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Mexico: Anti-Government Protests Spurred by Drug Cartels

Highlights -Protests block bridges in three border cities -State and federal officials claim the drug gangs are demonstration organizers -Shift in the administrations current anti-trafficking campaign unlikely in the near-term On February 17, 2009, in Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa hundreds of protesters blocked traffic to bridges connecting to the United States. Demonstrators also blocked city hall and a main avenue in Monterrey, as well as roads in the Gulf state of Veracruz. The protests signify the largest demonstration against the military’s role in the anti-drug campaign since President Calderon took office in December 2006. However, despite recent rallies, we do not foresee a shift in the government’s approach to the anti-drug campaign in the near to medium-term. “Narco-Protests” State and federal officials in several border states allege that the protests were organized by drug cartels in an effort to subvert President Calderon’s December 2006 initiated military anti-trafficking campaign. While the demonstrations were peaceful and involved the participation of men, woman and children, several of the protesters waived signs while wearing face covers. •The governor of the state of Nuevo Leon, Jose Nativada Gonzalez Paras, alleged that a “paramilitary group” was behind recent rallies in the region, likely referring to “Los Zetas,” a group of ex-soldiers connected to the Gulf Cartel. •General Edgar Cillefas Melenez, commander of the Eighth Military Zone in Reyonosa indicated that protesters demonstrating in front of his base were indentified receiving cash from group organizers. In a recent interview to local media outlets he stated, “They are paid by the criminals.” •A cartel member in Monterrey, who was arrested during the week of February 9, 2009, admitted to military officials that he helped organize the protest at the border. Human Rights and Civil Response Although Mexican newspapers are already labeling the demonstrations “narco-protests,” human rights activists argue that citizens have legitimate complaints against military abuses. Numerous human rights complaints have been filed against soldiers during the anti-drug operations, especially involving cases where patrols have opened fire on civilians at military checkpoints and illegally jailed and tortured people during raids aimed at traffickers. President Calderon’s administration has acknowledged many cases of army abuse and has even compensated a number of families for deaths or injuries related to the abuse of innocent civilians. However, despite recent protests and the uprising of vigilante efforts along the United States-Mexico border, Calderon contends that civilians continue to support the military crackdown on trafficking. Campaign Agenda On February 19, 2009, President Calderon announced that the Mexican army would continue to battle the drug cartels, despite recent protests demanding a military withdrawal. Calderon argued that Mexico is in a time of transition and conversion into a secure democracy, and indicated he would “continue fighting organized crime, without pause or mercy.” •Seventy-eight soldiers have died in the campaign since 2007 Since Calderon deployed approximately 45,000 military troops throughout Mexico in December 2006, violence between cartels and law enforcement have escalated to unprecedented levels. As such, we expect that civil unrest, especially in the northern states where violence is most concentrated, to increase. We note that it appears increasingly likely that cartels are paying citizens to stage demonstrations against the government’s campaign. Additionally, Mexican institutions will likely continue to be targeted by drug cartels in the near-term. However, we do not detect a shift in the government’s approach to the anti-drug campaign in the near to medium-term.

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OODA Analyst

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