Mexican Drug War

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Congress: House Border Caucus Wants Half a Billion Dollars to Fight Mexican Narcos

Congressmen from districts along the US-Mexican border are asking for $500 million in emergency federal funds to fight the drug trade along the border. The request came last Friday in a letter from the House Border Caucus to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urging her to include immediate funding in an emergency supplemental spending package.

The letter requested:

  • $202.2 million to hire hundreds of additional US Border Patrol agents and inspection agents at ports of entry to alleviate understaffing.
  • $200 million to go toward replacing communications infrastructure used by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) along remote stretches of the border.
  • $50 million to go toward Operation Stonegarden, a federal program that assists local law enforcement in fighting violence and drug and weapon trafficking.
  • $39.6 million to screen all CBP agents to prevent infiltration and corruption efforts by cartels.
  • $10 million to compensate border region health care providers as they treat individuals wounded in Mexico who cross the border to seek treatment at US hospitals.

"The will of governments in communities in the US and Mexico to combat criminal elements is strong," said the letter written by Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-El Paso). "The United States Congress must continue to honor that resolve with needed funding to aid those serving on the front lines at this critical juncture."
Merida Initiative photo (from
The funding request comes as prohibition-related violence in Mexico continues unabated -- the official death toll now stands at more than 22,000 since 2006 -- and has attracted new concern in the US with attacks on US consulates in Mexico and the killing of three consular employees in Ciudad Juarez.

Mexican President Felipe Calderon, whose decision in December 2006 to go to war against the so-called cartels unleashed the current wave of violence, is coming to Washington next month to meet with President Obama and address both houses of Congress.

"We are hoping to get this funding to the border soon, and we are urging our leaders and colleagues to make it happen," said Rep. Rubén Hinojosa (D-TX). "We want to make sure our federal agents on the border have everything they need to protect themselves, to protect us and to protect the border."

"We want to make sure that the border law enforcement get as much support as they need," said Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX). "They understand we're doing as much as we can from Congress to help them supplement the work they do."

Congress has already allocated at least $1.2 billion for anti-drug assistance to Mexico via the 2008 Plan Merida. This additional funding would come on top of that. And there's no guarantee that would be the end of it.

"Our first shot at doing this of course is with the appropriation's emergency funding... if we (get) part of it (at that time) we can always go to the second part which is the regular appropriations," Cuellar said in a telephone Tuesday with the Valley Morning Star. "I feel one way or another we will get a good share of what we are asking for."

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 over 19,000 people, with a death toll of nearly 8,000 in 2009 and over 3,000 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:
DEA Mexican drug cartel map
Thursday, April 15

In Acapulco, six people were killed during a shootout between federal police and drug traffickers suspected to be tied to Edgar Valdez Villareal. At least three of the dead were bystanders caught in the crossfire, among them a mother and her 8-year old child. One 26-year old individual was taken into custody.

Sunday, April 18

In Tepic, Nayarit, three men were killed at a funeral home. The men were paying respects to a suspected retail-level drug dealer that had been executed on Friday. In the previous few days, three other people thought to be involved in the Tepic drug trade had been gunned down. The killings are thought to be a power-struggle following the capture of several local bosses.

Monday, April 19

In Tamaulipas, a shootout occurred between the army and suspected drug traffickers. At least three gunmen were killed and at least four soldiers were wounded. Seventeen individuals were taken into custody. The battles began when gunmen attacked soldiers on a recon patrol in the city of Ciudad Aleman. The three gunmen were killed in the return fire. Thirty-two rifles were seized, as well as 7,000 rounds of ammunition and six vehicles.

In the city of Chihuahua, a former TV anchor was gunned down as she bought food from a street vendor. An unidentified young man that accompanied her was also killed. Isabella Cordova had previously been the main anchor on the Cada Dia television program, and more recently worked as the PR director for the Mexico City Chamber of Commerce. The two were attacked by gunmen wielding automatic weapons.

In Culiacan, Sinaloa, an inmate in prison for federal crimes was shot dead in his cell by at least two gunmen. In Guamuchil, Sinaloa, two people were murdered, including a female school teacher. Two people were killed in Mazatlan, and a police commander was killed in Michoacán. In Tijuana, one man was shot dead by customs officers, and in Jalisco, a police official was killed when assailants raked his home with gunfire.

