Ooh! It’s Just Like “Clear and Present Danger”!

by Timothy Chilman

email: timothychilman@yahoo.com

Mexican soldiers manning a random checkpoint

Mexico is in a bit of a pickle. In December, 2006, President Felipe Calderon kicked-off a crackdown upon the seven drug cartels which earn $13bn every year from transporting drugs to the United States. The government says that 34,612 people have been killed since then, including drug gang members, security force personnel, and innocent civilians. The death toll of 15,237 last year was the steepest yet. Violence has increased as previously allied drug cartels fight amongst themselves, with most of the action being between the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas, who were formerly its enforcers, and between the Juárez and Sinaloa cartels. Internecine squabbling by the cartels has resulted in higher prices and lower purity of drugs.

Offshoots of the main cartels have emerged, many in the last year: Mano con ojos, (Hands with Eyes); Mata Zetas (Zeta Killers); Caballeros Templarios (Knights Templar); Cartel de Pacifico Sur (the South Pacific Cartel); Cartel del Centro; and Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion. These groups are exceedingly violent as they compete for a slice of turf. Established cartels see them as an enemy, and provide intelligence concerning them to governmental agencies.

Mexican soldiers looking busy

50,000 soldiers and police have been pitted against the cartels. Records amounts of drugs have been seized, and high-ranking cartel leaders imprisoned or killed. Concern has been expressed over the army’s lack of accountability. The Mexican Human Rights Commission received 3,430 complaints about the military from citizens, alleging rape, torture, arbitrary detention, and theft. Corruption is rife within the police, and the army has sometimes been used in its place: the army replaced police in 22 cities in the middle of June. Reforming the police is expected to take years.

Mass graves have been discovered, the handiwork of cartels, sometimes housing almost 200 bodies. There have been beheadings, faces cut off and sewn to footballs, and bodies hung from bridges. In March, 2010, gunmen suspected of being associated with drug traffickers killed a pregnant U.S. consulate worker and her husband in the violence-riven town of Ciudad Juárez, not far south of El Paso. Gunmen also murdered the husband of another consulate employee and wounded his two young children. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent, Jaime Zapata, was killed on a Mexican highway. Suspects in his killing were apprehended thanks to U.S. drones. Government sources in Arizona said that Zetas dressed as SWAT officers were responsible for the murder of a man in Phoenix. In the past, Americans were avoided as their deaths cause excessive fuss.

A cartel operative claims that busloads of people were intercepted, with the elderly killed, young women raped, and able-bodied men told to fight each other to the death with sticks, machetes, and hammers. Survivors were recruited. Such an episode was recounted by Borderland Beat, a blog which concentrates on drug cartels. Peter Hann, a retired FBI agent who worked against the drug cartels, said that killing in this manner is time-consuming, inefficient, and a poor way to recruit people, and seems to have been intended for no more than amusement.

Scores of tunnels have been found, with ventilation, lighting, rails, and pulleys. The most sophisticated was between San Diego and Tijuana, the principal entry point for drugs into California. More than 70 have been found since 2008, more than were discovered in the previous six years. California is a popular location, as its clay-like soil is easily dug. San Diego’s Otay Mesa region is particularly popular due to the number of warehouses on both sides of the border.

The cartels have access to military-grade weapons: a minimum of 12 M4 carbines with grenade launchers have been seized.

Phil Jordan, an ex-CIA operative with contacts in the U.S. intelligence community, said that El Zetas are smuggling military-grade weapons into Mexico. Shipments are made from Alliance Airport in Forth Worth to El Paso and Columbus, after which they are sent south. The DEA’s Aviation Operations Center is at Alliance. Tosh Plumlee, whom we shall encounter again later, said that military-grade weapons were discovered in 2009 in a warehouse. The cartels, Plumlee said, are in possession of handguns, assault rifles, anti-aircraft weapons, grenade launchers, body armor, and night-vision goggles. Jesús Rejón Aguilar, third in line to the Zetas’ throne, said that weapons were purchased in the United States. The weapons have not been found at routine crime scenes, which Plumlee said was because they are being stored until the 2012 Mexican general election.

