by Bernd Debusmann, Jr.
Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year smuggling drugs into the United States, profiting enormously from the prohibitionist drug policies of the US government. Since Mexican president Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and called the armed forces into the fight against the so-called cartels, prohibition-related violence has killed more than 30,000 people, including more than 12,000 this year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of dozens of high-profile drug traffickers have failed to stem the flow of drugs -- or the violence -- whatsoever. The Merida initiative, which provides $1.4 billion over three years for the US to assist the Mexican government with training, equipment and intelligence, has so far failed to make a difference. Here are a few of the latest developments in Mexico's drug war:
In Chihuahua, Marisela Escobedo Ortiz was shot and killed in front of the governor’s office. Ortiz had been well-known for her protests and activism after the 2008 murder and dismemberment of her 16-year old daughter Rubi Frayre by her boyfriend Sergio Barraza. Barraza, thought to be a Zeta, was captured a year later in Zacatecas but was released after being exonerated by a Mexican court. Another court reversed the decision, but Barraza remains a fugitive. Barraza is thought to have ordered the killing of Ortiz, and had previously been implicated in several death threats against her life. The murder was caught on security camera video.
On Friday, heavily armed gunmen burned down a lumberyard belonging to Ortiz’s partner, Jose Monje Amparan. His brother, Manuel, 37, was kidnapped during the attack. He was later tortured, strangled and thrown from a moving vehicle.
Friday, December 17
In Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, over 140 inmates escaped through the main vehicle entrance of a prison. It is suspected that prison guards were complicit in the escape. The prison director is missing along with the 141 escapees. Soldiers and Federal Police surrounded the prison after the incident.
In Zuazua, Nuevo Leon, a car bomb exploded outside a police station, wounding two people. It is unclear whether the two events are related, but the Zetas and Gulf Cartel are both extremely active in Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon.
Saturday, December 18
In Ciudad Juarez, at least six people were murdered in several incidents. In one incident, a car with Oklahoma license plates was ambushed by gunmen, killing two men and wounding an 18-year old female and three children. In another incident, a man was found dead and wrapped up in a blanket. These killings bring the December total to 130. The yearly total is now being variously being reported as being somewhere between 3,000 and 3,100.
Sunday, December 19
In Guatemala, authorities declared a state of siege in Alta Verapaz province. According to the Guatemalan government, several cities in the province -- including the capitol, Coban -- have been overrun by members of the Mexican Zetas organization. Under the state of siege, the army is allowed to detain suspects and conduct searches without warrants, as well as control local gatherings and local media.
[Editor's Note: No body count this week because El Universal, on which we rely, has not updated theirs. But the Mexican attorney general's office reported last week that this year's death toll had reached 12,456 as of November 30 and that the number of dead since Calderon called out the troops in December 2006 was 30,196 -- although they conceded the numbers could be higher.]