Wednesday, April 21

In Cuernavaca, two men were found dead outside a bar. A note left at the scene claimed that 25 members of a group allied to Hector Beltran-Leyva are currently being held and interrogated in the city of Acapulco, after which they are to be executed. Cuernavaca has seen a rise in drug-related violence as US-born drug trafficker Edgar Valdez Villareal battles Hector Beltran-Leyva for control of the Beltran-Leyva organization, which was left without a leader following the December killing of Arturo Beltran-Leyva by Mexican naval commandos.

In Nuevo Leon, four police officers were wounded after the checkpoint they were manning was attacked by gunmen. In Leon, Guanajuato, two families were attacked by gunmen, leaving four dead and another wounded. In Michoacán, at least three people were killed, including a gunman who died during a clash with the army. At least four people were killed in Jalisco, three in Sinaloa, two in Tijuana. A union leader was gunned down in Guerrero, and two people were killed and another wounded after an incident in Acapulco.

In Monterrey, gunmen kidnapped six people from two hotels. Initial reports indicate that between 20 and 30 gunmen were led by a handcuffed captive to the fifth floor of the Holiday Inn, where they went room-to-room looking for specific individuals. Three male guests and a receptionist were taken, and another receptionist was taken from the Hotel Mision across the street. A private security guard who was posted outside the Holiday Inn is also reported missing, but it is unclear if he was kidnapped as well.

In the suburbs of Mexico City, gunmen clashed with soldiers, leaving two gunmen dead and another wounded. The incident came after soldiers launched a raid to capture Gerardo Alvarez Vasquez, a presumed member of the Beltran-Leyva Cartel. Vasquez, who was captured, is thought to be partly responsible for the wave of violence which has struck the states of Guerrero and Morelos recently.

Total Body Count for the last two weeks: 420

Total Body Count for 2010: 3,141

Total Body Count for 2009: 7,724

Total Body Count since Calderon took office: 19,452

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

Mexico Violence Fueling Calls for Legalization

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With nearly two million annual visitors to our web site, is the #1 source for news, information and activism promoting sensible drug reform and an end to prohibition worldwide.

The more we do at, the faster the reform movement will grow and the sooner minds, laws and lives will change.

If you follow our weekly Mexico Drug War Update -- a resource cited widely by sites across the Internet -- then you're aware not only how the Mexico President Calderon's escalation of the drug war has plunged his country into appalling drug war violence, but also of the increasing chorus of voices calling for alternatives. Yes, even for legalization:
  • In December, the conservative Wall Street Journal discussed the case for legalization in an article titled "Saving Mexico."
  • In February, Colombia's former President Cesar Gaviria Diaz, a former drug war supporter, told a conference in Mexico City that "With the passing of time, prohibitionism, in which I believed, has demonstrated itself a failure."
  • Also in February, Mexico's former president, Vicente Fox, in a speech in Santa Barbara said that legalizing drugs in Mexico could have the same effect that ending alcohol prohibition had here in the United Stated in 1993, removing the incentives for criminals.

With the public's attention here as well as in Mexico focused on the violence just across our border, now is the time to influence public opinion about prohibition and the need for legalization. With your support will continue to publish important weekly features like the Mexico Drug War Update that effectively make the case, simply by reporting the facts consistently and making clear what the role of prohibition is. We believe that time will show our strategy of educating the media, policymakers and opinion leaders through online publishing is working and helping to change minds, laws and lives sooner rather than later.

Join our 2010 "Changing Minds, Laws & Lives" campaign today!

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"Busted: The Citizens Guide for Surviving Police Encounters," is the classic know your rights training film, watched by more than two million people.
"Prohibition Doesn't Work" is our t-shirt that visually makes the point about the analogy between alcohol prohibition last century and drug prohibition now. The top of the shirt shows a famous alcohol "speakeasy" scene (a well-known Jesuit leader flaunting the prohibition laws), while the bottom depicts a shady drug deal.
"Consequences of Prohibition" is our t-shirt that lists a host of social ills fueled by the drug prohibition laws -- prison, drug trade violence, overuse of SWAT raids, many more. Our stop sign motif with this list of problems embedded in it makes for a striking graphic.

