The Mexican Drug War: Is it "Narcoterrorism?"

Drug war violence in Mexico is truly horrific. But does it qualify as terrorism?
Barnard R
17 August 2010

[Editor's note: The author makes use of the term, "narcoterrorism." This is somewhat of a red herring in that "terrorism" requires no modifier. The term, "narcoterrorism," was invented by American policy makers in order to tie the drug war to terrorism (two rather nebulous and abstract concepts to "wage war" against) in order to justify continued Cold War-era like expenditures on "defense", and neo-colonial policies like Plan Columbia and the occupation of Afghanistan. At best, it's a specious term with a flimsy rationale. ~ CS]


While the Mexican government has done all it can to impart an encouraging national image abroad, and to keep the struggle against drug cartels, organized crime and other perpetrators of violence from being categorized as a war versus terrorism, said efforts would seem to have gone up in smoke. 

This insofar as car bombings by drug lords, their henchmen or others, like the two that have been committed in recent weeks, are hard to depict as anything less than terrorism.  Especially when coupled with Mexico's broader narcoterrorist violence, mayhem and deaths that have reached record levels. 

Details on the most recent car bombing, which took place in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, on August 5, at this writing have yet to be determined or made public, albeit for a police bulletin and news reports that for the most part included information from the preliminary police report.  Yet the explosion that destroyed one vehicle, and damaged two adjacent patrol cars parked in a state police compound — fortunately with no harm to police or bystanders, is being ascribed by authorities to a coche-bomba, a car bomb.

The July 15 car bombing in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, that shares the border with El Paso, Texas, was far more publicized and sensationalized, this of course because of where it occurred and due to the fact that it targeted federal police, killed three people and wounded nine.  Plus it was said to be the first car bombing against Mexican security forces in their fight against drug lords and narcotraffickers.

With respect to the car bombing count, the fact is since 1992 there have been at least five "vehicle born improvised explosive devices" that exploded, three of which appeared to be part of cartel infighting that unsuccessfully targeted Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada García, a drug kingpin of the Sinaloa Cartel.  The others, one in Chiapas and another in Acapulco, Guerrero, against nearby quasi-government and military installations, were thought to be by small guerrilla groups for supposed social causes.

Blame for the July 15, 2010 attack has been attributed to hit men for the Juárez Cartel, with the bomb reportedly triggered by means of a cell phone.  And the explosives are thought to have been Tovex, not C-4 as reported by some.

Regarding C-4 plastic explosives, spokesmen for the office of Mexico's Attorney General were adamant that it was not used.  This maybe based on evidence, but too with a dose of political sensitivity related to the possibility that military-type plastic explosives, those often associated with terrorist bombings, covert actions and foreign intrigue, were utilized in Mexico.

Tovex is a water gel explosive that has replaced dynamite almost entirely in mining, construction, oil seismic exploration, and a number of other industrial uses.  And over the past decade there have been several known thefts of Tovex in Mexico. [1]

Fingers in most of the theft cases of the aforementioned industrial use explosives have been pointed at so-called Mexican insurgents, especially those associated with the small Popular Revolutionary Army, the EPR, and its splinter groups.  Said explosives were apparently those used by the EPR in well publicized bombings of central Mexico's natural gas pipelines in 2007.

Writing on the issue in 2007, I reported: "The explosives used, which are apparently in the hands of EPR associates, were stolen in two known robberies of mining and construction firms, the first in San Luis Potosí in 2003, and the second in Oaxaca in 2006.  According to Mexico’s Office of the Attorney General (PGR), approximately 1,900 of the stolen 'RXL-788 emulsion explosive' devices are in the hands of two EPR splinter groups, the “Comando Jaramillista Morelense 23 de Mayo,” and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of the People (FARP)."[2]

Yet with the stolen devices, organized crime and drug lords too may be — and/or have been — involved.  Furthermore, this is to say nothing of other explosives quite possibly acquired since, by hook or by crook.  Any of which may be in use today — and no matter what, in the hearts and minds of people their use is terrifying.

And yes today it is "narcoterrorism."

The Mexican government, however, has ordered that the term "narcoterrorism" is not to be used nor accepted.  "We have no evidence of "narcoterrorism" in the country; (…) the motivation of these groups is economic, not ideological," Attorney General Arturo Chávez Chávez said recently.

Splitting hairs, Federal Deputy Ardelio Vargas Fosado, who chairs the National Defense Committee in the lower house of Congress, said that car bomb attacks by drug traffickers are not terrorist acts.  The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) member said, "They cannot legally be considered terrorist acts since they do not meet all of the criteria noted in the Federal Penal Code."[3]

Still, he continued, "explosives that generate agitation in social groups, causing fear and panic in the people, are used in the practice of terrorism.  The use of explosive devices, especially car bombs in the war against narcotrafficking, is very similar to terrorism criminally, which poses a clear challenge to authorities."

A retort for many came from the Catholic Church.  Bishop Raúl Vera, of Saltillo, Coahuila, said that "narcoterrorism" has been present in Mexico for years.  He also said that to acknowledge this could involve funds of the criminal groups being frozen, this according to that established by the UN Security Council.  He added that perhaps this detail explains the government's refusal to recognize the phenomenon. (La Jornada, Mexico, D.F., 8/07/10)

Still somewhat cryptic, an opinion article disseminated by Bishop Vera's office entitled, "Why does the government evade talking about 'narcoterrorism?'" also suggests that the answer may lie in the UN Security Council resolution against terrorist groups, which comes under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter.  "In said resolution the Council decides that any organization that is denounced before the UN by any of the member states as a terrorist group, may have its funds and other financial instruments, or economic resources of persons who commit or intend to commit acts of terrorism or to participate in them or facilitate their commission, as well as all their associates, frozen immediately."

Barnard Thompson, editor of MexiData.info, has spent 50 years in Mexico and Latin America, providing multinational clients with actionable intelligence; country and political risk reporting and analysis; and business, lobbying, and problem resolution services.

This article first appeared on www.mexidata.info on August 9, 2010.

1.  See MexiData.info: Bombings and Other Explosive Actions in Mexico (7/30/07);Mexican Rebels and Their Assault on the Future (7/23/07); and Mexico's So-called "Popular Revolutionary Army" (7/16/07).

2.  Ibid.

3.  Having gone through Mexico's Federal Penal Code (in Spanish), and looking at every Article that includes the keyword "terror" or a derivative thereof (and thus also seeing maybe how the congressman came up with his spin), it appears to this observer that he is simply wrong — and that the two car bombings can and should be classified as terrorist acts.




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