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Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Glynn Custred, Professor Emeritus at California State University East Bay, Hayward and a member of the American Anthropological Association and the Association of Borderland Studies.
FP: Glynn Custred, welcome to Frontpage Interview.
I would like to talk to you today about what is happening in Mexico and the consequences on the United States. There is surely a crisis at hand, seeing how, among other things, the Department of Homeland Security recently issued a statement declaring that the U.S. government does not have “effective control” of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Let’s begin with this question:
Is Mexico a failing state?
Custred: Thanks Jamie.
Mexicans bristle at the mention of Mexico as a failed state. Yet if we look at what is going on down there, this designation seems more and more appropriate. The Global Policy Forum describes a failed state as one that “can no longer perform basic functions such as education, security, or governance,” a situation which comes about for various reasons. One is fractious violence within the country that leads to a breakdown in normal state operations, and in the emergence of informal markets that operate beyond the state’s ability to tax and regulate. Banditry also increases and often powerful non-government forces, such as warlords or drug cartels, dominate certain regions of the country. That is what is happening in Mexico today. You can read about it in open sources. The Los Angeles Times has been particularly good at reporting the story in a series they have titled “Mexico under Siege.”
FP: How did Mexico fall under siege?
Custred: The process began in Mexico when the drug cartels struck back at President Felipe Calderon when he tried to bring them under control. Local officials have been murdered and local police have been corrupted. Many police now serve as armed agents of the cartels, and not as agents of the government and guardians of public order. For example, six municipal officers in the state of Nuevo Leon were recently arrested for complicity in the assassination of a local mayor. State and federal police and the Mexican army have confronted local police at gun point, and further evidence of police collusion is piling up every day.
The failure of local government finally reached the point where President Calderon launched an initiative to amend the constitution so that he can eliminate the country’s 2,000 municipal police departments. If the measure passes, the duties of local authorities will be performed by state and federal police.
But state and federal police are also subject to bribery and are under vicious assault by the cartels. Policemen are routinely murdered, brutal scenes of torture have been shown on the internet by the cartels and victims have been decapitated to intimidate the authorities and the local population. By now the situation has gone far beyond that of a police matter. The Mexican army is now engaged in what has become an internal war for control of the Mexican state. President Calderon admitted this when he said that it is clear that the cartels mean to take over.
Journalists are also murdered and terrorized into silence and innocent people have been killed around the country in the cross-fire between rival gangs and government forces. In all, 28,000 people have died in the last four years in the violence, more than in active war zones around the world.
Federal authorities themselves have also been corrupted even at the highest levels, raising the question of how deep the cartels have already penetrated into the most reliable branches of the Mexican government. Corruption on that level affects not just the government’s struggle with the cartels, but its ability to perform routine duties in many sectors of the country. The deteriorating situation in Mexico certainly fits the description of a failing state whether those in power on both sides of the border are willing to admit it.
The failure of the Mexican state is not just speculation. In December 2008 the United States Joint Forces Command issued a strategic evaluation of threats facing the United States. The report warned, in a worst case scenario, of the “rapid and sudden” collapse of two major states, Pakistan and Mexico. Former drug czar General Barry McCaffry has also commented on the seriousness of the situation, saying that the Mexican state is fighting for its survival, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently described the violence in Mexico as an insurgency. Presumably the powerful, wealthy and well armed cartels would like to harness the state to its growing criminal enterprises. If they succeed, we will find ourselves dealing with a narco-state on our southern flank. In the process, the United States will have to deal with problems arising from a weakened, perhaps even a failed state right next door.
FP: What are the consequences to the United States?
Custred: Admiral Mike Mullen chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff is concerned about security in the United States posed by the situation in Mexico. One threat is that terrorists will take advantage of well established smuggling networks to pass weapons and personnel into the United States. The out-of-control border also encourages the movement back and forth of criminal elements, many organized into vicious transnational gangs that are extending their operations from Central America, through Mexico and throughout the United States even to Canada, a NGO no one in those countries wants to succeed.
The smuggling networks that operate across the border are the results of the intertwining, and in some cases, of the merger of drug the people smuggling enterprises. The United States government, under both Democrat and Republican administrations, is partially to blame through their stubborn refusal to abide by the rule of law on the southern border. One consequence is the threat to American institutions of the same kind of corruption that has neutralized or co-opted their counterparts on the other side of the line. In fact, this has already started to happen. In that respect, and in ceding control of part of our sovereign territory to extra-legal forces, you might say that the U.S. is also a failed state, at least in that part of the country and in that aspect of its operation.
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