Document Details
, ,
Federations Magazine Article
Publication Year:
Uniting to Fight the Drug Lords

Uniting to Fight the Drug Lords BY Lisa J. Adams

The three northern mexico
border-state governors presented
the perfect image of
Mexican tradition and unity,
riding side by side on horseback in an
annual celebration of regional pride. The
one aberration: hundreds of state and
federal police officers guarding them
with high-powered weapons from the
roadway and rooftops. The annual cabalgata,
or “horse parade,” is held to
celebrate common cultures and goals,
but this year, its seventh, it took on a
weightier meaning: joining ranks against
the deadly drug traffickers who have
turned their communities into bloodstained
More than ever before, the 31 states of
the Mexican federation are collaborating
with each other and the federal government
to fight the ruthless multibillion
dollar drug cartels that are engaged in a
brutal contest for prime smuggling
routes and exercising ever more brazen
acts of violence against the poorly
equipped and corrupt law enforcement
agencies charged with keeping them in
check. “In terms of drug trafficking, we
are going to continue waging the battle,
and in this we have to work together,”
said Natividad Gonzalez Paras, Governor
of Nuevo León, as he joined his counterparts
from the states of Coahuila and
Tamaulipas in a 53-kilometre journey
through the region in late March 2007.
As the two-day cabalgata came to a
close, authorities from Coahuila,
Durango, Chihuahua, Tamaulipas and
Nuevo León, joined by the U.S. state of
Texas, announced they had signed 19
cooperative agreements, including an
accord to share intelligence and forge
collaborative crime-fighting operations.
States Erect Roadblocks
Just days later, authorities in Nuevo
León’s capital of Monterrey revealed that
they and neighbouring states would
together set up roadblocks to capture
drug traffickers crossing their borders.
The reason: the slaying of nine people in
the city, including two state police commanders,
in less than 48 hours. The
crime-plagued state of Durango in the
north has forged similar alliances with
neighbours Coahuila and Sinaloa.
In February, the National Conference
of Governors (CON AGO) issued a “Public
Safety Declaration” expressing its “full
willingness to join forces and resources
with the federal government; our complete
commitment to construct a single,
strong, decisive, and vigorous front that
allows us to show that no criminal entity
can overpower the Mexican state.”
It wasn’t always this way. In the past,
Mexico’s municipal, state, and federal
governments did not collaborate; they
competed with each other or they passed
the buck. “States and cities had the ability
to cooperate legally but it didn’t lead
to any results,” said Maria del Rosario
Castro Lozano, Director of the National
Institute for Federalism and Municipal
Development (inafed), an agency of
Mexico’s Interior Department. “The
states would say, ‘It’s not our responsibility,
it’s the federal government’s,’ or the
municipalities would say it was the state’s
jurisdiction. That has changed,” Castro
said. “Now public safety is seen as the
responsibility of all. They are sharing
intelligence information and coordinating
better in both preventive and punitive
Uniting to Fight the Drug Lords
President Calderón’s plan could take years to implement
Government of Tamaulipas
Three Mexican state governors celebrate the 2007 cabalgata or interstate cavalcade on horseback in March. From left: Eugenio Hernandez
Flores, Governor of Tamaulipas; Humberto Moreira Valdés, Governor of Coahuila; and Natividad Gonzalez Paras, Governor of Neuvo León.

