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Post Cross-Border Threats?
Created by John Eipper on 01/08/16 12:46 PM

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Cross-Border Threats? (Tor Guimaraes, USA, 01/08/16 12:46 pm)

John Eipper strongly objected to my vision (6 January) of terrorism across the Southern border. He stated: "Tor, Tor! Gangs and drug cartels are scary, but Spanish-speaking terrorists? That simply does not reflect reality or experience. And corruption, inequality, and dysfunction have afflicted Latin America since...when? 1910? 1810? 1492?"

We already have considerable terrorism near the border, and they all speak Spanish. Perhaps John needs to take a few days of vacation in Juárez to fully appreciate Spanish-speaking terrorism. That is reality and experience.

Furthermore, the cartels are invading the territories of local drug dealers deep into the North American continent. Obviously they are not interested in doing violence for the sake of violence against innocent civilians, but you cross their path and see what happens, including innocent civilians. The serious problem is that these cartels can strike at will anywhere they want; our law enforcement has lost the war with them. This is also reality and experience.

Regarding "And corruption, inequality, and dysfunction have afflicted Latin America since...when? 1910? 1810? 1492?" True, the whole world has always experienced "corruption, inequality, and dysfunction." But in what context? We never had the highly organized and intense terrorist groups that we have today, speaking whatever language, working for whatever objectives. Spanish-speaking terrorists working for the cartels are a major strategic threat to the US today and are likely to grow further hurting and undermining America in more than one way.

JE comments: Juárez today is reminiscent of Miami in the 1980s. Are we truly understanding the threats facing the world today if we lump criminal gangs (cartels) together with identity-based terrorism?

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  • Miami in the 1980s, Juarez Today (Francisco Wong-Diaz, USA 01/09/16 5:26 AM)
    John Eipper is making up false narratives. Miami was a messy place in the 1980s but it never came even close to becoming the living hell of Ciudad Juárez under the cartels. Juaristas whether they could afford it or not, in fact migrated to the safety of Florida.

    JE comments: I may have exaggerated--but not much. Miami in 1981 had so many cadavers to process that the city was forced to rent a refrigerated truck:


    The Miami body count in 1981 was 621, while Juárez, which fortunately has seen a decrease in violence of late, had 434 murders in 2014, and even fewer in '15. Granted, there were over 2000 per year during the Calderón presidency.  Mexican officials claim the decrease is due to robust law enforcement; cynics say that the Sinaloa cartel has finally won the turf war in that city.  (Just yesterday "Chapo" Guzamán of the Sinaloa gang was arrested--again.)

    Tor Guimaraes (next) has also taken me to task for the comparison.

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  • Miami in the 1980s, Juarez Today (Tor Guimaraes, USA 01/09/16 5:54 AM)
    Once again I failed to explain well enough my major concern about the strategic threat from drug cartels.

    John Eipper replied to my last post with "Juárez today is reminiscent of Miami in the 1980s." I don't think the comparison is even close. Yes, Miami did experience a great increase in violence due to drug trafficking turf wars. But the problem was localized and the US government took the gloves off and scared everyone into line.

    Today the cartels are invading the territories of local drug dealers deep into the North American continent. We are lucky that unlike Al Qaeda and ISIS, they are not interested in doing violence for the sake of violence against innocent civilians. Their primary objective is to simply profit from drug trafficking. However, to kill off the competition, to enforce their own rules, to defend against legitimate law enforcement, they use terrorism just as nasty as ISIS does. Respect for innocent lives is just as callous. Except they are not interested in advertising their terrorism to the public at large, just to players in the drug world. Thus the potential violence can become quite widespread without being noticed widely by the public.

    Also please notice that while drugs are not some crazy ideology, they are extremely destructive for any functioning society. Thus these drug cartels are destructive to our nation because of the destructive product they push through extensive networks, as well as by the terrifying means they use to operate.

    John asked: "Are we truly understanding the threats facing the world today if we lump criminal gangs (cartels) together with identity-based terrorism?"

    Because terrorism is a multi-faceted phenomenon, many experts have proposed that for a more precise understanding of specific forms of terrorism, it is important to focus on its specific cultural, social, and personal identity. I do not dispute that. My point is that our leaders are failing to understand that there are many forms of terrorism besides ISIS, and they are all related, despite their many differences. We are scared to death of ISIS which is all over the media, and we should be. On the other hand, we are not doing enough (scared enough?) about other forms of terrorism slowly thriving much closer to home.

