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Mexico Drug War Update

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 around 40,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest or killing 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:

http://stopthedrugwar.com/files/wanted1.jpg
US Embassy in Mexico cartel wanted poster
Thursday, August 25

In Monterrey, 52 people were killed when suspected Zetas ignited gasoline at the entrance to the Casino Royale. As of August 31, twelve people are in custody for the attack. Many of those killed died of smoke inhalation after fleeing to offices and bathrooms in the interior of the casino.

Although the exact motive is yet unknown, police are investigating the possibility that the casino was attacked after having refused to pay protection money to the Zetas. Another possibility that has been floated in the Mexican press is that the casino was used to launder money for a rival cartel.

In Las Cruces, New Mexico, the former police chief of the town of Columbus pleaded guilty to conspiracy, smuggling, and public corruption charges. Angela Vega was arrested in March along with the town's mayor and 13 others. The group is known to have trafficked at least 200 weapons to La Linea, the military wing of the Juarez Cartel.

Friday, August 26

In Michoacan, wanted posters were put up by the Knights Templar Organization. The banners, which show the mugshots of five men the names of six men said to now be working for the Zetas, offered rewards of between $100,000 and $500,000 as well as a phone number to call.

Sunday, August 28

In Almoya de Juarez, near Mexico City, authorities discovered the decomposed bodies of five individuals buried in a corn field. The discovery was made after a family member of a missing man received a phone call from an unidentified man who said that 23 people were buried in the field. The other 18 remain unaccounted for.

Monday, August 29

In Acapulco, at least 140 local schools were closed after teachers refused to go to work because of extortion threats. School had just begun one week prior. Teachers indicated that at least four teachers had been kidnapped in the past eight days, and cars full of armed men were seen cruising past at least one school.

In Tamaulipas, authorities announced that a top Gulf Cartel commander was among several cartel members captured in the town of Camargo over the weekend. Abiel Gonzalez Briones, "R-2," 28, was captured after an aerial patrol spotted a group of armed men, at least seven of whom were captured. Gonzalez Briones is thought to have been a main financial operator of the Gulf Cartel and the area chief for the Miguel Aleman area.

In the mountain town of Guachochi, Chihuahua, seven bodies were discovered by the army. They had all been missing since August 13. Of the dead, six were strangulated to death, and the seventh, a woman, was shot. Additionally, near Ciudad Juarez, five human skulls thought to be several years old were discovered.

Tuesday, August 30

In Utah, authorities announced the dismantling of a Sinaloa Cartel cell. At least 30 people have so far been taken into custody after an 18th month investigation, which led to the discovery of several high-level men described as being "command and control" for the the cartel in Utah. At least 30 pounds of meth, 2.5 of heroin were taken into custody, as well as cash and high-powered weapons.

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600

Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Total Body Count for 2011: (approx.): 6,700

Plan Merida Focus to Shift to Border Region [FEATURE]

US officials said this week in El Paso that the Merida Initiative to help Mexico strengthen its security forces and judicial system in their ongoing battle with criminal drug trafficking organizations -- the so-called cartels -- will shift its focus to Mexico's border states. Other officials defended the "Fast and Furious" Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco & Firearms (ATF) gun-running scheme that resulted in weapons from the US being transferred to cartel members.

The remarks came at the eighth annual Border Security Conference at the University of Texas El Paso (UTEP), just across the Rio Grande River from Ciudad Juarez, one of the most deadly cities in the world in recent years because of prohibition-related violence plaguing Mexico. The conference is a joint undertaking of UTEP and US Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), a former El Paso sector Border Patrol head.

Somewhere around 40,000 people -- there are no official figures -- have been killed in the violence in Mexico since President Felipe Calderon deployed tens of thousands of troops and federal police in December 2006 to confront the increasingly brazen cartels head on. Despite the killing or arrest of dozens of high-profile cartel leaders, the flow of drugs north and guns and cash south has continued largely unabated.

The Merida Initiative, unveiled in 2008, allocated $1.5 billion in US aid to fight the drug traffic. Some of that money was destined for Central America, where Mexican cartels are increasingly encroaching, but the bulk of it is going to Mexico. Much of the Mexico funding has gone to the military and different law enforcement agencies, but given that both the military and the Mexican police are deeply compromised by cartel corruption, it is questionable whether throwing more money at them will accomplish much.

Now, said US Bureau of Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs assistant secretary William Brownfield in remarks reported by the El Paso Times, the emphasis will shift to Mexico's border states and their state and local police forces. That would be the best way advancing the goals of the initiative's four pillar strategy of disrupting the ability of the cartels to operate, enhancing Mexico's capacity to sustain the rule of law, creating a modern border infrastructure, and building resilient communities, he said.

