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Insane U.S. Strategy Feeds Guns to Mexican Drug Lords

Amid a violent war the government helped escalate, The United States shielded and provided arms for a dangerous cartel.

 CIUDAD MIER, Mexico — A Mexican army commander sent to protect a region of villages and ranches in northern Mexico from the Gulf Cartel and Zetas can describe, in detail, the profile of his assigned enemy, the country’s notorious drug cartels.

“These guys are sick in the head,” he says, gazing at the brush and mesquite from behind his aviator sunglasses, toward the camps of the “enemy.” “They follow a sick ideology, they’re animals.” Without missing a beat, he continues, “Look, there’s no jobs, the poverty is bad; there aren’t enough schools. There is nothing for these boys and the cartels offer them a job. They tell them, ‘You can have any kind of pickup truck you want,’ he says. “They get paid more than we do!”

The commander and his soldiers have staked out a lakeside park near this colonial village, providing security for the annual fishing tournament. Bureaucrats from the state tourism department and soldiers, some manning gunners mounted on military trucks, vastly outnumber the few tourists. Even so, reporters from TV Azteca prepare a promotional report about the event, an image that makes an effort to convince tourists that the “frontera chica” (small border), the nickname for this swath of the border, is secure and ready for tourists. Last year when the Gulf Cartel and Zetas launched their siege on the frontera chica, the then governor of Tamaulipas dismissed the reports of decapitations, incinerated cars and shootouts as merely a “collective paranoia.”

Such is the panorama of Mexico’s violence, a distorted battleground of propaganda, impunity and duplicity amid death. Such is the conflict in which the U.S. government has become firmly entrenched over the last four years since newly elected President Felipe Calderon launched his controversial U.S.-backed “war against the drug cartels.” The conflict has cost between  40,000 and 50,000 lives and violence has worsened with the U.S.-Mexican military deployment, according to a recent  report on global violence by the Geneva Delegation. Violence in some parts of Mexico now outstrips the levels of many war zones.

In Washington pundits and pols have beat the drums of war calling for more intervention. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, recently convened hearings on a bill to designate Mexico’s organized crime groups as “terrorists.”

Retired Gen. Barry McCaffrey, the former drug czar, took to the podium at a recent conference on crime and terrorism at George Washington University to sound the alarm of a “cross-border threat,” saying, “For God’s sake, these people are fighting for their lives, they are being murdered, these men and women of law enforcement … we need to stand with them.”

Meanwhile, Republicans fire political ammunition at the Obama administration and Attorney General Eric Holder, in particular for the catastrophic Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms operation Fast and Furious, the 2.0 version of the Bush administration’s 2007 Operation Wide Receiver. Both sent high-powered weapons into Mexico and the eager hands of criminals. Under Fast and Furious, the weapons were largely funneled to the Sinaloa cartel, a drug-trafficking syndicate that became a formidable force in the last decade.  

Some in Washington have suggested that the war as waged by the U.S.-backed Calderon has effectively shielded the Sinaloa cartel. Asked about allegations at the conference, Gen. McCaffrey responded cryptically, “Almost nothing in life is yes or no.”

A cartel capo speaks.

From inside a Chicago courtroom, a high-level capo with the Sinaloa cartel has mounted his defense by exposing the murky inner workings of organized crime and the U.S. government’s strategy in Mexico. A television beams in the image of Jesus Vicente Zambada Niebla, his slight frame draped with a prison-issued white shirt, from a minimum-security prison in Michigan where officials transferred Zambada to allow him access to fresh air while minimizing the risk of a jailbreak or assassination.