This month marks the eighth anniversary of the beginning of the Cartel War. The cartels had become a very serious political threat and when Felipe Calderon became president in 2006 he decided to employ the military as the primary security force in the struggle with the wealthy and violent gangs. The cartels were employing military-grade weapons and out-gunning municipal and state police agencies. They also used military tactics and had bribed, intimidated and marginalized police in areas where the cartels operated.
Since 2006 the war has exacted a high price in blood and treasure. An estimated 60,000 people have been killed or “disappeared” in cartel-related violence. This estimate includes people killed in gang against gang violence, intra-gang (factional) violence, gang violence directed against citizens (theft, murder, kidnapping), security agencies confronting gangs, and citizens killed in the crossfire between security agencies and gangs.
Calderon supported his Cartel War with an institutional reform program. Calderon knew that the country needed honest judges and police. All these reforms were never completed. In 2012 the Institutional revolutionary party (PRI) candidate Enrique Pena Nieto defeated the pro-Calderon PAN candidate. Pena claimed that Calderon had unnecessarily “militarized” the Cartel War. Pena also said Calderon focused too much attention on senior cartel commanders (sometimes called the “leadership decapitation” strategy). Pena promised to create a paramilitary gendarmerie to battle the cartels. Two years later Pena’s Cartel War looks very much like Calderon’s, with a few tweaks. Pena’s military and police continue to target senior cartel commanders (kingpins) for arrest. If the commanders are killed during the strike operation, so be it. Senior military officers command “joint” forces of military units, federal police and state police. The on-going operations in Michoacan state are an example.
How have the cartels fared? The powerful Sinaloa “confederation” cartel remains very much in business. Sinaloa operates as a collective based on personal and family relations. The Mexican attorney general’s office believes Sinaloa has operations in 17 Mexican states. The government claims the Juarez Cartel is badly damaged. It has been battered by government operations but its long term war with the Sinaloa Cartel may have been more damaging. Juarez and Sinaloa began crossing swords in 2004. The Tijuana Cartel (former name: Arellano Felix Cartel) has been reduced and “decapitation” by arrest (by both Mexican and U.S. security agencies) played a role. However, other cartels also murdered several senior Tijuana commanders.
In 2006 La Familia Michoacana was a powerhouse in Michoacan state and a major drug cartel. In 2014 “the family” is smashed. However, its bizarre descendant, the Knights Templar Cartel, became strong enough to take control of several districts in Michoacan. It also developed an international extortion and smuggling business centered on the seaport of Lazaro Cardenas. Knights Templar violence spurred the rise of the community defense militia movement in Michoacan. The government continues joint operations within the state and the Mexican Navy controls Lazaro Cardenas.
The Gulf Cartel still wields power in several Gulf Coast states, but it is not the force it was in 2006. Government efforts have damaged the Gulf Cartel but what has hurt it the most is its bitter turf war with the cartel formed by its former enforcers, the Zetas. (Austin Bay)
Although the new government has enacted reforms meant to make the state owned oil company more efficient that is just the tip of the iceberg. It has been revealed that the state oil company is currently losing over half a billion dollars’ worth of oil a year to thieves who tap into the 35,000 kilometers of pipelines carrying crude oil and refined products. This is often done by bribing local police to not intervene and sometimes by cutting in local oil company workers to help.
The police chief of the capital (Mexico City) has resigned on the 5th over complaints about how the police have handled (often violently) mass protests against police violence, especially the recent murder of 43 college students in Igulala.
December 4, 2014: As demonstrators staged protests in several key cities, the government reiterated its promise to pursue the murderers of the 43 students from the town of Igulala (Guerrero state). Media demanded that the government fulfill its pledge to crackdown on crooked municipal police departments. In mid-November the government promised to disband corrupt municipal police forces. The national legislature was asked to pass laws that will permit the federal government to take full legal control of towns and cities where criminal organizations have taken control of the police and municipal government. The government has already identified 32 towns where troops will take over from corrupt or otherwise ineffective local police. Meanwhile parents of some of the 43 dead students are asking government help against threats they are receiving and an Internet based campaign trying to make the dead students look like they were up to no good when they were murdered.
December 2, 2014: For decades, teachers colleges, or normal schools, in Mexico have had a deserved reputation as hotbeds for left-wing activism and Marxist politics. The term “normalista” came to mean a left-wing student protestor or strident student social justice activist who had trained at a teachers college (and very likely a teachers college in a rural area). Media now appear to be using the term in a broader sense to describe demonstrators who are protesting the murders of 43 students in Guerrero. The students attended Ayotzinapa Teachers College and were “normalistas.”
November 29, 2014: The government confirmed that an Austrian forensic pathology team is examining human remains recovered near the town of Iguala. Investigators believe the remains (many charred) are those of the 43 students who were killed in late September by members of Iguala’s municipal police forces and gunmen belonging to the Guerrero Unidos criminal gang.
