Mexico News and Analysis: September 6 - 12

1 - CLINTON MISTAKES DRUG CARTELS FOR INSURGENTS
2 - CARTELS TARGET PETROLEUM WEALTH
3 - CFE WORKERS KILLED

1 - CLINTON MISTAKES DRUG CARTELS FOR INSURGENTS

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton displayed an appalling lack of knowledge about Latin America on Wednesday when she referred to Mexico's drug cartels as "insurgents" and suggested reviving former President Clinton's Plan Colombia.  The ill-fated program spent billions of US tax dollars to establish military bases, prop up a corrupt right-wing government, and support paramilitary groups aligned with international drug traffickers.  Despite the elevated cost, cocaine continues to flow into the US in record amounts.  President Obama and State Department underlings tried to undo the damage the following day, but Clinton's words were already commandeering front pages in Mexico.

Mexican drug traffickers are businessmen concerned with profits in the finest tradition of cut-throat capitalism.  Cartels routinely use the US and Mexican banking systems to launder an estimated US$25 billion per year (the number could be as high as US$40 billion), making illegal drugs the most important source of hard currency in Mexico.  The dollars help pay Mexico's burgeoning foreign debt, estimated at US$96 billion - most of it owed to US banks.  Neither the US or Mexico are seriously going after this illegal booty because it plays such a commanding role in maintaining the myth of financial stability for our southern neighbor.  Instead, Clinton is suggesting a military solution, perhaps even deploying US combat troops on Mexican soil.  It would not be the first time.  In 1848, the US took one-third of Mexico's territory, including the current states of California, Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas and Colorado.  Then in 1914, invading troops occupied the strategic port of Veracruz.  And in 1917, troops chasing Pancho Villa invaded northern Mexico.  The US has historically been Mexico's greatest military threat, and this fact is well understood by the general public.  Any new invasion would certainly be received with a welcome similar to that of 1848, when citizens dumped caldrons of boiling water from apartment buildings on the heads of US troops as they marched into the Capitol.

Last week, Clinton withheld US$26 million - from an aid package of over US$1 billion in mostly military aid - on human rights grounds.  The symbolic gesture raised the hackles of Mexican politicians complaining of undo intervention in internal affairs, but no one expects the human rights situation to improve with 30,000 Mexican troops patrolling the streets in major border cities.  Complaints about official corruption will similarly fall on deaf ears, especially since some of the most serious corruption is apparently to be found among US border patrol agents who allow billions of dollars in illegal narcotics to enter the US each year, not to mention truckloads of dollars and high-powered weapons heading south from Texas and California.

Instead of looking for Colombia in Mexico, Clinton might want to start examining US policies as the source of our neighbor's problems, starting with programs to reduce domestic drug consumption and exports of high powered weapons to Mexican cartels.
 
2 - CARTELS TARGET PETROLEUM WEALTH

Drug cartels are expanding their criminal networks to include human trafficking, kidnapping, and now petroleum, Mexico's major source of wealth.  Siphoning natural gas, gasoline or crude oil from Pemex's meandering system of pipelines has long been a lucrative trade.  But now organized crime is entering the business, stealing hundreds of millions of dollars from the Burgos Basin in Tamaulipas state, home to Mexico's biggest natural gas field.  Most of the products are sold at market prices in the US, where companies essentially launder dirty oil.  Pemex is suing five US companies trying to recover US$250 million from firms who knowingly bought stolen fuel.

In May, gunmen kidnapped five Pemex employees, probably forcing them to provide engineering advice for tapping pipelines.  At least 30 additional employees of subcontractors have been kidnapped from the same region, and some Pemex facilities in parts of the Burgos Basin have been virtually abandoned.  "In the Burgos project, there are areas we cannot access," said Carlos Morales Gil, director of exploration and production for Pemex, during a news conference in July.  Yet Halliburton, one of the major international subcontractors with 600 employees, has no intention of leaving after struggling for years to gain a foothold in Mexico's nationalized petroleum reserves.  


3 - CFE WORKERS KILLED

Two Federal Electrical Commission (CFE) workers died on Thursday and two more suffered serious burns after a sub-station in Mexico City exploded.  Workers were trying to repair a short circuit in an underground facility in Coyoacan.  Federal Police cordoned off the scene within minutes, even preventing firemen from reaching the sub-station.  The CFE has come under mounting criticism for utilizing untrained workers to replace unionized repairmen from the Electrical Workers Union (SME) after the Calderon administration fired all 43,000 SME employees last year.