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Latin America: Mexican 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 12,000 people, with a death toll of over 4,000 so far in 2009. 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:
Mexican anti-drug patrol
Wednesday, August 12:

-Four People , including a serving member of the US Army and a 16-year old boy, were arrested this week in the May 15 slaying of a Juarez cartel lieutenant and government informant. The men were apparently paid some $10,000 dollars to participate in the assassination of Jose Daniel Gonzalez Galeana.

Friday, August 14:

-19 people were killed and 20 wounded in a prison fight in Durango. Many of the victims were killed by bullets from firearms that had been smuggled into the prison. Reports indicate that the clash may have been a "dispute for dominance" among inmates incarcerated on organized crime and drug trafficking charges.

Saturday, August 15:

-In Monclova, Coahuila, three bodyguards were killed during an attack on an ex-general who serves as police chief. Gunmen in pickup trucks attacked Monclova police chief Juan Carlos Pacheco as he headed home Friday evening. Pacheco was unharmed in the attack.

-In the state of Mexico (which surrounds most of Mexico City), federal police apprehended Héctor Manuel Oyarzabal Hernández, reportedly a high-ranking member of La Familia. Oyarzabal reportedly handled drug-trafficking in the cities of Ixtapaluca, Chalco, Valle de Chalco and Ozumba, all of which are in the greater Mexico City metropolitan area. Seven other men were arrested alongside him, along with several automatic weapons, two motorcycles, three SUVs and hundreds of rounds of ammunition. The Mexican government had increased operations against La Familia since the July 13 discovery of 12 federal police officers killed by the organization.

-Carlos Ocaranza, a musician who specialized in narco-corridos (ballads that glorify the deeds of drug traffickers), was shot dead as he left a concert in Guadalajara. The attack also killed his manager, who succumbed to his wounds on Monday. Ocaranza was also known as "Crazy Elizalde", a reference to his distant relative Valentin Elizalde, an extremely popular musician who was murdered in 2006.

Sunday, August 16:

-Hundreds of Mexican customs officials working at airports and border crossings were replaced by the Mexican government. The operation was aimed at rooting out corrupt inspectors who facilitate the flow of drugs, arms and money into and out of Mexico. Reforma reported that 1,100 officers were ousted, to be replaced by new personnel that had undergone extra training and background checks. The ousted officers were not fired. Instead, their contracts were not renewed. This is part of a larger effort on the part of the Calderon government to fight corruption in Mexico. In the past, entire police departments were replaced by military personnel, and politicians with alleged ties to drug cartels and other organized criminal networks have been arrested.

Monday, August 17:

- 33 people were killed in drug related violence across northern Mexico on Sunday and Monday. In Ciudad Juarez, eight people were killed when gunmen burst into a bar and shot dead the owner, his wife, and six customers. Two other males, aged 20 and 25, were killed in the center of Ciudad Juarez in the afternoon. In the town of Praxedis (36 miles from Ciudad Juarez), heavily armed gunmen in black uniforms assaulted a house, killing six. Several other killings were reported in different parts of Chihuahua, of which Ciudad Juarez is the capital. Additionally, four people were killed during a two-hour firefight with police and military elements in the northern province of Nuevo Leon.

-In the resort town of Cozumel, suspected cartel assassins killed four men. The bodies, which showed signs of torture, were found in a car. Cozumel, which is roughly 12 miles from the mainland, has seen very little drug-related violence in recent years.

Tuesday, August 18:

-A father and his four-year old son were killed after being attacked by gunmen as they drove on a highway near Ciudad Juarez. The mother was wounded and taken to the hospital. Later on Tuesday, several banners appeared in Ciudad Juarez denying that cartels were responsible for civilian deaths. In neighboring Coahuila state, gunmen attacked the offices of the Siglo de Torreon newspaper. Nobody was injured in the attack.

-American investigators announced on Tuesday that they believe that the recent wildfire in Santa Barbara, California was started by marijuana growers with possible connections to Mexican drug cartels. A cooking device left at one of the grow-ops was found to be the cause of the flame. Additionally, 30,000 marijuana plants and an AK-47 rifle were found near the origin of the blaze in Los Padres National Forest. US Forest Service Special Agent Russ Arthur said that although this is the first large wildfire known to have been caused by marijuana grow-ops, they do cause, on average, three to four smaller fires in California each year.

Total reported body count for the last week: 219
Total reported body count for the year: 4,432

Read last issue's Mexico drug war report here.)

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