The US-Mexico border. Drugs flow north, and cash, guns, and violence flow south. (Image via Wikimedia)
"This is where most of the cartels have focused their activities," Brownfield said Tuesday, adding that Plan Merida will continue no matter who wins next year's Mexican presidential election. "I want to make this clear, it does not matter if it is the PAN, the PRI or another party that wins the elections, the initiative will continue working, even if it undergoes some minor adjustments," he said. "We will proceed and we will succeed. We have no choice," he said.

Dallas ATF special agent in charge Robert Champion traced today's horrifying levels of violence not to Calderon's deployment of the troops at the end of 2006, but to conflicts that broke out when the Zetas, former Mexican special forces soldiers turned enforcers for the Gulf Cartel, turned on the Gulf Cartel.

"That's the genesis of where the violence began," said Champion.

Since then, Champion said, gun running has evolved from being a solely a border issue to being an issue as far north of the border as Indianapolis, St. Paul, and Atlanta.

"We now have organized arms trafficking rings," he said, adding that some of them use teenagers to smuggle weapons with the serial numbers erased.

Noting that the number of high powered rifles being smuggled into Mexico has increased dramatically in recent years, Champion felt compelled to defend ATF's Operation Fast and Furious, which has excited tremendous anger in Congress after it was found that guns smuggled in the operation ended up being used to kill a US Border Patrol agent and in at least two other killings in the US, as well as countless murders in Mexico. The operation was designed to track the weapons, which would lead to the cartels, but ATF lost track of many of them, effectively acting as an arms supplier for the cartels.

"We (ATF) were criticized because we only focused our efforts on attacking the suppliers of these weapons and when we wanted to expand our efforts and attack the criminal organizations, it worked out badly," Champion said by way of explanation.

Despite the determined optimism of US officials, others at the conference warned that the situation was deteriorating. Mexico is unable to retain effective control of parts of its national territory, they said.

The situation in Mexico "is starting to look like a civil war," said UTEP political science Professor Charles Boehmer. "Juarez is one of the hottest battlegrounds," he added.

Nearly 9,000 people have been killed in prohibition-related violence in Ciudad Juarez in the past two and a half years.

Mexicans are dying to supply the insatiable appetite for drugs north of the border, said Mexican officials. The easy availability of firearms isn't helping either, they said.

"That is what has brought about the violence -- the fight for control of US drug distribution," said Alejandro Poire, technical secretary to the Mexican National Security Council. "It's an unprecedented business opportunity for cartels in Mexico." The availability of weapons from the US has created a cartel "arms race," he added.

The conference featured lots of happy talk about how to win the Mexican drug war, but largely ignored the most radical option for doing so: legalizing the drug supply and sucking out the oxygen on which the cartels rely. That would not mortally wound the cartels, which are now morphing into all-around criminal enterprises, but it would cut off their main source of income. Maybe next year.

El Paso, TX
United States

Mexico Drug War Update

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 around 40,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest or killing 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:

All the drug busts in Mexico don't seem to make a difference. (image via Wikimedia)
Thursday, August 4

In Jalisco, six charred bodies were discovered by police in a flaming SUV. All six had apparently been tortured or mutilated before being set on fire, which is indicative of cartel-related violence. Jalisco is home to several cartels, including the Sinaloa Cartel and the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (CJNG).

Friday, August 5

In Ascension, Chihuahua, the entire 26-man police force quit for fear of their lives after two local police officers were killed earlier in the week. Their duties are now being taken over by state and federal police forces and by army patrols.

Saturday, August

In the Monterrey suburb of San Nicolas de las Garza, five young men between the ages of 17 and 20 were found murdered and dumped on a sidewalk. Police said the victims all had the "look of gang members," but this has not yet been confirmed. Police are investigating to see whether the men were killed elsewhere and then dumped where they were found, as only one bullet casing was discovered at the scene.

In Ciudad Juarez, a high-ranking police commander responsible for the city's downtown area was shot dead near the International Bridge to the US. Victor Nazario Moreno Ramirez, 32, was in his vehicle when it was boxed in by four vehicles full of gunmen who opened fire. Police discovered 420 spent shell casings at the scene, mostly from AK-47's. Another passenger was seriously wounded. Moreno had previously been in command of an elite unit of the municipal police responsible for special operations and responding to high-impact crime.

Sunday, August 7

In Ciudad Juarez, an El Paso woman was murdered in front of her 4-year old daughter. Stephanie Marie Lozano was sitting in a car with her boyfriend outside his home when gunmen arrived in a truck and shot them both dead. Her daughter Hailie was in the backseat and was not shot, but apparently suffered powder burns from gunpowder. Witnesses indicate that police did not chase the assailants car even though it continued to drive around the area. It also appears as if Juarez police told Lozano's family they would not be investigating and should simply consider it a tragic event.

