Latin America: Mexico Drug War Update

by Bernd Debusmann, Jr.

Mexican drug trafficking organizations make billions each year trafficking illegal 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 over 17,000 people, with a death toll of nearly 8,000 in 2009 and over 1,000 so far in 2010. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest of several 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:

Monday, February 22

A high-ranking member of the Sinaloa Cartel was captured by federal police in his hometown of Santa Ana, Sonora. Jose Vasquez Villagrana, 40, is a former member of the US Army, in which he served for a year in 1990 before deserting to Mexico once he had obtained US citizenship. He is accused of overseeing the importation of Colombian cocaine to Mexico via Panama and other Central American countries. Once in Mexico, the cocaine was stored at his ranch before being smuggled into the United States.

Tuesday, February 23

Two people were killed in firefights between police and suspected drug traffickers in the state of Coahuila. Seven people were reported wounded in the fighting, which took place in the cities of Piedras Negras, La Laguna and Torreon. The violence began when police attempted to pull over a pickup truck in Piedras Negras, only to be fired at by automatic weapons. One of the gunmen was killed, while a second escaped. Four others were wounded in the shooting. Upon searching the truck, police found several weapons, including AK-47's, AR-15's, fragmentation grenades and a .50 caliber "Barrett" sniper rifle. In another incident, police shot dead a suspected drug-trafficker and wounded two others in La Laguna.

The mayor of the town of Mezquital, Durango was gunned down as he dined in a restaurant in the state capital of Durango. In Navolato, Sinaloa, a municipal police official was shot dead. Several minutes after his killing, gunmen returned to open fire on police and army personnel who had arrived at the scene to gather evidence. None were killed.

Additionally, in the coastal town of Bella Vista, two executed bodies were found lying on the beach. Two men were murdered in Culiacan, two others in Mazatlan, and another body was found in Navolato. During the same time period, eight people were killed in violence across the city. In one incident, gunmen forced the patrons of a business in the La Presa neighborhood to lay down before picking out their three targets, who were then shot. Also in Tijuana, police discovered a shipment of 5,000 unidentified "psychotropic pills" which had arrived on a flight from Guadalajara.

Wednesday, February 24

In Oaxaca, gunmen attacked a rural town, leaving 13 people dead. The attack, which took place in the small town of San Vicente Camalote, was carried out by an unknown number of masked men traveling in several vehicles. The attack began when 9 policemen were killed after the gunmen attacked their checkpoint. The gunmen then stormed a ranch, killing its owner and three of his sons. Although the exact motive is unclear, authorities believe the killings were related to the drug trade.

In other news, the US consulate in Monterrey advised American citizens to avoid travel to the states of Chihuahua, Durango, and Nuevo Leon, and the city of Reynosa, Tamaulipas, which borders Texas. Authorities in Tamaulipas fought gun battles against suspected cartel members in several cities, leaving at least 19 dead, including one police officer. Additionally, in the state of Guerrero, authorities discovered two severed arms and a threatening note inside a cooler, having being led to it by an anonymous tip.

In Sinaloa, a Mexican Air Force helicopter came under fire while searching for marijuana and poppy fields in a remote area. A 48-year pilot was wounded by the gunfire, and had to be taken to a hospital in the town of Los Mochis. No further details on the incident are available.

In the city of Chihuahua, gunmen shot a police official at the entrance to a primary school, in front of dozens of children who were present. The officer was dropping off his son at the school.

In Mexico City, two bodies were found in the trunk of an SUV parked in the upscale neighborhood of Bosques de las Lomas. One of the dead was male and one female. Their identities are unclear. Police also removed a mysterious package from the vehicle to be further inspected.

Total Body Count for the Week: 137

Total Body Count for the Year: 1,401

Total Body Count for 2009: 7,724

Total Body Count since Calderon took office: 17,606

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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