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 28,000 people, the government reported this month. 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:
Thursday, August 5
In Ciudad Juarez, eleven people were killed in various incidents across the city. In one case, a 20-year old woman was shot dead as she walked with a 4-year old girl, who escaped unscathed. In another incident, an apparent extortionist was shot and killed after a shoot-out with security guards. Drug trafficking organizations across Mexico are also involved in extortion.
Friday, August 6
In Matamoros, at least 14 inmates were killed during a clash between rival gangs inside the prison. Troops from the Mexican army were eventually sent into the facility to restore order. It is unclear which groups participated in the fighting, but much of the recent violence in the Matamoros area been the result of fighting between the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas Organization.
Saturday, August 7
In Mexico City, thousands of journalists marched to protest the killings and disappearances of journalists due to prohibition-related violence in the country. Similar protests were planned in Sinaloa and Chihuahua. Over 60 Mexican journalists have been killed since 2000. This year, the Committee to Protect Journalists says that 10 journalists have been killed, and many face daily threats to their lives and harassment.
Sunday, August 8
In Ciudad Juarez, over 200 armed federal police officers raided the hotel where their commander, Salomon Alarcon, was staying. After blocking off the streets to prevent his escape, they detained Alarcon at gunpoint, accusing him of having planted drugs on officers to force them to become involved in extortion plots. The officers found weapons and drugs in his hotel room. The officer was held captive until the Federal Police Commissioner General agreed to suspend him pending a full investigation into the allegations. It was later found that Alarcon was on the payroll of the Sinaloa Cartel.
Also in Ciudad Juarez, two federal police officers were shot dead as they walked in plainclothes through the center of the city at night. A large police operation was immediately launched, but no arrests or confrontations occurred.
In Palomas, Chihuahua, three severed heads were discovered in the main plaza as locals left Sunday mass. A charred SUV with the headless bodies was discovered south of the town. A note left with the bodies indicate that the victims were extortionists who were killed by a rival criminal organization. Last October, the mayor of Palomas was kidnapped and found murdered.
Monday, August 9
At a forum in Puerto Vallarta, Mexican authorities said that drug-trafficking organizations pay an estimated $100 million in bribes monthly to municipal police officials. According to Public Security Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna, this estimate is based on officer perceptions and on a list of payouts to police officers that was seized during recent operations. He also said that 20% of municipal police officers make less than $79 a month, and 60% make less than $317 a month.
In Morelos, seven people were killed in prohibition-related violence. Among the dead were three men who were decapitated in the town of Ahuatepec. In Ciudad Juarez, police discovered the dismembered body of an officer.
Tuesday, August 10
In Morelos, 10-12 heavily armed men ambushed a police convoy carrying a high-profile prisoner to jail. Two officers and the prisoner were killed in the ambush. Mario Alberto Chavez Traconi, 54, was known as the King of Fraud. The ambush occurred after the police convoy was cut off by SUV's and the gunmen attacked the police officers with assault rifles.
Total Body Count for the Week: 146
Total Body Count for the Year: 6,994
Read the previous Mexico Drug War Update here.
by Bernd Debusmann, Jr.
The discussion comes as Mexico staggers through the fourth year of Calderon's war on the so-called drug cartels. Despite deploying nearly 50,000 soldiers and federal police in the fight, violence has only increased, with the death toll rising year after year. And the drug trade goes on, seemingly unimpeded by the campaign.
Fox's call came in a Saturday blog post in which the ex-president cited the "enormous cost" of fighting organized crime, beginning with the more than 28,000 people the government admitted last week had been killed in prohibition-related violence since Calderon came to power in December 2006. He also cited the cost of corruption among law enforcement and public officials, the loss of tourism, and the threat to foreign investment.
Fox also called for the "rapid return of the national army to its bases," saying it was "neither conceived for nor is prepared for police work." The military's role in Calderon's campaign has tarnished its image and led to "more and more" human rights violations, he added. The military's role should be taken over by a new national police force and there should be direct election of police chiefs and high commanders, Fox wrote.