Near Guadalajara, a 13-year old girl was taken into custody after a fire fight and allegedly admitted to working for the Zetas. The girl, identified only by her alias, "Pearl," told police that she was paid $325 dollars every two weeks to act as a "hawk," which is cartel slang for a look-out that reports on the movement of authorities and other enemies. She is the latest in a string of high-profile cases involving extremely young people who have become involved in cartel activities. The most famous, Edgar Jimenez Lugo, 14, is currently serving a three-year sentence for his participation in the torture and murder of four people who were found hanging from a bridge between Mexico City and Acapulco.

In Mexico City, the office of the chief federal security spokesman acknowledged that US agents participate in intelligence analysis and information exchange with Mexican security forces in Mexico. Over the weekend, the New York Times reported that CIA agents and former American military personnel are working on some Mexican military bases and that the government has considered using private contractors for security operations inside Mexico.

Monday, August 8

In Mexico City, the government announced that 172 municipalities will not be receiving federal anti-crime assistance money because they have not shown any progress in improving the training or quality of local police forces. Among the places being cut off from federal funding are the cities of Ciudad Juarez, Reynosa, and Nuevo Laredo, which have all experienced extremely high levels of drug-related crime.

Also in Mexico City, SEDENA announced the results of a 20-day military operation across the states of Coahuila, San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon. "Operation Northern Lynx" resulted in the deaths of 30 suspects and the arrest of 196 more, as well as the seizure of over 1,200 weapons and 3.3 tons of marijuana and 260 vehicles. Twelve kidnap victims were also rescued. Soldiers participating in the operation came under fire 21 times, resulting in the death of one soldier and wounding 21 others.

Tuesday, August 9

In Michoacan, the bullet-riddled bodies of four police officers and two civilians were found. The officers, two of whom were women, had all been reported missing Saturday in the neighboring state of Colima. The motive is currently unknown.

In Mexico City, a judge blocked the extradition of a high-ranking female cartel boss, Sandra Beltran Leyva, who is known as the "Queen of the Pacific," to the United States on organized crime, drug trafficking and money laundering charges for which she was acquitted. She has been in custody since her arrest in 2007, and it is unclear if this means she will now be released. She still faces a money laundering charge.



Wednesday, August 10

In the city of Chihuahua, a former police chief was assassinated as he ate at an Applebee’s Restaurant. Jose Refugio Ruvulcaba Plascencia was police chief in Chihuahua in the late 1990’s and in Ciudad Juarez in 2003.

In Ciudad Juarez, a transit police officer was run down by gunmen and shot dead.


Total Body Count for 2007 (approx.): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009 (approx.): 9,600

Total Body Count for 2010 (official): 15,273

Total Body Count for 2011: (approx.): 6,700

Mexico

Mexico Drug War Update

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 around 40,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest or killing 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:

All the drug busts in Mexico don't seem to make a difference. (image via Wikimedia)
Wednesday, July 27

In Veracruz, a local newspaper published an editorial strongly denying that a recently slain journalist had ties to drug trafficking organizations. Last week the state attorney general said that journalist Yolanda Ordaz De La Cruz -- who was found decapitated and tortured -- may have been killed by one gang because of her ties to another. The newspaper, Notiver, has called on state attorney general Reynaldo Escobar to publicly apologize and resign.

In Ciudad Juarez, Interior Minister Francisco Blake said that federal forces would not be withdrawn from Juarez, despite a statement Tuesday by Mayor Hector Murguia that federal police would be withdrawn in the area in September. The relationship between local security forces and the federal police is notoriously bad. Just last week, federal police shot at the convoy of municipal police chief Julian Leyzaola.

Friday, July 29

In the city of Chihuahua, authorities captured a high-ranking figure in La Linea, the armed wing of the Juarez Cartel. Jose Antonio Acosta Hernandez, "El Diego," is alleged to have participated in some 1,500 murders in the Ciudad Juarez area. Among the crimes he's accused of masterminding is the murder last year of a US consulate employee and the January 2010 massacre of 15 teenagers at a party.

Saturday, July 30

In Nuevo Laredo, about 80 local leaders including the mayor demanded that the local police force be reinstated. The Nuevo Laredo municipal police was disbanded in June and replaced with military personnel pending the vetting and testing of local police. Crime has since continued to rise. 21 other municipalities in Tamaulipas also had their security duties taken over by the Mexican military.

Sunday, July 31

In Ciudad Juarez, two people were murdered. According to researcher Molly Molloy, this brings July's total to 216, including 13 women and 8 minors.

In Michoacán, police arrested the head of the Knights Templar Organization for the city of Apatzingan. Nery Salgado Harrison, 24, has been in charge of the Apatzingan area since 2009 and is thought to be heavily involved in the production and local distribution of meth. The Knights Templar is an off-shoot of La Familia, which splintered into quarreling factions after the death of boss Nazario "El Chayo" Moreno in December 2010.

