Mexico: And Then There Were Two


June 15, 2015: NORTHCOM (U.S. headquarters for American military in North America) recently released a working group report written in late 2014. The study examined the discovery of mass graves in Mexico. It was emphasized that the study was not directly related to the September 2014 disappearance (and murder) of 43 student teachers (Iguala Massacre, Guerrero state). The report does assess several reports of mass murder, including the June 2014 deaths of 22 drug gang members (Tlatlaya Incident, San Pedro Limon, Mexico state).  Soldiers from the 102nd Battalion, Mexican Army, were involved in that incident. Another NORTHCOM study indicated that the State Department had decided to deny the 102nd Battalion access to US assistance (material and training) because of the incident.

June 11, 2015: The government is working with the U.S. to investigate the June 5 attack on a U.S. Customs and Border Protection helicopter. Security officials said patrols will increase in the area near Nuevo Laredo where American investigators believe gunmen fired on the U.S. helicopter, which was in American air space.

Officials believe that right now Mexico only has two major cartels. For many this was astonishing good news. Here is the bad news: several hundred “cartel factions” or splinter cartel cells are still engaged in violent organized criminal activities. This new claim contrasts sharply with another recent government assessment which said nine major cartels and around 45 smaller organized criminal gangs were operating in the country. Was the new report fantasy for the press? Perhaps, but many in the government believe they have a deal to make all Mexicans aware of current intelligence on the cartel situation. Thus the latest view is that the Sinaloa cartel and the Jalisco New Generation cartel are the only cartels still “working and functioning” as major organizations within Mexico. That qualifier, working and functioning as major organizations, might be the key point. The report also emphasized that the Jalisco New Generation is a very dangerous and powerful organization and is capable of carrying out coordinated military-style attacks (which it did in early May). The high-level of coordination indicates it is well led and has internal discipline. However, the government continues to pressure the leadership in both of these powerful organizations. For example, the report points out that Sinaloa now has only two effective senior commanders, Ismael Zambada and Fausto Meza. The report claims that the Gulf cartel is essentially leaderless; all that is left of the organization are gunmen.  The gunmen are still dangerous and they are fighting for power. The report did not put it this way, but implied that the Gulf gunmen are fighting a fragmented war for power. There were some other controversial opinions in this latest report, like the belief that Los Zetas, as an organization, has been severely damaged. If this is correct then the “kingpin strategy” has paid some dividends. The kingpin strategy targets cartel leaders and seeks to arrest them or kill them while attempting to arrest them. When he ran for office, president Pena criticized former president Calderon for pursuing cartel leaders. However, once in office, Pena has followed a very similar path. Within the last 18 months security personnel have killed or captured several senior leaders in the Knights Templar, Sinaloa, Los Zetas and Gulf cartels. (Austin Bay)

June 9, 2015: The results of the June 7th national elections surprised the Democratic Revolutionary Party (PRD). Since 1997 the PRD has basically controlled the capital district (Mexico City). Not anymore. The PRD still controls the mayor’s office (that office was not on the ballot) but it has lost 10 of the city’s 14 districts and many of the city’s legislative seats. Left wing leader Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (aka AMLO) and his Movement for National Regeneration (Morena) won control of five city districts. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) won three districts and the National Action Party (PAN) won two. Lopez Obrador founded Morena in 2012. People want change.

June 8, 2015: With some votes still being counted from the June 7th election, the PRI still holds a narrow majority in the national legislature’s lower house. Security officials reported sporadic election-related violence in three states: Oaxaca, Guerrero and Chiapas. Leftwing organizatioins in Oaxaca and Guerrero threatened to disrupt the elections. In Nuevo Leon state (bordering Texas) independent candidate Jaime (“El Bronco”) Rodriguez was elected governor. The controversial Rodriguez quit the PRI because he said he was fed up with party politics.

