Documents on Mexican Politics.

"Time Bomb on the U.S. Border:  
Mexican Military Unable to Counter Insurgency" 
by Colonel Rex Applegate 

(Author of a number of standard texts on military and security topics,
Col. Rex Applegate lived in Mexico for 15 years, representing
U.S. military and police equipment companies.)

    The Zapatistas in Mexico's southern state of Chiapas have briefly
paused in their nascent revolution, to lick their wounds and consider
governmental promise of redress, and assess what -- if anything -- has
changed with the recent national elections.
    The election was extremely close by Mexican standards, but the
dominant PRI still rules.  There is yet no meaningful governmental or
land reform in sight, and there are millions of other Mexicans whose
frustration with their lot could persuade them to join the Zapatistas
-- or another -- renegade group.  The shooting may be in abeyance, but
the dissent that spawned it continues.

    U.S. media gave the recent Mexican election much attention,
covering conditions such as endemic governmental corruption, the drug
problem, crime, kidnappings, vote rigging, disparities between rich
and poor, plight of the peasants, general unrest, poor economic
conditions and the armed rebellion in Chiapas.

    The PRI that has controlled Mexico for 65 years barely survived,
receiving only 50%, instead of its normal 90%, of the vote.  However,
the party did elect its nominee in what was probably the last gasp of
the longest enduring, one-party control of a nation in modern times.

    Vital American security interests require an economically and
politically stable, friendly Mexico.  Recent U.S.  ambassador to
Mexico John Gavin declared, "We have with Mexico a marriage without
the possibility of divorce."

    From the Mexican viewpoint, the relationship with its powerful
neighbor to the north has been punctuated by wars they lost.  The
love-hate relationship as aptly described by Porfirio Diaz
(1830-1915), the former Mexican despot who ruled for several decades,
who said: "Poor Mexico.  So far from God, so close to the United
States."  Historically, Mexico's juxtaposition with the United States
has been costly.

    The U.S. press, stock market, political and economic observers
generally reacted cautiously, but favorably, to the recent Mexican
election that gave a six-year extension to the status quo.  These
pundits have neglected to discuss, however, the one vital factor that
will probably determine Mexico's future: *the ability of the Mexican
army to main- tain internal security, while concurrently suppressing
the present, and potential, threat of insurrection.* Any failure of
this poorly understood segment of the Mexican power structure to
perform its traditional role could result in a social breakdown of the
country and its infrastructure, leading ultimately to civil war.

Mexico's Military Specs:

Army: 130,000 personnel; 36 zonal garrisons comprising one armored
cav, one mech infantry, 19 motor cav and three arty battalions.  A
mobile reserve force (estimate) of three infantry brigades, one
armored brigade, plus a 4,000-man rapid deployment brigade of one
assualt battalion and two MP battalions reportedly developed to
protect the southern border and oil fields.  Some 1,500 troops
assigned to air force, plus engineer/support units.  No army aviation.

Air Force: 8,000 personnel; including a 1,500 man airborne bridage.
Approximately 100 combat aircraft, including 25 armed helicopters, a
squadron of 11 F-5 and F-5E fighters, plus a mix of recon, transport,
training, utility aircraft.  Air force also flies presidential fleet
of nine Boeing jets.

Rough Neighborhood Watch

    The implications of such a disasterous event [as modern revolution
in Mexico] and its effect on the security of the United States is a
source of increasing concern [to the U.S.  military and intelligence
communities].  In 1986, General Paul Gortnan, former chief of the
U.S. Southern Command, projected, "In 10 years the president of the
U.S. (would) focus as much time on affairs with Mexico as on any other
security matter."  That time may now be approaching.  The American
public seems unaware of the seriousness of this situation and its
effect on U.S. foreign, domestic, and defense policies.  Current
administration concerns with Haiti and Cuba pale by comparison.