Monday, August 1

In Acapulco, federal police captured a high-ranking leader of the Independent Cartel of Acapulco. Moises Montero Alvarez, 42, "El Koreano," was captured along with one other suspect. Alvarez is thought to be connected to the September kidnapping and murder of 20 tourists from Michoacán, after apparently being mistaken for members of La Familia.

In Nuevo Leon, a police supervisor and his son were gunned down in front of a school in the town of San Nicolas de las Garza.

Tuesday, August 2

In Ciudad Juarez, authorities announced the arrest of a prison director and four guards in connection with last week's deadly clashes which killed 17 inmates in Ciudad Juarez's municipal jail facility. The director, Lucio Cuevas, is accused of granting favors to inmates. Video of the shooting shows guards letting in gunmen to open fire on inmates.

In Coahuila, authorities captured Valdemar Quintanilla Soriano, allegedly the number two financial operator of the Zetas Organization. Quintanilla is also thought to have connections to the top tier of Zetas leadership, such as Heriberto Lazcano. Another man was also taken into custody.

In Reynosa, five gunmen were killed in a fire fight with the army. The city used Twitter and other social networking sites to warn residents of the fighting, which took place at around noon in the Las Fuentes area of the city. Reynosa is just across the border from McAllen, Texas.

Total Body Count for 2007: (approx): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008: (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009: (approx.) 9,600

Total Body Count for 2010: (official) 15,273

Total Body Count for 2011: (approx.): 6,600

Mexico

Mexico Drug War Update

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 around 40,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest or killing 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:

Black market drug money buys lots of guns in Mexico. (image via wikimedia.org)
Tuesday, July 12

In Ciudad Juarez, at least 18 or 19 people were murdered in the city. Among the dead were four men who were shot dead at a field that had been the scene of a previous homicide, and a 12-year old boy who was working in a tire shop and chased into a restaurant where he was shot dead.

In Nuevo Laredo, at least 11 people were killed in and around Monterrey. In one incident, five men were gunned down in a public park by men armed with assault rifles. In another incident, four men were gunned down as they walked down a street, and armed men dragged a woman from her home in Escobedo and executed her outside.

Thursday, July 14

In Baja California, the Mexican army discovered the largest marijuana plantation on record, four times the size of previous record-holder, which was found in Chihuahua in 1984. The sophisticated plantation, which was discovered in the desert about 150 miles from Tijuana, could potentially have harvest 120 tons of marijuana each harvest.

Friday, July 15

In Sinaloa, 12 members of an elite police unit and a bystander were killed after being ambushed on the highway between Los Mochis and Guasave. Earlier in the day, two police officers were wounded during a shootout in Los Mochis. Signs later strung up in several parts of Sinaloa by members of the Beltran-Leyva Organization accusing the police of backing the Sinaloa Cartel, with whom the BLO split violently in 2008. Sinaloa, especially the area around the towns of Los Mochis and Guasave, has long been considered one the areas of the country under the most influence of drug cartels.

In Nuevo Laredo, 149 prisoners escaped during a large-scale jailbreak. At least 35 of the escapees are federal prisoners, which often means that they are cartel-affiliated. Five guards abandoned their posts during the incident.

Wednesday, July 20

In Queretaro, the Mexican Army seized the largest amount of meth precursor chemicals ever recorded in the country. The Army declined to comment on whether any arrests were made in the raids, which confiscated approximately 840 tons of chemicals which could have been used to process billions of dollars worth of meth.

In Chihuahua, prosecutors announced that a US District Court employee had been kidnapped and murdered in Ciudad Juarez recently. Jorge Dieppa, 57, a court interpreter, had apparently been kidnapped and held for a $10,000 ransom but was executed after allegedly recognizing a former girlfriend of his among the kidnappers. Three suspects, including the woman, are in custody, and another is on the run.

Friday, July 22

In Monterrey, two police officers assigned to the US consulate in the city were shot dead. The two men, who had been assigned to guard US diplomats, were riding on a motorcycle in the violence-plagued suburb of Guadalupe when they were shot by gunmen in a vehicle.

In Zacatecas, six gunmen were killed in a firefight with the army after troops on patrol came under fire after receiving a tip that suspected cartel members were setting up an illegal roadblock.

Monday, July 25

In Ciudad Juarez, 24 people were killed, including 17 killed inside the municipal jail. It is still unclear exactly what happened, but it is known that members of either the Mexicles, allied to the Sinaloa Cartel, and the Aztecas, allied to the Juarez cartel, overpowered guards and took their weapons. While the incident was initially considered an escape attempt, other reports indicate that at the time of the shooting, guards and prisoners were involved in an orgy which included drugs and underage women. Twenty people were also wounded in the incident, which was finally ended after an hour of shooting.

