Monday, November 16, 2009

"This is a war – and we are going to win."

Mauricio Fernandez, The mayor of San Pedro Garza Garcia, the wealthiest municipality in Mexico made this declaration at his swearing-in ceremony, after jubilantly announcing the death of Hector 'Black' Saldaña, a cartel leader who had previously threatened Fernandez's life.

One complication: Saldaña's body wasn't found by police for another three hours, and wasn't identified for two days. Fernandez responded to this development by saying: "Sometimes there are coincidences in life … it's better to look at it this way."

According to the story in the Guardian:

"But in a series of interviews this week, he was more vague, apparently willing to allow speculation that he had set up a paramilitary death squad to keep his town safe from kidnappers.

Fernandez said the information about Saldaña's death came from an intelligence group he had set up to orientate the activities of a "cleansing group" intended to take on kidnappers and other criminals "by fair means or foul".

Asked by one interviewer whether such a group would be acting outside the law, he said: "I don't understand why I should respect all the laws when they [the criminals] respect none."

He told another: "If these people want to kidnap and extort people [in San Pedro], then they will get what is coming to them.'"

Are local government death squads the future of the drug fight in Mexico?

Another possibility is that the mayor has sided with his local cartel, the Beltrán Levya Cartel, against kidnappers and other criminals (transcripts and audio in Spanish here (There is evidence that Saldaña was killed by the Levya Cartel, for which he had been working). Can stability and security be gained by siding with a local criminal organization? This meshing of governments and criminal organizations cannot be good for the future of Mexico, and allows the narco-traffickers to further capture the Mexican State.

These extreme options show the desperate security situation in Mexican politics. Drug cartels have the ability to threaten government officials and police. As the central government fails to protect many areas of Mexico, local leaders there will seek protection elsewhere, either through local security or vigilante forces or alliances with cartels themselves. Small "victories" over individual criminals at the cost of disregarding law, or institutionalizing the larger crime organizations: is this "winning the war" or is it giving up?

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