    JE comments:  There was a report some weeks ago that "El Chapo" Guzmán had declared war on ISIS, reportedly because the Islamic State had stolen one of Guzmán's shipments:


    The story was a hoax--but that does not make it less interesting from a sociological perspective.  The implication was that one of "our" thugs, motivated by the Western values of profit and business acumen, would make short work of the irrational, irredeemably "other," and ultimately far scarier ISIS.  Like so many urban legends, it was a perversely comforting narrative.

    El Chapo is now back in jail, so we'll have to find another villain to take on the arch-villain.

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    • Might the Jihadists and the Drug Cartels Join Forces? From Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 01/10/16 5:06 AM)

      Gary Moore writes:

      John Eipper's landmark language bafflement at his own Japanese
      (everybody who's tried the adventure knows the pain, as Eugenio
      Battlaglia implies) will sadly have to get only passing mention from
      me because an urgency has come up in the posts: The logical-seeming
      idea of America's enemies (jihadists and Mexican drug cartels) making
      common cause.

      Sure, anything could happen, but the reasons this
      particular nightmare hasn't happened are not vague, and have little
      to do with Miami in 1980.  (I was there, doing stories on the apocalypse--and it was no apocalypse.)

      First, Mexican machismo is a very specific cultural spirit. The Catholic
      Church can't even find sufficient priests, and has to import to Mexico. Far less is this recruiting ground for a very alien fanaticism drawing
      its power from the opposite: obsessive abstinence. But skip that.
      The big reason--uncomprehended by the Spillover Violence myths
      because they never come close enough to comprehend--is that the
      Mexican cartels are very sensitive to antagonizing US law enforcement
      (beyond a certain, very definible point). Each time a drugged-out narco
      has crossed that line, US retaliation has devastated cartel business.
      The exemplar is so unknown to the myths as to seem invisible: When
      Zetas on the San Luis Potosí highway machine-gunned two US agents
      transporting equipment to an embassy (apparently the Zetas wanted
      the jazzy car; one agent died), US authorities revealed the big stick
      they had been holding all along. In retaliation, all those snail-like
      surveillances and open case folders inside the United States could be
      called in. Hundreds of suspected cartel agents or gang allies on US soil
      suddenly found themselves busted, costing big money in lost drug markets.

      This can't be done all the time because the context is crime. You can't
      kill the devil. The crimes are always going to be there in some form. But
      periodically, when that line is crossed, an extra juice of rage is found somewhere,
      and the cartels pay. The bosses do have something in common with ISIS as it
      plunders Mosul and Raqqa and steals and extorts--but that's all the cartels do.  They don't have another agenda. They're not in business to die for Houris in paradise.

      Who knows? Maybe someday they could be. But not tomorrow.

      JE comments:  Another masterful crime report from Gary Moore.  The cartels and the Jihadists have vastly different strategies.  (Perhaps we should say "goals.")  But might they cooperate on a tactical level?  There are some precedents.  Pablo Escobar reportedly purchased bomb-making expertise from ETA during his war on the Colombian state.

      I hope Gary will follow up with a memory or two from Miami during the "Wild West" 1980s.

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      • Jihadists and Drug Cartels (Tor Guimaraes, USA 01/10/16 10:10 AM)
        I agree with many of the points made by Gary Moore (10 January). However, I must bring up two counterpoints.

        As I discussed earlier, the drug cartels and the jihadists have dramatically different motivations for engaging in terrorism. The different motivation produce a different set of behavior for each group. While they can buy weapons and some services from each other, the two groups are antagonistic in many ways. For example, jihadists want to completely destroy America because we are their mortal enemy. Drug cartels are willing to destroy America by doing whatever it takes to make money by selling drugs to the entire population if possible. Yet ultimately the cartels want the American people to have the means to buy their drugs. Thus, strategically speaking, these two groups have a conflict: if the jihadists have their way, the drug traffickers' profits will decrease.

        As Gary and John Eipper brought up, when cartels cross the line, the US government anti-drug forces have historically many times cracked down strongly and hurt the perpetrators. But that hurt is a pin-prick in the overall scheme of drug trafficking. Also, using the same good/bad cop strategy that many Islamic countries have used for years where American taxpayers provide the host governments large amounts of money to fight terrorism, the Mexican government is today relatively well paid and equipped by US taxpayers. This good/bad cop strategy is strategically unsound because it motivates the foreign government to never win the war against terrorism and drugs.