Also in Ciudad Juarez, the mayor announced that federal police would begin withdrawing from the area in early September. Mayor Hector Murguia said that municipal police are now capable of controlling the city themselves. Federal police took charge of law enforcement in Ciudad Juarez in April 2010, after an influx of soldiers were withdrawn after accusations that they were abusing their power.

Tuesday, July 26

In Veracruz, a crime reporter was found decapitated. Yolanda Ordaz de la Cruz had been missing since Saturday, when she was kidnapped by heavily armed men. Ordaz, who worked for the local newspaper Notiver, is the fourth Veracruz reporter to be murdered this year so far. A note left with the body seems to suggest that her killing is connected to the July 20 murder of a local columnist and his family in their home.

In Ciudad Juarez, police chief Julian Leyzoala said that a group of 20 federal police officers shot at his armored car on Monday as he was driving to the municipal jail to deal with the riot. Leyzoala said he is preparing criminal charges of attempted murder for the federal officers, who he says are well aware of the type of car he drives. "Fortunately the car is armored, or I wouldn't be here," he said.

Editor's Note: We cannot accurately tally the drug prohibition-related killings in Mexico at this time. El Universal, the only Mexican newspaper that was doing so on a regular basis, has stopped. We will have to rely on official pronouncements on the death toll, and will report them when they happen. Below are the numbers through the end of last year. With more than 1,400 reported dead in April alone, this year's toll could well exceed last year's. As of this month, we believe the total death toll in Calderon's drug war has surpassed 40,000.]

Total Body Count for 2007: (approx): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008: (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009: (approx.) 9,600

Total Body Count for 2010: (official) 15,273

Total Body Count for 2011: (approx.): 6,500

Mexico

Chronicle Book Review: To Die in Mexico

To Die in Mexico: Dispatches from Inside the Drug War, by John Gibler (2011, City Lights Press, 218 pp., $13.95 PB)

In Mexico, journalist John Gibler points out, there is the War on Drugs and then there is the drug war. The War on Drugs is the spectacle -- the well-publicized deployment of troops, the high-level diplomatic meetings, the perp walks of captured capos before the media, all designed to show that the Mexican government is dead serious about confronting the "menace to society" that Mexican drug trafficking organizations, the mislabeled "cartels," represent.

The drug war is what is really going on -- the tens of thousands of murders, the amazing ability of cartel killers to do their dirty work in broad daylight in cities full of police and soldiers and never get arrested, the unending flow of drugs north and guns and cash south, the undeniable collusion between factions of the security apparatus and different cartels, all within the context of a nation unable to provide safety or security for its citizens.

The Mexican War on Drugs is little more than a charade, or, as Gibler puts it, "a terrifying farce." And it is a charade in which the US is complicit. Our government is handing out $1.4 billion in Plan Merida funds, most of it going to the Mexican military and law enforcement apparatus to "strengthen institutions." But those institutions our money is supposed to strengthen -- the army, the national police -- are precisely the ones complicit in the drug wars.

How is it that Ciudad Juarez could see 3,000 drug war murders last year in a city filled with soldiers and military checkpoints? How is it that 95% of those murders are never even investigated? How is it that convoys of SUVS filled with rifle-toting cartel gunmen pass freely through the streets? How is it that 90% of those arrested in the drug war in Juarez are affiliated with the Juarez Cartel (La Linea), while the Sinaloa Cartel, which is waging a deadly battle to take over la plaza (the franchise), has hardly anyone arrested? How is that 90% of those who were arrested are later released without charge?

And how is it that there is la plaza in the first place? To be clear, the term refers to the ability of a cartel to go about its smuggling business unimpeded in a particular geographic location. That means someone, typically a military or national police commander has awarded la plaza to a particular cartel, allowing  safe and secure transit for its goods and either looking the other way or actively participating in the killing that needs to be done.

This is the second week in a row that I've reviewed a book that left me angry. Last week, it was The Wars of Afghanistan with its carefully documented evidence that billions of US taxpayer dollars going to Pakistan to help the US in Afghanistan were instead used to help gin up Islamic fundamentalist armies aimed at establishing a pro-Pakistan caliphate in Afghanistan, all under the watchful eye of the CIA and the Pentagon. And now, Gibler's revelations about the complicity of Mexican military and law enforcement in the drug trade--while we finance them.

Of course, it's not really a revelation. Anyone who has been seriously watching Mexico knows exactly what is going on, but given the lame US media coverage, it's easy to slip into a sort of crime beat mentality that is good for counting the bodies, but not so good for much else. To Die in Mexico is a sure antidote for that particular ailment.

