Mexico’s Cartel War passed the ten year mark on December 11. That’s the day then-president Calderon ordered a military-led task force to enter Michoacan state and defeat very-well armed organized criminal gangs that out-gunned local and state police. Calderon feared the drug gangs were on the verge of carving out “drug duchies” similar to those in Colombia. Calderon was quickly criticized for “militarizing” a criminal problem. However, Mexico faced an unusual situation. The drug cartels had gunmen who were better trained than the police. They also had military-grade arms. The drug gangs had lots of cash to bribe politicians as well as local and state police. Drug gang firepower and cash had overwhelmed local police forces and government institutions. The drug cartels also turned their guns on one another as they fought “turf wars” for control of drug trafficking routes to the U.S. Mexican citizens were often caught in crossfires. The gangs also extorted money from legitimate businesses and kidnapped people for ransom. With cartel gunmen ambushing and out-gunning municipal, state and federal police, Calderon decided he had to use the military as a last resort. The Mexican military is the one institution the long-governing PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) had never completely corrupted. As 2017 begins, the military remains one of the most highly trusted institutions in Mexican society.
Unfortunately, in terms of tactics and operations, December 2016 looks a lot like December 2006. Here’s part of the StrategyPage Mexico update from that month.
“December 17, 2006: The (Mexican) Army announced a major drug bust operation in western Mexico. The army arrested Elias Valencia, head of the Valencia drug cartel…The Army and various police organizations began a large-scale counter-drug operation in Michoacan state on December 11. The operation included a large "sweep" of Michoacan by troops supported by armored vehicles. Police had been ambushed in southwestern Michoacan and it looks like the armored vehicles were a response to the road ambushes. The state has been the scene of fighting between the Gulf Cartel…and the Valencia cartel. The two cartels had been shooting at one another and committing "execution style" gangland slayings. The army reported one firefight on December 13 near what was described as a "marihuana plantation."…Mexico's new president, Felipe Calderon, promised he would take action against the drug gangs. It looks like action includes the Mexican Army deployed as a police force but also conducting operations that look more than a bit like counter-insurgency operations.”
The current president Pena thought he could demilitarize the war. During his 2012 campaign for the presidency he promised to create a new paramilitary police force (a gendarmerie) that would be trained and equipped to battle the drug cartels. However, much to its dismay, the Mexican military continues to do most of the fighting. (Austin Bay)
December 27, 2016: Violence is once again increasing in Ciudad Juarez (Chihuahua state). In October 2015 there were 96 homicides in the city. So far this year there have been 454 murders. This means 2016 will be the deadliest year in Ciudad Juarez since 2012. That was the year a turf war between the Juarez cartel and the Sinaloa cartel petered out with a Sinaloa victory. Now police report that the number of cartel commando-type raids in the city has increased. This indicates another turf war is in full swing. With Sinaloa senior commander Joaquin Guzman once again in prison other cartels are testing Sinaloa’s ability to defend its turf.
December 26, 2016: Spokesmen for self-defense forces in Guerrero state say they remain frustrated with the government’s inability to provide security in rural areas. That’s why citizens in rural areas continue to resist government attempts to break up the community self-defense forces (also called local militias and autodefensas).
December 25, 2016: Cartel gunmen killed 13 people in Michoacan and Guerrero states. The state prosecutor’s office in Michoacan reported that police found six heads in the town of Jiquilpan. The police believe the heads belong to Jalisco New Generation cartel (CJNG) gunmen. CJNG is fighting a turf war with the New Michoacan Family cartel (NFM).
December 23, 2016: Costa Rica is investigating reports that former Veracruz state governor Javier Duarte has fled Mexico and is now hiding in Costa Rica. Duarte disappeared in early November and is wanted on corruption charges in Mexico. He was a member of the ruling PRI but PRI kicked Duarte out of the party after he was accused of collaborating with organized criminal gangs and money laundering.
December 19, 2016: UN economists estimate that Mexico’s GDP would decline 2.7 percent if the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is completely eliminated. The estimate is based on the fact that approximately 85 percent of Mexico’s “exports by value” are exported to Canada and the U.S., the other members of NAFTA.
December 15, 2016: The national refugee agency, COMAR, said that conditions in Central America indicate that Mexico will face a sharp increase in the number of people from Central American nations seeking asylum. In 2015 Mexico received 3,424 asylum applications in 2015. The government said the 2016 application figure exceeds 8,000. Most of the applicants come from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. COMAR expects over 20,000 applications in 2017. The asylum seekers are fleeing gang violence and poverty.
December 13, 2016: Police have discovered two more super tunnels running beneath the border and connecting Tijuana to San Diego. One was finished, the other was still under construction. Both tunnels began in a warehouse district in Tijuana.
December 11, 2016: Ten years ago today the Cartel War began and since then an estimated 100,000 people have been killed in the war and another 30,000 are missing.
December 9, 2016: President Pena announced that military personnel will continue to be deployed to combat drug-related violence. Pena’s statement came after the Defense Minister said he that he was uncomfortable with the anti-cartel mission. The military was not the appropriate instrument for combating criminal gangs, but the military was doing the job because no one else could do it. Many municipal policemen in Mexico are corrupt, poorly trained or unreliable.
Police in Guerrero state found the burned bodies of three federal detectives in a charred pickup truck near the town of Zihuatanejo. The body of a fourth victim was found near the truck. Prosecutors believe the murder victims may have been cooperating with the Jalisco New Generation cartel.
Federal police and Mexican military personnel arrested Alfredo Beltran Guzmannear the city of Guadalajara. Prosecutors believe Beltran Guzman is now the senior commander of the Beltran Leyva cartel (also called the Beltran Leyva Organization).
December 5, 2016: The government reported that in October 2016 national unemployment fell to its lowest level in nine years.
December 3, 2016: American and Mexican media report that the Zetas cartel is fracturing and re-fracturing. Two rival faction, the Cartel Del Noreste and Grupo Bravo/Zetas Vieja Escuela, are fighting a turf war. The war began in Tamaulipas but has now spread into Nuevo Leon and Coahuila. There are also reports that the Zetas Vieja Escuela ar trying to forge an alliance with the Gulf cartel.
December 2, 2016: The director of the U.S. Border Patrol has told Congress that 7,400 border patrol agents have been assaulted since 2006.
December 1, 2016: A U.S. federal court sentenced a drug smuggler to 27 years in jail. Manuel Fernandez-Valencia worked with both the Sinaloa cartel and the Beltran-Leyva Organization. He moved cocaine from Mexico and Central America to the U.S. west coast and Midwest. According to prosecutors he would use almost any means of transportation to smuggle the drugs --from aircraft, mini-submarines, fishing boats, trucks, cars and -- yes-- container ships.
November 30, 2016: A member of The Texas Mexican Mafia, a Texas gang believed to be aligned with Mexican cartels, has been sentenced to five consecutive life prison terms without parole for his involvement in five murders. One of the murder victims was a policeman.
November 29, 2016: Prosecutors in Guerrero state said they have jailed one of the Sinaloa cartel’s chief opium smugglers. Vicente Carrillo Salmeron was arrested in in the city of Acapulco. Police found him in possession of weapons, cocaine and methamphetamines.