Mexico: The Scope Of The War


September 24, 2012: The defense ministry (SEDENA, Secretaria de la Defensa Nacional) estimated that the illegal drug business employs around 500,000 people in Mexico. This data was revealed in a closed session last month devoted to the defense ministry’s efforts to fight drug trafficking. The comments are now public record. Since they first appeared in print, the estimates have been showing up in other sources and have fired numerous discussions about how successful a drug war can ever be when a half million citizens are involved in the drug business. It was estimated that around 300,000 people are involved in planting drug-producing plants. Around 160,000 people are involved in drug distribution (wholesale and retail), transporting the drugs to distributors, or providing information to the cartel leaders (ie, work as informants). Included in this group are what the defense secretary called small-scale drug dealers (small fry according to one translation). Approximately 40,000 people can be called cartel members. This means they hold command or operational positions of some sort in a criminal gang. Lawmakers who heard the defense secretary’s report told media that the defense ministry has concluded that efforts by various security agencies to attack cartel finances have worked, which is the reason so many cartels have moved into extortion rackets and kidnapping operations. The lawmakers face constant (and understandable) complaints from constituents about the plague of kidnappings. Mexico’s Secretary of the Navy, Admiral Mariano Francisco Saynez Mendoza, also spoke to the representatives. He told the deputies that the Mexican Navy (which includes Mexico’s Marine Corps) will continue to fight against organized crime organizations “until the civil authorities have sufficient capability to undertake this mission.” The statement attributed to the admiral indicates that he believes civil security authorities are not yet up to the task. This report came from Mexico’s top military leaders. They are secretaries but they are not civilians. Mexico does not have a joint military command structure like the United States.  

SEDENA controls the Mexican Army (which includes the Mexican Air Force). The Navy operates as an independent branch under the Secretary of the Navy’s command. The Cartel War has enhanced the Mexican military's reputation with the Mexican citizenry. The military already ranked high in terms of public esteem. The public regards the military as more honest and more reliable than other government institutions. --- Al Nofi and Austin Bay

September 22, 2012: The government will continue to review the U.S. investigation of Operation Fast and Furious, a failed U.S. government operation that its proponents claimed would help identify how and to whom weapons from the U.S. were smuggled to Mexican drug cartels. The U.S. Justice Department conducted the investigation and recommended that 15 Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) employees be disciplined. The operation involved somewhere between 1,700 and 2,000 weapons, many of them assault rifles. BATFE began the operation in 2009. Two Fast and Furious weapons were used in a December 2010, shootout in Arizona. A U.S. Border Patrol agent was slain in that incident. Other Fast and Furious weapons were used in numerous murders in Mexico.

Seven dead, dismembered, and burned bodies were discovered in Michoacan state (western Mexico). Several cartels are fighting a turf battle in the state, including the Jalisco New Generation, La Familia (also knowsn as La Familia Michoacana), the Knights Templar faction, and the increasingly powerful Los Zetas.

September 21, 2012: Officials in Coahuila state reported that 131 prisoners escaped from the Piedra Negras jail on September 17. So far three of the inmates have been recaptured. There is evidence that Los Zetas cartel was behind the mass jail break. The cartel had bribed or intimidated prison guards and the guards let the prisoners escape. The warden, the prison’s chief of security, and several guards were arrested on September 19. The government indicated that Los Zetas may be trying to replenish their ranks of gunmen – and note that these are trained and experienced gunmen. A Mexican media source claimed that over 500 members of Los Zetas have either escaped from jail or been released since 2008.

September 20, 2012: The army has deployed soldiers to combat drug gang violence in the town of Nezahualcoyotl, an eastern suburb of Mexico City. The soldiers are part of a 1,000 man task force which includes federal police agents and local police. Both Los Zetas and the La Familia cartel are believed to be behind the violence in the town.

September 18, 2012: The U.S. and Mexico are discussing ways to improve Mexico’s legal system. The U.S. State Department has a program that includes training prison wardens and improving prison security. The Mexican government has emphasized improving the judiciary (ie, better trained and more ethical judges) and ending corruption in the police forces. Mexico is also altering the way it conducts criminal trials and is introducing court room procedures similar to those followed in the U.S. The U.S. has provided a training program for Mexican judges in U.S. court procedures. According to official figures, around 7,500 Mexican federal judicial personnel (judges, clerks, etc.) have had training in U.S. court procedures.

September 17, 2012: A major jail break occurred in the city of Piedras Negras (Coahuila state, northern Mexico, across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas). Approximately 130 prisoners escaped from the jail.

Police identified 17 bodies discovered near the town of Tizapan El Alto (Jalisco state) on September 16. The dead were individuals missing from nearby villages. Officials speculated that the murders were a revenge slaying by a drug cartel. Revenge for what? Los Zetas and a faction of the Sinaloa cartel are fighting for control of the region and that means controlling the population through either fear or payoffs. The bodies (of men and boys) were found mutilated and in chains.

September 14, 2012: A San Antonio, Texas woman pled guilty to trying to buy three AK-47 assault rifles which she intended to sell to a Mexican drug cartel. She was caught in a sting operation in Austin, Texas by police. She believed she was buying three fully automatic AK-47s.

September 13, 2012: Mexican Marines arrested Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez, a senior commander in the Gulf cartel. He was arrested in Tampico, Tamaulipas state. At one time Costilla was a municipal police officer in Matamoros (across the border from Brownsville, Texas).

September 12, 2012: Police arrested the senior commander and founder of a splinter faction of the Milenio drug cartel. Ramiro Pozoz Gonzalez was head of La Resistancia. La Resistancia operates in Jalisco state.

September 10, 2012: The Democratic Revolutionary Party’s (PRD) perpetual candidate, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (aka AMLO), announced that he is leaving the party. He said he intends to lead what he called a campaign of peaceful resistance to the Mexican government.

Mexican security authorities arrested Rafic Mohammad Labboun Allaboun, a U.S. citizen allegedly tied to the militant Islamist group Hezbollah, in the city of Merida (Yucatan state). He has been turned over to U.S. authorities.

September 9, 2012: Mexican security officials believe that the splits in Los Zetas cartel are very real. The military has taken the view that the internal battles are the result of the continuous pressure placed on the cartel. The Zetas have lost a lot of gunmen in battles with the Mexican Army and Mexican Navy marines. A lot of their assets have been seized. Moreover, a number of senior leaders and their lieutenants have been arrested and killed. That means the lines of control have blurred, for conducting operations and distributing cartel profits. Police and prosecutors have reported that arrested Zetas confirm that a lot of the infighting is over how the cartel’s money is split. That said, the Zetas are still active and still ruthless. So far the Zeta against Zeta battle has been ugly but an all-out Zeta internal war would be worse.

September 8, 2012: Federal police arrested Jesus Leonel Sanchez Meza in an operation in Sonora state. Sanchez was allegedly involved in the December 2010, murder of a U.S. Border Patrol agent. The agent was killed with a weapon smuggled into Mexico through Operation Fast and Furious.


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