Nuevo Laredo: Martial Law as Media Stunt in the Failed War on Drugs

"We are not in the era of Al Capone and Prohibition.”

- Slain Police Chief Alejandro Domínguez Cuello, prior to his death

It’s a wet dream for Commercial Media journalists: The new police chief of the Mexican border city of Nuevo Laredo took office last Wednesday. Nine hours later he was gunned down. US Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza quickly issued a press release harping a song of I-told-you-so: ““A few weeks ago, I asked the State Department to re-issue a public announcement about the on-going violence in the border region.”

By Saturday, Mexican President Vicente Fox sent in a convoy of federal police who, on an access road to a country club near the city, ended up in a shootout with local police. Newspaper editorialists salivated: “Until Mexico takes aggressive measures to fight crime and combat the violence that has spilled into the streets, the country will remain unsafe for residents and tourists,” lectures one such boilerplate text in the San Antonio Express-News, which in a careless turn of the pen declares “the country” – an entire nation, not just the border city – unsafe.

But as a US Customs agent admitted yesterday in a rare moment of candor, none of this grand show of force is going to make anybody any safer… The story of Nuevo Laredo under Martial Law makes for a great motion picture, putting even Soderbergh to shame, and causes lots of huffing and puffing by the press corps feeling courageous as its members take official dictation from hotel rooms along the border. Not one of them, yet, has investigated or asked questions about the systemic causes of the violence. And why would they? The Commercial Media loves the violence! It sells papers, boosts ratings, and will no doubt bring awards to the worst offenders among the professional simulators.

Fox, on Monday, sent in the Armed Forces to occupy the city, rounding up 720 police officers for interrogation, subjecting them to polygraph and urine tests for drugs, taking away their cell phones but apparently not, in the case of one who the attorney general’s office claims killed himself while he was interrogated last night, their guns.

But according to at least one candid agent of the US Department of Homeland Security’s Burea of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), all this expenditure and muscle ain’t gonna make anybody safer.

"When the Mexican government puts pressure on them, it's like a fumigator, and they'll come across the border like cockroaches," said Al Peña, who heads criminal investigations for the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement,” reports the Houston Chronicle. The agent, of course, for the sake of his job security, had to then backpedal and put a smiley face on it all: “I think we are coming to see something positive, but it's unfortunate that all these people have died to get where we are.”

It’s the Prohibition, Stupid

The slain police chief, Alejandro Domínguez Coello told reporters last January: “"We are not in the era of Al Capone and Prohibition.” Yeah. Right. There’s a fitting epitaph for his tombstone.

But in at least one sense, the late police chief had a point: During the era of alcohol prohibition in the United States (1918-1933), unlike today, Mexico did not adhere to the policy. As the website, of another famous Mexican border city, recounts:

“In 1917, San Diego banned cabaret dancing. Tijuana capitalized on this idiocy by building scores of cabarets and casinos. By now the fledging community of Hollywood had heard all about Tijuana and its irresistibly short three hour drive down the California coast. That trek soon became a pilgrimage when, in 1920, the United States launched Prohibition and outlawed alcoholic beverages. Tijuana gladly welcomed America's thirsty citizens with open arms that have never closed and a nightlife that never sleeps!”

Nuevo Laredo, until very recently, had a hopping nightlife, just like Tijuana (in a large part because of overly strict "drinking age" laws and enforcement on the US side of the border). But as that city’s daily El Mañana reports today: “The Golden Era for Restaurants Is Over.” Cheesy Tex-Mex bars like “Señor Frog’s” (of the “Carlos & Charlie’s” chain) that are favorite gringo watering holes have shut their doors in Nuevo Laredo’s historic center, ever since US State Department “travel advisories” began frightening the Texans away.

“Our clientele is 80 percent North American and 20 percent national,” Pablo Longoria, manager of the Dorado restaurant in Nuevo Laredo told El Mañana. “You can see the situation as it is today: there are no clients.”

Once again, Mexico bears the brunt of the US-imposed “War on Drugs” and we have Martial Law in Nuevo Laredo. National Mexican political columnist Carlos Ramírez wonders aloud today if this latest maneuver “could mean the first step toward a Plan Colombia for Mexico.”

The hammer slams down upon Nuevo Laredo, today an occupied city. But for as long as governments uphold a policy of prohibition on drugs (instead of the kinds of regulations that, since 1933, ended the similar violence that once surrounded the former prohibition on alcohol in the United States), narco-trafficking, and all the gangland violence it brings, will march on.

It’s like the golf ball under the rug: Swat it down in Nuevo Laredo, and, as the aforementioned Homeland Security agent admitted, it will just pop up somewhere else.

Mexico doesn’t need a “Plan Colombia.” She needs a “Plan Tijuana” of the kind she had in the 1920s. When it comes to the drug war, Mexico is a battered wife. She needs a divorce from the brutal prohibition that a shotgun wedding with US drug policy has historically imposed upon her.

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About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.