Politician's assassination raises doubts over Mexico drug policy

Mexican politician assassinated after highlighting cartel violence. Israeli air raid on Gaza kills Palestinian. Ten dead after clashes in Kashmir. Iraq inquiry reopens after election recess. All this and more in today's security briefing.
Patricia Rich
29 June 2010

Mexican politician, Rodolfo Torre, was assassinated yesterday when his convoy was attacked by hooded gunmen. Torre, who was standing to be governor in the Tamaulipas state in elections due to be held on 4 July, and four of his aides were killed near Ciudad Victoria while making their way to their final campaign event. It is believed that the assassination was carried out by drug cartels angered by Torre’s campaign which focused on the issue of cartel-related violence in the state. Tamaulipas, in the north east of Mexico borders Texas and is one of the most violent states in Mexico; it is an important route for narcotics, particularly cocaine, making its way to the United States.

Since 2006, around 23,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico - 3,365 in the first three months of this year. While the government are keen to note that the majority of these deaths are not civilian this event is clearly an attempt to silence politicians who speak openly about the need to curtail the power and control of the cartels. The assassination of Torre is the most high profile death since 1994 when presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio was murdered in the border city of Tijuana, and highlights the ability of the cartels to disrupt the political process in the region.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon cited the killing as an example of organised crime “trying to interfere in the decisions of citizens in the election process”. In an interview with Al-Jazeera the president of the Mexican senate, Carlos Navarette, described the event as “a threat against democracy in Mexico”.

The openSecurity verdict: The Mexican government claim that the recent surge in drug-related violence is a sign that their tough policy (including the deployment of 50,000 troops) is working – that as cartels lose their grip they engage in increasingly desperate attacks. However, the issue of drug-related crime in Mexico is not solely a Mexican problem and a lack of coherent international policies mean that even a Mexican solution will not be enough to prevent further violence.

The route of cocaine from South America – particularly Colombia where conflict and climate (cocaine grows well between 500-1,000 meters) together make conditions ripe for the growing of the cocoa plant – to the United States is controlled by an ever increasing number of cartels. In the 1990’s there were only a few large and overt groups who controlled the process from growing cocoa plants, through production, to international trade, but as international policies against drugs trafficking became more aggressive and technological advances made crossing borders more difficult the cartels became smaller and more specialised in order to survive. This division has made the security services’ job of curtailing the process as a whole, from production to consumption, ever more difficult.

The most profitable part of the process is turning the cocoa paste into hydrochloride, a kilogram of cocoa paste is bought for around $850 in Colombia, once refined and ‘cut’ this can be sold on the streets in the US for around $60,000. The part of the chain which is the most vulnerable is transportation. Mexico exists, in relation to drugs trafficking, as a key point in the transportation of cocaine from South America to the United States. Once the cocaine reaches the north of Mexico it has already been refined – meaning that the cargo is at its most valuable and, as it is transported across the border, simultaneously at its most vulnerable.

As policies relating to drugs evolve so do the routes that narcotics take from South America to the streets of the United States and Europe. Increasingly drugs cartels are moving away from land routes through Central America and are taking to the seas in order to move the cargo north. However, the importance of northern Mexico as a land route into the United States has conversely become an increasingly dominant path for cocaine. The cartels who profit from keeping this route open are viciously defending their market – lest the cocaine starts to take another route taking the profits with it.

While the United States’ Meridian initiative seeks to increase co-operation with Mexico, central American states, Haiti and the Dominican Republic in order to counter drug trafficking and deal with the cartels, the lack of coherent international policy from production, through refinement, trade and consumption means that even if Mexico becomes a less important site of trafficking the violence related to the drugs trade will continue – just in another place.

The death of Torre highlights the narcotics trade as a site of deadly violence but cannot be understood in isolation and must not be understood as a Mexican issue. A holistic approach, rather than piece-meal, site-specific policy is the only way to comprehend and thus deal with drug related violence.

Israeli air raid kills Palestinian

One Palestinian has been killed and two injured by an Israeli air raid on Gaza, carried out yesterday. The IDF confirmed that the strike took place in retaliation for rockets fired into Israel from the Gaza strip – as a result of which no injuries were reported although a vehicle was damaged. The man killed is suspected of being a militant in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine responsible for firing rockets and grenades into Israel. On Friday two more Palestinians were killed by air raids carried out by Israel on the Gaza strip. An Israeli spokesman stated that the raid was targeting tunnels being used to smuggle weapons into Gaza along the Egyptian border. Although there has been a decrease in air raids carried out by Israel in Gaza, these incidents come at a time when Israeli policy towards Gaza is under increasing international scrutiny. While limited concessions have been made, there is as yet no stable framework for an equitable peace, in the absence of which violence and retaliation is likely to continue, with the ever-present possibility of escalation into a local or regional conflict

Eight killed in Kashmir

The Indian army has killed five people – who it claims are militants – in Kashmir last night; three soldiers were also killed in the gun fire. Two civilians were also killed on Tuesday after police fired to disperse a demonstration in Anantnag town. A strike and demonstrations are being held in the Indian-administrated area of Kashmir to protest against the civilian deaths. The police have imposed a curfew in certain areas where there have been clashes between demonstrators and police. While there has been a recent lull in the level of violence in Kashmir these latest events indicate that unrest is on the increase. As each death sparks further violence and protests, civilian deaths increase – in the last week, 40 protestors and 25 police men have been injured. In a statement made today, Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi claimed terrorism could only be eliminated through joint efforts – although no reference was made to the recent deaths.

Iraq inquiry re-opens

The Chilcot inquiry into the Iraq war has re-opened today following a hiatus from March to allow for the general election. Since July of last year the inquiry has been interviewing key UK figures, however, in its break its panel have visited both France and the US to speak to other important decision makers. Today Douglas Brand, former advisor to Iraq’s interior ministry, criticised the US and UK governments approach to policing in Iraq, claiming they set unrealistic targets and expected the work to be carried out with little expenditure. In his opening statement today Chilcot re-affirmed that the primary aim of the inquiry is to “identify lessons for the future” and his commitment to producing “an authoritative report” by the end of the year.

Clashes between protestors and police break out in Greece

Police and protestors clashed in Athens this afternoon in the latest of a number of protests, including industrial action, against the cuts planned by the government in response to the economic crisis. Ahead of today’s governmental discussion of pension reform, riot police fired tear gas and stun grenades at protestors – and a group of youths threw petrol bombs and set fire to rubbish in the capital. A series of nationwide strikes affecting domestic and international transport, medical workers and the media are planned today. In Piraeus, tourists were prevented from boarding ferries, leading to complaints that the government has not enforced the court’s declaration that the strike was illegal.

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