Jun 6, 2014

Tamaulipas: Mexico's black hole gets even more dangerous

The English-language press has given an unusual amount of attention to Tamaulipas lately, soon after the federa government declared it the crisis state in turn and launched a federal offensive against organized crime there.

Tamaulipas is, indeed, on fire again, as is Ciudad Juarez. The specific reasons are different, but one thing is clear: that calling in the Army will not solve the problem. We have only to look back at Operation Chihuahua to see that.

A recent piece in InSight Crime titled "How Federal Security Deployments in Mexico Are Set Up to Fail" also argues that the federal efforts will not succeed. InSight Crime analyses are often not very deep and this one isn't an exception. However, they often gather interesting facts in one place and address current issues.

The main argument is that local corruption will always undermine federal law enforcement efforts. The criticism I have is first, the data offered on the corruption of local and state officials is important and undoubtedly affects the effectiveness of federal intervention, but the implication is that federal troops and forces are not corrupt. This is not true. Yet there is no mention of the collusion with crime and corruption that occur among federal forces.

Secondly, he report starts with teh premise that Tamaulipas was a success story last year with a significantly lower homicide rate. I was suspicious of the low 2013 homicide figure and in any case would not accept these government figures at face value. The government practice last year was to under-report violence, including through suppression of the press.

But actually the problem with the report is even worse. When I checked the citation, the number of homicides reported for Tamaulipas in 2013 is actually 1,043--twice what the author states. I requested an explanation from InSight Crime but have not heard back. Another lesson in being wary of reported data. Not only are government sources vastly under-reported (these are only homicides reported to the Public Ministry in a nation and state where few people choose to report crimes), but reporters and researchers make mistakes or manipulate data.

This year, the SNSP--a system of the Ministry of the Interior (Gobernación)--reports 553 murders in Tamaulipas through April, putting it on track to become a record year for violence there under the Peña Nieto administration that promised that public safety rather than the drug war would be its major priority.

In other reports, Washington Post reporter Joshua Partlow has been in Tamaulipas and offers some rare glimpses into daily life there. Most of what he describes has been common for years, although the shoot-outs have stepped up. He interviews residents accustomed to extortion and people who have to go to extraordinary measures to carry out their ordinary activities.

This June 2 piece by the Guardian also tells an interesting story of the death of Tampico over the years.  An earlier article signaled the renewed violence. This article quotes a Mexican government agent reaffirming what was already clear--that in fact the Peña nieto government is bent on fighting Calderon and the U.S. government's drug war no matter what the results are for the population:
The state government spokesman Guillermo Martínez said this week that the resurgence of violence in Tamaulipas was the result of government successes in "squeezing" the criminal groups. "The important thing is that we are facing the problem head on," he said.
I'll be writing more extensively on Tamaulipas within the next couple of months. It is probably among the most difficult places to envision solutions to the fatal combination of governmental corruption and organized crime because the situation is exacerbated by the breakdown and fear among civil society. As the articles note, many have fled across the border an the rest have mostly learned to adapt the an extreme situation.

Tamaulipas has always been the black hole of Mexico--a place where people are unwilling to go into for fear of not coming out, a place where rule of law is practically non-existent and information is scarce.

- Laura Carlsen

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