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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 18,000 people, with a death toll of nearly 8,000 in 2009 and over 2,000 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:

Friday, March 19

In Monterrey, Nuevo Leon armed men blocked highways leading out of the city with buses and trucks they commandeered in an apparent attempt to disrupt military operations in the area. The incidents began on Thursday, when armed men began pulling drivers out of vehicles and parking them across the highways. The tires of several vehicles were slashed to make them more difficult to move. At least 31 separate roadblocks were set up.

Saturday, March 20

In Acapulco, a wedding ended in disaster after a ferocious firefight broke out between a group of men attending the party and a group of armed men who arrived in a pickup truck. Five men, all between the ages of 25 and 33, were killed, and four were wounded. In another part of the city, a clash between groups of rival gunmen left one dead. In another incident, two policemen and two gunmen were killed after a gunfight broke out on the Iguala-Ciudad Altamirano highway.

Sunday, March 21

In Santa Catarina, Nuevo Leon, gunmen attacked a convoy in which the local public security chief, Rene Castillo Sanchez, was traveling. In the gun battle that ensued, two bodyguards were killed and several people were wounded. The assault was apparently an attempt to rescue two prisoners who had been taken into custody earlier in the day and were also traveling in the convoy. One of the two men was wounded in the clash.

After the shootout, the two prisoners were taken to Castillo's office, where they were transferred into the custody of Mexican marines, who took the two men to a local hospital by helicopter. One of the men, who was unscathed in the attack on the convoy, was later found dead wrapped in a blanket and tossed on the side of a road. The second suspect is now also reported missing. It is unclear exactly what happened, but many fear that the men were executed by the Mexican military.

Monday, March 22

In Chilpancingo, Guerrero, the dismembered bodies of two police officers were discovered outside police headquarters. Notes from the killers were left at the scene, but police have refused to disclose their content. One of the dead was a regional police commander, and the other a state police official. Nearby, in Acapulco, another two mutilated bodies and a note were left outside the home of a former deputy traffic police chief.

Tuesday, March 23

In Ciudad Juárez, several aircraft carrying an additional 450 federal police agents landed in the city. This brings the total number of federal police personnel in the city to 3,500, where they operate alongside local and state police forces and elements of the Mexican Army. So far this year, some 500 people have been killed in Ciudad Juárez.

In Mexico City, Hillary Clinton arrived with a delegation of high ranking officials to meet with Mexican officials, including President Calderon and Foreign Minister Patricia Espinosa. Among the other individuals in attendance were Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, the Director of National Intelligence, Dennis Blair, and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael Mullen. The subject of the meetings was US-Mexico cooperation on issues related to drug and weapons trafficking and the fight against drug cartels. Clinton's arrival came 10 days after three individuals with ties to the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juárez were gunned down by men thought to be tied to the Juárez Cartel.

Wednesday, March 24

In Tuxtepec, Oaxaca, nine people were killed in a series of incidents involving a group of gunmen. The killings began when individuals traveling in two vehicles shot four men dead in a motorcycle repair shop. A fifth person was killed as the men made their escape. Soon after, the gunmen ran into a Mexican army convoy, and shot dead two soldiers. Following the clash, the gunmen fled into a pizza shop, where another two men were shot dead.

Thursday, March 25

In Michoacan, a high-level heroin trafficker was arrested by police. Jose Antonio Medina, 36, is thought to have run a network that transported 440 pounds of black tar heroin a month into Southern California. Medina's network was independent, but he was known to cooperate closely with La Familia Michoacana, the primary drug trafficking organization in the state of Michoacan.

In Matamoros, Tamaulipas, 41 prisoners escaped from a local prison. Two guards are also reported missing. All but three of the prisoners were charged with federal crimes, rather than state crimes. In the past, many local leaders have complained that the federal government overburdens their prison with federal prisoners, who are often more dangerous and violent, and often tied to drug trafficking groups.

Total Body Count for the Week: 251

Total Body Count for the Year: 2,323

Total Body Count for 2009: 7,724

Total Body Count since Calderon took office: 18,528

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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Hillary, the drug war is failed policy

Dear Mrs. Clinton,

Please work to end the war on drugs. After 40+ years of concerted effort, we can see that there is no way to prevent drugs in our country. At the same time we have witnessed millions of people arrested and sentenced to prison. We have spent over a trillion dollars in the effort. Sadly, numerous innocent people have been killed or injured by police during drug raids on homes. We have allowed our criminal justice system to de facto target minorities, youth and the poor. Meanwhile, we have given the perfect opportunity to criminals to become rich beyond their dreams by selling drugs.

Most people will not use drugs when they are legal. If they wanted them, they could and would get them today. There will not be more than a temporary increase in use. People don't want to become addicts, as evidenced by the dramatic decrease in cigarette smoking of the last 20 years. People want to make healthy choices, and most know that drugs are not a healthy choice. Some fear that legal drugs will mean a huge increase in drugged driving. But that would require an even larger number of people using drugs, the same people that pretty much know that drugs are a bad idea. Therefore, the sky will not fall as some predict will happen if we end the war on drugs.

There are better ways to handle drug abuse and dependence. It is a health issue. Doctors, nurses, and other health care professionals are in a much better place to constructively improve the lives of people that are negatively affected by drugs. While they do their work better than police, judges, and prison guards, they won't create a violent black market at the same time. So, not only do you do better by putting the right person on the job, but you don't do worse by creating a needless war.

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