Mexico: The Juarez Showdown


April 23, 2009:  The violence has dropped in Ciudad Juarez (Chihuahua state). Juarez lies across the border from El Paso, Texas. Until early March, when the army sent 5000 more troops to the city, Juarez was the most violence-ridden city in Mexico, with 435 people were killed there in January and February, and another 51 were murdered in March. So far this month, 22 people have been killed in drug cartel violence . The army has taken on a number of day to day police functions, including traffic control. Many retired army officers are being hired as "security administrators" to direct the police functions. The Calderon government sees the retired officers as much more trustworthy than the local police. The Juarez operation started out as just another example of the army entering a violence-ridden northern Mexican city to conduct armed patrols, reinforce the police, and reassure the populace. As the operation has evolved it has become something else. The government has chosen to make Juarez an example of what the government can do and will do to win the Cartel War. In many place the cartels have either bribed or frightened the police and judiciary. The cartel drug lords essentially operate as their own government in these areas, using money and violent intimidation to control the population. The cartels send the message that opposing them is useless. The Calderon government, however, sees Juarez as a battleground where it can make a political (information warfare) statement. Juarez is a big city and has been plagued by violence. U.S. media is right across the border. President Calderon is making a big bet. The citizens of Juarez appreciate the peace, but wonder what will happen when the army leaves.

April 20, 2009: There will be no re-negotiation of the North American Free Trade Association (NAFTA) treaty. The newly elected U.S. president had promised to do that, to address environmental and labor "concerns" (of U.S. unions). But after meeting with the Mexican president, that promise was shunted aside.

April 16, 2009: 15 cartel gunmen and one soldier died in a firefight in Guerrero state after an army convoy was attacked. The new U.S. president began a state visit to Mexico, to discuss U.S.-Mexican relations, to include trade, immigration, and security issues.

April 15, 2009: Police discovered a weapons cache belonging to the Beltran Leyva cartel. The cache included a grenade launcher and several assault rifles, but the big find was a US-made M2HB fifty caliber heavy machine gun. The M2HB "Ma Deuce" is effective against aircraft (particularly helicopters) and light armored vehicles (eg., light armored cars frequently used by paramilitary police).

April 14, 2009: Drug-related violence declined in the first three months of 2009, with 2644 people had been killed in cartel-related violence from January through March. This was a decline of 26 percent from the period October through December 2008. Baja California state had a decline of almost 80 percent in the number of cartel murders.

April 10, 2009: The U.S. sent a Mexican cartel commander back to Mexico for trial. The Mexican government has charged Jose Manuel Garza Rendon with drug trafficking and organized criminal activities. Garza Rendon is a member of the Gulf drug cartel (Golfo).

April 9. 2009: The government reported that a former Guatemalan special operations soldier was killed in a gun battle with federal police in Zacatecas state (northern Mexico). The dead man was identified as Israel Nava. Two other cartel gunmen died in the firefight and eight federal police were wounded. Nava had allegedly bought weapons for the Zetas paramilitary gang and had helped launch attacks in Acapulco that killed policemen and a federal prosecutor. Nava was once a member of the Kaibiles, Guatemala's special operations force. The Kaibilies wear a red airborne beret and can conduct counter-insurgency operations as well as commando-style raids. The Kaibiles' reconnaissance skills are highly regarded by UN peacekeepers. Men like Nava have skills that the cartels prize. They totally outclass local and regional policemen. This is another reason the government decided to use the army to fight the cartels.

April 8, 2009: Police reported that a faction of the Zetas is now operating in Jalisco state (in western Mexico on the Pacific Ocean). The Zetas began as the paramilitary wing of the Gulf cartel, whose operations were primarily in eastern and northern Mexico (ie, on the Gulf of Mexico). However, there have been reports for years that the Zetas have connections throughout Mexico. The army has conducted significant counter-cartel operations in several of Jalisco's neighboring states (eg, Zacatecas, Guanajuato, and Michoacan).

April 7, 2009: A group of business leaders in Ciudad Juarez estimates that drug-related violence and extortion forced 4500 businesses in Chihuahua state to close down in 2008. These are legitimate businesses run by legitimate businesspeople. In many cases the legitimate businesspeople conclude that the local police cannot or will not protect them. This translates into the "lack of faith" in the system President Calderon says real systemic institutional reform must address. Embedded, endemic corruption lets criminals go free but also wreaks economic harm, which is why Calderon says combating drug violence and criminal gangs is only one part of the reform process.



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