Mexico is engaged in a deadly struggle with drug cartels who have the guns to threaten the government and the finances to corrupt it. Its neighbor to the north, the U.S., is vexed by illegal immigration, with Mexico the largest source of illegal migrants. A troubled situation? Yes, but the trouble often pushes good news off the map. A number of groups in both countries opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but 16 years on NAFTA has been beneficial to both sides. It has created a cooperative economic arrangement for both countries but its political framework is also very important: Mexico is an equal partner. That framework has, over time, produced a higher degree of confidence among Mexican leaders. It is now a little bit easier for Mexican nationalist leaders to cooperate with the Colossus of the North on tough issues, like fighting drug cartels and even illegal immigration. This is not a direct cause and effect relationship, first NAFTA then confidence, but the result of a political and psychological process built on incremental successes the ones that don't get headlines.
September 1, 2010: President Felipe Calderon, in his annual state of the nation report, claimed that his government's sustained police, military, and political assault on organized crime was working. He pointed to a string of arrests of major cartel leaders that began in mid-2009. The report said that in the last 12 months the government has arrested 34,515 people it believes have been involved in drug cartel activity. In the same timeframe police and military have also collected over 34,000 weapons from drug gangs.
August 31, 2010: And they got La Barbie. The Texas born Edgar Valdez Villarreal (nom de guerre La Barbie) was arrested in Mexico City when police raided a cartel safe house. Valdez was head of the Beltran Leyva cartel and is regarded as one of the most violent drug gang leaders. Mexican officials intend to charge him for crimes in Mexico and work with U.S. judicial authorities as well. Valdez is wanted for crimes in the U.S.. He stands accused of masterminding the revenge slaying of the family of a Mexican marine who was involved in the December 2009 operation that killed former Beltran Leyva commander, Arturo Beltran Leyva.
August 25, 2010: A Mexican Navy detachment operating in Tamaulipas state (northeast Mexico) found a mass grave on a ranch. The grave contained at least 72 bodies. The discovery was made after the detachment engaged a group of gunmen. A Mexican Navy officer died in the gun battle and three cartel gunmen were killed. The detachment then went to the ranch and discovered the bodies. The detachment also found a weapons cache and four trucks camouflaged to look like Mexican military vehicles.
August 22, 2010: The government has now deployed an estimated 80,000 military troops and federal police officers in the Cartel War. Approximately 28,000 people have been killed in this conflict so far. The deadliest battles have been among drug gangs as they fight over territory. When the gangs fight for a territory they kill the innocent and uninvolved as well. Intimidating the population is a raw method of gaining cooperation. The gangs need silence in order to ship drugs and illegal immigrants north to the U.S.. The gangs essentially carve out their own duchies (to use the feudal term). Another way to look at it is they have created a safe operational area for their gangs which looks very similar to a guerrilla safe area. The cartels were on their way to taking control of many parts of the country, like FARC (cocaine) had done in Colombia and the Taliban (heroin) in Afghanistan. That's why the Calderon government launched the Cartel War. The gangs were carving up Mexico, with criminal intent the driver more than political intent, but tell that to a village overrun by cartel gunmen. The drug lords have the finances of a nation state. How much the Mexican cartels make from their range of illegal enterprises is murky. Estimates run from $30 billion to $40 billion. And this is just for arranging the movement of cocaine from Colombia into major markets (North America). Their operations include extortion rackets where, like U.S. mobsters, they threaten legal businesses and demand protection money, or even take over the legal business. Some Mexican politicians want to negotiate a peace deal with the cartels, but drug war experts point that this has never worked, especially in the most recent examples (Colombia and Afghanistan).
August 14, 2010: Cuba's Fidel Castro has always had an uneasy relationship with Mexico, which has recognized his Communist government and has done business with it for decades. But what bothers Castro the most is that Mexico scorned his revolution. Castro does not like the current president, Felipe Calderon. In recent interviews Castro has indicated he supports Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) for president in the 2012 election. Lopez Obrador is a leftist who spouts Castro-like nostrums. Calderon beat Lopez-Obrador in the 2006 election but AMLO still claims he is the president of Mexico.
At least 23 people died in a series of drug gang related violence in Chihuahua state (northern Mexico), with 13 of the dead killed in Ciudad Juarez (across the border from El Pas, Texas). Authorities estimate 1,850 people have been killed in drug cartel violence in Ciudad Juarez since January 1, 2010.
August 9, 2010: The government oil company, Pemex, reported that it is very concerned about attacks on some of its drilling sites. Pemex has withdrawn some crews from a major natural gas field just south of the Texas border because of drug cartel violence and threats. A major drug smuggling corridor lies near the gas field. This is another example of how the drug gangs threaten Mexico. The Mexican government relies on royalties from natural gas and oil sales. Pemex does not like to discuss it, but theft of oil and liquified natural gas is a growing problem. Criminals hijack tanker trucks and even steal from pipelines. How much revenue is lost is uncertain, though one Pemex estimate of the cost of stolen natural gas condensate since 2006 is an eye-opener: $300 million. That is a huge figure. It may be high. But three hundred million is a huge loss.
August 8, 2010: Federal police in Ciudad Juarez arrested their own commander. The commander is accused of corruption and accepting pay-offs from drug cartels. 200 federal police participated in the arrest. He is also accused of threatening his subordinates.
August 7, 2010: Mexican marines operating in Nuevo Leon state (northern Mexico, across the border from Texas) freed 12 people who had been kidnapped by a drug cartel. The victims were found in a drug gang safe house in the town of Guadalupe (near Monterrey). The marines have been conducting extensive operations in Nuevo Leon.
August 6, 2010: Inmates in a prison in Matamoros (Tamaulipas state, and across the border from Brownsville, Texas) got into an inter-gang fight, and 14 died in the battle.