing about our needs,” said Martin Meza, mayor of Badiguarato County, in an interview in his office. The county is in the state of Sinaloa, considered the cradle of several leaders of the Mexican cartels.

“We will not be able to win this war if we don’t give back control to the people affected by the problem,” Galindo said, emphasizing the need for local authorities to have more autonomy to deal with crime, narco-trafficking, and economic growth. “On the other hand,” he added, “we won’t be able to advance if citizens don’t get involved and if we continue with the old premise that government alone has the responsibility of solving their problems, whether we are talking about narco-trafficking or public services.”

Jose Louis Sierra reports for New America Media.