Latin America: Mexico's Cartels Declare War on the Zetas

[Editor's Note: There is no Mexico Drug War Update this week. It will be back next week.]

With the prohibition-related bloodshed in Mexico continuing apace, Mexican drug trafficking organizations -- the so-called cartels -- are engaged not only in brutal conflict but also in shifting alliances. According to reports from Mother Jones and Al Jazeera, three rival cartels have joined forces in a battle to the death with the Zetas, the former soldiers turned Gulf cartel hit-men who eventually turned on their own employers.

Citing sources from the Mexican police and the DEA, Al Jazeera reported that the Gulf, La Familia, and Sinaloa cartels had formed an alliance to fight the Zetas in the border state of Tamaulipas, across the Rio Grande River from Brownsville and McAllen, Texas. Mother Jones reported that the alliance is known as the New Federation and has put out YouTube videos threatening the Zetas.

In one video directed to the Mexican public, the New Federation said: "Without the 'Z' you will live without fear... If you are a Zeta, run because the MONSTER is coming... the new alliance has raised its weapons to fuck the Zetas because they have undermined the drug trafficking business with their kidnappings, extortions, etc. To sum it up, they don't give a shit about the freedom and tranquility of the Mexican people."

"It's an issue of a common enemy," Will Glaspy, the head of the DEA's office in McAllen, told Al Jazeera. "The Zetas have been trying to wage war on everybody for a while," he said. "It's been well-documented that the Gulf cartel has formed alliances with the Sinaloa cartel and La Familia to wage war against the Zetas."

The Sinaloa cartel, led by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman has also been busy in Ciudad Juarez, where the Associated Press reported last Friday that the cartel had defeated the Juarez cartel in a bloody battle to control the lucrative "franchise" for smuggling drugs across the river into El Paso and beyond. The AP cited US intelligence sources and the FBI.

That sounded about right to Mexican Federal Police Chief Facundo Rosas, who said that while Mexican authorities are still working to confirm the US assessment, "These are valid theories. If you control the city, you control the drugs. And it appears to be Chapo."

"The onslaught against the Juarez cartel has been very brutal, not only by the Chapo Guzman cartel but also the military," said Tony Payan, an expert on the Juarez drug war at the University of Texas-El Paso. "I don't think by any means the Juarez cartel is done, but it's a shadow of its former self."

If true, a Sinaloa cartel victory in Ciudad Juarez could augur a decline in violence there. Some 5,000 people have been killed in the city since Guzman's gang moved in on Ciudad Juarez in 2008. Now, with the Sinaloa cartel in control of smuggling into and out of the city, the violence may be limited to local gang turf wars over retail drug sales in the city.

According to Payan, much of the recent violence in Juarez has been Guzman's men finishing off Juarez cartel "stragglers" who continued to deal drugs on city streets. The retail level violence has pitted Juarez cartel-aligned street gangs the Aztecas and La Linea against gangs affiliated with Guzman, including the Mexicles and the Killer Clowns.

"The killings, they are mostly small retail people," Payan said. "I think they are Aztecas, falling like flies all over the city."

And so it goes with Mexico's prohibition-related violence. Since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the cartels in late 2006, deploying up to 50,000 military troops, several key cartel figures have been killed or arrested, but the cartels themselves always reconstitute, and the drug trade continues. Meanwhile, the death toll continues to climb, past 19,000 by the Chronicle's count, but now past 22,000 according to a Mexican government report released this week.

Feature: Drug Czar Gets Grilled on "New Directions in Drug Policy" By Skeptical Solons, Activists, and Academics

Gil Kerlikowske, head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP -- the drug czar's office), testified on Capitol Hill Wednesday that the Obama administration is seeking "a new direction in drug policy," but was challenged both by lawmakers and by a panel of academics and activists on the point during the same hearing. The action took place at a hearing of the House Domestic Policy Subcommittee in which the ONDCP drug budget and the forthcoming 2010 National Drug Strategy were the topics at hand.

