Mexico: Going For The Gold

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December 17, 2011: The U.S. Department of Justice admitted that its agencies had made several major mistakes in the Fast and Furious gunrunning sting operation. Fast and Furious was the code name of an operation that involved purchasing weapons in the U.S. and smuggling them to Mexico. The goal was to identify cartel operatives who were buying the weapons. One of the mistakes U.S. agencies made included providing the U.S. Congress with false information. Two of the agencies identified as providing false information were the U.S. Attorney’s office in Arizona and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. The total number of weapons involved remains to be determined, although 1,200 is now the common figure, though 1,800 has cropped up. This is an extraordinarily high number of weapons for a sting operation. BATF lost track of several hundred weapons. That’s inexcusable incompetence. But it gets worse. Several dozen to several score of people have been killed with the weapons, including U.S. security personnel. The Mexican government regards the operation as an attack on its sovereignty. Some Mexican officials have said that Fast and Furious amounted to facilitating crime by the cartels, not stopping crime. The Fast and Furious fiasco has spurred further investigation into sting operations. For example, investigators are now probing a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration operation that laundered money for Mexican drug gangs. The goal was getting information on the higher-ups in the cartels. Moving money, laundering money, and then banking it is a classic police sting scheme for identifying the crime bosses, so the fact DEA uses the technique is no surprise. Still, the criticism of Fast and Furious (i.e., it was aiding crime) could apply to a money-laundering sting. U.S. police and security agencies also tend to be very tight-lipped about passing on sting operation information to some Mexican authorities. The U.S. agencies are worried about bribery and corruption in Mexican police forces. They have reason to worry. Honest Mexican officials, however, see this as another insult. However, police and security officials on both sides of the border acknowledge that tracking money and occasionally laundering money for cartels is an excellent way to identify the cartels’ senior commanders and the corrupt financial institutions that support them. That means U.S. counter-drug investigators are conducting a global campaign. The cartels have money on every continent. Money tracking, whether the target is a cartel drug lord or a terrorist leader, is an inter-agency security operation that involves the U.S. Treasury, Department of Justice, Department of State, and often intelligence agencies.

The Cartel War remains a very localized phenomenon. Nearly all the cartel violence (which accounts for three percent of all crime) occurs in 3.2 percent of the 2,500 municipalities the country is divided into. But the often spectacular Cartel War violence gets the headlines, making it appear that the entire country is aflame.

December 16, 2011: Five bodies were found in Guadalajara (Jalisco state), including three high school students who had told police that they were victims of an extortion scheme run by a high school student group. Investigators indicated that the student group was operating as a gang and had been demanding protection money from small businesses operating in or near the high school. Apparently this particular group in Jalisco state began as a radical political organization in the 1960s. The high school gang appears to be imitating cartel gang violence.

December 13, 2011: New details have emerged regarding a December 12 student demonstration in Guerrero state. The incident appears to mix drug war-type violence and radical politics. Student activists allegedly hijacked several vehicles on a highway and set fire to a gas station. The students were protesting increasing costs and demanding more funds for their rural college at Ayotzinapa. They also demanded jobs for graduates. Police responded to the vehicle hijackings. Police also used tear gas on demonstrators near the gas station. Shots were fired and the police claim they returned fire. Two students were killed. Activists claimed the police opened fire. Police investigators claimed they discovered an AK-47 assault rifle and several hand grenades (drug cartel-type weaponry). Activists then claimed the police planted the weapons. This could be leftist rebel agitation or police over-reaction. Both have occurred in Mexico, and Mexico tends to get violent as a presidential election approaches. The next presidential election is next year. What worries authorities is potential drug cartel involvement in these types of incidents. The cartels, with the goal of keeping government security agencies occupied, could finance and arm political agitators.

December 12, 2011: The government scored a major victory when marines arrested Raul Lucio Hernandez Lechuga, a senior commander in Los Zetas, in Cordoba (Veracruz State). Known as El Lucky, Hernandez Lechuga is supposedly an original member of the Zetas. Investigators claim that he commanded Zetas operations in three states: Oaxaca, Puebla, and Veracruz.

December 11, 2011: The U.S. government is considering establishing an unmanned port of entry. But hold on, given the location it makes sense. The town of Boquillas del Carmen is across the Rio Grande from a very isolated portion of Big Bend National Park, Texas. The village’s Mexican hinterland is mountains and desert. It is a place that you can’t get there from here. The Boquillas kiosk would have a camera and digital link to a Border Patrol and Customs office in the park. To actually enter the U.S. from the crossing requires traveling on several miles of park road and check points exiting the park. American tourists would be able to use the kiosk to legally cross into the Mexican village. Park officials argue that the unmanned kiosk would actually improve security

December 7, 2011: Mexican and U.S. officials are noting that over the last three years cross-border tunnels, used by drug traffickers, have increased in number and sophistication. Drug cartels have hired well-trained engineers and architects to design and oversee construction of the tunnels. The Sinaloa cartel has been particularly involved in tunnel construction. The Mexican Army found a tunnel in Tijuana that had an elevator and electric tracks (for a small rail car). Investigators determined it was built by the Sinaloa cartel. Several tunnels discovered in the last year have been over 500 meters in length.

December 5, 2011: Several government officials have warned that drug gangs may attempt to influence the upcoming elections. President Felipe Calderon recently accused the cartels of planning to manipulate the election. Calderon also said that 21 of Mexico’s 37 most wanted criminals have either been killed or arrested since he launched the war in late 2006.

December 4, 2011: Arrests of illegal migrants crossing the U.S.-Mexico border have dropped to the lowest levels in some three decades. From October 2010 to September 2011 the U.S. Border Patrol arrested 327,577 illegal migrants. In 1999-2000 the Border Patrol stopped nearly 1.6 million. The most likely reason is a shortage of jobs caused by the U.S. economic recession.

December 3, 2011: A Mexican polling organization estimated that since 2006 around 1.6 million Mexicans have been displaced by drug-related violence.

 

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