On Tuesday, Calderon underwent his second session of talks on the drug war that he began last week, this time mostly with opposition legislators. Calderon wasn't ready to jump on Fox's legalization bandwagon, claiming that it would lead to increased drug use and wouldn't reduce drug traffickers' income. But he did signal an increasing awareness of the disastrous impact of his policies. "I know that the strategy has been questioned, and my administration is more than willing to revise, strengthen or change it if needed," Calderon said at the meeting. "What I ask, simply, is for clear ideas and precise proposals on how to improve this strategy."
Under the 70-year rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Mexican drug trafficking organizations were not so much suppressed as managed, but with the election of Fox, the modus vivendi between traffickers and the state was shattered. Midway through his term, Fox declared war on the cartels and went after their leaders. That led to intramural fighting within and among the cartels and to increased confrontations between traffickers and police, a situation that has only continued to escalate under Calderon.
One of the most enduring disconnects in the legalization debate is the question of what will become of those nasty drug cartels when we end marijuana prohibition. Here's how Tim Rosales of the No on Prop 19 campaign framed it in a debate with Jane Hamsher on CNN:
You would just be giving the Mexican drug cartels a platform, a legal platform, to operate from here in the United States. I don't think that's a risk that a lot of Californians, or even Americans, want to take.
I think he's right insofar as people do worry about this, and stirring up those sorts of anxieties isn't a bad strategy for legalization's opponents to embrace (particularly given how little they have to work with). But the idea itself is about as brain-dead ridiculous as can be.
Here's the thing: criminal drug organizations don't want this "legal platform" you speak of. That's not how they do business. Their product is grown by day laborers and slaves, not master cultivators. Their business strategy is characterized by assassination and bribery, not Facebook fan pages and free massage Fridays. They have no intention of paying taxes or appearing before local zoning boards, and they can't compete with American entrepreneurs who are happy to do the paperwork and can explain where their investment capital came from.
We're going to legalize pot, not thuggery. The murderers in Mexico don't possess a single skill that would give them an advantage in a regulated market. Their only asset is a willingness to break the law, and in the unlikely event that they elected to run a legal business instead, they wouldn't be criminals anymore. We will control the regulatory process and there's nothing about marijuana that invites fraud or extortion to any greater extent than every other taxable commodity on the market.
If you're still not getting this, let me put it another way: Mexican drug cartels don't sell marijuana because they're passionate about cannabis culture or botany, or because they love stacking bricks of mid-grade in the back of a pick-up truck. Absolutely the only reason they're in the marijuana business is because we gave them a monopoly on it. When we take that away from them, they will make less money and their organizations will get smaller.
Those who still can't or won't accept this are entitled to their opinions. But please allow us the courtesy of giving it a try. You had your chance to crush the cartels. Now it's our turn.
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 28,000 people, the government reported this week. 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 Guadalajara, police killed one of the highest-ranking members of the Sinaloa Cartel. Ignacio "Nacho" Coronel, 56, was the third-highest ranking member of the cartel, only behind cartel bosses "El Chapo" Guzman and "El Mayo" Zambada. Coronel was killed after resisting an army raid on his lavish Guadalajara home. A bodyguard was captured. Over $7 million in cash was discovered inside the residence, as well as large quantities of jewelry and weapons. Coronel was known as the "King of Ice" for his multi-million dollar methamphetamine business.
Saturday, July 31
In Coahuila, policemen rescued two journalists who had been kidnapped on Monday. A third reporter had been released by his kidnappers Thursday, and a fourth was released under unclear circumstances. The men had apparently been kidnapped by drug traffickers in an attempt to have Mexican media broadcast their messages to the Mexican public. The men had been kidnapped after covering the arrest last week of a prison director accused of letting out prisoners at night to commit killings. About 30 reporters have been killed in Mexico since 2006.
In Ciudad Juarez, 15 people were killed in different parts of the city, bringing the city's death toll for July to 291. This makes July the second deadliest month the city has had so far in 2010, only behind June's total of 313. As of August 1, there have been 1,701 murders in Ciudad Juarez this year.