The hearing comes in the wake of various drug policy reforms enacted by the Obama administration, including a Justice Department policy memo directing US attorneys and the DEA to lay off medical marijuana in states where it is legal, the removal of the federal ban on needle exchange funding, and administration support for ending or reducing the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine offenders.

But it also comes in the wake of the announcement of the ONDCP 2011 drug budget, which at $15.5 billion is up more than $500 million from this year. While treatment and prevention programs got a 6.5% funding increase, supply reduction (law enforcement, interdiction, and eradication) continues to account for almost exactly the same percentage of the overall budget -- 64%--as it did in the Bush administration. Only 36% is earmarked for demand reduction (prevention and treatment).

Citing health care costs from drug use and rising drug overdose death figures, the nation "needs to discard the idea that enforcement alone can eliminate our nation's drug problem," Kerlikowske said. "Only through a comprehensive and balanced approach -- combining tough, but fair, enforcement with robust prevention and treatment efforts -- will we be successful in stemming both the demand for and supply of illegal drugs in our country."

So far, at least, when it comes to reconfiguring US drug control efforts, Kerlikowske and the Obama administration are talking the talk, but they're not walking the walk. That was the contention of subcommittee chair Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-OH) and several of the session's panelists.

"Supply side spending has not been effective," said Kucinich, challenging the budget breakdown.

"Supply side spending is important for a host of reasons, whether we're talking about eradication or our international partners where drugs are flowing," replied the drug czar.

"Where's the evidence?" Kucinich demanded. "Describe with statistics what evidence you have that this approach is effective."

Kerlikowske was reduced to citing the case of Colombia, where security and safety of the citizenry has increased. But he failed to mention that despite about $4 billion in US anti-drug aid in the past decade, Colombian coca and cocaine production remain at high levels.

"What parts of your budget are most effective?" asked Kucinich.

"The most cost-effective approaches would be prevention and treatment," said Kerlikowske.

"What percentage is supply and what percentage is demand oriented?" asked Rep. Jim Jordan (D-OH).

"It leans much more toward supply, toward interdiction and enforcement," Kerlikowske conceded.

Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) was more old school, demanding a tougher response to Mexico's wave of prohibition-related violence and questioning the decision not to eradicate opium in Afghanistan. "The Southwest border is critical. I would hope the administration would give you the resources you need for a Plan Colombia on steroids," said Issa.

"There is no eradication program in Afghanistan," Issa complained. "I was in areas we did control and we did nothing about eradication."

"I don't think anyone is comfortable seeing US forces among the poppy fields," Kerlikowske replied. "Ambassador Holbrooke has taken great pains to explain the rationale for that," he added, alluding to Holbrooke's winning argument that eradication would push poppy farming peasants into the hands of the Taliban.

"The effectiveness of eradication seems to be near zero, which is very interesting from a policy point of view," interjected Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL).

Kucinich challenged Kerlikowske about harm reduction. "At the UN, you said the US supported many interventions, but you said that, 'We do not use the phrase harm reduction.' You are silent on both syringe exchange programs and the issue of harm reduction interventions generally," he noted. "Do you acknowledge that these interventions can be effective in reducing death and disease, does your budget proposed to fund intervention programs that have demonstrated positive results in drug overdose deaths, and what is the basis of your belief that the term harm reduction implies promotion of drug use?"

Kerlikowske barely responded. "We don't use the term harm reduction because it is in the eye of the beholder," he said. "People talk about it as if it were legalization, but personally, I haven't spent a lot of time thinking about whether to put a definition on it."

When challenged by Kucinich specifically about needle exchange programs, Kerlikowske conceded that they can be effective. "If they are part of a comprehensive drug reduction effort, they make a lot of sense," he said.

The grilling of Kerlikowske took up the first hour of the two-hour session. The second hour consisted of testimony from Drug Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann, Brookings Institute foreign policy fellow and drugs and counterinsurgency expert Vanda Felbab-Brown, former ONDCP employee and drug policy analyst John Carnevale, and University of Maryland drug policy expert Peter Reuter. It didn't get any better for drug policy orthodoxy.

