Ballroom drug warriors peddle `trust' in shadow of the Alamo

U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the attorney general of Mexico, Daniel Cabeza de Vaca, blew into San Antonio, Texas, earlier this week to announce a new “compadre alliance” between the two nations in the assault on narco-violence along the border.

The two attorneys general held a press conference in an up-scale downtown hotel to lay out to the assembled media a new program of “bilateral cooperation” that is designed, according to Cabeza de Vaca, to put a “chokehold” on the violent criminal activity afflicting the major narco-corridors traversing the border.

But as with most state-sponsored programs built around the pretense of the supposed war on drugs, there seemed to be more hype than substance presented at this press conference — which served as the penultimate public moment of a conference of bureaucrats held in an opulent hotel, on the taxpayers’ dime no doubt.

For those law enforcers present at this spin conference — those who truly are dedicated to stemming the violence spawned by prohibition — well, they must have been looking toward the ceiling as the attorneys general spoke in doublespeak in two languages to media gatekeepers in a plush ballroom at the St. Anthony-Wyndahm Hotel – which is located only a few blocks from the Alamo, the scene of a still famous occurrence of bilateral border violence in another century. It appeared on this day in the border city of San Antonio, as Gonzales and Cabeza de Vaca repeated with standardized-test redundancy the buzz words “bilateral cooperation,” “joint efforts” and “trust” to the assembled media, that the irony was literally dripping from the chandeliers.

(Cabeza de Vaca in English, means “cowhead.” By way of coincidence, one the first Spaniards to step foot in Texas was named Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca. Short of that, though, language and history seem to have been little more than afterthoughts at this press conference.)

Standardized press speak

No press conference would be complete without pre-vetted cheat sheets for the press. Mexican Attorney General Cabeza de Vaca's prepared remarks included the following gem:

Bilateral cooperation, along with information and intelligence exchange, is the best way to face common problems on our border, such as violence. Those who break the law and generate violence must be aware that their illicit activities will not be tolerated on our side of the border.

Are we to assume that prior to this press conference, violent thugs assumed their activities were being tolerated? I guess cliches don't translate well in any language.

To get an even better taste of the jargon being advanced by the attorneys general, take a gander at some additional excerpts from the pre-chewed press material distributed to the media as part of the San Antonio press conference:

The U.S. and Mexican Attorneys General along with officials from the Offices of the Attorneys General of the State of Texas and the State of Tamaulipas in Mexico met in San Antonio today [Oct. 13] to discuss mutual concerns and to review a series of law enforcement initiatives to strengthen our coordinated attack on the narco-violence plaguing the communities on both sides of the border.

Today's high-level meeting [in San Antonio] followed a meeting in Houston on September 13, 2005, of more than 100 federal law enforcement and criminal justice representatives of the United States and Mexico and their state counterparts from Texas and Tamaulipas to focus their attention, experience, and skills on developing initiatives and additional efforts to confront the increased violence attributed to narcotics trafficking in the border area. The meeting resulted in concrete recommendations for action and provided an opportunity for all to meet personally with counterparts across jurisdictions and across the border who are working against the troubling increase in narco-violence in the Southwest Border region

The recommended and agreed-upon bilateral initiatives, some of which Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales and Attorney General of Mexico Daniel Cabeza de Vaca highlighted at a joint press conference in San Antonio, Texas, today are as follows…..

Another press release issued in advance of the San Antonio press conference outlines the general framework of this renewed spirit of “bilateral cooperation” between the two nations in targeting narco-violence along the border:

Attorney General Gonzales and Attorney General Cabeza de Vaca expressed a firm commitment on the part of U.S. and Mexico law enforcement to initiate immediate and sustained operational law enforcement efforts along the border, separately and in coordination with each other. In addition to the increased law enforcement efforts, the U.S. and Mexico have agreed to share training and technical assistance in an array of criminal investigative areas, including port security, forensics, prison security, victim and witness security, and firearms and explosives.

Attorney General Gonzales also announced the expansion of the successful Violent Crime Impact Team (VCIT) to Laredo, Texas. VCIT's are rapid response teams led by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF) and designed to bring together unique aspects, capabilities, and cutting-edge technologies of participating agencies in federal, state, and local law enforcement to proactively investigate firearms-related and other violent crimes. With the addition today of Laredo, VCIT's are now implemented in 22 cities across the United States.

