Police are no match for Mexico’s violent drug cartels

29 Dec

The latest progression in Mexico’s drug wars has seen the small border town of Guadalupe stripped of a police force. The town has been left completely undefended and unpoliced after its last remaining officer, 28-year-old Erika Gandara was kidnapped on 23rd December. The Mexican government has sent soldiers to patrol Guadalupe and to investigate the kidnapping of Ms Gandara who had patrolled the town of 9,000 inhabitants on her own since June.

Mexican army arrives in Guadalupe

It is revealing of the government’s strategy against the cartels; for four years the army has been positioned in the chief problem area, Ciudad Juárez, meanwhile a lack of resources means that neighbouring towns with similar drug problems albeit on a smaller scale, are overlooked. Murders and abductions are so frequent and the pay so poor that policing has become an unattractive profession in Chihuahua, this region of Mexico. Since President Felipe Calderón came to power in 2006 with promises of a crackdown on the cartels 30,000 people have died in drug-related violence.

Erika Gandara

The case of Ms Gandara, and the failed attempt to police drug violence in Guadalupe, demonstrates that the only way to tackle the problem is with army intervention. Since Ms Gandara joined the eight man Guadalupe police force in June 2009, all her colleagues have either resigned or been killed. Despite its population being relatively small, the residents of Guadalupe are no strangers to the gory murders carried out by the area’s notorious cartels. Nearly two years ago, three severed heads, one belonging to a police commander, were found in an ice chest left in the plaza in Guadalupe.

Such a dangerous profession should warrant greater support from the government, if not through the presence of the army then in the form of increased pay to police officers. Speaking to the AFP news agency earlier this year, Ms Gandara said: “Nobody wants to go into the police here, and the budget just isn’t there anyway”. Two murders have already occurred in the lawless town since Ms Gandara was abducted.

Map showing proximity of Guadalupe (A) to Ciudad Juarez on Mexican/ US border

The town is about 3 miles from the US border and 40 miles from Ciudad Juárez, the centre of drug smuggling operations into the United States. In October alone, 333 people were murdered in Ciudad Juárez and the figure is expected to be near 3,000 by the end of the year.

In the nearby hamlet Praxedis Guadalupe Gerreror a 20-year-old college student, Marisol Valles García, was employed as chief of the local police force in October when there were no other applicants. The man who previously held that office had been shot dead in July 2009 and the town had been unable to find a replacement for more than a year.

With the second-largest economy in Latin America, the Mexican government must reach deep inside its pockets and widen the scope of its armed forces if it is to put an end to the violence caused by drug trafficking.

Image 1: Telegraph

Image 2: Sydney Morning Herald

Image 3: Google maps

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3 Responses to “Police are no match for Mexico’s violent drug cartels”

  1. Ross Cullen December 30, 2010 at 2:49 pm #

    Hi Senorita Linsell,

    You say that “Mexico must reach deep inside its pockets and widen the scope of its armed forces if it is to put an end to the violence caused by drug trafficking.”

    The problem is that the country has been doing that since 2006 and after 5 years and 28,000 deaths, the head-on strategy of meeting the gangs with the military is being criticised and looking tired.

    In particular, the Mayor of Mexico City, Marcelo Ebrard, has suggested more negotiation with the gangsters, a tactic which conservative Calderon abhors. Even if he wanted to talk, such a move would appear to be a step back from previous policies and an admission that the military tactic will not be successful.

    It is highly likely that Ebrard will run for president in 2012, and so a change in strategy could be on the horizon…

    • katielinsell December 30, 2010 at 3:52 pm #

      Thanks Ross that’s really interesting. Good to hear your take on it as one who has lived in Mexico.

      From what I’ve read, the death toll has not decreased in Ciudad Juarez since the military arrived in 2006. If Calderon’s tactic is not working then maybe there is nothing to be lost by trying Ebrard’s negotiation approach, while keeping the army in place in the most dangerous of areas. In your opinion, can the cartels be reasoned with and enter into negotiations to cease attacks on the police and government members? The situation seems almost impossible to resolve.

  2. rosscullen December 31, 2010 at 5:00 am #

    Your last point is certainly an underlying fear but there are several contrasting views to make:

    1) Colombia’s strategy of all-out war and determination eventually paid off, after years of fighting and thousands of deaths – some commentators think that Mexico too should play this waiting game.

    2) Ebrard is not alone and Calderon’s presidential predecessor, Vicente Fox, also from the PAN, believes talking to the gangs could be the next plan to employ. Ebrard is in a comfortable opposition position and has to hold the government to account…however, he may find the reality very different if he were to win in 2012: there is widespread corruption amongst the police and prison officers; the gangs are powered by the US and are multi-million dollar, international organisations; the size and scale of their operations mean that, at the moment, any offer a politician could make is likely to be laughed at.

    3) Mexicans are fed up with the violence but thousands of them are tied up in the gangs (see http://rosscullen.wordpress.com/2010/12/26/a-human-side-to-mexicos-gangs/).

    4) As long as the US keeps consuming, Mexicans can keep trafficking…so better and closer ties with Washington may well be needed.

    5) Despite killing or capturing many heads/commanders of gangs this year, violence is still at an all-time high, showing the grassroots strengths of the gangs are still in place – the government needs to attack those as well as the leaders.

    Negotiation with the gangsters is a brave policy, but one which would only ever lead to appeasement and agreements over quotas, profits and freedom for jailed gang members…it will never bring about a total end to the violence, nor would it cause the gangs to disband.

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