It has been reported that more than a hundred trucks have been discovered which had been fitted with air conditioning, holes for firing through, and inch-thick armor capable of deflecting machine gun fire,. They provide a psychological advantage over police, intimidate civilians, and have been labeled “narco tanks” by the popular press.

The narco submarine seized in Ecuador

In February 2011, a submarine capable of carrying eight tons of drugs was seized by Colombian troops. Colonel Manuel Hurtado, chief of staff of the Colombian Pacific Command, said it would have taken between six and eight months and around $2 million to build. The previous July, another was seized in neighboring Ecuador.

Los Zetas was established by men who had deserted from Mexican special forces, the Grupo Aeromóvil de Fuerzas Especiales. Former members of Guatemalan special forces have also been recruited, many of whom were trained in counter-insurgency by American military advisers during the civil war in Guatemala. A Congressional report in 2008 stated that the cartels are increasingly forging links with established U.S. drug gangs.

Major General Paul E. Vallely (ret.)

The bloodshed in Mexico led Major General Paul E. Vallely (ret.) to suggest that the United States invade Mexico “to protect and secure the American people.” He believes this eventuality would be covered by the Posse Comitatus Act of 1848, and that no laws would be violated. Things are, he says, just like it was in 1846. Vallely is a military analyst for Fox News, and also regularly rails against Islam. Republican presidential frontrunner, Rick Perry, has also suggested that it would be worthwhile to send U.S. troops to Mexico.

Vallely is highly representative of the news-gathering capabilities of Fox. He says that drug-related violence is spilling over from Mexico to the United States, but Juárez was dubbed “the world’s murder capital” by the British Guardian newspaper, while nearby El Paso is the second safest city in the United States. Mexico is a pretty big place, and crime is not exceptionally high in many areas. Its murder rate overall is lower than a number of other countries in the region. In Mexico, it is 18.4 per 100,000 people, while in Brazil it is 25, in Colombia, 37, and in El Salvador, 61.

Vallely said that Mexican drug cartels represented a “clear and present danger” to the United States, and one can imagine the U.S. president saying the exact same thing. And just like in the film, Clear and Present Danger, U.S. Army special forces have been sent to deal with it.

A U.S. Army special forces soldier

There is firm evidence that a U.S. Army special operations task force has been deployed to Mexico to train the Mexican Army in counter-insurgency. This includes training for “wet jobs” – operations where blood is spilled. The allegations were made by a one-time CIA asset with extensive experience, William Robert “Tosh” Plumlee. He flew missions where he carried munitions in one direction and drugs in the other as part of the Iran/Contra operations of the 1980s.

Plumlee has contacts deep in the world of U.S. intelligence. He has in the past attempted to expose CIA involvement with the drug trade. He sent a letter to Sen. Gary Hart in 1991 and testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in 1990. One of the many to attest to his credibility is ex-DEA undercover operative Mike Levine, who hosts the Expert Witness radio show on Pacifica Radio. He said that government agents respected Plumlee. He has been quoted by the Washington Times and UPI.

Marcos Arturo Beltran Leyva, who was killed by Mexican naval special forces

This special forces unit, Task Force 7, was originally deployed early in 2009, and uncovered a warehouse in Juárez which was owned by drug traffickers and crammed with U.S. weapons and ammunition. It provided crucial intelligence which resulted in a raid on a sweatshop in Juárez which manufactured fake Mexican Army uniforms. It worked with the Mexican Army to uncover a mass grave near Palomas. Thanks to Wikileaks, we know it worked alongside the Mexican Navy in pursuing a major drug trafficker, Arturo Beltran Leyva, who met his maker at the hands of Mexican Naval special forces in December of last year in Cuernavaca.

