Says Stratfor,

Mexico has pretty much always been a rough-and-tumble place. In recent years, however, the security environment has deteriorated rapidly, and parts of the country have become incredibly violent. It is now common to see military weaponry such as fragmentation grenades and assault rifles used almost daily in attacks.

In fact, just last week we noted two separate strings of grenade attacks directed against police in Durango and Michoacan states. In the Michoacan incident, police in Uruapan and Lazaro Cardenas were targeted by three grenade attacks during a 12-hour period. Then on Feb. 17, a major firefight occurred just across the border from the United States in Reynosa, when Mexican authorities attempted to apprehend several armed men seen riding in a vehicle. The men fled to a nearby residence and engaged the pursuing police with gunfire, hand grenades and rocket-propelled grenades (RPGs). After the incident, in which five cartel gunmen were killed and several gunmen, cops, soldiers and civilians were wounded, authorities recovered a 60 mm mortar, five RPG rounds and two fragmentation grenades.

Make no mistake, considering the military weapons now being used in Mexico and the number of deaths involved, the country is in the middle of a war. In fact, there are actually three concurrent wars being waged in Mexico involving the Mexican drug cartels. The first is the battle being waged among the various Mexican drug cartels seeking control over lucrative smuggling corridors, called plazas. One such battleground is Ciudad Juarez, which provides access to the Interstate 10, Interstate 20 and Interstate 25 corridors inside the United States. The second battle is being fought between the various cartels and the Mexican government forces who are seeking to interrupt smuggling operations, curb violence and bring the cartel members to justice.

Then there is a third war being waged in Mexico, though because of its nature it is a bit more subdued. It does not get the same degree of international media attention generated by the running gun battles and grenade and RPG attacks. However, it is no less real, and in many ways it is more dangerous to innocent civilians (as well as foreign tourists and business travelers) than the pitched battles between the cartels and the Mexican government. This third war is the war being waged on the Mexican population by criminals who may or may not be involved with the cartels. Unlike the other battles, where cartel members or government forces are the primary targets and civilians are only killed as collateral damage, on this battlefront, civilians are squarely in the crosshairs....
I don't know much about the situation over there, so links to any good analysis, anecdotes, overviews, whatever, gratefully received...


Well-known member
This third war is the war being waged on the Mexican population by criminals who may or may not be involved with the cartels. Unlike the other battles, where cartel members or government forces are the primary targets and civilians are only killed as collateral damage, on this battlefront, civilians are squarely in the crosshairs....
This isn't all that different really - Columbia, to name the obvious example, where you also have the 4th war being fought across political lines.

Mr BoShambles

What the fuck is going on in Mexico?
Brian Jenkins at RAND:

The lawlessness along the mexican border has gone way beyond a local crime wave: there has been a dramatic increase in armed robberies, not by lone gunmen but by heavily armed gangs. Kidnappings and homicides are way up—and not just murders but beheadings. Police are getting into shootouts where they are frequently outgunned. It is starting to look like a terrorist campaign. Rail lines and bridges are being sabotaged, and now an entire train has been derailed and its passengers assaulted and robbed.

Isolated ranches and small towns have turned into virtual garrisons. Economic activity, especially in southern Texas, has seriously declined. People are frightened, and they are mean. Everyone seems to be carrying a weapon and shooting on suspicion. Mexicans are the targets. There have been disturbing reports of summary executions and lynchings by vigilante volunteers.

Central government authority no longer exists in the Mexican states along the US border. Warlords, commanding their own armies, are gunning down their rivals. Except for refugees heading north and guns being smuggled south, commerce across the frontier has ceased to exist. Some of the gangs are holed up in their sanctuaries just across the border, but the government in Mexico City cannot, or will not, bring the situation under control.

Although much of the violence along the border appears to be purely criminal, evidence of a subversive political plan has been uncovered. Mexican extremists have declared it their goal to recover the “lost territories”—land taken from Mexico after the Mexican-American War in 1848.

The plan calls for enlisting Mexicans residing in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas in a campaign to terrorize and drive out the Anglo population, thereby ending decades of what the planners call Yankee discrimination and tyranny. The movement, which apparently draws on support from some of the warlords in Mexico, appears to have few adherents on the American side of the border, but it could be the forerunner of a large-scale uprising on US territory. As a consequence of the terrible economic situation caused by the violence, there are many unemployed, restless men who might be receptive to radicalization and recruitment. And if the situation in Mexico is not brought under control, foreign foes of the United States, determined to distract US leaders from issues elsewhere in the world, will find opportunities to exploit. With the new challenges the US administration faces overseas, Washington has reason to fear unrest on its own territory.

Read the rest here.

Mr BoShambles

Worth quoting a bit more from that:

The nature of the threat

Nothing on the political horizon even vaguely indicates that Mexico is heading for another revolution or that its political system is on the brink of collapse (a very dubious CIA assertion in the 1980s). Decades of one-party rule have been transformed into a tumultuous two-party, sometimes three-party competition. A low-level insurgency sputters on in the southern state of Chiapas, and occasional small-scale bombings indicate an extremist fringe on the far left, but none of this poses a serious security challenge.