"Let me be frank," said Nadelmann as he began his testimony. "We regard US drug policy as a colossal failure, a gross violation of human rights and common sense," he said, citing the all too familiar statistics about arrests, incarceration, the spread of HIV/AIDS, and drug overdose deaths. "All of these are an egregious violation of fundamental American values."

"Congress and the Obama administration have broken with the costly and failed drug war strategies of the past in some important ways," said Nadelmann. "But the continuing emphasis on interdiction and law enforcement in the federal drug war budget suggest that ONDCP is far more wedded to the failures of the past than to any new vision for the future. I urge this committee to hold ONDCP and federal drug policy accountable to new criteria that focus on reductions in the death, disease, crime and suffering associated with both drugs and drug prohibition."

Nadelmann identified four problems with current drug strategy:

  • The drug war's flawed performance measures;
  • The lop-sided ratio between supply and demand spending in the national drug budget;
  • The lack of innovation in the drug czar's proposed strategies;
  • The administration's failure to adequately evaluate drug policies.

"They want to move toward a public health model that focuses on reducing demand for drugs, but no drug policy will succeed unless there are the resources to implement it," said Carnevale. "Past budgets emphasizing supply reduction failed to produce results, and our drug policy stalled -- there has been no change in overall drug use in this decade."

Carnevale noted that the 2011 ONDCP budget gave the largest percentage increase to prevention and treatment, but that its priorities were still skewed toward supply reduction. "The budget continues to over-allocate funds where they are least effective, in interdiction and source country programs."

"The drug trade poses multiple and serious threats, ranging from threats to security and the legal economy to threats to legality and political processes," said Felbab-Brown, "but millions of people depend on the illegal drug trade for a livelihood. There is no hope supply-side policies can disrupt the global drug trade."

Felbab-Brown said she was "encouraged" that the Obama administration had shifted toward a state-building approach in Afghanistan, but that she had concerns about how policy is being operationalized there. "We need to adopt the right approach to sequencing eradication in Afghanistan," she said. "Alternative livelihoods and state-building need to be comprehensive, well-funded, and long-lasting, and not focused on replacing the poppy crop."

"Eradication in Afghanistan has little effect on domestic supply and reduction," said Kucinich. "Should these kinds of programs be funded?"

"I am quite convinced that spending money for eradication, especially aerial eradication, is not effective," replied Carnevale. "The point of eradication in Colombia was to reduce the amount of drugs coming into the US, but I see no such effect."

"We're dealing with global commodity markets," said Nadelmann. "If one source is knocked out, someone else will pop up. What's missing is any sort of strategic analysis or planning. If you accept that these drugs are going to be produced, you need to manage it to reduce the harms."

"The history of the last 20 years of the cocaine and heroin trade shows how much mobility there is in cultivation and trafficking," said Reuter. "What we do has a predictable effect. When we pushed down on trafficking in Florida, that lead to increases in Mexico. The evidence is striking that all we are doing is moving the trade."

Times are changing in Washington. What was once unassailable drug war orthodoxy is not under direct assault, and not just from activists and academics, but among members of Congress itself. But while the drug czar talks the happy talk about "new directions in drug policy," the Obama administration -- with some notable exceptions -- looks to still have a drug policy on cruise control.

Michelle Obama's Awesome Plan for Winning the Drug War

When the First Lady speaks out about how to deal with the drug problem, you can bet she'll call for more of the same:

MEXICO CITY, Mexico (CNN) - The United States needs to do more to reduce demand for illegal drugs if it wants to help reduce the violence that has wracked its southern neighbor, Michelle Obama said Wednesday.

The first lady of the United States made that comment after meeting with her Mexican counterpart, Margarita Zavala de Calderon, whose "New Life Centers" help with prevention and education so that fewer young people will become addicted.

"We need to do more of the same," said Obama, who cited education and opportunity as key elements to any successful anti-drug campaign.

Wait, what!? Did she really say that? Ok, she's making a specific reference to a program she likes, but still. Prevention and education are not new strategies. They are more of them same, and they won't even dent the bloodly specter smoldering before us.

