How Narco Tanks Work

Challenges to Law Enforcement

In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared war on drugs but in the 40 years since, the battle has grown far bloodier than anyone could have predicted [source: PBS], In recent years, the violence in Mexico in particular has transformed portions of the country into virtual war zones, and Mexican law enforcement agencies are being overwhelmed. In 2008, U.S. President George Bush signed the three-year Merida Initiative, a $1.6-billion program to equip and train Mexican, Central American and Caribbean authorities in their efforts against the cartels [source: Richter]. But three years later, critics are wondering if Merida has done any good.

Narco tanks represent another level of frustration for officials battling cartels that are already well-funded, highly trained and extremely motivated [source: Richter]. The vehicles can transport large crews of up to a dozen or more heavily armed men, so just their presence can be intimidating. But so far, there do not seem to be any accounts of these vehicles engaging law enforcement [source:Johnson]. Instead, the cartels seem to be releasing these monsters on each other, using them to gain an advantage in their own turf wars.

The emergence of these narco tanks is another escalation point in a war that grows increasingly violent, and serves as a reminder for police officers about what they are up against. Entire communities are terrified of retribution if they cooperate with law enforcement and without the eyes and ears of citizens, authorities are at an even bigger disadvantage [source: NPR).

And there is reason to believe narco tanks may indicate that the drug war is deteriorating into a full-fledged narco-insurgency. In January 2011, a car bomb killed a police officer in only the second such attack in the country's history [source: Ramsey]. This increasing aggression toward law enforcement and political leaders (three Mexican mayors were assassinated in a two-week span earlier this year) has drawn comparisons to the drug-fueled violence that spread throughout Colombia in the '80s and '90s [source: Ramsey].

So what hope does Mexico have for fighting back against cartels so resolute that they've resorted to building tanks in their garages to protect their business? In the next section, we'll take a look at Mexico's long-term outlook for the war on drugs.