Mexico: The War Intensifies


July 26, 2009: Did the PRI's political victory in the Chamber of Deputies really affect the Cartel War? That is the big question in Mexico -- and it comes as some experts are arguing that the government of President Felipe Calderon is finally having significant (and possibly long-term) success in its war on the cartels. The concern about the PRI's victory is based on the PRI's track record of systemic corruption -- will the wealthy drug lords buy political protection? The response is, the cartelistas have been doing it anyway, or at least trying to buy as many politicians and policemen as possible. Calderon counters that the bribery is "business as usual" and that is what the people of Mexico are rejecting. The government thinks the July 5 vote went against the PAN because of the economic downturn. Calderon and the Mexican military have also argued that the increase in drug gang murders is an indication that gang-turf is shrinking. The military and federal police have "pressurized" the cartels' operational space and the cartels are fighting among themselves over turf as well as fighting the army and police. The government wins on this point, for the gangs are waging a mutual bloodbath. The military and police have used several operational techniques, including striking gang hideouts ("sanctuary ranches") and increasing anti-drug operations along drug routes leading north to the U.S. ("bottleneck squeeze"). The Calderon government also points out that it has attacked cartel finances, as part of his strategy of systemic reform. Calderon's strategy is the right one, but to pull it off takes a long time and it takes focused, sustained leadership. Now the president has to expend time and political capital fighting a revitalized PRI-- and maybe that answers the question about the PRI's political victory and the war.

July 23, 2009: The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency plays a very important role in coordinating U.S. anti-drug efforts with Mexico's own operations. The veil has been lifted a bit on the Special Operations Division (SOD). The SOD is really a multi-agency effort but the DEA is the lead agency. Structured as a "task force," the SOD serves as a coordination point for U.S. operations against international and domestic narcotics traffickers. It also helps coordinate investigations and operations against other criminal organizations (there is a lot of overlap in the underworld) and watching the gutter means the SOD has a counter-terror intelligence role. Among other operations, the SOD helps coordinate the El Paso Intelligence Center.

July 21, 2009: The U.S. government claims that a new anti-crime drive is aimed at the Gulf cartel and the Zetas paramilitary drug gang (which conducts its own freelance operations but is tied to the Gulf cartel). The U.S. Justice Department has indicted 19 members of the cartel. Some $50 million in rewards have been offered for "information leading to their arrest" of cartel leaders. The Treasury department is also instituting "tailored sanctions" (also called selective or personal sanctions) on the financial assets of key Gulf cartel leaders. Treasury named four of the indicted as "Specially Designated Narcotics Traffickers." This means that access to their bank assets can be "frozen" and that property can be seized and held. It is interesting to note that the Justice department did not call the Gulf cartel "the Gulf cartel" in the indictments. It referred to the cartel as "the Company." Like many organized criminal outfits, the cartel does have a company-like structure. Instead of having a board of directors, the cartel referred to its "senior management" as "the governing council."

July 20, 2009:The Mexican Navy seized two boats carrying 7.5 tons of cocaine. The seizure took place in the waters off Oaxaca state (Mexico's Pacific Coast). A Navy statement said sailors found 320 packages of cocaine.

President Felipe Calderon appears to be doubling down in his home state of Michoacan. Following the murder and torture of a dozen federal police in Michoacan, the government has announced that it will reinforce the Mexican Army and federal police operation in Michoacan, a "mini-surge" to counter the La Familia drug cartel. At least another 500 troops have deployed, bringing the total to around 5,500 soldiers engaged in anti-cartel operations in Michoacan. Mexican media report numerous army roadblocks throughout the state. An estimated 12,600 people have been killed in the Cartel War since it began in December 2006.

July 19, 2009: The government arrested ten police officers in Michoacan state, and claims they were involved in the "torture and murder" of 12 federal anti-crime agents earlier this month. Michoacan is wracked by inter-cartel fighting, most of the violence between La Familia cartel and the Zetas (which are aligned with the Gulf cartel). At one time La Familia was also considered a "branch" of the Gulf cartel.

July 18, 2009: The government reported that Mexican Army units have increased the number and intensity of operations in Michoacan state following the murder of 12 federal police officers.

July 14, 2009: Gunmen killed the mayor of Namiquipa (Chihuahua state, northern Mexico). Authorities said at least 15 men with assault rifles participated in the murder. the murder is being called an act of revenge and intimidation, since the mayor was involved in the arrest of several cartel gunmen earlier this year -- according to one statement the arrest of 25 cartel gunmen. That amounts to arresting a platoon. "Payback murder" is designed to scare other officials and police officers. It is sometimes an indication that the pressure by the police is being effective.

Eleven people were slain in Ciudad Juarez (Chihuahua state) from July 13-14. The government reported that 12 federal officers (11 men and one woman in the Policia Federal, or PF) were found murdered overnight in Michoacan state (western Mexico). The policemen's bodies were discovered in a stack and showed signs of torture. A police report indicated the officers had been ambushed along a highway in the Michoacan hinterland. The PF often operates as a paramilitary force (a gendarmerie). The government accused La Familia cartel of the slayings. The murders are being described as "one of the worst incidents" in the Cartel War.

July 13, 2009: An NGO (non-governmental organization)  has accused the Mexican military of human rights abuses in the Cartel War. The group contends the Mexican government has not met Merida Initiative human rights requirements. The group wants the United States to "not certify" human rights compliance -- which, should it occur, will affect the disbursement of funds through the Merida Initiative aid package (which is designed to support Mexican anti-crime and anti-drug operations).

July 12, 2009: Several firefights broke out in Michaocan state (western Mexico). The government reported gunmen associated with La Familia drug cartel launched attacks on federal police bases in six towns in the state. Three federal policemen were killed and 18 wounded.

July 10, 2009: Twenty-four local policemen arrested in Tijuana (Baja California state) on charges of corruption claim that Mexican Army soldiers beat them and tortured them in order to elicit confessions. A government investigation said that illegal tactics had been used but the incidents were "isolated."

July 9, 2009: The government reported that violence is increasing once again in Ciudad Juarez, despite the presence of Mexican Army troops. The violence diminished when the government deployed 7,500 Mexican Army troops and 2,500 police earlier this year. However, officials acknowledge that the number of murders began to climb in June as the July 5 election approached.


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