Mexico: Middle East Scale Violence


July 27, 2013: The government believes about a thousand people a month are dying from cartel related violence. This puts Mexico ahead of the recently increased terrorist violence in Iraq and where Syria was earlier this year. Some 70,000 have died in the cartel war since 2007, compared to over 100,000 in two years of Syrian violence and 120,000 Iraqi dead in a decade of religious violence. Since the 1970s there have been similar internal conflicts in Algeria, Egypt, Lebanon, and Turkey. It’s a bit of Middle East style civil violence in North America. This is not the first time. Leftist and drug gang violence in Colombia have left over 220,000 dead in the last 60 years. That’s for a country with only about 40 percent as many people as Mexico. This war in Colombia in finally winding down, but is shows you how long and bloody such conflicts can be.

The major military and police joint counter-cartel operation continues in Michoacan state. The government has claimed that the operation was succeeding in reducing the threat cartel gunmen pose to isolated rural villages. That may be so, but the wave of attacks that occurred on July 24th, demonstrated that the criminal organizations still have firepower. Gunmen belonging to the Knights Templar cartel launched seven attacks on July 24th, and in one attack killed two federal police officers. The government immediately argued, rather unconvincingly, that the wave of attacks showed that the cartels were getting desperate. Media analysts and opposition politicians are not so sure. During last year’s presidential campaign, President Enrique Pena Nieto claimed he had a new approach to combating the cartels and diminishing the violence plaguing Mexico. Trouble in Michoacan began to escalate in late April and early May 2013.  Weak municipal and state police forces could not cope with cartel firepower. The government initially deployed federal police. The police needed reinforcements so the government sent the army and said that the operation would demonstrate some of the new approach Pena had touted. An army general would be in command of the entire operation but he would be able to select the most appropriate security force for each specific mission. So far, that most appropriate force has been the Mexican Army. Pena’s tout sounded good in the campaign, but the struggle in Michoacan state has raised real doubts that he really has a new security strategy. Perhaps –just perhaps-- former President Felipe Calderon’s decision to use the military was not a mistake but was the best desperate choice among nothing but bad choices. Mexican government institutions are weak and mistrusted. The police and judicial institutions are weak and many are still corrupt. They are not up to the task of fighting sophisticated criminal gangs, at least on a sustained basis. The Mexican military is. In Michoacan state’s rural areas the Mexican Army is the de facto police force because there is no other option. (Austin Bay)

July 25, 2013: Mexico’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs said that his country seeks a strong strategic relationship with Canada.  Eventually that could mean a border security agreement among all three participants in the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

July 23, 2013: Cartel gunmen launched a wave of attacks in Michoacan state (Tierra Calienta). At least 20 gunmen died in the attacks and two federal police officers were killed. The firefights began after cartel gunmen erected roadblocks on several highways. There were also several attacks on community security forces (local militias) in the area. The Knights Templar and Jalisco New Generation cartels are fighting a turf war in Michoacan state.

July 20, 2013: An estimated 500 people living in and around the town of San Miguel Totalapan (Guerrero state south-western Mexico) have fled attacks by cartel gunmen. The town lies near the border with Michoacan state. Authorities have not yet determined which cartel is responsible for the attacks.

Government prosecutors confirmed the arrest of a senior Jalisco New Generation cartel commander, Victor Delgado Renteria. He was arrested in the city of Guadalajara.

July 19, 2013: Apparently he knows what torture means. Zetas commander Miguel Angel Trenvino Morales, arrested July 15th, is reportedly asking that he be protected from torture by Mexican security personnel. The Zetas are known for their spectacular violence, which includes beheadings and burning people alive. Trevino glorified his reputation as a sadist who enjoyed brutalizing and torturing captured members of rival gangs.

July 17, 2013: For several years drug cartels have been using –or forcing-- Central American migrants to carry drugs into the U.S. The migrants are usually passing through Mexico on their way to the U.S. Now media reports that the Zetas have begun hiring migrants to work as “soldiers” (gunmen). The pay runs up to $1,000 a month.

July 16, 2013: Police in Allentown, Pennsylvania arrested two men they believe work with Mexican drug cartels. The police had been investigating the suspects since January. Both suspects allegedly sold cocaine, marijuana, and crystal meth. The arrest is indicative of the criminal reach Mexican cartels have in the U.S.

July 15, 2013: Marines arrested Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, Los Zetas cartel’s senior commander, near the Texas border and the government declared this a major victory in the Cartel War. He was riding in a pickup truck that was also carrying $2 million in cash, eight assault rifles, and several hundred rounds of ammo. Trevino, whose nom de guerre is Z-40, is definitely a kingpin and arresting him counts as a victory for the new president. The U.S. has a $5 million reward on his head. A government spokesman said the marines arrested Trevino without firing a shot. Trevino grew up in the border town of Nuevo Laredo

July 10, 2013: Mexican security officials were accused of being involved in 21 extrajudicial murders which took place from January 2013 to May 2013. The Army was accused of being involved in 13 extrajudicial murders.

July 9, 2013: Mexicans continue to react to the two month old OAS (Organization of American States) report that western hemispheric nations consider decriminalizing many currently illegal drugs. The recommendation was intended to stir debate on current drug policies. The OAS did call for a reduction in criminal penalties for drug addicts (as a step toward further decriminalization). Not surprisingly, numerous Mexican politicians are beginning to weigh in on the issue. Several U.S. states have considered legalizing marijuana, though U.S. federal law says the drug is illegal. Pro-legalization Mexicans are arguing that if U.S. states legalize the drug, Mexico should as well, and not stop there.

July 5, 2013: Criticism continues over military operations in Michoacan state. The critics concede that the operation is necessary. Reporters have entered dozens of isolated villages where the residents say they have formed their own self-defense groups to combat cartel gunmen because local and state police do not defend them. However, the operation has riled many Mexicans who believed Pena’s campaign rhetoric that he had a new strategy for reducing cartel violence.

July 4, 2013: A court released five senior army officers who had been accused of working for a drug trafficking organization. Federal prosecutors told the court that they lacked sufficient evidence to try the officers. The officers released included three generals, a lieutenant colonel, and a major.

A firefight between the Jalisco New Generation and Knights Templar cartels left eight people dead in Guerrero state (Coyuca de Benitez).

July 3, 2013: Security personnel in Jalisco state found seven heads stashed in plastic bags beside a highway outside of the city of Guadalajara.

June 28, 2013: A U.S. court sentenced Mario Villaneuva to 11 years in prison for money laundering for the Juarez cartel. Villaneuva is the former governor of the Mexican state of Quintana Roo (Yucatan peninsula state). Prosecutors proved that the former governor had laundered several hundred million dollars for the criminal gang. The U.S. extradited Villaneuva in 2010.


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