The three-way battles between the Sinaloan Cartel, the Gulf Cartel, and the Mexican Government intensified this year. The Mexican military deployed 26,000 troops to engage in counterinsurgency operations.

The criminal gangs are waging what can be called a “criminal insurgency.” Unlike classic nationalist insurgency, they do not aim to overthrow the ruling government and establish their own. Instead, they hollow out the state and create a vacuum of power. This protects their black markets and creates micro-states within states.

This kills thousands a year. The local police are outgunned or bribed off. Corruption weakened law & order in a number of Mexican states.

The black market in Mexico produces over $30 billion a year. About $20 billion comes from drug smuggling. The rest varies. Kidnapping and ransoming is widespread; each victim is ransomed for ~$20,000. There are protection rackets, robbery of banks and casinos, prostitution, fake merchandise, arms smuggling, gems smuggling and human trafficking.

This is not a “Drug War” and it never was about drugs. If it was a drug war, the solution would be very simple. Legalize the drugs and eliminate the source of income for insurgents and criminals. In reality, everything is much more complex. Whatever utility would come from legalizing drugs, it would not “solve” the wars in Mexico or Colombia.

The gangs are developing political motivations and proto-socialist ideas. The big losers may actually be the drug smugglers

Here’s how it works:
The Sinaloan Cartel is centered in the Sinaloan state on the Pacific Coast. The Gulf Cartel operates in the west. They each have their ‘sphere of influence’ where they control local crime. They push each other out of major towns and smuggling trade routes through intimidation and murder. Some towns like Nuevo Laredo became warzones.

The black market makes them wealthy enough to grow into larger and more complex networks than gangs seen in the United States. These gangs connect with FARC and MS-13 other transnational criminal and insurgent organizations to get heavier weaponry. Basically, Northern Mexico has gangbangers with AK-47s.

The Cartels developed paramilitary forces. The Gulf Cartel uses the “Zetas” who are ex-soldiers turned mercenaries.

Corrupt local police are not much help. Many work for the Cartels while the honest ones are frightened into submission. Where they attempt to fight crime, the Cartels can retaliate and overrun a town with gunmen and massacre the cops.

The Mexican military reclassified the problem as a military insurgency that has overwhelmed local law enforcement. President Felipe Calderon recognizes this warfare and responded aggressively.

The Mexican Army is in poor shape and may not be up to the task. This is a depressing report.

In the eight years since the Zetas were organized, more than 120,000 Mexican soldiers have deserted the army, according to the government’s records. Yet the country’s defense officials have made little effort to track their whereabouts, security experts said, creating a potential pool of military-trained killers for the drug-trafficking gangs wreaking havoc in the country.

…Until receiving a raise this year, rank-and-file soldiers made $330 a month, less than many police officers.

…”Many are scared,” said retired Gen. Luis Garfias Magaña, noting that hundreds of soldiers have been killed in clashes with the cartels over the past decade. “Before, a few died combating guerrilla groups,” he said. “Now, they’re fighting a veritable war against the traffickers.”

The Army has a desertion rate of 8% per year. The government recently increased pay by almost 50% but it won’t stop such a high desertion rate.

High desertion rates, corruption, and tons of drug money fuel the growth of the paramilitary forces:

Gomez said she believes that rival gangs were already using former soldiers to combat the Zetas. She pointed to a video aired on YouTube in March showing men with assault rifles and combat fatigues interrogating two captives, who identified themselves as Zetas. Soon after, another video appeared of unidentified captors torturing and decapitating a man with a “Z” painted on his stomach.

“You can tell by how they act,” she said of the captors. “These aren’t police. And they certainly aren’t local ranch hands.”

The Mexican Military has retaken lost towns and territory despite its problems. The major drug cartels are weakening and fragmenting into smaller and more dispersed organizations. This will reduce their individual capability, but will make them more difficult to destroy.

The Zetas have less and less use for the Gulf Cartel and are becoming an independent organization.

“Working with brutal Central American gangs and former death squads from Guatemala known as Kaibiles, the Zetas have morphed into a 2,000-member paramilitary organization operating in most of Mexico, including the Federal District, Mexico City”

One U.S. law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said clear signs have emerged of a growing rift between the Gulf cartel and their enforcers. The mistrust is so great that leaders of both organizations – Jorge Eduardo Costilla-Sanchez, known as El Coss, the reputed leader of the Gulf cartel, and Heriberto Lazcano, known as El Verdugo, “The Executioner,” head of the Zetas, communicate strictly via teleconference or through intermediaries.

“The Gulf cartel created the lion, but now the lion has wised up and controls the handler,” said the U.S. law enforcement official, on condition of anonymity. “This has resulted in the lion roaming free and leaving a bloody trail of chaos. The Zetas don’t ask the Gulf cartel permission for anything anymore. They simply inform them of their activities, whenever they feel like it.

The ones with the most guns are in charge.

The war gets more complex as rival factions fight each other and the government at once.

The “New Blood” probably refers to a group of Gulf Cartel operatives who have turned against the Zetas as members of the organization bid to control trafficking routes and local drug markets. Genaro Garcia Luna, Mexico’s secretary of public safety, said last month that the Gulf cartel had split into rival bands.

And this…

In recent months, a shadowy new group known as La Gente Nueva, or “the new people,” has entered the scene. La Gente Nueva, according to both U.S. and Mexican authorities, represents an effort to counter the Zetas’ growing reach. The band of mostly former police officers appears to be receiving funding from the Sinaloa cartel and has set out also to avenge the lives of hundreds of police officers killed by the Zetas, authorities said.

Warfare becomes less centralized and returns to a quasi-tribal mode of fighting. Small groups engage in tit-for-tat retaliation in a shadow war.

If we were more cynical, we could encourage the barbarians to keep at each other’s throats. Yet, infighting between gangs does not stop a country from sliding into lawlessness.

Mexico’s leading news magazine, Proceso, quoted Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora as telling Mexican legislators that the Zetas are in control of several regions of the country and have also been “taking control of several of our police forces, corrupting them. … They’re taking our police away.” A spokeswoman later confirmed Mr. Medina Mora’s comments.

The Zetas’ strategy is to gain control of distribution routes into the U.S. by controlling border entry points and transshipment points, U.S. and Mexican authorities said.

The fact that Mexico is waging a war just south of the US border is curiously unnoted in the American media.

From what I see, the Mexican Army needs to be drastically reformed before it can be effective in counterinsurgency operations. The government needs to vet Mexican Police to eliminate corruption. Securing the US-Mexican border would reduce smuggling and therefore reduce the finances for paramilitaries.

How can you win this type of war?

“He pulls a knife, you pull a gun. He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue. That’s the Chicago way!”