The war on drugs has never been as ugly and brutal as it is today. There truly exists no public policy failure so unambiguously catastrophic and hopeless as this. Yet our leaders discuss it like talking wind-up dolls, capable only of repeating the same stupid sentence. We can only hope that by the time they abandon their script, there will remain something worth saving.

Drug Cartel Assassins Caught on Camera

This video is freaking people out in Mexico. Most of the violence is occurring off-camera, but it's pretty effective at revealing how openly these guys operate. 8 people were killed in the vicinity of what you're seeing here:

But don't worry, the violence means we're winning the drug war. Soon, all the drug traffickers and innocent bystanders will be dead and then we can all go to Mexico for Spring Break and get wasted without worrying about getting shot by machine guns.

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 over 19,000 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:

Saturday, April 3

In Tamaulipas, at least 17 people were killed in several incidents in the cities of Reynosa and Tampico. In Reynosa, five gunmen were killed after a gun battle with the army. Another gunman was killed several hours later after shooting at an army patrol in a nearby part of the city. In Tampico, a shootout between rival groups of suspected drug traffickers in a night club left five men and two women dead. Tamaulipas has seen a drastic increase in violence in the last few weeks at the Zetas Organization battles their former employers, the Gulf Cartel.

In Sinaloa, at least nine people were killed in Navolato, Culiacan, Guasave and Mazatlan. One of the dead was a 19-year old prison inmate who was killed in his cell, where he was serving a sentence for murder. At least five young men were killed in drug-related violence in Guerrero, three in Mexico City, and three in Tijuana. In Chihuahua, police found three men shot dead execution style near the town of La Junta. In Ciudad Juarez, five young men were shot dead and the decapitated head of a woman was discovered. Additionally, three people were murdered in Michoacán, and gunmen stormed a house and killed a man in Durango.

In Torreon, Coahuila, gunmen shot six men dead in the Moderna neighborhood. A seventh man was seriously wounded and remains in intensive care. The men were discovered dead after police received reports of bodies lying in the street.

Sunday, April 4

In Reynosa, Tamaulipas, armed men stormed a prison and freed 13 inmates. This is the second major jailbreak in the state of Tamaulipas in less than two weeks. Three prisoners were also killed in the incident, although the circumstances are unclear. At least 31 prison guards and employees were detained for questioning. According to the Tamaulipas state government, the gunmen arrived in a ten-vehicle convoy and exchanged fire with the guards before freeing the prisoners.

Monday, April 5

In Monterrey, Nuevo Leon 105 police officers were fired for misconduct. The charges against the officers included extortion, robbery, and mistreating civilians. Several were also fired for disobeying superiors. The firings are part of a new "zero-tolerance" policy being instituted in Nuevo Leon, where local police are widely thought to be corrupt and, in many cases, in league with drug trafficking organizations.

In Nuevo Laredo two children were killed and five of their relatives were wounded after the vehicle in which they were traveling came under fire during a gun battle between gunmen and soldiers. At least two gunmen were also killed in the incident.

Tuesday, April 6

The Mexican newspaper Proceso published an extremely rare interview with one of Mexico's most notorious drug lords. In the interview, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, one of the heads of the Sinaloa Cartel, said that Mexico's drug war was bound to fail. Notably, Zambada told his interviewer, Mexican journalist Julio Scherer, that the capture of high-ranking cartel bosses would have little long term effect. "For all the bosses jailed, dead, or extradited, their replacements are already there," he said. He added that "at the end of the day we will all know that nothing has changed."

Wednesday, April 7

In the state of Nayarit, police discovered the bodies of 12 people who had been murdered. At least eight of the victims were partially burned. The eight burned bodies were discovered in the bed of a pickup truck, and the other four were found nearby. Police also discovered at least 10 abandoned vehicles with weapons inside. The bodies were found near the town of Xalisco, which is well known to Mexican and US law enforcement as being a center for the production of black tar heroin.

In the town of Frontera Comalapa, on the Guatemalan-Mexican border, an innocent bystander was killed during a firefight between gunmen and federal police after the gunmen attacked a building owned by the federal government.