Gibler's taut prose, keen eye, carefully honed outrage, and willingness to actually do on-the-scene reporting bring the horrifying reality of Mexico's drug war to vivid light. He travels with reporters who don't report because they don't want to end up like the 60 journalists murdered in Mexico in recent years; he travels with crime beat (nota roja) photographers who memorialize the corpses on the pages of their tabloids; he goes to Culiacan, the home of the Sinaloa Cartel, to interview Mercedes Murillo and the Sinaloa Civic Front and the journalists of Rio Doce, who tell him they can't do real journalism because it would be bad for their health. (I made that same trek, talked to those same people, three years ago).

The cowing of the press is a critical issue. Because of it, Gibler writes, a cone of silence descends over the drug war. The killings are noted, yes, but never is there any discussion of who did it or for whose benefit. There is no investigation beyond local cops counting bullet casings at the scene while managing to miss the convoys of cartel gunmen roaring by. Those whose tortured bodies prove their guilt by virtue of having been killed.

It's not just the corruption and impunity in Mexico. Gibler offers a devastating and heartbreaking critique of drug prohibition as well. His arguments are not new to people who follow this, but his eloquence is moving and astounding. And he offers a critique of a global capitalist order in which Mexico exports goods, workers, and drugs and imports guns, cash, and the violence of prohibition.

Yes, I am angry after reading To Die in Mexico. I've been cranking out the Drug War Chronicle for more than a decade because I hate drug prohibition and what it has done not only to our society, but around the world. Years of immersion in the huge pile of crap and lies that is the drug war tends to coarsen one, but work like Gibler's gets the righteous juices flowing again. I think that's a good thing.

Gibler writes with a wisdom and eloquence about Mexico and its drug war unmatched by anyone except the Sage of the Southwest, Charles Bowden. And like Bowden, he sees Mexico's drug war for what it is: a horrifying charade, a terrifying farce. And we're paying for it. I heartily recommend this book.

Guatemala President Wants "NATO-Style" Force to Battle Narcos

Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom said Central American countries threatened by Mexican drug cartels should lobby for the creation of a regional NATO-style military force in an interview with the Financial Times Wednesday. The center-left politician said only a combined regional military force and improved intelligence could thwart the power of the violent and well-armed drug trafficking organizations.

Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom would rather go to war with the narcos then legalize drugs. (Image: World Economic Forum)
Guatemala and other Central American nations form a transit corridor for South American cocaine destined for North American markets, an industry estimated to be worth as much as $40 billion a year. Mexican cartels seeking to expand their operations or fleeing the pressure cooker of the vicious drug war at home have moved into those small, relatively weak neighbors, with the Zetas in particular establishing a presence in Guatemala's Peten province.

In May, Zetas killed 27 farm workers at a ranch when they came looking for the owner, who wasn't there. A few days later, Zetas killed and dismembered a Guatemalan prosecutor working on the case. Drugs gangs are suspected in the killing of Facundo Cabral, the celebrated Argentine folk singer, who was gunned down as he headed toward the airport after a Guatemala City concert earlier this month. The attack was believed to be aimed not at Cabral, but at his Guatemalan concert promoter.

Colom, who is now in his final year in office, said that national borders meant nothing to the traffickers, while the region's armies and police forces have to respect the sovereignty of their neighbors.

"What good is it if the forces of one country are pursuing drug traffickers who cross a river but then have to stop to avoid an international incident?" he said. "Why not have a type of Central American NATO?"

Colom said he was against legalizing drugs and looked for financial assistance from the US to help fight the battle.  "Without support of co-responsibility from the consumer markets, this is going to be a permanent war," he said.

Guatemala

Mexico Drug War Update

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 around 40,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest or killing 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:

Thursday, July 7

In Matamoros, a series of shootouts caused heavy disruptions on a highway to a nearby tourist beach. The clashes began when a Mexican army patrol encountered a convoy of gunmen traveling in SUVs. Military helicopters reportedly also participated in the fighting, and cartel gunmen hijacked trucks and parked them across the highway at several locations as makeshift blockades.

Friday, July 8

In downtown Monterrey, 20 people were killed and several others wounded when gunmen attacked a bar. Another victim died later in the hospital. Mexican news outlets have said that the bar was rumored to be a Zeta hangout, and that the killings may have been due to a dispute over narcotics sales. Signs hung up in cities across Mexico afterwards blamed the shooting on the Gulf Cartel, which is fighting for control of Monterrey with the Zetas.

In Michoacan, heavy fighting between federal forces and cartel gunmen took place in several cities. The fighting began on Thursday evening when gunmen -- thought to belong to the Knights Templar Organization -- set hijacked cars aflame to block roads across the state. Signs hung up during the fighting claimed that federal police had raped women during operations in the state. The Knights Templar organization is an offshoot of La Familia Michoacana, which splintered after several important leaders were killed or captured.

