Wednesday, November 14, 2012

What are the Russians and Chinese up to in Mexico?

This question came over the transom to me (through g-mail) and I'll answer it as well as I can. As you might divine from reading this blog on Guns, Drugs and Politics in Mexico, I do what I can to keep my finger on the pulse in that nation.

Context and Precedence

Much of the infrastructure that both the Russian Federation and the People's Republic of China have in Mexico dates to the Cold War. Of recent, other nations have captured their interest. More on Brazil later.

Soviet Era Spy Trawler
Looking closer you see the torpedo tube door ajar and the
formidable and very capable advanced sonar not available
to or needed by the average fisherman.
(Trivial Example) During the Cold War, the Russians/Soviet Union were particularly active in Mexico. For example, they trained select members of their Special Forces people by dropping them in Cabo San Lucas/La Paz with a civilian backpack and very little money. From there, the Russians (most often GRU/SPETZNAZ) would make their way as best they could up along Baja California, cross the US Border and enter the United States. They'd travel across the US, usually using the cover of "Swedish backpackers", ultimately ending up in Washington DC, where they'd travel back to the Worker's Paradise. In order to qualify for this sort of training, you needed to have a lot of family who you felt an attachment to back home. They didn't want you swallowed up/shacked up in America, or walking into a police station on the way and surrendering.

In the event of war with the US, the
'innocent' trawler would sally forth
from Ensenada and sink US Naval
vessels departing San Diego.
The Russians kept at least one surveillance trawler in the Port of Ensenada to listen into the US Navy's facilities in San Diego, the Chinese still have a really large consulate in Tijuana that accomplished the same thing.

The spy vs spy routine was hotter at some times than others but the Cold War ended.

There is still Russian hardware being used in Mexico by drug cartels, the most notable being at least one Russian submarine that transits from the Sea of Cortez to the California Coast, carrying as much as ten tons of narcotics per load. It's owned by the family of the late Ignacio (Nacho) Coronel Villarreal (February 1, 1954 – July 29, 2010) and they make a profit on the transit trade (a term made popular in Afghanistan and used here for shits and giggles). There are Soviet era, and later AK rifles and rocket propelled grenades floating around but both those weapons and the submarine are not an extension of Russian Federation policy.  And I believe that's what the question was directed toward.


There are former Ukrainian GRU people working for El Mencho's faction of the Sinaloa Federation. They're very well paid, but they are not, near as I can tell, an extension of either Russian or Ukrainian foreign policy. Sure, they have friends back home, but they're working in the drug trade and you'll find them partying in Puerta Vallarta or hanging out in Guadalajara (usually).

There are the usual Chinese and Russian spies based in their respective embassies and consulates under diplomatic cover. They're careful not to upset the applecart and for the most part, want to be left alone to enjoy living outside of their respective countries with cash in their pockets.

In truth, the drug cartels have things in Mexico so tightly controlled and they put so much money on the street that it's difficult for either the Chinese or the Russians to do much more than report on crop yields and try to engage in the odd espionage target to justify their existence. The US is an open society and spying in the US is simply not all that hard, so using Mexico as a jumping off point is simply not done because it doesn't have to be.

Both the Chinese and the Russians have a much more lucrative nation in mind for exploitation. They are putting a LOT OF EFFORT into Brazil. If the US isn't more attentive than they've been on this matter to date, they will find themselves out of the running for Brazil's favor. I'm not saying that USGOV isn't aware - but it would be helpful to put more resources on target in my opinion.

But, this blog is not about Brazil. Maybe I should start one on Brazil? What do you think?

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