June 7, 2015: It is Election Day. Mexico has some 80 million registered voters. The entire lower house of Congress is up for re-election. In nine states citizens will vote for the office of governor. Several hundred municipalities are conducting local elections. Many of these local elections are quite contentious, particularly in Guerrero state. This is also the first national election where independent candidates (not affiliated with a party) can run for national offices and state governorships.

June 6, 2015: The government said that some 40,000 soldiers, marines and federal police, soldiers have deployed to the states of. Their mission is to safeguard voting in the June 7th election.

June 5, 2015: A U.S. Customs and Border Patrol helicopter made an emergency landing near Laredo, Texas after being fired upon from the Mexican side of the border. The helicopter was patrolling a stretch of the Rio Grande River. The incident occurred around 5 pm local time. The crew believed someone fired five rounds at their aircraft. At least two hit the aircraft. Security personnel reported that a bullet proof vest lying on the floor of the helicopter stopped one round from hitting the pilot.

June 2, 2015: The military is concerned about cartel recruitment of former soldiers and navy personnel. The army has begun what it calls a tracking system for former soldiers. The program attempts to track post-military jobs taken by retirees (professional soldiers) and jobs taken by soldiers who completed their enlistment in selected units (presumably elite units).  Leaders acknowledge the program is just getting off the ground. Police and private security firms like to recruit former soldiers and the military encourages former personnel to take these jobs. As for the job cartel gunman…no.

June 1, 2015: Members of splinter factions of the National Education Workers’ Union (national teachers union, SNTE) went on strike. Strikers in some cities vandalized schools and other government offices.  One splinter group, the National Coordinator of Educational Workers (CNTE), said the SNTE is not sufficiently militant.  The strikers also object to a new government-mandated teacher evaluation system. The strikers also vowed to disrupt the June 7th elections.

May 30, 2015: Police in La Paz (Baja California Sur) killed the two gunmen. One police officer and one other gunmen were wounded during the firefight. During the firefight the gunmen used a grenade launcher to destroy a police car. After the battle police arrested the wounded gunman and another gunman. Police recovered two grenade launchers, six other weapons, four grenades and a stock of ammunition.

May 28, 2015: Around 60,000 unaccompanied minors from Central America’s “Northern Triangle” (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras) entered the US in 2014.

May 27, 2015: Mexican military personnel fought with Gulf Cartel gunmen near the city of Matamoros (Tamaulipas state).  The military claimed its personnel killed five gunmen. The military personnel were conducting a motorized patrol along a highway when they saw a suspicious SUV.  A gun battle erupted. The gunmen were armed with rifles. The battle occurred just across the Rio Grande River from Texas.

May 25, 2015: The U.S. State Department said that the rule of law must be a major factor in US policy in Latin America. The State Department frequently says that this is elemental US policy, and has done so several times during Spring 2015. However, in Mexico these statements are increasingly perceived as quiet criticism of the current administration and in many sectors of the electorate the criticism is well-received. It may well be. President Pena faces severe criticism for his perceived failure to quickly respond to the Iguala Massacre (Septemebr 2014) and for his and his family’s suspect business dealings with wealthy contractors.

May 22, 2015: Federal police in Michoacan state fought a huge battle with Jalisco New Generation cartel gunmen. At least three policemen and 42 other people (mostly suspected gunmen) were killed in the battle. According to the government, the gunmen ambushed a convoy traveling on a rural highway in the Tanhuato area. The federal police responded with overwhelming firepower. Given the tremendous difference in casualties, one wonders if the convoy was bait for a trap -- that is, the Federales ambushed the ambushers. Time will tell. There are other explanations, not all of them savory. The Tanhuato area has also seen a lot of fighting between the New Generation cartel and the Knights Templar cartel.

May 21, 2015: According to a national survey group, only nine percent of Mexican voters trust Mexican political parties. Pollsters said the results show why independent candidates may do very well in this year’s national legislative election.

May 19, 2015:  There are accusations that 13 people are missing following the occupation of the town of Chilapa (Guerrero state) by a community self-defense militia. The militia took control of the town May 9 after two drug gangs fought an extended battle in the town.






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