        In other words, growing terrorism becomes the reason for growing budgets to fight terrorism, just like the US military needs greater military budgets to continue fighting more or bigger wars. Most importantly, as the American middle class weakens financially, US tax revenues will decrease in the coming decades. Given that the US government deficit is already at $18 trillion dollars and growing, where will the necessarily massive future military/DEA/etc. budget come from?

        JE comments: Tor Guimaraes has identified a similarity regarding "approaches" to the Jihadist and drug cartels problems: they are self-defeating. Too many parties in both cases benefit from the resources sent to combat the threats.  Look no further than Pakistan in recent years.

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      • Jihadists and Drug Cartels (Luciano Dondero, Italy 01/11/16 5:13 AM)
        When commenting Gary Moore's post of 10 January, John E wrote: "The [drug] cartels and the Jihadists have vastly different strategies. (Perhaps we should say 'goals.') But might they cooperate on a tactical level? There are some precedents. Pablo Escobar reportedly purchased bomb-making expertise from ETA during his war on the Colombian state."

        This is muddling the waters, and is neither proper for an editor nor for an historian to do so.

        I apologise if my statement sounds harsh, but it is one thing to raise an hypothetical ("will drug lords and Islamists join forces?") and another thing altogether to rebut a criticism by dragging in the connections, real or alleged, between the drug lords and the Basque ETA.

        ETA is in no way comparable to ISIS. And JE is anyway talking about technical expertise, not "goal-sharing," which is what "joining forces" would mean--and it would be very scary indeed.

        But this is because "terrorism" has become such an umbrella-word that is risking the danger of becoming useless.

        What is the point of using "terror"? It is usually a tactical device adopted by all sorts of entities--states at war with one another; states trying to destroy their internal and external opponents; groups engaged in various kinds of illegal and anti-state activities, operating against the state and/or rival groupings; deranged individuals for whatever reasons suits them.

        Generally speaking, it is assumed that such "terror" activities must involve the civilian population to really qualify as such--it was notably the case with the Nazi "blitz" against England in World War II and the subsequent "terror bombing campaign" that the Allies launched against Hitler and his allies, as well as Nazi-occuppied territories.

        But given Western sensitivity about his losses in military actions, in the past few decades terrorist groups have often targeted the military as part of their overall strategy.

        One can discuss forever the juridical and legal status of people who are called "terrorists" by their enemies. It doesn't really matter, and there will always be those who hail such people as "freedom fighters"--or, more soberly, as "useful allies against our own enemies" or, even more frankly in a famous pre-"politically correct" statement, as "our sons of a bitch!"

        Now, in the current situation--let's call it "the post 9/11 era"--and especially given that many of the traditional terrorist groupings in Europe have practically stopped having a meaningful presence for whatever causes, it may be worthwhile making an effort towards understanding what's going on with Islamic terrorism, analysing it as its own case, and trying to underline its peculiarities, instead of mixing it with the rest.

        Islamic terrorist organisation are not "national liberation movements," even though they might use that disguise. To a great extent, they are the tools of foreign countries. This was for instance the origins of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, created by Egypt in the early 1950s to conduct terror activities against Israel.

        Hamas, the proto-Al Qaida and the early ISIS were initially attempts by the West (Israel, for Hamas; the US, for the other two) to generate and encourage "rival groups" against those that they perceived as their main enemies (the PLO, the Soviets in Afghanistan and Syria's Assad, respectively).

        The Soviet Union's KGB, and various other Warsaw Pact agencies, for decades did a lot of damage by encouraging Palestinians as well as Irish, Basque, Italians and other terrorists, and providing them with training and weapons. But since 1992 there is no more Soviet Union.

        By and large, today's terrorist groups receive funds and support from a number of Islamic countries: Iran, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Qatar, Turkey, the Emirates, Sudan.

        A few failed states are to some extent in the terrorist hands: Somalia, Iraq, Syria, Lybia, Lebanon, Yemen.

        The US, and other Western European countries, as well as Russia, do their bit in fomenting terrorism, by conveniently labeling those groups they want to support as "freedom fighters," in some cases only to discover later that these sterling figures, after getting their money and their weapons, join Al Qaeda or ISIS...

        Most of my remarks will presumably be highly controversial. Yet, nothing here is a secret. In some instances the evidence is easily available and it has even been tested in Western Courts of law, while in other instances you just need to dig through some mud to find the relevant bits and pieces of information.

        JE comments:  I don't see Luciano Dondero's remarks as controversial--although I did attempt to distinguish between "goals" and "tactics."  Technical expertise belongs to the tactical realm.

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