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Latin America: 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 an estimated 23,000 people, with a death toll of nearly 8,000 in 2009 and over 5,000 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:

Monday, June 28
In Sinaloa, a well-known musician was shot dead by unidentified gunmen. Sergio Vega, 40, was driving to a concert when he was intercepted and murdered just hours after having gone on the radio to deny reports that he had been killed. Vega was known to sing "narco-corridos" or drug ballads. Several other musicians of this genre have been killed in Mexico in recent years. Some are known to take commissions from drug-traffickers to write songs about them, or otherwise be involved in the drug business.

In Tamaulipas, a candidate for governor and four others were killed after his motorcade was ambushed. reported that the attackers used clone military vehicles and were dressed in fake Marine uniforms. Rodolfo Torre Cantu, 46, was the PRI candidate and a frontrunner. He was later replaced by his brother. The Torre killing is the most significant political assassination since the 1994 murder of presidential candidate Luis Colosio. There has been significant violence in Tamaulipas in recent months as the Zetas fight their former employers, the Gulf Cartel.

Thursday, July 1

In a remote area near Nogales, Sonora 21 people were killed during a battle between rival groups of drug-traffickers. The incident began after a convoy of 50 vehicles was ambushed by rivals near the village of Tubutuma. One of the groups was apparently allied to Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, while the other was comprised of a mixed force of gunmen loyal to Hector Beltran-Leyva and the Zetas Organization. It is unclear who ambushed whom, but has reported that the Sinaloa Cartel gunmen took the brunt of the casualties.

In Nogales proper, two burnt heads were found hanging on a fence near just outside a cemetery. A handwritten note from one gang threatening another was left at the scene, but it was unclear if this is related to the Tubutuma ambush.

Friday, July 2

In Ciudad Juarez, Mexican officials announced the capture of a key suspect in the March murder of a US consulate employee, her husband, and a third-Mexican national. The suspect, Jesus Ernesto Chavez, is reported to be a senior leader in the Aztecas gang, which provides enforcers for the Juarez Cartel. He has since claimed that he ordered the killing of the consulate employee because she provided visas to rivals. However, US authorities have disputed this claim, saying there are no indications that the killings were due to the employee's job, and that she did not even work in the section which provided visas.

Saturday, July 3

In Ciudad Juarez, at least 15 people were killed in incidents across the city. In one shooting, a 90-year old man was killed by a stray bullet as he stood near a house which was attacked by a group of armed men. Three others (apparently the targets) were also killed. In another incident, four people were killed at a truck repair company's offices.

Tuesday, July 6

In Sinaloa, three decapitated heads were found on the hood of a car near the town of Angostura. The bodies were found inside the car.

In Tamaulipas, police arrested a bodyguard who worked for the governor on allegations that he also worked for a drug cartel. The guard, Ismael Ortega Galicia, has been named by the US Treasury department as being a part of either the Zetas or the Gulf Cartel.

Thursday, July 8

In Los Mochis, Sinaloa, armed men stormed a police facility and took back several vehicles which had been confiscated by the authorities in recent operations. At least 10 gunmen took part in the raid, including some who drove a multi-level car-carrier to take the vehicles away. Hours earlier, gunmen in the area also raided a municipal police facility and rescued three men who were being detained there.

Total Body Count Since Last Update: 520

Total Body Count for the Year: 5,971

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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