Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Unintended consequences...

A rather unfortunate consequences of the increased militarization throughout Mexico. What caught my eye was the statistic stating that "violence against women has dramatically increased." Take a look for yourself and see what you think...

Militarization increased abuse of women

Further action in Tamaulipas

According to bbc.com, the mayor of Hidalgo in Tamaulipas, Marco Antonia Leal Garcia, was gunned down while driving his car. The state has seen its fair share of violence recently, as last week 72 migrants were found dead in a warehouse in the town of San Fernando. To make matters worse, a government prosecutor named Roberto Suarez who was leading the investigation into the murders has disappeared. A police officer who was escorting him is also missing as well.

Mexico arrests "La barbie"

According to the bbc.com, alleged drug trafficker Edgar "La Barbie" Valdez (a US citizen) was arrested. He apparently put up very little resistance when he was apprehended in a residential area near Mexico city.

US authorities offered up to $2 million for information on "La Barbie", who is also known as "El Comandante" and "El Guero."Furthermore, according to the bbc.com, Mr Valdez is now being charged with smuggling and distributing thousands of kilos of cocaine into the eastern US during 2004-2006.

Edgar had been battling Hector Beltran Leyva for control of the Beltran Leyva gang. Julian Miglierini states that Edgar had once been the leader of the hit men for the gang. After Arturo Leyva (one of the original founders of gang) passed away, Edgar tried to seize control of the gang.

It should be interesting to see how the South Pacific Cartel (a relatively new gang that is an offshoot of the Sinaloa cartel (a.k.a Pacific Cartel)) will react to his capture. 

Friday, August 27, 2010

72 found dead in Northern Mexico

Earlier this week, 72 bodies were found piled high in a massive heap in a warehouse on a ranch in the town of San Fernando. President Felipe Calderon stated that "The barbarity committed in the murder of 72 people, migrants, in our country, shows the level of violence and barbarity with which the criminals are acting."

According to Google news, An injured Ecuadoran man claiming to be the massacre's sole survivor alerted the military to the ranch, where he said the group had been kidnapped and killed by Zetas drug gang members for refusing to work for them.

A local TV station, Televisa, was covering the event, but unfortunately a car bomb was detonated outside of their studio, and while no one was injured, their coverage has been disrupted. 

The Zetas are protecting their ruthless reputation. There is no doubt that because of the nature of this crime, and will attract international attention. They are asking for confrontation, and it will be interesting to see how their rival the Sinaloa Cartel will react to their actions.

Monday, August 23, 2010

4 killed by new cartel in Cuernavaca, Mexico

According to BBC.com, four men were found dead last week, hanging by their ankles from a bridge near the city of Cuernavaca, in the state of Morelos. The men had been decapitated, as well as severely mutilated. A message was reportedly found near the bodies warning that anyone who supported Edgar Valdez would share a similarly grisly end. Edgar Valdez, also known as "La Barbie" (because of his blond hair),  is a Mexican American who is vying for control of the Beltran Leyva Cartel, which is located in Sinaloa. The Cartel has been leaderless since its leader, Arturo Beltran Leyva, was killed by government forces last December.

Hector Beltran Leyva is competing against Edgar (who happens to be a U.S. citizen), for control of the organization. Though the DTO is fairly small, it does have a substantial intelligence system, and controls a number of firms and companies involved in transportation, electronics, health products and hospitality.

However, what complicates the issue even further is that a DTO calling themselves the South Pacific Cartel (C.P.S signature was found on the signs), is apparently taking credit for these murders. There is little information on either the C.P.S or "La Barbie". Furthermore, Cuernavaca was never really considered a disputed region in the drug conflict, so this act points out that DTOs are vying for as much territory as they can possibly acquire.

Who is Edgar Valdez? What the orgins of the C.P.S, and why are we only hearing about them now? Whatever is occurring within the organizational structure of the Mexican DTO's is obviously monumental, and we will no doubt be witnessing further acts of violence as established and newer organizations combat one another for power and territory.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Monterrey: The new Juarez?

