As male police officers in Mexico continue to quit their jobs and turn up dead, women are taking over. Young mothers, university students, and women with little or no experience in law enforcement are stepping up to fight one of the most dangerous wars going—except they don't have entire armies to support them.

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Case in point: Erika Gandara, the last police officer in the northern town of Guadalupe (pop. 9,000), has disappeared. The 28-year-old cop kept working after all her peers had quit, disappeared, or been murdered. And now she's gone, leaving Guadalupe without a single cop.

The 28-year-old started as a police dispatcher in Mexico’s drug-plagued north. In November, barely a year later, she found herself running the show in Guadalupe, population 9,000, near the drug-war ground zero of Ciudad Juarez. She was the only law officer remaining in the border municipality after the 12 other cops she worked with were either killed or quit in the face of rising drug violence. But, she hasn’t been seen in almost a week, after a dozen gunmen burned her house down and torched two cars outside, according to reports.


Down the road in another town, university student and young mother, Marisol Valles, 20, made headlines a few months ago when she was named that town’s police chief. Elsewhere in the state, the police chief’s job went to Hermila Garcia, 38, who had never worked in policing. She was assassinated outside of her home after 50 days on the job. On some of the communal farms known as ejidos outside Ciudad Juarez, two housewives took over the police forces in November. “We don’t have weapons. We have a patrol car that barely runs, but we have a lot of will to work and make things right,” the president of one of the ejidos told the Reforma newspaper.

So it shouldn't surprise us that a recent cable released by WikiLeaks ("10MONTERREY66") says the Zetas completely control Monterrey—they don't just control the drug turf, they control the city police.

The Zetas (who were originally trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, U.S.A. as counterinsurgents to fight the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas) so thoroughly control the Monterrey police that the diplomatic cable to D.C. on recent attacks against the police posits it was an attack by the Gulf Cartel against the Zetas. Because the Zetas = the police.

The cable forwards a few theories about the strategy behind the attacks:

Given the thorough penetration by the Zetas of the police forces in those municipalities that were hit, a much more likely explanation is that the attacks were a signal from the Gulf cartel to the police to cease/desist their support of the Zetas and switch sides. Other plausible theories exist as well — such as the attack was an attempt to "heat up" the Monterrey plaza — but none involve organized crime responding to "effective" state government enforcement efforts.

The Zetas and the Gulf aren't fighting the cops. They're just fighting over who gets the cops as foot soldiers. In other words: the drug war, at least in Monterrey, has been 100% lost. Done. Over. The narcos won. It's not shocking, but it's refreshing to hear the federal government admit it so plainly. And now the Zetas are declaring war against Guatemala. (Can you imagine the Bloods declaring war against Canada?)

This is all further evidence to support the theory that the drug war cannot be won because the narcos and the state have been thoroughly entwined since the beginning. They share the same DNA.

One articulation of that theory:

Corva and other drug-trade experts hesitate to call the narco-capitalist organizations "cartels" because the word implies alien entities separate from the state (the way that, say, the Bloods or the Crips are separate from the state). Mexico's narcos are thoroughly integrated into the government—through both contemporary corruption and long-standing historical alliances that predate U.S. drug-prohibition policy.

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Major Mexican landowners had been growing marijuana and opium poppies and selling them to the U.S. long before the Harrison Narcotics Act of 1914 (the first major federal drug prohibition—prior to that, even the Sears, Roebuck catalogue advertised a syringe and a dose of cocaine for $1.50). Those Mexican landowners were aligned with, or outright members of, the Mexican political establishment. One brief example: Colonel Esteban Cantú Jiménez, who had a personal army of 1,800 soldiers and political control of Baja California Norte, started taking a cut from Mexican opium traders as soon as the Harrison Act was passed. The Mexican army eventually flushed him out in 1920—with a force of 6,000—but Colonel Jiménez secured amnesty with the help of a former military colleague.

The overlap between Mexico's military officers, politicians, and drug barons goes all the way back to the beginning.

All this talk about drug war can get a little abstract—so if you need a reminder that we're talking about real flesh-and-blood bodies, click here. (Not safe for work; not safe for life.)

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