June 13, 2012: The Institutional Revolutionary Party’s (PRI) candidate, Enrique Pena Nieto, continues to lead in the presidential election polls. One poll has Pena leading by ten points over Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO is his nickname), the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD) candidate; another poll has him leading AMLO by 13 points. The election is scheduled for July 1. Pena, who is 45 years old, has said that if elected president he will focus on decreasing the level of violence in Mexico. He intends to improve the police forces and would use the federal police to support local police forces, particularly those located in poor areas and rural areas. He would also give the Federales additional firepower and form some federal police into a new paramilitary gendarmerie organization (sometimes called the national gendarmerie). Pena recognizes that the PRI’s legacy of corruption haunts the party and, for that matter, all of Mexico, though he recently told media that he thinks it is unfair to focus solely on the PRI. His government would fight corruption, he says, and he would establish a National Anti-Corruption Commission. Critics of the PRI, however, allege that the PRI prefers to makes deals, not war, with drug cartels. How Pena’s national gendarmerie would actually differ on the ground operations from the way current President Felipe Calderon’s uses the military to battle the cartels is also open for debate. Pena’s gendarmerie proposal doesn’t seem to have impressed the Mexican people. A recent poll reported that 64 percent of the Mexican people approve of the Mexican military leading the fight against organized crime. However, only 21 percent thought the strategy of using the military was working. (Austin Bay)
June 12, 2012: The Mexican defense budget increased 52 percent from 2002 to 2011. Operational costs and purchasing new equipment (especially new helicopters) for the Cartel War are two reasons for the increase. The government has also raised military salaries substantially and personnel costs are around 70 percent of total defense spending. In 2011, Mexico spent around $6 billion on defense, which amounted to a 5.7 percent increase over 2010 spending. Mexico still has one of the lowest defense spending rates in the Western hemisphere, in terms of GDP. Mexico spends around 0.5 percent (half a percent) of its GDP on defense. Why? Mexico faces no major threats. The Colossus of the North (the U.S.) takes care of the any big threat to North America. Mexicans can complain about Yankee imperialism but money talks. A half percent GDP defense budget talks.
June 11, 2012: Mexican federal police arrested four members of an Acapulco-based drug cartel, the Independent Cartel of Acapulco. The gang has been battling another local drug trafficking organization in the city, the Sweeper Gang. One of the people arrested was described as the Independent Cartel’s chief of finances.
A PRD candidate for the state legislature in Guerrero state was murdered at his home in the town of Costa Chica. Acapulco is also located in Guerrero state.
June 10, 2012: Several thousand (perhaps as many as 25,000) college students and young people demonstrated in Mexico City against corruption and the PRI. The demonstrators accused the PRI of using violence to run the country. Media described the crowd as supporting the left-wing PRD.
Gunmen murdered seven people in the town of Badiraguato (Sinaloa state). Authorities have good reasons to assume the killings were drug war-related. Badiraguato has a tough reputation and is thought to be the headquarters of the Sinalo cartel. Several of Mexico’s most notorious drug commandantes were born in Badiraguato or its immediate vicinity. The list includes the Beltran Leyva brothers and the Sinaloa cartel’s senior commandantes, Ismael Zambada and Joaquin Guzman. The Beltran Leyva cartel split from the Sinaloa cartel. A concerted effort by the government decimated the Beltran Leyva cartel. A remnant faction of the Beltran Leyva cartel is now allied with Los Zetas cartel.
June 9, 2012: The military reported that Mexican Army soldiers arrested Fernanda Herrera Zurita on June 7, at a checkpoint on the Veracruz-Xalapa highway (Veracruz State). Herrera Zurita is accused of being a major financial operative for Los Zetas and is involved in money laundering activities in the states of Tabasco and Veracruz. The vehicle in which the suspect was traveling did not have a front license plate. Soldiers also seized a pistol, four fragmentation hand grenades, a grenade launcher, and several hundred rounds of ammunition. The suspect had communications equipment and several forged identity documents. Investigators said that Herrera Zurita has admitted to involvement in weapons shipments and drug trafficking between sites in Guatemala and the states of Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas (both of which border on the U.S.).
June 8, 2012: Media reported the discovery of 14 mutilated bodies in the town of Ciudad Mante (southern Tamaulipas state). Government security authorities said they were investigating the reports.
June 7, 2012: Local media continue to report that drug gangs are involved in the upcoming election. The gangs want to own enough politicians so that the government will call off the Cartel War. When the PRI ran the country criminals only had to deal with the PRI (with a few exceptions) in order to keep the police away. Some commentators have noted, with evident cynicism, that the drug gangs now have to work with all three major parties. Drug gangs certainly have political objectives. Regional drug cartels want to influence state and local elections. Gangs have money and in some places have the ability to motivate voters (with cash, intimidation, etc). Corrupt state and local leaders provide an operational buffer, which provides the gangs with some protection from federal police and the military. Mexican federal authorities have alleged that the Knights Templar drug cartel influenced the 2011, state elections in Michoacan state. The PRI candidate, Fausto Vallejo, won that election. The PAN candidate, who happened to be President Calderon’s sister, Luisa Maria Calderon, finished second. Mexican media interpreted the PRI victory in Michoacan as a signal that a PRI resurgence was underway. (Austin Bay)
The June 5th detention of two senior federal judges by the Special Investigations on Organized Crime (SIEDO) office on charges of ties to criminal organizations is having quick ripple effects. A panel of three federal appellate judges has ruled the Sandra Avila Beltran can be extradited to the U.S. to face narcotics (cocaine) trafficking charges. (See reports of June 5 and June 2.)