According to BBC.com, the city of Monterrey is fast becoming the new Ciudad Juarez, as drug related murders, kidnappings, and robberies are on the rise. Monterrey is the capital of the state of Nuevo Leon, and aside from being the industrial capital of Mexico, it is also considered to be the richest as well.

This increase in overall crime is attributed to the Zetas, who are combating their previous employers the Gulf Cartel. The Zetas are utilizing Monterrey for a number of key reasons. Firstly, the wealthy residents make ideal kidnapping targets, as they are able to pay hefty ransoms. Secondly, the city is a fairly short distance away from the US border. And lastly, because of its proximity to the Gulf, Monterrey provides the Zetas with an excellent staging ground for their fight against rival DTOs.  Furthermore, the police in the city are known to be terribly corrupt. According to BBC.com, 400 out of the 750 police officers employed under the authority of Mayor Fernando Larrazabal failed to pass a "reliability" test the included a polygraph session and an examination of personal finances.

Despite the fact that the city has fired and replaced a large portion of it's police force, the DTO's are fighting back by kidnapping and also murdering key governmental figures. This and other DTO actions have spurred local business men around the city to place ads in local newspapers requesting the government to send badly needed troops.

What is occurring in Ciudad Juarez currently may end up happening in Monterrey, as a military incursion will  provoke the Zetas to respond violently. So what can be done? Well, harking back to Pablo Escobar in Colombia, Special Operatives should be sent by the government to target key members of the organization, in the hopes of cutting off the head of the serpent. The Zetas brazen actions will only end when they lose their ability to organize, direct confrentation will only incur more violence.

Monday, August 16, 2010

IED's in Mexico

According to the LA Times, a DTO (possibly the Carrillo Fuentes organization) detonated a small car bomb in Ciudad Juarez as par t of a operation to confront government forces. As stated in the article:

"Four are killed in what officials call a well-planned trap near a federal police headquarters. It appears to be the first time traffickers have used a car bomb since the start of a military-led offensive against drug cartels. Drug traffickers have added a powerful weapon to their arsenal, employing a car packed with nearly 20 pounds of explosives to kill police officers, Mexican authorities said Friday."

Apparently, narco operatives captured a civilian and wounded him. The victim was then dressed in a police uniform, placed inside a green Ford Focus, and was strapped to the drivers seat. An emergency call was placed, and officials arrived on the scene shortly thereafter. According to ABC.com, "The cartel was targeting law enforcement because of the arrest of a high-ranking La Linea member, Jesus Armando Acosta Guerrero, AKA El 35, and because of a belief that Mexican officials were favoring, and aiding, the rival Sinaloa drug cartel." La Linea is described as being the mobile armed wing of the Carrillo Fuentes DTO.

The car was the detonated remotely, killing four and wounding 20. The bomb was comprised of 20 pounds of industrial high explosive and dozens of 3-inch dry wall screws.

Many have jumped the gun saying that the Narcos are learning these tactics directly from Islamic Jihadists, but I disagree. Most likely the DTOs are picking up these tactics from other foreign parties, such as arms dealers in Central America or Russia. Those individuals are the ones who probably have some sort of connections to the Jihadists, and they are just simply passing tactics and materials down the line. However, all theories aside, these IEDs highlight the DTOs ruthless new tactics, which include open and violent attacks on not only soldiers, but also medical officials and civilians. Tactically, the DTOs are trying to convey the message that they do not fear reprisal for their actions, and that every Mexican citizen (soldier, paramedic, or ordinary civilian alike) can potentially be in harms way.

Narcos taking over the streets... literally

According to the bbc.com, one of the major drug cartels has been blocking off streets in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon as a show of force. Apparently, armed gunmen dragged drivers from their vehicles (including 18-wheelers) and used said them to block off at least 13 major roads in Monterrey last Saturday. The blockade occurred after a shootout between the Mexican army and alleged members of a drug organization. Two Mexican soldiers chased two armoured vehicles that they deemed suspicious, and when one of them crashed, its occupants bailed out and opened fire on the Mexican soldiers. One of the men supposedly killed was claimed to be El Sonrics, the commander-in-chief of the dreaded Zetas.

