State Department cables slam Calderon’s handling of Mexican cartels

Mike Riggs Contributor
Font Size:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was right on the money when she said in September that Mexico is beginning to resemble Colombia of 20 years ago, according to leaked diplomatic cables.

“The [Government of Mexico’s] inability to halt the escalating numbers of narco-related homicides in places like Ciudad Juarez and elsewhere — the nationwide total topped 7,700 in 2009 — has become one of Calderon’s principal political liabilities as the general public has grown more concerned about citizen security,” reads a leaked State Department cable depicting problems facing Mexican President Felipe Calderon in the last three years of his term. “Slow economic recovery and budgetary pressures are reducing government resources and complicating the government’s ability to balance priorities and come up with a compelling and sustainable narrative that ties the fight against organized crime to the daily concerns of most Mexicans.”

Clinton made a similar case in September during an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations.

“These drug cartels are now showing more and more indices of insurgency; all of a sudden, car bombs show up which weren’t there before,” Clinton said. “It’s looking more and more like Colombia looked 20 years ago, where the narco-traffickers control certain parts of the country, not significant parts. It’s going to take a combination of improved institutional capacity and better law enforcement and, where appropriate, military support for that law enforcement married to political will to be able to prevent this from spreading and to try to beat it back.”

President Obama attempted to walk back Clinton’s remarks at the time in an interview with La Opinion, a California-based Spanish newspaper. “Mexico is vast and progressive democracy, with a growing economy, and as a result you cannot compare what is happening in Mexico with what happened in Colombia 20 years ago,” Obama said. But it seems that Obama was splitting hairs in his assessment: Mexico may not mirror Colombia, but there’s little doubt among State Department officials that the Mexican government has failed to reign in the country’s drug cartels.

The cable, one of thousands leaked last week by Australian activist and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, suggests that jurisdiction confusion has rendered the Mexican government’s investigations almost moot.

“Mexican security institutions are often locked in a zero-sum competition in which one agency’s success is viewed as another’s failure, information is closely guarded, and joint operations are all but unheard of,” the cable reads. “Prosecution rates for organized crime-related offenses are dismal; two percent of those detained are brought to trail. Only 2 percent of those arrested in Ciudad Juarez have even been charged with a crime.”

In January, Calderon revoked military command over Ciudad Juarez, the neighbor city to El Paso, Texas, and put Federal Police in charge. The move was long overdue, according to the leaked cable, because the Mexican military lacks the ability to “collect and introduce evidence into the judicial system.” Under military rule, “arrests skyrocketed, prosecutions remained flat, and both the military and public have become increasingly frustrated.”

However, due to the competitive nature of Mexico’s law enforcement institutions, “the command change in Juarez has been seen by political classes and the public as a Presidential repudiation of [Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional],” Mexico’s Department of Defense.

Other leaked cables from Mexico revealed that the Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. military are heavily involved in training Mexican marine units and providing intel for their strikes.