Tuesday, August 4, 2009

"This is the Talibanisation of the conflict."

A couple months ago, some articles on a Focus on the Family-inspired Mexican drug cartel (that calls itself La Familia) caught my attention. What grabbed my attention was not only the brutality of the killings attributed to the cartel, but also its hyper-masculinized version of Christianity that the cartel and its leaders espouse. At the time, I mused that there was an eerie similarity between La Familia and Afghanistan's Taliban. As it turns out, I'm probably far from alone in seeing an analogy between those two rather distant groups. According to Jo Tuckman and Ed Vulliamy in their recent mid-July article, Drugs 'Taliban' declares war on Mexican state (h/t Global Gurrillas):

The male voice on the line was not a typical contributor to the Voice and Solution TV programme where residents of the Mexican state of Michoacán air their everyday grievances.

"We want President Felipe Calderón to know that we are not his enemies," the caller said, after introducing himself last Wednesday as Servando Gómez Martínez, nicknamed La Tuta, one of the leaders of La Familia drug cartel. "We are open to dialogue."

It was a rare and chilling public intervention by the leader of a cartel fighting a war that has claimed 11,000 lives in three years. And the jibe to Calderón that "we are not his enemies" was a taunt marking a dramatic turn in the course of the war: a co-ordinated spate of savage attacks not between narco cartels but by La Familia against the Mexican state.

There have been relentless attacks on police forces - even the decapitation of eight soldiers and the murder of a general - in recent months, but last weekend saw the most concerted attacks on the federal police to date, raising further the spectre of an all-out narco insurrection in Mexico of a kind that ravaged Colombia 20 years ago. "This is a new phase in the drug war," said Samuel González, a former Mexican drug tsar in the mid-1990s and now a consistent critic of Calderón's force-based strategy against the cartels which he believes is making things worse. "This is the Talibanisation of the conflict."

Carlos Flores, who has studied the drug war, said: "It shows a new willingness to directly confront the federal government with paramilitary techniques and psychological warfare. And it is a warning of possible future assassinations of federal officials of higher rank."

The arrest last Saturday of Arnold Rueda Medina, nicknamed La Minsa, was the trigger for 21 attacks on the federal police - by far the most sustained challenge to government forces ever launched by a cartel. For the Mexican government, the attacks end all pretence that this crisis is confined to a turf war between cartels: this is an insurrection.

The article goes on to describe how La Familia has been able to grow into a formidable insurgent force - basically by filling a void with a combination of the gospel and tangible community support (La Familia apparently builds schools, roads and churches), funded by, of course, their drug trade. The article makes for an informative read. I highly recommend it, along with the material I pointed to in early June. You will gain an insight into a group that in degree isn't much different from our own home-grown Taliban wannabes, and in fact has actually drawn inspiration from our own extreme religious fanatics.

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