Monterrey has seen a sharp rise in violence over the past several years, and do it is proximity to the border, it is a valuable asset to the Narcos. This whole roadblock thing is nothing more then a pissing contest; the cartel(s) just want to show the Mexican government that they don't have any authority over them. Reprisals by the Cartels are becoming more showy and dramatic. Their actions seem to be taking a turn away from clandestine operations, as if they want media and national attention being drawn to them.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

DTO info: La Familia Michoacana

La Familia burst into the limelight on September 6, 2006, when 20 masked desperados stormed into scruffy Sol y Sombra night spot in Uruapan, Michoacan, fired shots into the air, ran up to the second floor from where they tossed five human heads onto the black and white dance floor. They left behind a message, written on cardboard: “The family doesn’t kill for money. It doesn’t kill women. It doesn’t kill innocent people, only those who deserve to die. Know that this is divine justice.”

Honestly, the more I read about these guys, the more they seem to have taken their ideas from Robert Rodriguez or "The Boondock Saints." They officially began in 2004, with the intention of eradicating the trafficking of crystal and other narcotics, as well as kidnapping, extortion, assassinations, highway assaults, and robberies in Michoacan. Their leader, Nazario "El Mas Loco" Moreno Gonzalez is a supposed new age philosopher who blends his spiritual and philosophical beliefs with his plans to expand La Familia's influence though out Mexico.

According to Sylvia Longmire: "handwritten, poorly-spelled, enigmatic missives showed up in 2006 next to decapitated heads in Uruapan as part of an intense Familia propaganda campaign designed to intimidate both foes, terrorize the local population, and inhibit action by the government. Like Los Zetas, La Familia disseminates news of its deeds nationally by conventional media as well as by Internet videos and carefully placed banners."

What began as a few vigilantes on the prowl trying to protect their neighborhoods from drugs and violence has transformed into a national DTO unlike any other. One that is driven by divine will.

According to FPRI.org "Member of LA Familia reportedly attend church regularly, carry Bibles, and distribute the Good Book in local government offices. They claim to enjoy grassroots’ support because they provide assistance to campesinos, construct schools, donate books, prevent the sale of adulterated wine, and employ “extremely strong strategies” to bring order to the Tierra Caliente.They acquire resources by selling protection to merchants, street vendors of contraband, hotels, local gangs, and small-scale drug sellers. Rather than speak in terms of extortion, La Familia claims to “protect” its clients." Aside from dealing and extortion, LA Familia has political influences throughout Michoacan, Mexico state, and Guanajuato.

Though they claim to be in the right, La Familia is in fact a major drug organization, which distributes its product throughout Michocan and its surrounding states, as well as across the U.S. border. They practice extortion, kidnapping, and murder. They kill without mercy or compassion, and do so in the name of God. They are more then just a cartel; they are also a paramilitary organization, a religiously fanatic terrorist group, and a vigilante movement all rolled up into one.

SEDENA confirms death of 'Nacho' Coronel

According to informador.com, the SEDENA (Secretariat of National Defense) confirmed that "alleged" narcotraficante Ignacio "Nacho" Coronel Villarreal was killed on July 29th 2010 during an army raid at one of his homes in Zapopan, Jalisco. Apparently, 200 army soldiers surrounded the house, and as they were breaching Nacho opened fire, killing one soldier and wounding another. The army returned fire, and during the exchange Ignacio was killed.

Nacho was one of the top heads of the Sinaloa cartel, just after Ismael "El Mayo" Zamaba and the infamous Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzzman Loera. The soldiers seized a number of weapons, valuable goods, and of course, several luxury cars. Apparently, Mr. Nacho had been using two safe houses in the neighborhood as his base of operations. He would alternate spending his nights in each house. In addition, Nacho was responsible for his cartel's operations within Jalisco, Colima, Nayarit, and parts of Michoacan.
Following the death of Artura Beltran Leyva last December (one of the head leaders of the BLO) this is considered a major victory in the war against the Cartels.

