Saturday, July 7, 2012

Security consultant elaborates on "new" Mexican drug war strategy - but is it?

MGRR News Analysis -
A new design for the wheel, or maybe just new chrome plating

Mexico's president-elect Enrique Peña Nieto raised eyebrows several weeks ago when he announced that if elected, he would hire General Óscar Naranjo, a Colombian, as his drug war consultant. Naranjo is the former head of his country's tough, well-respected national police force, and built it into a very effective fighting force against the drug lords with which Bogotá is still contending, albeit on a greatly reduced scale.

These days Naranjo tours on the international circuit, writing, speaking and offering national security advice to countries facing similar challenges. Although none of the other candidates had negative words about Naranjo when Peña Nieto dropped his name - the man's reputation is stellar - PAN candidate Josefina Vázquez Mota suggested that Mexico could find a qualified expert within its own ranks, and without looking abroad.

This morning the national press is reporting on some of Naranjo's plans. The chief says that Peña Nieto's goal after taking office on Dec. 1 should be to greatly reduce violence in the first 100 days of the new administration. He'll get no quarrels here with that proposal.

But the devil is in the details. Naranjo told an interviewer that he would send out mixed strike force units composed of soldiers, marines and police. Why such a kitchen sink pizza approach would particularly lend itself to consideration, as opposed to units composed exclusively of federal troops, the former police chief didn't say. Everybody in this country, without exception, agrees that local police, especially on the municipal level, are often corrupt and infiltrated by organized crime. They're part of the problem, not part of the solution. President Calderón's 67 month old National Security Strategy has depended heavily upon the use of armed forces while local police departments are being cleaned up. Enrique Peña Nieto told the New York Times on Monday that he would continue to follow that approach. With almost half a million local cops to "verify," the task of de-weeding is herculean.

Moreover, last week's brutal execution of three Federal Police officers in the Mexico City International Airport demonstrated that even national cops are not beyond reproach. Their assailants were fellow agents who were working with an international drug smuggling ring. Mexico has offered a $5 million peso reward for information leading to the arrest of the men, who remain at large.

Naranjo said that the mixed strike forces would focus on targets of the "highest value" - the most wanted drug cartel bosses and operatives. But there's nothing new with that proposal; that's always been the strategy of Calderón's government. As of December 2011, 22 of 37 organized crime kingpins had been decommisoned by the administration, and in the same month Mexico City reported that 41,000 criminals had been killed, captured, or otherwise put out of business since the PAN president took office on Dec. 1, 2006. Yet the drug war continues to rage on furiously, and naco bosses could care less who won the election or who will walk into the fancy office in Los Pinos five months hence.

Naranjo also said in the same interview, "luchar contra el narcotráfico en México tiene que significar disminuir los niveles de violencia - the fight against drug trafficking in Mexico has to imply the reduction of violence." But is that not commenting on the obvious? Restating the equation does not assist in determining the unknown values of X or Y.

Naranjo is critical of Felipe Calderón's decision to send 10,000 federal troops into deadly Ciudad Juárez in late 2011 - arguably the most dangerous city on the face of the earth - to help quell rival cartel violence and restore public order. But it's a good thing he did. Things are so bad in Juárez that local police are among the primary targets of organized crime execution squads, which forced the city's mayor to move them into fortified hotels in January. It wasn't safe to allow them to return to their own homes at night. How Naranjo would or will address that type of problem, in Juárez or elsewhere, is unclear.

It's interesting to note that at the same time General Naranjo is suggesting the removal from or reduction of military units in operations targeted at organized crime groups, many in heavily tourism-dependent Quintana Roo state have solicited the presence of armed forces on public streets there. Mexico's Caribbean Riviera Maya in the hands of drug cartels and extortionists; Que el Ejército retome sus operativos en las calles.

The president-elect and his new team, already in the making, have less than 150 days to get their first moves plotted out. That time will pass quickly. Although Naranjo emphasized that a continued focus of the PRI administration will be on the "closing of drug routes and the interdiction of narcotics shipments by air and sea" - thereby disproving naysayers in the U.S. - it's still far from clear how the relentless daily drug violence will be reduced.

The question many will be asking on the morning of Dec. 2 is, have Enrique Peña Nieto and top cop Óscar Naranjo really re-invented the wheel, or just covered an old one with new chrome plating?

Footnote, July 11: Responding to an article on this theme in the Mexican press today (Reportaje: La receta colombiana contra el narco en México), a reader observed that much more and perhaps much worse violence is yet ahead:

"Es muy bonito oir hablar de estrategias del pasado utilizados en rancherias y pueblos de colombia, cuando en los 80 y hasta 1999 la tecnologia popular no estaba tan avanzado como lo es ahora en los 2012. Tal vez sus estrategias le sirvieron al final despues de largos años de luchas, pero en nuestra real actualidad mexicana las cosas ya han cambiado mucho, la tecnologia del dia de hoy es mucho mas avanzada y toda la poblacion en general tiene acceso directo a ella, por lo que los ahora delincuentes modernos tambien hacen uso de ella.

"Toda la estrategia que propone colombia solo lleva a un resultado final: dar muerte y mas muerte a los que llamen criminales, no dice que los van a agarrar sino que los van a matar, tarde o temprano. Ante lo cual, solo podemos esperar en Mexico que la violencia continue a diario como hasta ahora, el proyecto colombiano solo puede ASEGURAR que este negocio va A DURAR muchos años mas, tal vez ahora ese sea EL GRAN NEGOCIO DEL FUTURO del cual los gobiernos no se quieren deshacer sino que es su deseo hacerlo mas fuerte y mas duradero. A los gobiernos les gusta la accion violenta, les gusta pavonearse de sus logros y quedar ante sus ciudadanos como "los heroes" mas amados y queridos por toda la poblacion, y eso es precisamente lo que va a pasar en Mexico con el nuevo presidente."

Jan. 7, 2013 - ¿Y la nueva estrategia de EPN?
Oct. 8 - Peña Nieto's Colombian drug war consultant is a U.S. informant, with clear marching orders from new prez: make a deal with cartel bosses

July 26 - Asesor de Peña Nieto plantea alianzas trasnacionales contra el crimen
July 26 - Acabar con el narco, en manos de mexicanos: asesor de Peña Nieto
July 8 - Mexican voters got suckered on drug war
July 8 - Peña Nieto: En la lucha contra narcotráfico no habrá un cambio radical

Colombian National Gendarmes, mounted units. Peña Nieto told the N.Y. Times on July 2 that he'll create a gendarmerie 40,000 strong, although presumably not on horseback.

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