The threat comes from the proliferation of criminal gangs profiting from the trafficking of heroin and cocaine into the United States. Organized gangs engage in kidnapping, and they are believed to have taken over the business of smuggling people desperate for work across the border. Feeble law enforcement efforts are hamstrung by corruption that extends high into Mexico’s political apparatus. President Calderon has tried to solve this problem by relying on the army instead of the police to go after the gangs, and he has had a measure of success in killing or capturing some of the most notorious gang leaders. But Mexico’s gangs have not been reluctant to fight back, taking on the state through assassination of high-ranking officials and terror campaigns.

If the army continues to press them, the violence could easily escalate. Mexico’s gangs could carry out large-scale terrorist bombings, as the narco traffickers did in Colombia, as a warning to authorities to back off. The gangs could also finance local terrorist groups to distract authorities.

The deterioration of northern Mexico from crime-ridden to crime-ruled would be gradual and insidious. Nominal state authority would still exist, and local political leaders would continue to be elected and make speeches. Police would continue to deal with petty crime. Commerce would continue. Superficially, northern Mexico might appear normal—a failed state does not necessarily have to look like Somalia, the guerrilla-infested departments of Colombia or the North West province of Pakistan. But no-go areas and untouchable crime bosses protected by heavily armed private armies would point to the real locus of power if the central government decided that rooting out the criminals was not worth the blood and treasure it would require. From Mexico’s perspective, illegal immigration and drug consumption are US problems.

Although this situation would hardly be good news for the US war on drugs, the United States could live with it. Concerns would increase only if American expatriates living in Mexico became regular victims of criminal violence, or especially if the violence were to spread across the border into the United States. The expatriates could always decide to leave if things got too dangerous. But it may be difficult to prevent the violence from spreading across the border if Mexican drug traffickers compete to take control of downstream distribution or decide to engage in other criminal operations in the United States.

Those, too, would be regarded as law enforcement problems if and until the violence reached intolerable levels, which would make it increasingly, as during the Mexican Revolution, a matter of national security.

There is also the much-feared (and much exaggerated) possibility that the crime bosses might smuggle terrorists or weapons of terror into the United States. There is no evidence of linkages between Mexico’s gangs and foreign terrorist organizations, and it is to be hoped that gang leaders are smart enough not to imperil their highly profitable businesses by doing things that would unleash an all-out US-led effort to destroy them. But there is always the possibility that a gang might be tempted by a huge cash offer, or that a gang under pressure might in desperation be willing to take the risk or simply would consider itself invulnerable to US retaliation.

Except for the period during the Mexican Revolution, the United States has no experience living next door to a failed state. Its options for containing the violence produced by the revolution were not very good then, and given the number of Americans living in Mexico and the importance of trade with Mexico, they are even less attractive now.


Nice one, Mr BoShambles -- basically, what I'm hearing is that Mexico is in danger of becoming a failed state -- though obviously that doesn't mean that it's right on the precipice.

Mr BoShambles

Nice one, Mr BoShambles -- basically, what I'm hearing is that Mexico is in danger of becoming a failed state -- though obviously that doesn't mean that it's right on the precipice.
Sergio Aguayo Quezada - Mexico: A State of Failure - writing @

Is Mexico, then, a "failed" state? In general terms, the answer must be no - if only because the state still controls most of its territory. However, the situation becomes less clear if the actual, close working of cities and institutions are examined: here, the state's presence is often notional, as those who control the power-strings are the narcos. The government of Felipe Calderón is disoriented and passive in face of the corruption, inequality and impunity that bleed and debilitate society and the state. The feeling that we are marching towards a precipice is accentuated.


I'm thinking in terms of the state apparatus remaining, but being disfunctional, i.e. who controls it -- narcos, elected officials, bit of both, neither, who?

Mr BoShambles

Ronfeldt and Arquilla, in their work on netwar (pdf chapters available to download here), identify two key principles which seem relevant here:

firstly: that ‘hierarchies have a difficult time fighting networks’;

thus, secondly, that ‘it takes networks to fight networks’.

They argue that organizational innovation - embracing principles of decentralised networking and information-operations – is necessary if national governments are to develop the capabilities to respond to threats posed by networked non-state actors.

Question is: are the mexican govt/miliary up to the challenge? Does the political will and/or insitutional incentives exist to make these transformations?

Mr BoShambles

What chapters should I print out?
Chap 1 for discussion of the basic thesis. Chap 3 for analysis (by Williams who i just linked to) of criminal networks - most relevant to this discussion. On Mexico:

In Mexico, [President] Salinas was able to amass a personal fortune as his reward for providing high-level protection and support for drug traffickers. Over $130 million was deposited in Swiss banks, much of it via Citibank in New York. General Guttierez, who was head of Mexico’s antidrug unit yet in the pay of major drug traffickers, provides another example of the capacity of criminal networks to insinuate themselves into licit institutions in ways that are highly corrosive of the power, authority, and purpose of these institutions. It is this capacity that makes criminal networks so difficult to attack. Indeed, the next example highlights how a criminal network can embed or nest itself in a legitimate financial institution. (p. 87-8)
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My brother, who works at a well-known consultant firm, recently told me that the situation at his company's Mexico City branch is getting so perilous that they have a hard time recruiting international talent. Apparently, one of the senior partners had had her children kidnapped and held for ransom, several workers had had their homes looted at gunpoint, and street muggings were of increasingly frequent occurrence.

It would be interesting to hear a take from some of our Mexico-based Dissensians. I remember someone mentioning that he or she lived in Monterrey.