    The Mexican military has had little influence on her foreign or
domestic policy since 1940.  In that time there have been no generals
as president or any military coup, and a "tamed" military, unique in
Latin America history, has resulted.  In return for its apolitical
role, the Mexican military is pampered by the governing PRI party.
Generals and ranks have been given generous salary increases and
financial perks, provided with an independ- ent educational system,
good retirements, commissaries, medical facilities, arsenals and a
stardard of living above most Mexicans.

    Without foreign threat, the Mexican army has concen- trated on
three missions: being a national police force; performing civic
action, social services and infrastruc- ture building; and acting in
support of civil agencies during national disasters.  During the past
two regimes it has also conducted, under civil authority, campaigns of
varying intensity against the narcotics threat.

    Under previous regimes, the military machine withered while
financial priority was given to social and other domestic problems.
The government denied requested funds and budgets directed toward
modernizing armament and equipment, and enhancing the ability to
conduct counterinsurgency operations.

Playing Catch-Up

    Now Mexico is confronted with revolution.  Defense officials have
long recognized the dangerous potential of unrest in the south and
along the Guatemalan border, but like the Mexican government, they
were caught by surprise with the rebellion in Chiapas last year.

    The recent election has yet to resolve anything with the festering
Chiapas situation, or the very real potential for its rebellion to
spread to other areas with similar social and economic problems.

    Funded by a frightened government, the Mexican military is now
playing catch-up.  It is purchasing a few more arms, vehicles and
combat aircraft, is modest- ly increasing its strength, and is
conducting counter- insurgency training.  *But this may be too little,
too late.*

    The Mexican president is commander in chief and appoints the heads
of his armed forces.  The secretary of defense controls the army and
air force.  The navy operates through a separate secretariat.  Both
the secretary of defense and secretary of the navy have cabinet rank
and are in the operational chain of command.  Each president selects
military ministers who will personally be the most loyal.  The
president often personally appoints key military zone and naval
district commanders.

    The Mexican army, the largest and dominant armed service, has
organized the country into 36 zones with boundaries closely
corresponding to those of the Mexican states.  Three states --
Chiapas, Guerrero, and Veracruz -- have two zones each.  The zone
covering Mexico City and the Federal District is largest, being the
center of power.  The 36-zone garrisons are the core of the Mexican
army.  There is also a presidential guard in Mexico City that provides
security for the president, his family and key political figures.
Many officers of the presidential guard also serve as aides to
politicians.  This unit enjoys a priority in regard to arms and
equipment, and its commanding officer reports directly to the

    Army zone commanders generally work closely with state officials
but are not subordinate to them.  Their chain of command extends
directly to the presid- ent through the defense secretary.  The navy
functions with eight naval districts, four on each coast.  The
principal naval installation and school are in Veracruz.

    Power within the armed forces is highly centralized, the commander
making all decisions at all levels.  Officers are expected to follow
orders explicitly and avoid individual initiative.  Mexican army
officers lack combat experience in all grades: Until Chiapas, there
was no real opposition for 65 years.  Although current troops are
untested, history shows that when well trained and led, Mexican
soldiers have performed well and bravely in battle.

    The Mexican officer corps is thought to be too large.  It does not
rely heavily on its NCOs -- Mexican officers do not delegate as much
responsibilities as do foreign counterparts.  The various military
academies have produced an excess of officers for the number of
command slots available.

    Mexico's military schools are effective in instill- ing a
perception that loyalty to country and service are paramount -- that
political ambitions are not compatible with a military career, an
approach long fostered by the governing PRI.  The current officer
corps is much better educated, however, and is becoming more
politically sophisticated.  Due to increasing internal security and
domestic difficulties, it is probably that military officers will move
toward a more participatory role in politics and the conduct of
civilian government.