In Valle de Chalco, near Mexico City, the bodies of ten men and a woman were found. All 11 were handcuffed and executed. Some reports indicate that a female survivor was taken from the scene and is in the hospital.

Saturday, July 9

In Torreon, authorities discovered ten decapitated bodies in the back of an abandoned truck. Threatening messages were left at the scene, but the content has not been released to the public. Three of the dead were females. The Sinaloa Cartel and the Zetas are currently battling for control of the Torreon area, which has been the scene of some of the most high-profile incidents of Mexico's drug war.

In Ciudad Juarez, 14 people were murdered in different parts of the city. In one incident, gunmen fled on foot from the scene of a murder after their car broke down during the getaway. In another incident, two children were taken by authorities after their mother was seriously wounded in a shooting incident in front of them. Among the additional dead was a man who was found beaten to death in a canal.

In Hermosillo, federal police captured a high-ranking American-born member of the Tijuana Cartel. Armando Villareal Heredia, 33, is a San Diego native and is thought to report directly to Tijuana Cartel boss Fernando Sanchez Arellano, "The Engineer." Villareal is also wanted in the US on federal conspiracy and racketeering charges, and is thought to be linked to kidnappings and murders on both sides of the border.

In Monterrey, the Army rescued 20 hostages from a cartel safe house. All were found handcuffed in a small room and it appears all the victims were tortured. They had been held for 11 days.

Sunday, July 10

In Ciudad Juarez, seven people were murdered. In one incident, a family of three was attacked by gunmen wielding AK-47's, who riddled the family's Honda Civic with bullets. A man in the car reportedly returned fire with a pistol. A woman in the car died at the scene, and the man and a 3-year old child were taken to the hospital.

Monday, July 11

In Ciudad Juarez, at least 13 people were murdered, including eight that were murdered during two separate multiple homicides. In one incident, five people were gunned down by gunmen using automatic weapons just outside a hospital. Two other people were seriously wounded in the incident.

Tuesday, July 12

In Mexico City, the Mexican Supreme Court ruled that military officers and personnel should be tried in civilian courts when accused of abuses such as torture and extrajudicial killings. The Mexican military has traditionally handled such matters internally and very quietly.

[Editor's Note: We cannot accurately tally the drug prohibition-related killings in Mexico at this time. El Universal, the only Mexican newspaper that was doing so on a regular basis, has stopped. We will have to rely on official pronouncements on the death toll, and will report them when they happen. Below are the numbers through the end of last year. With more than 1,400 reported dead in April alone, this year's toll could well exceed last year's. As of this month, we believe the total death toll in Calderon's drug war has surpassed 40,000.]

Total Body Count for 2007: (approx): 4,300

Total Body Count for 2008: (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2009: (approx.) 9,600

Total Body Count for 2010: (official) 15,273

Total Body Count for 2011: (approx.): 6,000

Mexico

Mexico Drug War Update

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 38,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest or killing 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:

Wednesday, June 28

In Coatzacoalcos, authorities arrested a Zeta member who is thought to be involved in the Tamaulipas murders of 72 migrants last year. Barrios Caporal, "Erasmo," allegedly confessed to being second-in-command to Martin Omar Estrada Luna, "Comandante Kilo", the Zeta chief for the San Fernando, Tamaulipas area at the time of the massacre.

In Ciudad Juarez, twelve people were killed. In one incident, five men were shot dead by two men armed with assault rifles. In another incident, a police investigator's wife was killed along with another man after gunmen tried kill the policeman, who escaped.

Thursday, June 30

In Ciudad Juarez, six people were murdered. Among the victims were 3 members of a family who were shot in El Barreal. According to researcher Molly Molloy, Thursday's killings brought the total number of murders to 153 for the month of June.

Friday, July 1

In the city Chihuahua, authorities found a "narco-banner" which specifically threatened DEA agents operating in the area. The note said that they (it is unclear which organization) had identified agents and would decapitate them.

In Zacatecas, at least 15 people were killed and 17 captured after a protracted fire fight between Mexican Marines and suspected Zetas in the town of Lourdes.

Saturday, July 2

In Matamoros, a well-known Catholic priest was shot and killed during a fire fight between suspected Zetas and the Mexican army. Father Marco Antonio Duran Romero was the host of a local tv show and was frequently on the radio. He was killed on Saturday after night as Mexican soldiers battled Zetas who were trying to enter the city, the stronghold of the rival Gulf Cartel.

In Texas, the State Department of Public Safety advised US citizens to avoid travel to the Nuevo Laredo area across the Rio Grande from Laredo, Texas. According to the Department, the US has received information that the Zetas may have been planning assaults on US citizens in the city.