Sunday, August 1
In Ciudad Juarez, a riot took place during visiting hours at the city's main prison. The clashes began when members of the Aztecas gang took 12 guards hostage and attacked members of their main rival, the AA (Artist Assassin) gang. The Aztecas are allied to the Juarez Cartel, and the AA fight for the Sinaloa Cartel. Two men were killed in the clashes. Some 150 visitors,including women and children, were present at the facility when the incident took place.
Tuesday, August 3
In Mexico City, Mexico's intelligence chief acknowledged that the death toll from drug-related violence is far higher than previously reported. Guillermo Valdes Castellanos, the head of the National Security and Investigation Center (CISEN) now estimates that just over 28,000 people have been killed since President Calderon took office. Last month, the office of Mexico's Attorney General estimated that some 25,000 had been killed.
Also in Mexico City, President Calderon said he was open to debate on the legalization of drugs. Calderon went on to say that Mexican policy would likely be driven by California's decision on marijuana legalization, which is due to take place later this year.
Wednesday, August 4
In Ciudad Juarez, two police officers and two civilians were wounded after a group of armed men attacked the Continental Hotel, which houses many federal police officers. Additionally, a painted message from the Juarez Cartel threatened the lives of federal police officers.
Also in Ciudad Juarez, a bomb was discovered on one of the four international bridges connecting the city and El Paso. The bridge was closed for two hours, as were several main streets in the area, leading to massive traffic jams. Mexican police and security forces arrived and detonated the bomb. Many Juarez residents fear further bombings such as the one which killed four people on July 15.
Total Body Count for the Week: 177
Total Body Count for the Year: 6,848
Read the previous Mexico Drug War Update here.
After presiding for years over the bloodiest drug war escalation in history, Mexican President Felipe Calderon is finally ready to discuss legalization.
MEXICO CITY — President Felipe Calderon said he would consider a debate on legalizing drugs Tuesday as his government announced that more than 28,000 people have been killed in drug violence since he launched a crackdown against cartels in 2006.
"It's a fundamental debate in which I think, first of all, you must allow a democratic plurality (of opinions)," he said. "You have to analyze carefully the pros and cons and the key arguments on both sides." [AP]
It's just an earth-shattering concession from the man who staked his presidency on a desperate attempt to prove that aggressive enforcement could somehow restore peace and order. Now, with the streets stained in blood and corruption permeating the highest levels of government, Calderon appears poised to confront the crushing reality that there's just no upside to any of this. He needs room to maneuver, and after exhausting every traditional tactic in the drug prohibition playbook, there remains only one conversation left to be had.
Of course, Calderon was careful to clarify that he's acknowledging, rather than endorsing, the legalization argument:
But Calderon has long said he is opposed to the idea, and his office issued a statement hours after the meeting saying that while the president was open to debate on the issue, he remains "against the legalization of drugs."
Riiiight. He's a politician and surely realizes that paying lip service to a touchy subject like this serves only to give it momentum. Posturing aside, Calderon knows exactly what happens when you open this door. He can see it already in the American press, and I can only imagine that he's now perfectly willing to witness the emergence of a sizable movement for reform in Mexico. If he weren't, you can bet he'd never dare drop the "L" word with a microphone at his mouth.
Whether he intended to or not, Calderon has spent his presidency performing the most compelling imaginable exhibit in the failure of prohibition. After sacrificing so much, his only chance at redemption may depend on his willingness to take the lead in learning something from the smoldering nightmare that now surrounds him.
"Murder City: Ciudad Juarez and the Global Economy's New Killing Fields," by Charles Bowden (2010, Nation Books, 320 pp., $27.50 HB)
by Phillip S. Smith, Writer/Editor
Gruesome photographs of the death scene ran in the Mexican press -- there is a longstanding tabloid press there that positively revels in full-color photos of murder victims, car accident fatalities, burned bodies -- but, according to Charles Bowden, it is almost a certainty that we will never hear another word about them, that we will never know why they had to die so horribly, that no one will ever be arrested for their deaths, that we will never even learn their names.