The U.S. and Mexico have also agreed to improve the coordination and timeliness of law enforcement information and intelligence sharing between U.S. and Mexican federal and state authorities and agencies on both sides of the border. The two nations will place special emphasis on the coordinated and prompt exchange of information about relevant events that occur on either side of the border that may impact the other country, so that both may effectively determine and initiate a coordinated law enforcement response.

The U.S. and Mexico will also explore opportunities to coordinate law enforcement efforts against the movement and transfer of criminal proceeds. In addition, officials of Texas and Tamaulipas will continue their expert law enforcement support through the effective and coordinated use of task forces in both countries.

Ballroom dancing

So what should we make of all this newfound camaraderie?

Clearly, violence along the border, particularly in major narco-trafficking corridors, is a continuing problem. In Nuevo Laredo, for example, there have been more than 140 homicides this year alone, according to media reports, most tied to suspected narco-activity. Press reports also have trumpeted news of dozens of kidnappings and disappearances in Nuevo Laredo, many involving U.S. citizens.

The real numbers on border narco-violence, though, seem to be a mystery, as different media outlets report different figures, depending on their source of information, which often turns out to be each other.

The source of the violence in Nuevo Laredo is allegedly the ongoing turf war between two rival narco-organizations, one group supposedly overseen from prison by Osiel Cardenas Guillen and the other directed by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman. Mixed into the bloody fray is a group called the Zetas, who supposedly work for Cardenas’ organization — though, as mercenaries, are likely for sale to the highest bidder. The Zetas, according to law enforcement sources, are composed of former Mexican special forces troops who were trained in the United States and have since jumped to the dark side of the narco-war because the money is better there.

But as Narco News has reported previously, based on data from our very own U.S. State Department, the people doing the dying due to the narco violence along the border — in Mexican cities like Nuevo Laredo, Ciudad Juárez, and Tijuana — are not U.S. citizens, but rather poor Mexicans. Those are the people being sucked into the petri dish of the blood-contract capitalism germinating in the war on drugs.

And State Department officials have already admitted to Narco News that they don’t track kidnappings or disappearances of U.S. citizens in Mexico in any systematic manner, which makes determining the root causes of those crimes a difficult task for the families of the victims.

Neither Gonzales or his cohort from Mexico, Cebeza de Vaca, could offer a satisfactory answer to the status of investigations into the alleged kidnappings — other than to indicate law enforcers in both nations are working on the problem. Gonzales said the FBI and other U.S. law enforcement officials are doing all they can to investigate the cases of missing Americans.

Added Cebaza de Vaca, through an interpreter: “… We have discovered important evidence and links, but this information is still confidential.”

One of those important links it seems, at least in the case of Nuevo Laredo, is that the bulk of the kidnappings and disappearances have not resulted in demands for ransoms. That would tend to indicate that profit is not the motive in most cases. Why would narco-traffickers kidnap innocent Americans, assuring that they will draw heat down on their operations, and then not bother to make a profit off the risk?  That doesn’t make sense.

What does add up, though, is that narco-traffickers are not the only bad guys out there. How else do we explain the fact that there are more than 98,000 missing persons in the United States, based on the most recently available figures.

In addition, narco-thugs do target other individuals immersed in the drug trade, usually over turf or product — a proven reality for anyone familiar with the extreme capitalism spawned by prohibition.

In that context, many, if not most, of the unsolved kidnappings and disappearances in border towns like Nuevo Laredo are likely to include a combination of narco turf-war targets and innocent victims of criminal opportunism that would exist even absent drug trafficking-related violence.

The lion growls

The U.S. State Department reports that in Nuevo Laredo –- the city singled out by the attorneys general as the poster child of narco-violence — only three U.S. citizens were murdered during the first six months of this year. (And it is not clear, based on that report, if even those murders were due to narco violence.) For the same period the prior year, the exact same number of U.S. citizens, three, were the victims of homicides in Nuevo Laredo.

Overall, the number of U.S. citizens murdered in Mexico has actually declined between 2003 and 2005 — from 23 during the first six months of 2003 to 21 during the same period in 2005 (which are the most recent comparable periods for which numbers are available from the State Department report).

So, based on those numbers, it appears that the narco violence in Mexico is, well, primarily a Mexican problem -– putting aside the media hype to the contrary over the past year.