Total Body Count for the Week: 275

Total Body Count for the Year: 2,721

Total Body Count for 2009: 7,724

Total Body Count since Calderon took office: 19,032

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

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 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:
Ciudad Juárez (courtesy Daniel Schwen, Wikimedia)
Friday, March 26

Near the town of General Trevino, Nuevo Leon, the decapitated body of a local police chief was found inside a car alongside the body of his brother. Heriberto Cerda was the police chief of the nearby town of Agualeguas. His killers left his head on his lap. The two men had been reported missing on Thursday. The windshield and drivers windows had the letters "C.D.G" written in blood, indicating that the killings were the work of the Gulf Cartel. The incident comes one day after Mexican Marines were involved in a large firefight in another Nuevo Laredo town, Cerralvo. That incident occurred after Marines ordered gunmen in a six-vehicle convoy to stop and were answered by gunfire, leading to the deaths of six suspected drug traffickers.

In Sonora, the police chief of the border city of Nogales was ambushed and killed by gunmen armed with AK-47's. Additionally on Friday, gunmen in Ciudad Juarez attacked a hotel used by federal police officials, killing one and wounding two others. Earlier that day, a police investigator was gunned down in a residential area of the city.

Saturday, March 27

In Morelia, Michoacan, two police officers were shot dead at a gas station. Two other unidentified men were found dead at the scene as well. One of the officers had previously been suspended from duty, and the other was apparently off duty. The two men had apparently gone to a gas station to purchase beer when they were attacked. Additionally, in Acapulco, a man whose hands were bound was found shot to death in a car.

Monday, March 29

In Durango, gunmen killed ten young people at a roadblock in the "golden triangle" region where the states of Durango, Chihuahua and Sinaloa intersect. The ten individuals, ranging in ages from 8 to 21, were killed by gunfire and grenade blasts as they tried to speed through an improvised roadblock. In other news, Mexican authorities arrested a member of Los Aztecas gang in connection with the March killings of three people linked to the US consulate in Ciudad Juarez.

Around the town of Santa Catarina, Nuevo Leon several people were reported killed in various incidents. Among the dead were two people gunned down in a motel along the highway to Saltillo, and a police officer found dead in a burning patrol car. In another incident, a group of gunmen attacked an army convoy in an attempt to free a prisoner who had been detained Saturday with 13 kilos of cocaine. The gunmen were traveling in a five-vehicle convoy and were heavily armed with automatic weapons and grenades. In the twenty-minute firefight that ensued, two soldiers and two civilians were wounded. After the incident, the army detained six individuals who were disguised as members of the municipal police.

In Sinaloa, six people, including a police agent, were found dead. In one incident, gunmen barged into a hospital in the town of Los Mochis and shot dead a young man who had been wounded in an earlier incident. In another part of Sinaloa, a decapitated body was found along the road from Pericos to the small town of Badiguarato, which is known as the "cradle of capos" for the large number of high-level drug traffickers which were raised in the area, most notably Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman.

In other parts of Mexico, three policemen were killed in Chihuahua, two people were killed in Quinta Carolinas, five in the Ciudad Juarez area, two in Tamochi, three in Chilpancingo, one in Acapulco, four in the state of Mexico, and one in Jalisco.

Monday, March 29

In Morelos, four decapitated bodies were discovered alongside a road stretching from Cuernavaca to Acapulco. A note was left at the scene threatening American-born drug trafficker Edgar Valdez Villareal. This indicates that the killings are somehow related to the ongoing power struggle between Villareal and Hector Beltran-Leyva for leadership of the Beltran-Leyva Cartel, which was left without a leader after the December killing of Arturo Beltran-Leyva by Mexican naval commandos. Additionally, two brothers were found shot dead in a house in the town of Ahuatepec, near Cuernavaca.

Tuesday, March 30

In Reynosa, Tamaulipas, soldiers clashed with gunmen in at least five city neighborhoods. At least six people were killed in the fighting, and twelve people were taken into custody. At least two of the dead were civilians caught in the crossfire, and two were soldiers. During clashes in the Loma Linda sector of the city, several grenade detonations were reported. In Tampico, Tamaulipas, three men were reported killed in an exchange of gunfire between two rival groups. Tamaulipas has recently seen a drastic increase in violence as the Zetas Organization battle their former masters, the Gulf Cartel.