What makes this whole matter interesting in my opinion was his role in a state like Jalisco. Not much happens there, and through my personal knowledge, drug related violence is minor as compared to other states like Sinaloa or Durango. But following the arrest of Miss Sinaloa, and now the shooting, it goes to show that even sleepy (but wealthy) neighborhoods like Zapopan have their fair share of Narcos. From what other research I gathered, Nacho was heading a meth manufacturing and distribution center within Jalisco, which goes to show you that the centers of income can actually be pretty far a way from the borders.

My hypothesis is this: The meth facility and distribution center, plus the fact that Nacho was watching over states where drug are known to be smuggled into the country, goes to show that their is a distribution system that is operating to move product (domestic and foreign made) out of the region and towards the U.S. border, as w ell as distribute it within the given region itself. The large ports in Colima, Nayarit, and Jalisco are very important to the access and distribution of product.

It is a good thing that they got this guy. Yet with such an important region economically, it will not take long for the Cartel to find a replacement.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Mexico looks towards legalization

According to guardian.co.uk, Mexico's current president Felipe Calderon has called for a debate concerning the legalization of certain narcotics. It should be known that his predecessor, Vicente Fox, had also tried to legalize the carrying of small amounts of narcotics, but it was unfortunately vetoed.

Jorge Castaneda stated that: "Legalisation would render the war pointless as drugs would become just another product like tobacco or alcohol.. It is worth considering whether this is preferable to having 28,000 deaths."

Apparently, they would begin by legalizing small amounts of marijuana, and then move on to heavier drugs such as cocaine, crystal meth, and heroine.

While those latter drugs are quite dangerous, drugs such as marijuana in my personal opinion do little bodily harm, and their legalization could benefit the Mexican government (through taxation) while at the same time hindering the business of the Drug Cartels.

I hate to say it, but it's a good idea, and a step in the right direction.

Guns, Guns, Guns

Many here in the states, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, are very familiar with the so called fact that "90 percent of the firearms used by the Mexican drug cartels originates in the U.S." It is because of that concept that many are pushing for a for a repeat of the 1994 assault rifle ban.

However, I say so called fact, because according to the ATF, "90 percent of the traceable firearms used by the cartels originates in the U.S."

Most of the firearms found at crime scenes in Mexico are untraceable, mainly because they have their serial numbers filed off. Yet what kind of firearms are being used in by the Mexican drug cartels? According to the ATF, from 2005-2008 the majority of weapons recovered and identified by the administration were: 9mm pistols; .38-caliber revolvers; 5.7mm pistols; .223-caliber rifles (5.56 mm rifles such as the AR-15); 7.62mm rifles (Such as the AK); and .50 caliber rifles. In addition, certain DTOs are fond of the Fabrique Nationale (FN) FiveSeven pistol (designed to penetrate body armor) and the FN-P90, as well as the Barrett .50-caliber sniper rifle.

The majority of these weapons cannot be purchased in U.S civilian firearm stores, because they are military grade weapons and thus highly illegal. A few civilian versions can be purchased legally at gun stores (such as AK or M-16 style variants), but are extremely difficult to do so because of vigorous background checks (many times buyers must have military or security backgrounds to purchase).

Straw purchases (a person without a criminal record is asked to purchase weapons for a third party) do occur, but this sort of action is technically illegal, and gun stores can be held responsible. Furthermore, straw purchases are rather limited, because most assault style rifles available in gun stores are sold according to U.S. firearm law (i.e. restricted to small magazines and semi-auto fire).

For instance, according to the Impact Guns Online Superstore website, "kits are what's left from real automatic AK-47, or AK-47 style rifles that were cut in half to destroy them as weapons. Those parts are legal to import since they are not a gun. They are a great inexpensive source of spare parts for your AK, since many AK-47 parts are interchangeable between models. These kits are also made back into legal rifles in the US with American made receivers and semi automatic trigger parts (because automatic versions are highly illegal). This is a fun project for those who can do it, but it takes lots of tools and knowledge of metalworking to do a good job. Many of the AK-47 rifles you'll see at a [US] Gun Shop or Gun Show will have been made from these parts kits." These weapons are legal along the terms of the 1994 assault rifle ban and other laws (semi-auto, small magazine). Therefore, it is much easier for a Narco to purchase a weapon that is already military grade (such as being automatic) abroad then it is for them to take the time to assemble and convert a U.S legal firearm that is bought illegally via straw purchase.

