Time to go after the drug money
Drug violence in Mexico is intensifying even by traffickers’ barbaric standards.
In recent days, heavily armed hitmen launched coordinated attacks on federal police stations in western Mexico and dumped the semi-naked, bloodied bodies of 12 federal agents by a mountain highway, killed two U.S. Mormons in their Mexican community and killed a mayor in a northern ranching town.
A surge of 10,000 troops and federal police in Ciudad Juarez has failed to stop the killings there, which are in fact higher than last year when there were only a handful of soldiers on city streets.
President Felipe Calderon says the violence is a sign the drug gangs are weakening, but with 12,800 drug war deaths since he took office and reports of rights abuses by soldiers, calls are growing for a change of strategy.
Those making the calls include senators from Calderon’s own party, opposition politicians, security analysts, Mexico’s Human Rights Commission and international rights groups. But few if any are coming forward with proposals because the police forces that would replace the soldiers on Mexico’s streets are corrupted and a drive to clean them up could take years. For now, Calderon is sending 5,500 more troops and police to his home state of Michoacan to stop the flare-up there.
One thing Calderon could do to weaken traffickers is to go after their cash. That could have a domino effect on cartels’ power to buy guns and to corrupt officials. Headline-grabbing army operations may seem more impressive than the behind-the-scenes work of tracing money laundering, but U.S. anti-drug officials say it is key to Mexico’s success.
So far, Mexico has fallen short. An International Monetary Fund report published in January found Mexican authorities have only made 25 convictions for money laundering since in 1989 and Mexican law does not allow for the quick freezing of traffickers’ assets. In short, Mexican money laundering laws do not meet international standards and many cases are not properly investigated.
With $40 billion at the heart of the drug war every year, surely it shouldn’t be too hard to find some of the dirty money.