Change? Not so Far: Our Border Drug War Still Rages

The year 2009 has been hyped by the media and political elites as the year of “change” in America. I’ve been filming and reporting on the drug war being waged in Mexico and along our southwest border for over four years and as far as the first six months of 2009 go, even though a lot has happened in that time, not much has changed. On the surface it would seem progress has been made and indeed positive steps have been taken by both the U.S. and Mexican governments. But looking beyond the stories and stats reveals something uglier and more severe that has even the experts questioning the current strategy.

One thing I’ve learned in documenting the drug war is that statistics alone don’t tell the story and for a true picture you have to dig beyond the numbers and the hype to draw a real conclusion of whether progress is being made or not.

The current death toll for this year in Mexico’s war against the cartels just peaked over 2,400. This is about the same number of narco-executions as last year at this time and at this pace we will probably exceed last years toll of 5,400. No real change there. But if you drill down on this number what you find is staggering as it relates to the number of law enforcement officials in the execution tally. Though the exact number of local municipal police is not known for certain because many of the narcos dress up like police to conduct operations, it is reported by intelligence sources that over 1/4 or 600 of these executions have been local, state and federal law enforcement agents. Since the first of the year, thirty-one active federal agents alone have been killed in Mexico.

To put that into perspective can you imagine the media blitz and public outcry that would occur if thirty-one FBI agents had been gunned down in the streets of America this year?

Next, the use of the military to prosecute this war by Mexican President Calderon has for the first time in decades, actually put the cartels in a corner and thus a position of having to defend themselves. But a close look at this strategy proves that this is having mixed results at best. In March of this year President Calderon dispatched the army to the border city of Juarez to restore law and order back to a region that had become the murder capital of the western hemisphere. The murder rate immediately dropped 96%, but by April there were 63 murders reported in the Juarez area and despite the presence of nearly 10,000 military and federal personnel in Juarez, there were still 10 homicides during one 2-day span in that month.

The situation across Mexico does not seem to be improving but rather shifting. Like the proverbial story of plugging the leaking dam with your fingers-you plug one hole and two more spring up just a few feet away. As the military and federal forces continue to apply pressure on the narco-terrorists, violent outbreaks in regions once thought “safe” from the narco-war, start to rear their ugly head. This past weekend military and federal agents in the resort mecca of Acapulco engaged a group of armed gunmen in a gun fight that broke out just a block away from Los Flamingos, the same resort where the rich and famous frequently spend their downtime.

Once the battle began the armed gangsters sped off to a safe-house located in yet another “high rent” district within the city limits and there, federal forces engaged in a six hour shoot-out with the assailants where they exchanged over 3000 rounds fired from automatic assault rifles and 50 fragment grenades detonated. Sixteen assailants and two soldiers lost their lives that day.

Some in the American media were shocked to see this but what so many people don’t realize is that these resort cities are major ports of entry that are home to major shipping lanes. These same lanes of open commerce are perfect camouflage for the cartels multi-ton shipments of South American cocaine and heroin, military grade weapons from countries such as Venezuela, and precursor chemicals from Asian countries for the manufacturing of methamphetamines. These ports are worth billions to the cartel businessmen who pay millions of dollars each month to the para-military soldiers they employ to guard these ports and the wares being shipped through them.

As the second half of 2009 unfolds we are no doubt going to see more and more of these outbreaks in cities once thought of as “off limits” to narco-terror.

One point I should explain is that the main reason we see six hour gunfights in the streets of Mexico and not here, has more to do with corruption than any other single component. When U.S. law enforcement engages in taking down a criminal organization such as the narco-insurgent cell in Acapulco, it is a highly refined, intelligence driven operation, many times involving numerous other agencies from all levels. Close tabs are kept and often times weeks or even months will pass before the actual takedown is ordered. This is accomplished because the information about their operation has little chance of being leaked to the narcos they are pursuing. On the other hand in Mexico, once intelligence is given to the forces that are charged with pursing the narcos they sometimes only have a few minutes or hours to act on it or it will certainly be leaked to the narcos. This makes up for much of the open violence we are seeing in Mexico today and since the corruption within the ranks of the Mexican agencies at every level exceed even what the Calderon administration thought existed-violent outbreaks like this are not likely to change anytime soon either.

The violence in the U.S. has not reached anywhere near this level but by no means does that equate to an unaffected United States. What happens in Mexico has a very profound and deep impact on many aspects of American life. Starting with law enforcement and security, the Mexican drug cartels remain the greatest organizational threat to the United States and our national security.

There is not one major city in America that is not seeing the presence and residual of the narco-insurgency that is quickly taking over the drug running, extortion, murder and other criminal enterprises from what used to be reserved for the old mafia and modern American street gangs. This is one change that will be catastrophic for many in our country.

How about border security? Change? Well again we have to look closely and go beyond the stats. Yes illegal immigration is down, but there has been no decrease in the amount of drugs coming into the US. And the fact that illegal immigration is down begs the question; is the border fence really the reason why or is it due to our ailing economy and the fact that we are starting to enforce the rule of law with regard to that issue in this country?

How about drug consumption? Change? According to government stats it’s at the same percentage rate as it was 20 years ago, so even by that stat there is no change. But they failed to note that we have 100 million more people living here than 20 years ago thus another 1,000,000 people addicted to drugs in this country.

These are not assertions and hollow allegations by Rusty Fleming. These are all well documented facts as stated by the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security as well as the Drug Threat Assessment report for 2009. All of these agencies combined with the top criminal justice and gang experts from around the country, all agree on one point, the narco-terror machine that is tearing up Mexico and many other Latin American countries today, is alive and well in the United States of America and their current trend of growing and expanding shows no signs of change.

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