And Charles Bowden should know. He's probably forgotten more about Ciudad Juarez than most journalists writing about the city ever knew. The poet laureate of the American Southwest, Bowden has been living and writing about the border for decades, and with "Murder City" he is at the peak of his powers.
"Murder City" is beautiful and horrifying, not just for the exemplary violence it chronicles, but even more so for the portrait it paints of Juarez as a community stunned and staggering, hit hard by the vicissitudes of the global economy, the corruption of the Mexican state, and the wealth and violence generated by the trade in prohibited drugs. It is non-fiction, but reads like a surrealist fever dream.
We learn of Miss Sinaloa, an achingly gorgeous, white-skinned beauty queen, who turns up raving mad at "the crazy place," a desert shelter for the mentally ill, the homeless, the glue- or paint-destroyed kids. Turns out she had come to the city and been invited to a weeklong, whiskey- and cocaine-fueled party at a motel where she was gang-raped for days by eight Juarez policemen. Miss Sinaloa weighs on Bowden, a witness to the city's violence and depredations, its ugly degradation. She's gone now, taken back home by her Sinaloa family, but there's always another one, he writes.
We learn of reporters killed by the military. We learn about other reporters' poor salaries and about how their real pay comes in envelopes from shadowy men, and they know it means they will not write about certain things. We learn of one reporter who inadvertently crossed the military in 2005 and had to flee to the US border for his life when the military came looking for him three years later. He sought political asylum. What he got was imprisoned for seven months until a Tucson civil rights lawyer managed to spring him.
As Bowden notes:
"It is possible to see his imprisonment as simply the normal by-product of bureaucratic blindness and indifference. But I don't think that is true. No Mexican reporter has ever been given political asylum, because if the US government honestly faced facts, it would have to admit that Mexico is not a society that respects human rights. Just as the United States would be hard-pressed, if it faced facts, to explain to its own citizens how it can justify giving the Mexican army $1.4 billion under Plan Merida, a piece of black humor that is supposed to fight the war on drugs. But then the American press is the chorus in this comedy since it continues to report that the Mexican army is in a war to the death with the drug cartels. There are two errors in these accounts. One is simple: The war in Mexico is for drugs and the enormous money to be made by supplying American habits, a torrent of cash that the army, the police, the government, and the cartels all lust for. Second, the Mexican army is a government-financed criminal organization, a fact most Mexicans learn as children."
Bowden writes about a Ciudad Juarez policewoman taken away by the military and raped for three days. Bowden writes about the military patrol sitting yards away from a drug treatment center where armed assailants shoot the place up for 15 minutes, leaving eight dead. Bowden writes about how the press describes convoys of killers as "armed commandos" dressed in uniforms and says that's code for military death squads.
Remember those two headless gentlemen in the first paragraph? This is why we will never learn anything more about them. The reporters are scared for their lives. Bowden writes about the "narco-tombs," safe houses where victims are tortured and killed, then buried on the grounds. The exhumation of the bodies takes place with great fanfare, but the forensic scientist doesn't want her name used or her face shown, and then the bodies just vanish. Poof! They are never identified, no one knows where they went, no one knows why they died, no one knows who killed them.
Bowden writes about El Sicario, the former state policeman/cartel assassin, who talks with professional pride about kidnapping, torturing, and killing hundreds of people. Now, El Sicario is afraid. The killers are after him, and he has fled his former hunting grounds. And what is even more disturbing for the reader is El Sicario's statement that he doesn't even know which cartel he was working for. In the cell-like structure in which he operated, he knew only his boss, not the boss's boss, or even who the boss's boss was. El Sicario killed for phantoms.
But what is really terrifying is that El Sicario is being chased by "a death machine with no apparent driver," a web of hidden complicities where the cartels are the military are the police are the government, nobody knows who anybody really is, and the dead become evil by virtue of having been killed.
