Mexico: The Kingpin Strategy Continues


February 17, 2016: The drug violence is getting worse. At least 18,650 people were murdered in Mexico in 2015. That is a 7.6 percent increase over 2014. The murder rate for 2015 was 16 per 100,000. The high point during the Calderon Administration (2006-12) was 20 per 100,000. Guerrero state remains the most violent. Its murder rate is 57 per 100,000.

When Calderon was in charge he pursued a “kingpin strategy” which concentrated on cartel leaders and sought to arrest them or kill them while attempting to arrest them. The current president (Pina) initially criticized the kingpin strategy. However, once in office, Pena has followed a very similar path. By 2015 security forces had killed or captured several senior leaders in the Knights Templar, Sinaloa, Los Zetas and Gulf cartels. At that point it was believed that there were only two major cartels left. For many this was astonishing good news. Here is the bad news: several hundred “cartel factions” or splinter cartel cells are still engaged in violent organized criminal activities. This new claim contrasts sharply with another recent government assessment which said nine major cartels and around 45 smaller organized criminal gangs were operating in the country. Was the 2015 analysis fantasy for the press? Perhaps, but many in the government believe they have a deal to make all Mexicans aware of current intelligence on the cartel situation. Thus the view that by 2015 only the Sinaloa cartel and the Jalisco New Generation cartel were still “working and functioning” as major organizations within Mexico. That qualifier, working and functioning as major organizations was a key point. The government also emphasized that the Jalisco New Generation is a very dangerous and powerful organization and is capable of carrying out coordinated military-style attacks (which it continues to do). The high-level of coordination indicates it is well led and has internal discipline. However, the government continues to pressure the leadership in both of these powerful organizations. Sinaloa now has only two effective senior commanders, Ismael Zambada and Fausto Meza. By mid-2015 the Gulf cartel was essentially leaderless; all that is left of the organization are gunmen. The gunmen are still dangerous and they are fighting for power.

Architects and construction engineers have noticed that “drug tunnels” beneath the U.S.-Mexico border have become increasingly sophisticated. Security personnel now routinely find tunnels over 100 meters in length (some have exceeded 150 meters). Joaquin Guzman’s escape tunnel was around 1500 meters long. Mexican and American police have found evidence that the tunnel builders are using sophisticated directional drilling technology that the oil industry uses to drill oil wells and lay pipelines. This makes sense as South American drug gangs acted in a similar fashion when they hired experienced ship builders and former submarine crew members to improve the design of their “semi-submersible” drug smuggling submarines.

February 15, 2016: Federal police at the Mexico City airport inspected a four-kilogram box of lollipops. The police discovered each lollipop contained a capsule of methamphetamine. Someone in Sinaloa state was trying to send the “speed pops” to Omaha, Nebraska.

Pope Francis has been visiting Mexico. Today he held a mass in San Cristobal (Chiapas state). Some of the prayers were read in Tzotzil and Tzeltal (Mayan languages). Later in the day the Pope said that mass in Mexico could be conducted in Nahuatl (Aztec language). On January 1, 1994, Mayan Indians, led by the enigmatic Sub-Commandante Marcos, entered San Cristobal and nearby Tuxtla Gutierrez and launched a very peculiar insurrection, the Zapatista Rebellion. The Zapatista movement (Zapatista Army of National Liberation, EZLN), protested the treatment of indigenous peoples in Mexico. The government says that Sub-Commandante Marcos was the nom de guerre of Rafael Guillen (Rafael Sebastian Guillen Vicente).

February 14, 2016: Investigators working for the Nuevo Leon state prosecutors office have found luxury prison cells in the Topo Chico prison (located in the city of Monterrey). Topo Chico is where 49 prisoners were killed in a riot on February 11. The luxury cells were more like apartments. The niceties included aquariums and saunas. One cell had a bar. The state attorney general also announced that the warden and superintendent of Topo Chico have been arrested on charges of drug trafficking and failure to maintain security measures.

February 11, 2016: At least 49 prisoners were killed and more than a dozen injured when a fight between gangs in Nuveo Leon state’s Topo Chico prison became a riot. Police reported that no prisoners escaped during the riot. The state believes two factions of Los Zetas cartel were involved in the fight that led to the riot.

February 9, 2016: Investigative journalists in Texas claim that the Zetas cartel made use of a “network” of ovens to dispose of the bodies of murder victims in Coahuila state. Most of the victims were killed from 2011-2013. That is the time frame in which the Zetas were seizing control of state and local governments in Coahuila.

February 8, 2016: Security personnel arrested at least 12 people in Michoacán state who were carrying banners announcing the creation of a new organized criminal gang. The new crime gang is called La Nueva Familia (LNF). It is supposedly a descendant of La Familia Michoacana.

February 4, 2016: Federal prosecutors have ordered security forces to find and question actress Kate del Castillo. She is a friend of Sinaloa cartel senior commander Joaquin Guzman and helped arrange actor Sean Penn’s infamous interview with Guzman. According to prosecutors, in 2015 Guzman may have given del Castillo money to start a business. If he did, that means del Castillo may be involved in money laundering. Del Castillo claims she has done nothing wrong.

February 2, 2016: Mexicans abroad sent home $24.8 billion in 2015. That is a record figure. Most of the income was earned in the United States. Mexico earned $23.6 billion from oil sales. That means the country earned more from overseas workers than oil. A spokesman said this has not happened since the government began keeping track of overseas income in 1995.

February 1, 2016: - A birthday party in Coyuca de Catalan (Guerrero State) turned into a murder spree, leaving nine people dead. On January 31 a woman was murdered in the same town when gunmen opened started shooting at her car.

A series of firefights between cartel gunmen and security forces erupted in the city of Matamoros (Tamaulipas state). At least eight people were killed. Seven of the dead were cartel gunmen. The other victim was a 13 year old girl caught in the crossfire.

January 31, 2016: The government announced the arrest of a man who was once a senior commander in the Beltran-Leyva cartel. Francisco Javier Hernandez Garcia was arrested in Sinaloa state. He took control of the cartel in 2014.

Three soldiers and two gunmen were killed in a firefight in La Huerta (near the city of Mocorito, Sinaloa state). Two cartel gunmen and four soldiers were also wounded in the firefight.

January 30, 2016: Police arrested 22 members of the Sinaloa cartel and killed two others in an operation on the U.S. border (Arizona-Sinaloa). The two cartel gunmen who were killed in a firefight with Mexican federal police. The Federales had surrounded a building in the border town of Sonoyta (across from Lukeville, Arizona). The gang members were involved in narcotics trafficking and human smuggling. Authorities described the operation as a “sting.” The operation was named Operation Diablo Express.

January 29, 2016: The government said that it is cooperating with the American request to extradite Sinaloa cartel commander Joaquin Guzman to the US.

Mexico officially renamed its capital city. The capital’s new official name? Mexico City. Ah, but wasn’t that its name already? That is what almost everyone in the world called it. But its official name was the Federal District (hence the abbreviation DF). The “new” Mexico City has a population of around nine million. Another thirteen to fourteen million people live in the surrounding suburbs.


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