Mexico drug war lacks clear strategy: US cables

As per US cables, Mexico suffers from infighting among security agencies.

Last Updated: Dec 03, 2010, 13:37 PM IST

Mexico City: Mexico`s four-year-old assault on drug cartels lacks a clear strategy and a modernised military, and suffers from infighting among security agencies, according to US State Department cables leaked to WikiLeaks.

The classified and secret memos posted on several media websites on Thursday stand in stark contrast to the public declarations by Mexico and the US about the success of the war on organized crime. The cables call into question many of the efforts publicly touted by the two countries, from the use of the Mexican Army, which is described as outdated, slow and risk averse, to the United States` USD 1.4 billion Merida Initiative, which is seen as ill-conceived and doing little so far to fight drug traffickers.

In one cable, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton asks about how the stress is affecting President Felipe Calderon`s "personality and management style”, while a cable by US Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual notes that Calderon has admitted to having a tough year and has appeared "down" in meetings.

"Calderon has aggressively attacked Mexico`s drug-trafficking organisations but has struggled with an unwieldy and uncoordinated interagency and spiralling rates of violence that have made him vulnerable to criticism that his anti-crime strategy has failed," reads a January 29 memo called "Scenesetter for Opening of the Defence Bilateral Working Group" that also criticises competition among Mexican security agencies, corruption and Mexico`s abysmally low prosecution rate.

In a memo date October 05, 2009, then-Undersecretary for the Interior Geronimo Gutierrez Fernandez, who oversaw domestic security, "expressed a real concern with `losing` certain regions”.

"It is damaging Mexico`s international reputation, hurting foreign investment, and leading to a sense of government impotence, Gutierrez said," according to the memo.

"If we do not produce a tangible success that is recognisable to the Mexican people, it will be difficult to sustain the confrontation into the next administration," the memo quotes him as saying.

Calderon has insisted that the spike in violence that has killed more than 28,000 people since 2006 is a sign that the drug cartels are on the ropes and that the government controls all areas of the country.

US officials stage public ceremonies for the handover of helicopters and other Merida Initiative equipment and talk about Mexico`s reform from a closed to an oral trial system a key tool in fighting the drug war. Privately the US notes: "Prosecution rates for organised crime-related offences are dismal; 2 percent of those detained are brought to trial. Only 2 percent of those arrested in Ciudad Juarez have even been charged with a crime."

In the October 05 cable, the US says it would be willing to provide Mexico more training and technology, particularly in intelligence gathering, but that it will take "the development of strong trust through proper vetting”. The cable also says "it would be excellent to get to the point where there is no longer impunity for (Joaquin) Chapo Guzman," Mexico`s most-wanted drug lord.

One bright spot are the Mexican Marines, which led what US Ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual called in one memo "a major victory for President Calderon" — the offensive a year ago that killed drug lord Arturo Beltran Leyva, head of cartel that bears his last name.

Since then, the marines, "with extensive US training”, according to the cable by Pascual, have also taken down drug lords Sergio Villarreal Barragan, who was fighting for control of the Beltran Leyva gang after its leaders death, and Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen, or "Tony Tormenta”, a top leader of the Gulf cartel.

But Pascual also notes that the US, who had information locating Beltran Leyva, originally took it to the Army, which refused to move quickly.

The January 29 cable notes friction between the army and the marines.

Mexico`s Foreign Relations Department condemned the documents` disclosure in a statement released late Thursday, saying their content is "incomplete and inaccurate”.

But it also chided the content of some of the reports saying "those writing them include a subjective emphasis on what they think is of interest to their superiors and, in some cases, to exalt ... their own merits."

Those reports "show some deplorable practices when considered from the perspective of the respect that should prevail between nations collaborating in common objectives," the department said.

An October 28, 2009 cable from the US embassy in Mexico City describes a proposal by Mexican Defence Secretary General Guillermo Galván Galván to control the violence with a type of state of emergency suspending, some constitutional rights in several cities, including Ciudad Juarez, a city across the border from El Paso considered one of the most violent in the world.

The cable noted that the Mexican government had not taken such action since World War II.

But then-Interior Minister Fernando Gomez Mont batted down the idea, and in the cable, then-Charge d`Affaires John Feeley said that US government analysis showed the benefits were "uncertain at best, and the political costs appear high”.

An October 05 cable describes a dinner that the Mexican Attorney General`s Office hosted for a delegation from the US Department of Justice, quoting Gutierrez as saying the Merida Initiative was too hastily crafted to be effective.

"In retrospect he and other GOM (Government of Mexico) officials realize that not enough strategic thought went into Merida in the early phase," the memo said. "There was too much emphasis in the initial planning on equipment, which they now know is slow to arrive and even slower to be of direct utility in the fight against the DTOs (drug-trafficking organisations.)"

Both the US and Mexico have said recently that Merida money in the future would be directed toward creating more effective institutions.

The January 29 memo notes that military surges in Ciudad Juarez have not worked.

Gutierrez and National Security System Coordinator Jorge Tello Peon said Calderon has to stop the violence in Ciudad Juarez, according to the cable.

"Politically ... Calderon has staked so much of his reputation there, with a major show of force that, to date, has not panned out," the cable said Gutierrez and Peon told US officials at the dinner.

Bureau Report