If that is true, then why are U.S. bureaucrats so interested in stoking the spirit of “bilateral cooperation” as a means of addressing the violence in the drug war along the Mexican border?

Altruism? I think we can all agree that is a very slim possibility.

A more likely reason is that we do need a bogeyman to keep the drug war hot. Promoting an image of wild-eyed Mexican narco-traffickers with bombs and guns, who might even serve as “gateway” co-conspirators for more brown terrorists from other foreign lands, is one way to ratchet up the fear level in the white suburbs of gringo land. And then there is the more practical consideration of expanding U.S. hegemony in Mexico by further militarizing the border -– which ironically is likely to lead to even more violence.

And as for Mexico, the Fox administration does not seem to have the stomach for really standing up to American policy, particularly when it comes to the drug war. After all, even a fox in the hen house cowers when the big cat growls. That law of political nature, perhaps, is what led one member of the Spanish-language media at the press conference in San Antonio to confront Cabeza de Vaca with a bit of a loaded question, one that essentially accused the Mexican Attorney General of being little more than a political hack who serves as the law-enforcement window dressing for a corrupt administration.

Cabeza de Vaca’s response to the query, via an interpreter: “I have committed myself to stay above politics and to fulfill my duty without regard to politics.”

That was a very political answer to the question, it seems. How does an attorney general avoid politics, if he is ultimately appointed by and answers to politicians?

The big farce

But there is a bigger farce at play here — besides the fact that all of the supposed efforts toward greater cooperation, when examined in specific detail, are really quite general in nature and put nothing new on the table.

U.S. law enforcement has been working in concert with Mexican law enforcers for years on numerous fronts, including intelligence, surveillance, training and joint investigations. In fact, among the ironies dripping from the ceiling at the press conference, was the fact that the Zetas –- one of the catalysts for narco-violence along the border –- are actually a byproduct of this “bilateral cooperation,” given that the core group are former Mexican commando types who were trained in the United States.

But one of the hallmarks of the existing cooperation between Mexican and U.S. law enforcement, to the extent it exists, is how little it is actually controlled by edicts from Washington or Mexico City. In fact, based on insights from law enforcement sources, the level of cooperation, and its effectiveness, is almost wholly a byproduct of trust built between individual law enforcers — and not the result of image-driven policies drafted by well-heeled politicians and bureaucrats in the smoke-filled backrooms of fancy hotels.

And the ultimate irony is that when confronted with this fact at the press conference, U.S. Attorney Gonzales conceded as much when he was asked to field a question about the House of Death mass murder in Juárez.

In that case, an informant, under the supervision of U.S. law enforcers, participated in torturing and murdering a dozen people in a house in the Mexican border town. The homicides were allegedly allowed to play out so that the law enforcers — Homeland Security agents and a U.S. prosecutor — could make a drug case against a Mexican narco-trafficker.

One of the facts that has surfaced in the wake of those murders, which occurred between August 2003 and mid-January 2004, is that certain DEA agents who did have a good working relationship with their Mexican counterparts, wanted to put an end to the undercover operation and arrest the bad guys before the bloodshed escalated. But those agents were jammed up by the U.S. prosecutor, in part, because she did not trust sharing information with the Mexican law enforcers. And in the wake of this gruesome fiasco, additional lawyers and bureaucrats within Homeland Security and the Department of Justice have worked to cover-up the informant’s participation in the murders — including retaliating against a DEA whistleblower, Sandalio Gonzalez, who has sought to expose the cover-up.

So how does that build trust? That’s exactly the question that was put to Gonzales, who conceded he was familiar with the House of Death case – as was his predecessor, John Ashcroft. Though Gonzales declined to comment on whether there is any investigation currently underway into the role that the informant and U.S. law enforcers played in the House of Death murders, he did acknowledge that “trust” was a key component to cooperation between nations –- and people.

“In order for there to be an effective relationship between Mexico and the United States, there has to be a level of trust,” Gonzales said. “We now have that opportunity [due to this latest meeting of bureaucrats in San Antonio] to work together and develop that trust.”

Just at that moment, as Gonzales finished his pep-talk reply -- though noticeable only to those attuned to the nuances of “bilateral irony” — an eerie silence descended upon the hotel ballroom. It was as though the House of Death murder victims had sucked the wind out of the assembled media, exposing a truth behind their needless deaths.

It was the last question of the press conference; it should have been the only question.

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