Sep 10, 2008

Chronicles from the Drug War #1: Who are the good guys?

It's confusing trying to keep track of the good guys and the bad guys in Mexico's all-out war against organized crime these days. Consider two news stories from the past few days alone:

1. Lorena González Hernández was arrested on Monday in relation to the kidnapping and murder of Fernando Martí, the 14 year old son of the founder of a chain of sports stores. So who is Lorena González? According to press reports and government statements, she's a federal police officer, working in--you guessed it--the kidnappings department. Not only that, she worked for years in the Federal Intelligence Agency (AFI) as an Interpol agent.

Who better than an insider to design a bust-proof operation?

Unfortunately, we're not talking about a Scorcese film here. The case has shaken the entire country due to its brutality(the boy's decomposing body was found in the trunk of a car weeks after the ransom was paid). Gonzalez's family members deny the charges and contradictions have emerged in government statements. But "Comandante Lore" is implicated as the person who stopped the Martí family car at a false police checkpoint, capturing Fernando, the driver (also murdered) and the bodyguard on July 4.

2. A shoot-out between federal police and army, and local police in Torreón Monday left several dead. But aren´t the police supposed to be fighting the bad guys and not each other? National newspapers report that allegedly a number of police officers on the Torreón payroll moonlighted as protection for the Gulf Cartel. The shoot-out began when federal forces set up a roadblock and captured presumed drug traffickers along with several police officers. Other municipal agents then attempted to free their partners and the shoot-out ensued. Over 30 local officers are under arrest.

These news stories are nothing new here in Mexico. What's important about them is the conclusions we draw. They leave little doubt that Mexican police forces on all levels--local, state and federal--are a rat's nest of corruption. Nobody denies that. And yet a truly thorough and committed effort to change the structure of the organizations has not even been designed. Instead these forces will received huge amounts of money from the Mexican and U.S. governments, as well as training that will no doubt be useful when they cross over.

When the lines between the good guys and the bad guys are as blurred as they are in the Mexican drug war, it's important to proceed with caution and an integral, long-term plan. This does not exist--not in the Merida Initiative or in the Mexican government's many rhetorical declarations of force. The Mexican budget includes an increase in the security budget of over 30%, mostly to confront traffickers while leaving many of the root causes of the violence untouched. Pouring weaponry and resources on the problem may only blur the lines further and accelerate the violence.


  1. Laura,
    I'm a journalist in Brazil, may I have your e-mail address? Or you contact me using my profile info. I've just read your piece on Obama and Latin America, published in Le Monde Diplomatique-Brasil.

  2. Just an update, since I've been remiss at posting lately: the grenade explosions at the Morelia plaza celebration of Mexican independence have brought the drug war to a new level. The indiscriminate murder of men, women and children differs from previous targeted hits. We will keep you posted here but it just seems to get worse...