June 6, 2012: PRD candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador is trying to reassure the Mexican public that he would not wreck the Mexican economy. Lopez Obrador is an avowed leftist and has been accused of wanting to imitate Venezuelan socialist dictator Hugo Chavez. Lopez Obrador, however, is now telling media that he is against Chavez’ socialist policies. This an effort to deal with market concerns that he could put the economy at risk if elected.
June 5, 2012: U.S. Army North announced that it recently hosted seven Mexican Army generals as part of its Fifth Army Inter-American Relations Program. U.S. Fifth Army is headquartered in San Antonio, Texas.
Mexican Navy announced that on June 1st, Marines arrested ten suspected Gulf cartel gunmen and freed 13 hostages in a raid in Nuevo Laredo (Tamaulipas State, across the border from Laredo, Texas). The marines launched the operation after receiving a tip that armed people were seen inside a house in the city. The Marines discovered 17 AK-47 assault rifles, a machine gun, two grenade launchers, and six pistols in the house. They also seized 25 hand grenades and 16, 500 rounds of ammunition.
The Deputy Attorney General for Special Investigations on Organized Crime (SIEDO) announced that it has opened a formal investigation of two federal judges suspended by the Council for the Federal Judiciary. The prosecutors said the suspects were under investigation because of suspicious verdicts rendered in major drug-trafficking cases. In 2008, one of the judges, Jesus Guadalupe Luna Altamirano, released Ivan Archivaldo Guzman Salazar, the son of Sinaloa cartel chief Joaquin Guzman. Guzman (the son) was serving a five year sentence for money laundering. In 2011, Luna upheld a suspect lower court decision to free Sandra Avila Beltran. Ms. Avila was arrested in 2007, on charges of involvement in organized crime and drug trafficking. She also faced a U.S. indictment (from 2004) for narcotics trafficking. The other suspended judge, Efrain Cazares Lopez, is suspected of cooperating with the La Familia cartel. In 2009, Cazares freed several mayors in Michoacan state who had been arrested for ties to La Familia.
June 4, 2012: Drug cartel gunmen murdered 11 people and wounded eight more in an attack on a drug rehabilitation center in the city of Torreon (Coahuila state). Police said the gunmen escaped from the crime scene in two pick-up trucks.
June 2, 2012: Mexican judicial authorities announced that the Council for the Federal Judiciary has suspended two federal judges who are involved in very high-profile narcotics cases. The judiciary council determined that irregularities had appeared in the judges' conduct. The term "irregularities" usually means that police have reason to believe the suspects are corrupt. However, prosecutors said that the suspensions are, for the moment, temporary.
May 30, 2012: Investigators reported that they suspect a drug gang is responsible for dropping leaflets from an airplane accusing the Sinaloa state governor of being in the pay of the Sinaloa cartel and taking orders from Sinaloa’s senior commandante, Joaquin Guzman. An airplane flew over the state capital, Culiacan, early in the morning on May 29, and dropped the leaflets, which were a single-page and unsigned.
May 29, 2012: Mexican Army soldiers discovered several secret oil storage facilities containing 400,000 gallons of stolen fuel. The facilities were located at a site near the city of Minatitlan (Veracruz State). One depot contained diesel fuel and another crude oil. The soldiers seized eight tank trailers and two tank trucks at the site. A large PEMEX refinery is located near Minatitlan.
May 28, 2012: Mexican authorities arrested a drug gang hitman who is allegedly involved in a series of firebombing attacks on a Mexican food company that is a subsidiary of PepsiCo. The subsidiary, Sabritas, suffered several arson attacks on warehouses and on company vehicle parking lots at distribution centers. The hitman was described as a lieutenant in the Knights Templar drug cartel. The attacks may be tied to an extortion attempt. There are also rumors that Sabritas had let government police use some of their vehicles.
May 25, 2012: Soldiers arrested six La Familia cartel gunmen in Michoacan state. Just before dawn an army patrol encountered a suspicious SUV in a wooded area. The gunmen fired on the patrol and wounded one soldier but the patrol counter-attacked. The soldiers also seized 24 assault rifles, two pistols, a grenade launcher, three grenades (type not specified), and 5,700 rounds of ammunition. The soldiers reported the gunmen were wearing uniforms that were very similar to Mexican Army uniforms. La Familia is fighting with the Knights Templar cartel for control of Michaocan state. The Knights Templar began as a splinter faction of La Familia.
The PRI announced that it intends to suspend former state governor Tomas Yarrington’s party membership. Yarrington was governor of Tamaulipas state from 1999-2004. He is accused of corruption and racketeering charges in the U.S. Yarrington allegedly used bribe money to buy two properties in Texas. The PRI is concerned that other Mexican political parties will try to link Yarrington to its presidential candidate, Enrique Pena Nieto. Yarrington denies the accusations.