La Riposte

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Hail to the Chief... Marisol Valles Garcia.

Marisol Valles Garcia,
Police Chief
If you haven’t heard of Marisol Valles Garcia, she’s a 20-year old college student who’s recently accepted the position of police chief in the town of Praxedis G. Guererro in the Juarez Valley. There are plenty of stories in the mainstream media about her, but most focus on the human interest story of her bravery in taking a post which no one else in the township of 8500 would consider.

We wanted to explore several deeper questions raised as Garcia takes the helm of a police force consisting of 10 men and 3 women (soon to be expanded with several more women) in Praxedis and begins her campaign to increase security by increasing community contact and focusing on prevention of crime through education in values and principles.

To do so, we began by contacting Dr. Ami Carpenter, a professor at the University of San Diego’s Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies who has studied violent conflicts involving non-state armed actors (ANSAs) including the drug war in Mexico along with warlords in Africa and sectarian groups in Iraq.

Our first question was whether Garcia’s status as a woman and mother, and her preventative vice confrontational approach to crime-fighting makes her more or less likely to be killed than the traditional "tough-fisted" male police chief?

Carpenter replied that despite the media focus on the killings of police chiefs, mayors, and prosecutors, such individuals make up only 10-15% of the victims in the drug war;
…the vast majority of deaths are individuals "with links to the drug trade" as the popular saying goes, along with journalists and other civilians. Police who cooperate with one cartel are often targeted by its rival, and Valles Garcia does not seem interested in doing so…Still it does not help that this town has one highway over which Sinaloa and Juarez cartels are fighting.
However, Dr. Carpenter says that Garcia’s approach (not carrying a gun, focusing on reaching out to families) makes sense, because
…there is some research which indicates that security can increase even in dangerous communities when leaders refuse to side with one armed group over another and put resources towards protecting people of the community instead of 'defending' the borders of the town.
She also says that to properly understand whether Garcia’s gender and social status as a mother offers her any protection would require a better understanding of whether 
…the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels have any sort of 'pro-civilian' ethic; have they joined the public relations battle by making public statements decrying 'civilian deaths' as the La Familia cartel has? If so, the new chief may have some a layer of protection. She's not a civilian anymore, she's a legitimate target - but she might find some protection from continuing to cultivate a civilian-like image (young, college student, unarmed, non-threatening) if these particular cartels care about cultivating their own political image.
Our final question to Dr. Carpenter was whether the publicity that Chief Garcia is receiving helps or hurts her in terms of the probability that she will be killed by one of the cartels. The professor replied as follows:
This could go either way. If we presume that her strategy of protecting townspeople and staying out of the drug-war would have kept her below the cartels' radar screen, then the media coverage has actually hurt her. Now she's on the radar screen, and she's become a symbol of 'something' - the desperation of situation? The weakness of the Mexican state? The courage of one young woman?
Now the cartels know who she is, and perhaps their leadership are figuring out a strategy for dealing with her. They will be calculating the costs and benefits of killing her; is she worth more dead or alive? One (or both) might decide to kill her and frame the other cartel, to bring the inevitable retaliation of the Mexican federal police and Marines down on their rival. Or perhaps, thanks to the media coverage in the US, both organizations might calculate that killing her would lead to a public outcry in the US that would result in greater US involvement in the war.
A critical 'intervening variable' is the relationship between Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera, (the head of the Sinaloa cartel) and Juarez cartel leadership. If lines of communication are secretly open at very high levels, both leaders might conclude that Marisol Valles Garcia should be off-limits to both cartels, because an enhanced military presence in Praxedis would be bad for business all around.  
Unfortunately the war is so bitter between these organizations though, that I don't see this as a possibility. That level of coordination might happen tacitly, without direct agreement, but I find it unlikely - when violence escalates between groups to the level it has between Juarez and Sinaloa (and also because Juarez is allied to the extremely violent and nihilistic Los Zetas, a group which Sinaloa has vowed to crush), suspicion, distrust and outright hatred of the other outweighs rational decision-making. Since each will assume that the other will use her instrumentally (killing her and framing the other cartel) then the 'rational' course of action is to beat their rival to the punch by killing her first.
Chief Garcia’s best hope at this point, says Dr. Carpenter, is not only sustained media coverage, but
…a strategy used in other violent conflicts to engage ANSAs and negotiate civilian protection. The Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (CHD) has negotiated similar agreements in Columbia, Sudan, Myanmar and Central African Republic. A similar strategy could work in Mexico, with Praxedis becoming a neutral zone if both cartels agreed to it. The political constraints for this type of strategy in Mexico are unfortunately very high. 
La Riposte has contacted the CHD to determine whether they are willing to engage in mediation in Praxedis, and will publish an update once the Centre has responded. Concerned readers are encouraged to contact CHD themselves, either by e-mail to or by SKYPE (andyhdcentre) to request that they take an interest in this situation as they previously have with conflicts in Africa and Southeast Asia. Readers wishing to help keep the media focused on Praxedis are also encourage to Tweet this post, re-post on Facebook, or send it in to your local newspaper’s editorial department for re-printing.

No comments:

Post a Comment