Sunday, July 3

In Chihuahua, a group of heavily armed gunmen traveling in luxury SUVs attacked a speedway, killing a driver and one of his assistants. Another man -- the deputy director of crime prevention in the city -- was wounded in the attack and was likely the primary target.

Monday, July 4

In Atizapan, near Mexico City, federal police captured the 3rd highest ranking Zeta commander, Jesus Enrique Rejon Aguilar, a.k.a. "El Mamito." Rejon, 35, is one of the founding members of the organization, which he joined in 1999 after deserting from the army. In addition to other crimes, Rejon was wanted in connection with the February incident in which an America ICE agent was killed and another was wounded.

In Aguascalientes, a local drug-trafficker linked to La Familia was shot and killed by police inside a house. Nicolas Mora Ovando, "Papa Nico", was a former police officer and head of a local gang called "La Oficina."

Tuesday, July 5

In San Nicolas, Nuevo Leon, two police officers were gunned down in their squad car by a group of gunmen armed with automatic weapons.

[Editor's Note: We cannot accurately tally the drug prohibition-related killings in Mexico at this time. El Universal, the only Mexican newspaper that was doing so on a regular basis, has stopped. We will have to rely on official pronouncements on the death toll, and will report them when they happen. Below are the numbers through the end of last year. With more than 1,400 reported dead in April alone, this year's toll could well exceed last year's. As of this month, we believe the total death toll has surpassed 38,000.]

Total Body Count for 2010: 15,273

Total Body Count for 2009: (approx.) 9,600

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx): 4,300

Mexico

Mexico Drug War Update

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 38,000 people, including more than 15,000 last year. The increasing militarization of the drug war and the arrest or killing 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:

Wednesday, June 22

In Tamaulipas, the Mexican military began the process of taking over 22 local police departments, including the violence plagued areas of Nuevo Laredo, Miguel Aleman, Mier, Camargo, Reynosa, Tampico, and Matamoros. The military is expected to secure the areas while new, vetted police are hired.

Thursday, June 23

In Cuahtemoc, Chihuahua, seven people were kidnapped from a drug rehab center by heavily armed gunmen. At least three of the kidnap victims managed to escape the center but were later discovered by gunmen and forced into a car nearby. Marines investigating the incident discovered 190 packets of cocaine and pot at the center.

In Mexico City, President Calderon had a public debate with activist and poet Javier Sicilia in which he defended his use of the military against drug cartels while at the same time apologizing to the victims of drug-related violence such as Sicilia's son, who was murdered in Morelos in March along with six friends.

Saturday, June 25

In Ciudad Juarez, at least eight people were murdered. In one incident, two transit police officers were shot dead by gunmen who shot them from moving vehicles as the officers were making a traffic stop. It appears the officers were deliberately targeted.

In Monterrey, four men were lined up against a wall and shot after having been dropped off by a group of heavily armed men in an SUV.

In Veracruz, Mexican authorities captured Albert Gonzelaz Pena, also known as "El Tigre," who is thought to a high-ranking Zeta commander in charge of Veracruz and the state of Mexico. He is wanted in connection with at least three kidnappings and is thought to be heavily involved in local extortion schemes.

Sunday, June 26

In Ciudad Juarez, at least seven people were killed. Among the dead were four men who were found dead at a baseball field where they regularly played, and a federal police officer who was shot dead after being chased on foot by gunmen.

Monday, June 27

In the Monterrey suburb of Santa Catarina, the police chief was gunned down in his office. Chief German Perez was in his office when at least two cars and three trucks full of gunmen arrived at the location and went directly to his office, where he was shot at least eight times.

On Tuesday, it was announced that seven police officers were being investigated in the incident, as they did nothing. Among the seven were the chief's personal bodyguards.

In Oaxaca, a priest said that at least 80 Central American migrants had been kidnapped from a train which was carrying them north towards the US border.

Tuesday, June 28

In Mexico City, President Calderon said he felt "misunderstood" in the government's war on drug cartels, which he launched after taking office in December 2006. He said that many people -- "perhaps silently" -- support the military campaign. As success, he cited that 21 of the country's 37 top drug lords have been killed or captured.

[Editor's Note: We cannot accurately tally the drug prohibition-related killings in Mexico at this time. El Universal, the only Mexican newspaper that was doing so on a regular basis, has stopped. We will have to rely on official pronouncements on the death toll, and will report them when they happen. Below are the numbers through the end of last year. With more than 1,400 reported dead in April alone, this year's toll could well exceed last year's. As of this month, we believe the total death toll has surpassed 38,000.]

Total Body Count for 2010: 15,273

Total Body Count for 2009: (approx.) 9,600

Total Body Count for 2008 (approx.): 5,400

Total Body Count for 2007 (approx): 4,300

Total Body Count for Calderon's drug war through 2010: 34,883

Mexico

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