Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Mexican analysts agree: crime gangs which are replacing drug cartels will be difficult to track and fight

Enrique Peña Nieto will have to switch gears to confront rising threat, Mexican researcher contends

*Updated Jan. 16, 2013*
Guadalajara -
Six months after the American security consultant firm Southern Pulse predicted that Mexico's half dozen or so largest drug cartels would morph into many smaller gangs nationwide, consultants here agree, and say the process is well under way.

MGR published a redacted summary of the Southern Pulse report on June 22, pointing out that there is empirical evidence of the proposition in Quintana Roo state, along Mexico's famed Riviera Maya.

The transformation is of more than just academic interest according to Eduardo Guerrero, founder of Lantia Conultants, whose research was quoted this morning by Spanish press sources. He warned that the gangs will enjoy greater freedom of movement because of their smaller membership numbers, and will be more difficult to fight and contain.

Ironically, Guerreo attributed the phenomenon to strategic successes of the Calderón administration, which launched Mexico's drug war six years ago. The PAN government militarized the offensive and relied upon crack armed forces units, especially marine contingents, to capture or kill key cartel operatives. Twenty-five of the 37 most wanted have been eliminated since December 2006, the latest and one of the most important just two weeks ago.

Calderón's last day in office is Nov. 30. His successor, president-elect Enrique Peña Nieto, has said he'll continue to rely heavily upon military forces in the drug war. Peña Nieto's domestic security czar said last summer that the targeting of narco bosses would remain a priority, and a key feature of the incoming government's strategy.

Now the question is whether the same strategy will continue to produce significant results.

Guerrero argues that the "middle management" of the cartels - those not decommissioned by federal forces - are reestablishing themselves as the bosses of smaller regional gangs. They're aggressively recruiting lieutenants and foot soldiers, primaily among Mexico's tens of thousands of aimless youth who have little education and few opportunities in life.

"Understanding gangs is critical to understanding crime" in Mexico today, contends Guerrero, who says that the organizations "systematically recruit" members. His research traces the development of more than 100 gangs since 2007, and Guerrero suggests that "the fragmentation of the major cartels will complicate even more the panorama of violence, if there's no shift in strategic direction during the next presidential term (of Peña Nieto)."

He also believes that the splintering and down-sizing process affords the organized crime industry greater inherent protection. If local gang members or leaders are captured by security forces, they'll have very little information to reveal, apart from their own modest internal structure.

Guerrero's conclusions mirror those of Southern Pulse, which found that the cartels are increasingly working with, or farming out operations to, local and regional gangs. SP noted in its own report,

"Mexico's coming security challenge will be gangs. They have contractual relationships with transnational crime groups, which are transferring to them the most sophisticated criminal know-how. They'll evolve into super gangs. Juárez and cities like Tijuana, Guadalajara, Acapulco and Monterrey offer ample evidence, where no one organization controls the entire plaza. In Guadalajara, there are at least six gangs struggling for control of the city. To a greater or lesser extent, all prosper."

Gangs enjoy the built-in advantage of knowing the local terrain better than monolithic cartels with their often far-flung operations. They're street wise, can quickly muster and equip a local army and are able to protect their members and provisions in safe houses.

Another specialist in Mexican national security, Manuel Balcázar, maintains that the government's first task in dealing with the gangs is one of intelligence, with a focus on profiling the typical member.

"If you make policy from the desk, without understanding the intended targets of your policy, you'll end up replicating strategies that go nowhere. Central America got tough with gangs (relying upon policing actions), and it's produced no results."

"Gangs represent an asymmetric phenomenon," says Balcázar. "It will be very difficult for the state to defeat them without understanding them. How do you do that? By understanding what young people need, and establishing policies of intervention early on."

Once again, Balcázar suggests, it all comes back to economics and social policies, not just to police and soldiers. Enrique Peña Nieto's biggest challenge will be economy.

Jan. 16, 2013 - To sell their merchandise north of the border, Mexican drug cartels contract out the labor to an estimated 33,000 street gangs in the U.S., which at times form rather unlikely alliances. An article in today's edition of El Informador reports an estimated 1.4 million gang members in the United States work directly with Mexican narco bosses, and contains an interesting graphic of the leading cartels. It concludes: "If the Mexican cartels are the heart which ships the products to the U.S., the local gangs are the arteries which distribute them. Cartels dominate organized crime in the U.S. through gangs."

Oct. 24 - "Hay que combinar la política de seguridad con una política de prevención del joven para que no le reclute el terrorismo. Educación y la capacidad de promover las iniciativas de jóvenes son clave" - Álvaro Uribe, a former president of Colombia, praising the Calderón National Security Strategy today in Mexico City.
Oct. 17 - "Ending poverty" key focus of incoming PRI government
Jan. 10 - Border gangs recruit kids as as drug mules

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