I said "abroad", because that is where most of their firearms are being purchased.

As stated by Fox news, a variety of arms come from:

-- Russian crime organizations. Interpol states Russian Mafia groups such as Poldolskaya and Moscow-based Solntsevskaya are actively trafficking drugs and arms in Mexico.

- South America. During the late 1990s, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) established a clandestine arms smuggling and drug trafficking partnership with the Tijuana cartel, according to the Federal Research Division report from the Library of Congress.

-- Asia. According to a 2006 Amnesty International Report, China has provided arms to countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Chinese assault weapons (such as the inexpensive Norinco version of the AK) and Korean explosives have been recovered in Mexico.

-- The Mexican Army. More than 150,000 soldiers deserted in the last six years, according to Mexican Congressman Robert Badillo. Many took their weapons with them, including the standard issue M-16 assault rifle made in Belgium.

-- Guatemala. U.S. intelligence agencies say traffickers move immigrants, stolen cars, guns and drugs, including most of America's cocaine, along the porous Mexican-Guatemalan border. On March 27, La Hora, a Guatemalan newspaper, reported that police seized 500 grenades and a load of AK-47s on the border. Police say the cache was transported by a Mexican drug cartel operating out of Ixcan, a border town.

So why go through all the work to buy chopped up semi-auto rifles from a U.S. gun store when a Narcotraficante can buy the real deal much cheaper from a foreign military or crime organization abroad? The answer is simple, while straw purchases do occur, and the occasional rifle or handgun from the U.S. can be found being used by a criminal, most of it comes from foreign third parties.

Joaquin Guzman Loera (aka the infamous El Chapo)

Joaquin Guzman, also known as El Chapo, is the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel. He is an extremely wealthy and powerful man. In fact, Forbes listed him as #41 of the 67 most powerful people in the world in 2009. In the 1980s he worked with the original cartel mastermind Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, and used what he learned to form his own cartel after his "teacher" was imprisoned. He smuggles tons of cocaine, marijuana, and heroin from Mexico into the United States via a complicated series of tunnels, warehouses, cargo vessels, and so on.

This man is part reality, part myth. For instance, when he was incarcerated, it is believed (though it can not be proven), that he had the prison guards on his payroll. He also smuggled contraband into the prison and even had relations with some of the female prison guard staff. Apparently, a few days before he was due to be extradited to the USA, Guzmán bribed several guards and escaped via laundry van. However, some (according to Rolling stone, which can not be taken seriously) even believe he was let go by the Mexican government, so that he could aid them in fighting both the Tijuana Cartel and the BLO (who apparently have an alliance with the dreaded Zetas).

He is married to an 18 year old beauty queen, and apparently at the wedding, the ceremony was so heavily guarded that even the Mexican military (who were supposedly aware of its location) did not even think about initiating any sort of attack.

In Nuevo Laredo, according to bbc.com, Joaquin "El Chapo" (Shorty) Guzman walked into a restaurant with about 30 of his armed henchmen, and announced that they didn't want any trouble. His men confiscated cellphones from bystanders, and after eating his meal, he apologized and paid for everyone's check.

Jesse James was a bad man. Billy the kid was a bad man. And guess what? So is Joaquin Guzman. However, much like those wild west bandits, the myth of El Chapo will continue to grow even after his eventual death, which due to his profession, should be relatively soon.

Where is the fighting?

If you check the news, most sites and organizations will tend to focus on action occurring on the U.S. Mexico border. Last year in fact, according to bbc.com, there were over 1,600 deaths in Ciudad Juarez alone. On the west coast, three teenagers in Tijuana were gunned down, still wearing their school uniforms. And on the east coast, Los Zetas have become a enormous thorn in the side of their former employer, the Gulf Cartel, through economical competition, intimidation, and direct action. Many times this direct action involves decapitations, mutilations, and the killing of innocent civilians.