june | july 2007
f o r u m f e d . o rg
operations.” There are two primary reasons
for this newfound cooperation: a
growing acknowledgment that the states
cannot confront the powerful drug trade
alone, and President Felipe Calderón’s
insistence that public safety be the
nation’s No. 1 priority.
The scale is huge. Rival drug cartels in
Sinaloa and the Gulf are waging a bloody
battle for smuggling routes and an evergrowing
domestic drug market, targeting
each other and law enforcement officers.
Mexico had nearly 500 drug-related
deaths in the first three months of this
year, according to officials who say the
increased violence is partly to fill power
vacuums created by the arrests of highranking
cartel members in recent years.
The victims included more than 70 police
officers, according to federal Congressman
Francisco Javier Santos Arreola, a
member of the lower house’s public
safety commission.
“The problem is so serious that it is
overwhelming the states and they are
looking to others for help,” said Mexico
City drug expert Jorge Chabat, of the
Centre for Economic Research and
Teaching. “There is every indication
they are collaborating more than in
the past.”
So, since he took office on Dec. 1,
2006, President Calderón, of the conservative
National Action Party (pan),
has sent more than 24,000 army
troops to fight organized crime in
northern Baja California, Nuevo León,
Tamaulipas, Sinaloa, southern
Guerrero, Chiapas, and his central
home state of Michoacan, among others.
He stresses that the war against the drug
traffickers will be won only with the longterm,
permanent cooperation of federal,
state, and municipal law-enforcement
agencies. “It is indispensable that we
work in a united manner,” Calderón told
a gathering of state governors and top
public safety officials in January.
Calderón Promises Police Reform
A key piece of Calderón’s anti-crime
strategy is “Platform Mexico,” a plan to
set up a national drug trafficking intelligence
database, accessible to all three
levels of government. He has also proposed
revamping national police forces
and police departments in all 31 states
plus the federal district of Mexico City
through implementing international
training standards, testing to weed out
corrupt elements, and introducing upto-
date technology.
“The idea is for all police forces in
Mexico – local, state and, of course, federal
– to comply with standards that will
ensure that the public can trust our
police,” the President said. In addition,
he is proposing sweeping reforms to
Mexico’s justice system, for years plagued
by corruption, inefficiency and a lack of
public accountability. The suggested
reforms, some of which require congressional
approval, include oral trials,
witness protection programs, and a single,
nationwide criminal code. Each state
now writes its own code, and Calderón
said the differences between definitions
and punishments for crimes often create
“loopholes through which criminals
escape justice.”
Mexico’s States Begin to
In fact, Jorge Chabat explains, collaboration
by the states with the federal
government was proposed as early as
1995 within the newly established
national public safety system, a mechanism
that also envisioned a national
intelligence database. The problem,
however, both then and under Calderón’s
predecessor, President Vicente Fox, “is
that some states didn’t provide information
and others provided incomplete
data, so that it didn’t work out in an efficient
manner. There were no mechanisms
to obligate them to participate. It was
more or less a voluntary thing.”
Another obstacle was money.
According to inafed’s Castro, federal
funding aimed at strengthening police
forces with new equipment or improved
training, often didn’t reach its target under
a system that allowed states to distribute
the money as they saw fit. In contrast, a
new federal aid package to the states, proposed
by President Calderón and
approved by Congress, disburses money
to specific projects and goals, and local
governments will be audited to ensure the
funds have been used as intended.
Calderón has also instituted mandatory
drug testing in police departments,
and has set up a system to monitor how
well states comply with instructions to
provide information for a national
Legislature is Final Hurdle
Like Calderón, Fox presented a massive
package of judicial and legal reforms to
Congress, but he was stymied by his party’s
lack of a majority in both houses and
the resistance of opposition parties
who also shot down his proposed
energy, fiscal and labour reforms.
Calderón may have better luck. His
party now has a plurality in both the
lower house and Senate, and the president,
a career politician, has already
shown the capability of negotiating
with his opponents that Fox did not.
The new president’s 2007 federal budget
proposal soared effortlessly
through the federal legislature, which
also recently passed a Calderónproposed
overhaul of the government
workers’ pension system – the country’s
first significant federal reform in
more than a decade. Still, achieving a
political consensus is just the first step
in pushing forward the police, justice,
and prison reforms necessary for a successful
battle against organized crime.
Even if they are approved, such actions
will take years to implement.
The powerful drug gangs, meanwhile,
are signalling that they don’t plan to go
down easily. This year, just from Feb. 6 to
April 2, drug-related crimes claimed more
than two dozen victims, including 12 police
officers, the daughter of an army general
shot in Mexico City, two alleged police
informants in Cancun, and two purported
cartel members, one of whom was
beheaded in a widely distributed video.
Calderón has vowed to fight on. “We
are not going to surrender, either from
provocation or attacks,” he told drugfighting
troops during a recent pep talk.
“We will give no truce or quarter to
Mexico’s enemies.”