Tamaulipas: Mexico's black hole gets even more dangerous

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Tamaulipas: Mexico's black hole gets even more dangerous

This is a critique written by Laura Carlson for Americas MexicoBlog, of a story in InSight Crime, entitled "How Federal Security Deployments in Mexico Are Set Up to Fail".  The InSight Crime story was reported here on the Forum on May 30, by Mars220.  

As it describes itself, The MexicoBlog of the CIP Americas Program monitors and analyzes international press on Mexico with a focus on the US-backed War on Drugs in Mexico and the struggle in Mexico to strengthen the rule of law, justice and protection of human rights. Relevant political developments in both countries are also covered.

Links to the Mexico Blog, Insight Crime, and Forum stories are at the end of this article.

Note by Laura Carlson: The InSight Crime analyses are often not very deep and this one is not an exception. However, they gather interesting facts in one place and address current issues. Tamaulipas is, indeed,on fire again, as is Ciudad Juarez. The specific reasons are different, but I certainly agree that calling in the Army will not solve the problem. We have only to look back at Operation Chihuahua to see that. The criticism I have of this piece is first, the data offered on the corruption of local and state officials  is important and does affect the effectiveness of federal intervention, but the implication is that federal troops and forces are not corrupted. This is not true. There is no mention of the collusion with crime and corruption that occur among federal forces. Secondly, I would not accept the 2013 crime figures at face value. The government practice last year was to under-report violence, including through suppression of the press. This year, however, the SNSP--a system of the Ministry of the Interior (Gobernación) reports 553 murders in Tamaulipas through April. http://www.secretariadoejecutivosnsp.gob.mx/work/models/SecretariadoEjecutivo/Resource/1406/1/images/Reporte_victimas_abril_2014.pdf

But actually the problem with the report is even worse. When I checked the citation, the number of homicides reported for Tamaulipas in 2013 is actually 1,043--twice what the author states. I requested an explanation but have not heard back. Another lesson in being wary of reported data. Not only is the source vastly under-reported (these are only homicides reported to the Public Ministry in a nation and state where few people choose to report crimes), but reporters and researchers make mistakes or manipulate data.

Washington Post reporter Joshua Partlow has been in Tamaulipas and offers some rare glimpses into daily life there. Most of what he describes has been common for years, although the shoot-outs have stepped up. He interviews residents accustomed to extortion and people who have to go to extraordinary measures to carry out their ordinary activities. This June 2 piece by the Guardian tells a story of the death of Tampico over the years.

I'll be writing more extensively on Tamaulipas  within the next couple of months. It is probably among the most difficult places to envision solutions to the fatal combination of governmental corruption and organized crime because the situation is exacerbated by the breakdown and/or acquiescence of civil society. It has always been the black hole of Mexico--a place where people are unwilling to go into for fear of not coming out, a place where rule of law is practically non-existent and information is scarce.
- Laura Carlsen

by Patrick Corcoran
Thursday, 29 May 2014

The recent wave of killings that has made the state of Tamaulipas one of Mexico's main drug war battlefields has prompted plans to send in federal troops to try and bring the region's underworld to heel. But can such a deployment ever loosen the grip of organized crime?

A recent spike in violence has brought Tamaulipas back to the forefront of Mexico's security debate after months of calm. Reports of gunfights in Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa, two lucrative border crossings that the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas have long fought over, have again grown common. Over the course of the month, the state registered 75 murders according to the National Public Security System (the SNSP, for its initials in Spanish), the highest total since 2012. One gunfight alone in Reynosa left 17 people dead in late April.

After years of suffering with some of the highest rates of violent crime in the country, Tamaulipas was one of Mexico's happier stories in 2013. The SNSP registered just 555 murders throughout the year, a drop of nearly 50 percent from 2012. The overall murder rate was just 17 per 100,000 residents, lower than Mexico's national average and significantly better than many American cities. Coupled with the crippling of the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, this appeared to be a decisive step forward against organized crime in Mexico's northeast.

The violence has sparked calls for the federal government to implement a security plan in Tamaulipas, like the ones it has pursued in Guerrero, Chihuahua, and the area known as la Laguna that straddles Coahuila and Durango. Earlier this month, during a visit by Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong, the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto implied that a redoubled federal operation, which would supplement the Federal Police and Mexican marines that already operate in the region, was in the offing.
InSight Crime Analysis

The proximate cause of the violence in Tamaulipas is a matter of debate, but it's striking that the increase over the past several months has coincided with the downfall of some of the area's most prominent criminal leaders. Among the fallen are the Zetas Nuevo Laredo boss Juan Fernando Ramirez Cortes and Zetas founder Galdino Mellado Cruz, who were, respectively, arrested and killed earlier this month.

While the arrest or death of Mexican capos provokes a variety of responses, in this case, the old cliche that nature hates a vacuum appears to be holding true: as rivals and allies avenge their bosses' demise and jockey for position in a shifting landscape, Tamaulipas as a whole has grown far bloodier.

The reports of a coming federal operation have provoked questions about the soundness of the response and its capacity to actually address both the immediate and deeper causes of Tamaulipas insecurity.

For instance, a recent piece from Jose Ortega, published on the website of Security, Paz, y Justicia, takes aim at the proposed objective of improving coordination between the local and federal security agencies. The problem, he says, is that local police bodies are so thoroughly corrupted there is no hope of productive collaboration with them at all. Jose Manuel Lopez Guijon, the chief of security for Governor Egidio Torre Cantu, serves as a perfect demonstration of the degree to which the local authorities are untrustworthy; earlier this month, Lopez Guijon was implicated in the assassination of the head of the state's police intelligence unit, a crime allegedly carried out on behalf of the Zetas.

Against such a backdrop, there is no reason to suspect that a federal deployment would be capable of pushing murder rates back down to their prior levels, much less that they would reverse the patterns of corruption and extortion that currently prevail.

Instead, Ortega says, the federal government needs to learn from its experiences in Michoacan, and recognize that it has no reliable partners among the state and local forces. As a consequence, the goals should be to work around or even to replace such bodies.

The typical federal intervention, which is a somewhat improvised and amounts to little more than a mass deployment of Federal Police or armed forces, is particularly ill-suited to a place like Tamaulipas. There, the surge in violence is ultimately the product of long-standing factors; the local government is among the most thoroughly infiltrated by organized crime, and has been for decades. A pattern of behavior that stretches back a generation or more is not going to be modified by the temporary deployment of several thousand troops.

Most of the areas where federal troops are called upon are not unlike Tamaulipas in this respect, which suggests that Mexico needs to rethink its approach to federal deployments. Swooping in for a much publicized show of force, which criminal groups eventually find a way to work around or simply wait out, is akin to fighting weeds with a lawn mower. Mexico needs to find a way to destroy the root, and the recent coming incursion into Tamaulipas suggests that it is not there yet.




Words are powerful weapons, be careful how you use them.