However, while states like Sinaloa, Chihuahua, and Nuevo Leon have seen a great deal of open fighting. Many other states have seen relatively little action. Though their our occasional arrests, shootings, and so forth in other states, the primary areas of action are either where drugs are smuggled into the country, or where they are smuggled out of the country. The map above highlights the regions where drugs are being smuggled. The map also points out some of the major drug cartels, which are broken down regionally. On the west coast: The Tijuana Cartel run by Areliano Felix, the Sinaloa Cartel run by Joaquin Guzman (who is viewed by many in the region as a local hero), as well as the Beltran Leyva orginization (which was once apart of the Sinaloa Cartel). Centrally, there are is La Familia (based in Michoacan), and north of that, the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes Organization, otherwise known as the Juarez Cartel. On the East Coast, are Los Zetas and their rivals the Gulf Cartel.

So where is the fighting taking place? It is where the money and heads of DTOs (Drug trade operations) reside.

Los Zetas

They are a pretty mysterious bunch, but I was able to find a little bit of info concerning their origins. Here is clip from an article I wrote for the LA Loyolan about WHINSEC (Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation) formally known as the School of Americas (SOA)...

Take the example of The Zetas drug cartel in Mexico. According to CNN.com, the Zetas were once Mexican army soldiers, who deserted with the hope of making better money as mercenaries for the drug cartels. These men are ruthless and borderline psychopathic.

However, it has only recently been uncovered that several of the founding members of the Zetas were once trained by WHINSEC. According to the New York Times, Mexican Deputy Attorney General José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos stated during an interview that most of the original founding members of the Zetas received special training from WHINSEC during their employment in the Mexican military.

What did these men learn during their training? The WHINSEC program teaches a wide variety of military tactics and techniques. For instance, according to Globalsecurity.org, cadets can be taught everything from basic patrol squad formations, to helicopter piloting, to sniper techniques and demolitions. However, some of the more important facets of the training focus on peacekeeping, human rights courses and above all, tactics concerning counter insurgency and counter narcoterrorism.

Following these latter ideals, these men, like hundreds of other Mexican officers and cadets, were being trained to aid both the United States and Mexico in the War on Drugs. This type of training is absolutely invaluable in confronting the extremely powerful drug cartels, and without the American government’s aid, the current drug conflict in Mexico would be substantially worse. However, that being said, the Zetas deserted their brothers-in-arms and took what they had learned and joined the cartels. They found that due to their training and their understanding of narcoterrorism, they could profit much more from working with the cartels than against them.

Latin America: Not so far away

Currently, there is social unrest in Mexico as its government is fighting the very powerful drug cartels. When the current president of Mexico, Felipe Calderon, took office in 2006, he was pressured by the United States to take a more aggressive stance on the “war on drugs.” With this intent, Calderon dispatched thousands of troops throughout the nation to fight these cartels, particularly in regions closer to the U.S.-Mexican border. Since then, there have been nearly 4,000 deaths due to drug-related violence. The fighting is very nasty as narcotráficantes (drug-runners), armed with sophisticated weapons and equipment, openly attack the Mexican army, police and other cartels. Sadly, innocent bystanders are often caught in the crossfire.

Furthermore, the United States government has become involved in a manner that we’ve seen fail in the past. This year our government created the Merida Initiative, which is a $500 million aid package for Mexico to help its government purchase weapons and provide training. As long as the cartels have a means of making money, they will be able to buy weapons and equipment, and the fighting will continue. So instead, why not focus on narcotics control within our own country? If we are able to stifle the narcotics market, as opposed to trying to control the actual drug sources, then that would obviously hurt the cartels’ main means of income. According to the Drug Enforcement Agency and the Drug Policy Alliance Network, 90percent of the cocaine, as well as 82 percent of the heroin, in the United States comes from Latin America.