The Washington Post reported that the United States has deployed special force to 75 countries for training and joint operations, an increase of 15 on the previous year. The Post said the soldiers were sent to Central Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, but The Nation magazine said they had also been sent to Mexico and Colombia. Plumlee says that troops are present, too, in Bolivia, Ecuador, Colombia, Paraguay, and Peru. The New York Times reported that CIA operatives and U.S. civilian military employees had been posted to a Mexican military base. The Mexican publication El Universal said that U.S. and Mexican special forces engaged in exercises together in Colorado at the start of 2011.

One senior officer said that the Obama administration permitted “things that the previous administration did not.” Another officer said that 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue had been “asking for ideas and plans… calling us in and saying, ‘Tell me what you can do. Tell me how you do these things.” An unnamed ex-U.S. government functionary with experience of covert operations said, “Black operations have been going on forever,” adding that if Task Force 7 took part in wet jobs, “It wouldn’t be the first time.” The budget for Special Operations in 2011 was $6.3bn, a rise of 5.7 percent. The Mexican military is already known to receive much funding from the U.S. government.

Evidence of the campaign to free Colombian politican, Ingrid Betancour, who was held be the Colombian FARC guerilla group, which funds itself through drugs. Photo: OliBac

The Economic Development Council for Okaloosa County is a group of Floridan businessmen, including a number of defense contractors. It released a document purporting to be a Defense Department briefing made in May 2009 in Washington, D.C. This said that U.S. special forces were present in 18 Latin American nations including Mexico in 2009. This has never been officially confirmed. The document said that what it calls the 7th Special Forces Group was involved in the rescue from FARC guerillas of three Defense Department contractors and prominent Colombian politician, Ingrid Betancourt, in July 2008. This was reported on the internet but not in the lamestream media.

The document was marked “For Official Use Only,” meaning that it was not intended to be released publicly. It said it was for the benefit of Rep. Jeff Miller, a way-out-there right-wing Republican sympathetic to the Tea Party. His chief of staff, Dan McFaul, said that Miller did not attend a briefing on that day. An article at the website, Narco News, which said that U.S. special operations troops were in Mexico, provoked a heated denial by the Mexican embassy.

In 2008, Dubya put his name to the Merida Initiative, $400 million to fund

A diagram released at the time of the signing of the Merida initiative, showing the areas of influence of the various cartels

Mexico in its War on Drugs. One day after he scrawled his signature, a video emerged of U.S. security contractors training Mexican police in torture. One unfortunate is seen to be hauled through his own vomit, while water is forced up the nose of another, and then his head shoved into a hole containing excrement. This is against Mexican law, just as was Abu Ghraib.

Admiral Eric T. Olson, head of the Tampa-based Special Operations Command, said in a speech that “In some places, in deference to host-country sensitivities, we are lower in profile.” The activities of Task Force 7 are not coordinated with the government of Mexico, which has led to acute political upset between the State Department and the Calderon government. The Justice and State departments pressured Task Force 7 to tone down its reports “so we do not upset Mexico any more than they are already upset.”

U.S. motivations could well be less than wholesome. There is certainly no sign of Harrison Ford. When bumpkin farmers rebelled in Chiapas, Mexico’s poorest state, back in 1994, the United States quickly assisted the government of Mexico in suppressing the uprising. At the time of the Cold War, the United States also trained escuadrones de la muertes – death squads – which dealt with people who supported land distribution. Leaked information said that the U.S. military funded a band of geographers who charted the San Luis Potosi and Oaxaca regions in southern Mexico. Indigenous communities in these regions have for years asserted autonomy. Lt. Col. Geoffrey B. Demarest, the project leader, said that informal, unregulated land ownership is associated with illicit use, including violence. Privatization is obviously the order of the day.

Public backing for President Calderon’s campaign is waning, and many have called for a rethink. He says that he opposes the legalization of drugs, the only sane measure, but would be open to debate on the subject.


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