November 28, 2014: Several hundred demonstrators occupied the police training academy in Guerrero state (located on a major expressway near the capital, Chilpancingo). The demonstrators were protesting the kidnapping and murder of 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Teachers College by the municipal police force of the town of Iguala.
November 27, 2014: Investigators discovered 11 headless bodies in a mass grave near the town of Chilapa (Guerrero state). Authorities said some of the bodies were partially burned.
The government will ask the legislature to authorize a plan that will allow the legislature to dissolve municipal government infiltrated by criminal organizations. The government also wants the national legislature to streamline the way felonies are handled at the local, state and federal levels and give state security authorities the ability to take control of a crooked municipal police force. The government acknowledged that the murders in Iguala are behind the request. After Iguala the government realizes Mexico must change.
November 23, 2014: Attorney general’s office confirmed that police have arrested the former deputy police chief of Cocula (Guerrero state near Iguala). The remains of several dozen dead have been discovered in and around Cocula. Authorities believe most of the bodies of the 43 Iguala incident students were dumped in a landfill near Cocula. Officials reported that 75 people are now under arrest for crimes in connection to the students’ kidnapping and murder.
November 22, 2014: Navy officials confirmed that an American U.S. Marshal was wounded July 11 during a navy anti-organized crime operation in Sinaloa state. The U.S. Marshal was accompanying a marine unit. Other U.S. security agents were also present. According to the naval officials, the U.S. Marshal was helping train navy personnel. The navy insisted that the marshal was not wearing a Mexican military uniform or carrying Mexican weapons. A U.S. media source claimed that several U.S. law enforcement agencies were participating in the operation inside Mexico. In the July Sinaloa operation their target was a member of the Beltran-Leyva cartel. The U.S. Marshal was wounded when the group he was with was ambushed. The U.S. media claim conflicted with the Mexican Navy statement-- or it seemed to. The U.S. media story claimed that U.S. law enforcement personnel had “disguised” themselves as marines while accompanying them on operations. Several U.S. law enforcement agencies had acknowledged that they provide Mexican security agencies with intelligence and training support. Actually accompanying a unit on a mission is a step beyond intel and training support, but if a high value target turns up, and both government agree, sending an American team might be worth the risk. The navy statement could be technically accurate. The U.S. agents were not wearing marine uniforms -- at least proper marine uniforms (as in wearing marine uniforms with no rank, tags, non-issue boots, whatever).
November 21, 2014: Despite protests from citizens in Guerrero, the government has rewarded Brigadier General Alejandro Saavedra Hernandez by promoting him to the rank of Division General (major general). Saavedra commands Military Zone 35 (Guerrero state). Students from Ayotzinapa College claim that soldiers in the 27th Infantry Battalion refused to help them after police attacked them in Iguala on September 26. Some students claim soldiers took the side of the police. The students now claim that the soldiers would have been able to stop the police from kidnapping the 43 student protestors who were subsequently murdered.
November 16, 2014: The army confirmed that it will follow the order of the National Human Rights Commission that it thoroughly investigate the June 30 murders of 15 gang members by five soldiers in San Pedro Limon (Mexico state). The commission also accused the soldiers it believes committed the atrocity of altering the crime scene.
November 15, 2014: National media are calling the Iguala massacre a major threat to Enrique Pena’s presidency. Until the Iguala incident, Pena had largely avoided controversy. He was personally popular. He had done something two prior presidents had been unable to do: change the laws to allow Mexico’s national oil company to collaborate with private firms and utilize private investment sources. Now he is seen as someone who is incapable of addressing the problem of government corruption. Pena has admitted that reforms are necessary but has criticized protestors for burning government buildings in Guererro state. The protestors responded that Pena does not have a plan for dealing with corrupt officials and crooked law enforcement agencies.
November 14, 2014: Investigator in Guerrero state found the remains of a Roman Catholic priest from Uganda. The man had disappeared six months ago.
Demonstrations continued throughout Guerrero state protesting government mishandling of the investigation of the September 27 murders of 43 students from Ayotzinapa Teachers College. A spokesman for a group of students at Ayotzinapa Teachers College said that the students are creating a national movement. They intend to send caravans of students to other states to encourage protests.
November 13, 2014: Opposition political groups are accusing President Pena of conflicts of interest after media alleged that Grupo Televisa, a major television company, has given two very expensive properties to Angelica Rivera, his wife and Mexico’s First Lady. Rivera is an actress. Pena already faces criticism for revelations that a family mansion is owned by a man who owns a company with extensive federal contracts.
November 12, 2014: Demonstrators burned the state party offices of the Institutional Revolutionary Party in Guerrero’s capital, Chilpancingo. The arson occurred after a march with over 1,000 protestors.