Thursday, April 1

In the states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon, gunmen mounted seven large, coordinated attacks on seven locations, including two army bases. Eighteen people were reported killed in the fighting. In a rare frontal attack, the gunmen attacked in military style unit-formations with armored trucks, automatic weapons, and fragmentation grenades. In several locations, gunmen reportedly parked trucks and SUV's outside military bases and streets in an effort to block the movement of troops to and from garrisons. One soldier was lightly injured in the fighting.

During the fighting, soldiers captured 54 assault rifles, 61 grenades, RPG's, eight homemade IED's, and six bulletproof vehicles.

Total Body Count for the Week: 123

Total Body Count for the Year: 2,446

Total Body Count for 2009: 7,724

Total Body Count since Calderon took office: 18,757

Read the last Mexico Drug War Update here.

Feds: National Drug Intelligence Center Predicts Continued Failure in Drug War

In a report released Thursday, the Justice Department's National Drug Intelligence Center (NDIC) said that overall, the availability of illegal drugs is increasing and that "the overall threat posed by illicit drugs will not diminish in the near term." The announcement comes after more than four decades of harsh state and federal policies designed to curb the supply of illicit drugs.

The report, the National Drug Threat Assessment 2010, also once again identified Mexico's so-called drug cartels as the "single greatest drug trafficking threat to the United States." It blamed the cartels, or DTOs (drug trafficking organizations), as it more accurately but less catchily refers to them, for much of the increase in illegal drug availability.

The NDIC noted that the prevalence of four out of five of the major drugs of concern -- heroin, marijuana, MDMA (ecstasy), and methamphetamine -- was "widespread and increasing in some areas." Only cocaine availability was down, with NDIC reporting persistent shortages.

Heroin availability was up, and NDIC said that was "partly attributable to increased production in Mexico," where opium production more than doubled between 2007 and 2008. Meth availability was up "as the result of higher production in Mexico," and "sustained" US domestic production. Also, "marijuana production increased in Mexico." Only with MDMA did NDIC point the finger at anyone else -- in this case, Asian DTOs who produce it in Canada.

"Mexican DTOs, already the predominant wholesale suppliers of illicit drugs in the United States, are gaining even greater strength in eastern drug markets where Colombian DTO strength is diminishing," NDIC said as it pronounced them the greatest drug trafficking threat. It included the following bullet points making the case:

  • Mexican DTOs were the only DTOs operating in every region of the country.
  • Mexican DTOs increased their cooperation with US-based street and prison gangs to distribute drugs. In many areas, these gangs were using their alliances with Mexican DTOs to facilitate an expansion of their midlevel and retail drug distribution operations into more rural and suburban areas.
  • In 2009, midlevel and retail drug distribution in the United States was dominated by more than 900,000 criminally active gang members representing approximately 20,000 street gangs in more than 2,500 cities.
  • Mexican DTOs increased the flow of severaldrugs (heroin, methamphetamine, and marijuana) into the United States, primarily because they increased production of those drugs in Mexico.
  • Drugs smuggled into the United States by Mexican DTOs usually are transported in private or commercial vehicles; however, Mexican DTOs also use cross-border tunnels, subterranean passageways, and low-flying small or ultra-light aircraft to move drugs from Mexico into the United States.
  • Mexican DTOs smuggled bulk cash drug proceeds totaling tens of billions of dollars from the United States through the Southwest Border and into Mexico. Much of the bulk cash (millions each week) was consolidated by the DTOs in several key areas, including Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York City, and North Carolina, where it was prepared for transport to the US-Mexico border and then smuggled into Mexico.
  • According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), Mexican DTO members or associates acquire thousands of weapons each year in Arizona, California, and Texas and smuggle them across the border to Mexico.

The report came as a senior US delegation led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton returns from Mexico City, where it spent two days in talks with Mexican officials about increasing cooperation in their joint struggle against the drug traffic.

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