We can blame the cartels (or, obversely, drug prohibition), we can blame street gangs, mass poverty, uprooted families migrating to the city for jobs that have now vanished, corrupt cops, corrupt governments, but the violence may now have escaped any good explanation, Bowden writes. As the Mexican state fails to suppress the violence (at least in part because it is committing a great part of it, the killings are establishing "not a new structure but rather a pattern, and this pattern functionally has no top or bottom, no center or edge, no boss or obedient servant. Think of something like the ocean, a fluid thing without king and court, boss and cartel... Violence courses through Juarez like a ceaseless wind, and we insist it is a battle between cartels, or between the state and the drug world, or between the army and the forces of darkness. But consider this possibility: Violence is now woven into the very fabric of the community, and has no single cause and no single motive and no on-off button."
Absolutely chilling stuff, and absolutely brilliant. Bowden turns prose into poetry, and he provides an understanding of Juarez and its woes that hits you at the visceral level. "Murder City" will give you nightmares, but it's worth it.
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 nearly 25,000 people (the Mexican attorney general put the death toll at 24,826 on earlier this month), with a death toll of nearly 8,000 in 2009 and over 6,000 so far in 2010. 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 San Diego, Federal authorities announced criminal charges against 43 members of the Tijuana-based Arellano-Felix Organization. 31 of the 43 men are in custody, 27 of them having been arrested in the United States. Among the arrested men was Jesus Quinones Marques, the director of international liaison for the Baja California attorney general's office. He is accused of attempting to plant information about murders in local newspapers in an attempt to blame rival gangs.
Saturday, July 24
In Ciudad Juarez, the murder rate passed 6,000 since January 1st, 2008. As of Saturday, there had been 235 murders in July, and 1,645 so far in 2010. In 2009, there were 2,754 and 1,623 in 2008. On Saturday, 10 people were killed in several incidents in the city. Four of the dead were killed when gunmen attacked a barbershop, and another three were killed in an attack on a house.
Sunday, July 25
Mexicans officials now claim that gunmen who committed a massacre last week in Torreon were let out of the prison at night to carry out drug-related killings. The prisoners are thought to be involved in at least three mass shootings in Torreon this year, killing a total of 35 people. Ballistics testing has also indicated that the weapons were those of prison guards, who lent them to the hit men.
In Nuevo Leon, at least 51 bodies were discovered by authorities after a three-day excavation of a mass grave. The grave site spanned a 7-acre area, and most of the dead seem to be men between 20 and 50, many of them tattooed. Similar mass graves have been found in Tamaulipas, Guerrero and Quintana Roo in recent months.
Monday, July 26
In Guerrero, six men were found dead inside a car near the town of Chilpancingo. A sign reading, "This will happen to all rapists, extortionists and kidnappers. Attentively, the New Cartel of the Sierra," was left with the bodies. Authorities are now investigating this previously unheard of organization. The car was reportedly taken from its owner after he was stopped and hijacked on a road.
In Sinaloa, two men were ambushed and killed by gunmen in Culiacan. The men -- Jose Antonio and Luis Alberto Vega Heras -- were the son and nephew of a known high-ranking member of the Sinaloa Cartel, known as El Gaucho. Additionally, two other men were killed in the city. Killings were also reported in Morelos, Jalisco, and Chihuahua, including at least five in Ciudad Juarez.
In the Laguna region of Durango and Coahuila, four journalists went missing after being kidnapped by an unknown group. Two were cameramen from Televisa, one was a reporter for Multimedios television, and one a reporter for El Vespertino. Three were kidnapped Monday at around noon and the fourth on Monday night.
Tuesday, July 27
In Durango, eight severed heads were found left in pairs along a highway. In Puebla, three federal agents were killed by gunmen during a firefight. A relative of the Governor-Elect was assassinated in Parral, Chihuaha. In Tamaulipas, the army claimed to have captured nine Guatemalan citizens during operations against drug gangs.
Wednesday, July 28
In Ciudad Juarez, two severed heads were discovered in coolers with the bodies left nearby. Along with the bodies were left notes which read "I'm a kidnapper and extortionist. I'm an Azteca" and "I do carjackings and work for La Linea and the Aztecas." The Aztecas are a street gang affiliated with the Juarez Cartel, and La Linea is the enforcement wing of the Juarez Cartel.
Total Body Count for the Week: 236
Total Body Count for the Year: 6,671
Read the previous Mexico Drug War Update here.