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  • José Fernando López

Op-Ed about a paper by Eduardo Salcedo-Albaran and Luis Jorge Garay, at the Huffington Post

One-sided Death Toll

Posted: 02/ 6/2012 7:13 am

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Since the publishing of my recent post about the consequences that Mexico has suffered because of its war on drugs, including the dramatic rise of corruption within the police force (or at least the perception of corruption), I have gained access to a report by Eduardo Salcedo-Albaran and Luis Jorge Garay, two prestigious Colombian social researchers that have spent the last few years documenting, based on judiciary documentation, the issue of the illegal networks that sprout around drug activity and the co-optation of the state institutions by the criminal gangs that operate in Mexico, Guatemala and Colombia.

The report, published in the Small Wars Journal and titled "How Corruption Affects National Security of the United States," contains some hypotheses -- exploratory but worrisome -- about the activity of the drug cartels from the American side of its border with Mexico. According to the authors, the violence that has struck Mexico in the last few years -- about 50,000 dead during the past five years -- has reached many territories, rural and urban, located very near the border. This includes Ciudad Juarez, which is considered one of the most dangerous places in Mexico. But the same does not occur in the US side.

"No mass murders, piles of corpses in the middle of highways, decapitations, mutilations, incinerations or tortured bodies hanging in urban bridges have been registered in the U.S. side of the border," states the Salcedo-Albaran and Garay report. "In fact, official records show a decreasing rate of specific crimes. For instance, a comprehensive and detailed analysis of data provided by 1,600 county police agencies located at the Southwestern U.S. border, show a general decreasing tendency in murder rates between 2005 and 2009 in a 100-mile region near the border," say the authors, who also ask themselves if this implies that the Mexican gang operation in the U.S. has lost strength during the last few years.

Their answer is no. The U.S. authorities repeatedly state that the reach of the Mexican cartels has penetrated close to 1,200 American cities, and that the amount of drugs captured at the border is higher every time. Then why are the vast majority of deaths present only on one side of the border? The authors' explanation is that, for several reasons, "intense violent procedures like those observed in Mexico seem to be a strategy mainly avoided on the U.S. side of the border" by Mexican drug cartels. This strategy has been replaced on the U.S. side by more sophisticated and untraditional forms of corruption.

The Salcedo-Albaran and Garay report cites a document from the Department of Homeland Security that states that "since 2003, 129 U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials have been arrested on corruption charges and, during 2009, 576 investigations were opened on allegations of improper conduct by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials." They also emphasize that "different U.S. official reports, including the Department of Homeland Security and the Joint Forces Command, point out that the Mexican cartels and gangs represent one the most important threats to U.S. National Security because of the increasing recruitment, corruption and co-optation of U.S. officials."

They do not try to undermine the importance of the corruption in Mexico. Quite the contrary, as they stated in their upcoming book called Narcotráfico, Corrupción y Estado: Cómo las redes ilícitas reconfiguran instituciones en Colombia, México y Guatemala, each day there are more institutions corrupted by drug traffickers -- in Colombia they managed to gain control of 40% of Congress --. What they emphasize is that in the U.S., the level of violence by the drug cartels is much lower, but that the corruption is and has been more sophisticated. Although they do not go into details, this is related with institutions that are much more powerful and with a lower level of impunity.

The truth is that this involves an extreme and evident danger to the United States: no one pays enough attention in the political world to the procedures used by the drug traffickers on U.S. soil. "These procedures could be underestimated because of lack of violence; however, critical consequences such as institutional infiltration and co-optation must be considered as threats for National Security." For this reason, the authors warn that "innovative approaches for understanding the structure of Mexican Transnational Criminal Networks, their procedures, and more importantly, to what extent and perdurability they are reaching into the United States security agencies and institutions through corruption and co-optation, is essential in improving the U.S. capacity to face this serious challenge to its security agencies." This is a danger that cannot be resolved by building a wall.

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