    Cadets in military schools are constantly reminded of the role
U.S. Generals Zachary Taylor and Winfield Scott played in Mexico in
1846, resulting in Mexico's loss of California, Texas, and New Mexico.
Memories of Gen. "Blackjack" Pershing's invasion of Mexico and the
battle of Veracruz in 1914 are also strong.  Consequently, today's
military officers, as those in the past, have ambivalent feelings
toward their country's relationship with the United States.  Their
attitude has recently been described as not entirely "anti-gringo,"
but still one of wariness about the U.S. government's intentions.
This attitude, along with previous Mexican presidential policies
adverse to U.S. interests, has resulted in varying degrees of
cooperation with the U.S.  military in general, and has affected
social and other [intelligence and advisory] contacts with
U.S. military attaches in Mexico.

    A direct result of nationalismo has been the Mexican army's
independence from U.S. arms makers and the devel- opment of its own
small-arms industry and continual acquisition of European ordnance.
However, the Mexican air force and navy, for less obvious but logical
reasons, are now mainly equipped with U.S.-made aircraft and vessels.

    Mexican armed forces number about 175,000 personnel.  This
includes about 60,000 conscripts who serve one year after being chosen
by lottery, and train (mostly drill) four hours each Sunday.  Regular
army forces comprise three-year volunteers who frequently re-enlist.
Reserves are estimated at roughly 300,000.  A rifle-armed rural
defense militia, of uncertain numbers, may now be in the process of

    Generally, civil law enforcement at all levels is underpaid,
untrained, politically controlled and un- reliable.  Consequently, the
main burden for internal security falls on the army. Mexican military
planners not only desire to increase personnel and equipment, but must
consider the factors effecting overall strategy, performance and

    Mexico is about three times the size of Texas.  The terrain varies
from coastal lowlands to central high plateaus.  Two-thirds is
mountainous, with jungles in the south and deserts in the north.
There is a 2,000 mile border with the United States and a 750-mile
frontier with Guatemala. *The current Mexican military cannot expect
to always maintain peace in a nation of this size and topography.*

    About 70% of Mexico's 90 million people live in urban areas
stretched beyond their capacity to absorb people coming in from
impoverished rural areas.  There are 28 cities with populations of
more than 200,000.

    Two cities have a population of two million or more.  The Federal
District, including Mexico City, has an estimated population of 20
million.  The size of Mexican armed forces in relation to overall
population is very small compared to other nations.

    There are 146,000 miles of roads (45% paved), 16,000 miles of
railroads, approximately 100 airfields with scheduled flights, 5,000
miles of oil pipelines and more than 13,000 kilometers of gas lines.
*The potential for sabotage and disruption are enormous, including
Mexico City's vulnerable water and power supply.*

    Indian populations in Yucatan, Tabasco, Chiapas, Oaxaca, Guerrero,
and Veracruz have historically harbored violent potential.  Mexico's
crucial petro- leum and petrochemical operations are mostly in
Veracruz and Tabasco.  Any insurgency threatening Veracruz and Tabasco
creates serious priority problems, given the army's limited resources
and immediate reserves.

    Although drug control is a principal mission, specified by the
president as a threat to national security, the army cannot continue
to concentrate on that and still devote sufficient resources to
control civil unrest.

    In a civil war, military control of Mexico City would be paramount
and the principal responsibility of the army. *It would not be able to
protect the seat of government and infrastructure, control the local
population and concurrently conduct major operations elsewhere, as the
same time.* A country- wide civil war would probably force garrisons
in the 35 other zones to protect major urban and industrial centers in
the areas of responsibility, *leaving the rest of the country to
dissident forces.*

    Mexico's current armed forces cannot adequately handle the
magnitude of the problems they face. [...]

    In a scenario of Mexican internal disaster such as civil war, the
United States would face crucial decisions and be forced to take
immediate action:

- The U.S. southern border would have to be sealed 
  to exclude millions of refugees.  
- Billions of dollar in American investment with
  financial repercussions at home, plus NAFTA itself,
  would be at risk. [...]
- Mexican oil fields and production facilities would
  be in jeapardy. [...]

    Mexico has had a bloody history of internal revolt.  Hopefully,
the current situation in Mexico can be resolved peacefully.  [...]

Colonel Rex Applegate