The U.S. government has introduced a plan to help Mexico fight the Cartel War that in many respects expands on the previous administration's Merida Initiative. "Merida Plus" particularly emphasizes many of the "police and intelligence" fusion programs that Mexico and the U.S. have pursued over the last several years, some on an ad hoc basis. The Merida Initiative helped formalize some of these relationships. The U.S. intends to expand the number of Border Enforcement Security Task Forces ("BEST teams") that combine U.S. and Mexican intelligence and law enforcement personnel. Additional DEA and Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) personnel will be assigned to the border area. The FBI will establish a "Southwest Intelligence Group" to handle FBI activities relating to border security and involving Mexico. The real "deep driver" in the turmoil, however, is the United States' unabated appetite for illegal narcotics.
March 25, 2009: The military's decision to reinforce operations along the border, particularly in the city of Ciudad Juraez (Chihuahua state, across the border from El Paso, Texas) is now being described in the mainstream media as a "surge." The term "surge" is now one the mainstream media thinks it understands since that was the term the U.S. used for its decision to add combat troops to Iraq in early 2007. The Mexican military has been massing troops in key anti-cartel operations since the beginning of the Cartel War. The basic idea is to surprise the cartels and reverse the cartel gunmen's weapons advantage, and sometimes numbers advantage, over local police. The military also has troops replace terrorized, or corrupt (or both), local police forces that the locals do not trust. When the military believes it does not have enough troops in a region, the senior commanders have sent reinforcements. The Mexican Army wants to send that message that it is not going to back down. If the cartels decide to fight, the army is going to fight back. In many respects the Ciudad Juarez "surge" is this kind of operation, but with the distinct difference that it is going on right across the border from a major US city. The local police in Juarez have been repeatedly threatened by cartel killers and the honest ones need protection. As for the dishonest, the city government in Juarez continues to fire policemen it believes are corrupt. Many will face prosecution. President Felipe Calderon has repeatedly stated that the war he is fighting is systemic -- police, judicial, and economic reform go hand in hand with security. On March 17 the army sent an additional combat contingent into Juarez, bringing the total military commitment to around 5,000 soldiers. At least 1,200 federal police are also in the city. A week later, reports from Juarez indicate that the violence has dropped. The locals believe cartel gunmen have hunkered down-- just too many soldiers. When the soldiers leave, the locals argue, the gunmen will reappear. This is the political perception that the government faces. Many Mexicans don't think the government will persevere in its fight against the cartels. In that respect, the battle for confidence in Juarez is as important as the battle against the gunmen.
March 23, 2009: The army arrested a cartel gunman that it believes conducted an attack on the U.S. consular offices in Monterrey in October 2008. The suspect, Sigifredo Najera is believed to have worked for the Zetas paramilitary gang. This outfit began as an "enforcer" organization for the Gulf Cartel but also run their own criminal enterprises. Najera is also a suspect in the killing of several Mexican soldiers. Najera has a nom de guerre; El Canicon. The grenades used in the attack on the US consulate were heavy fragmentation grenades -- military grenades Mexican authorities believe were manufactured in South Korea.
March 21, 2009: The U.S. Department of Defense is seeking to continue to improve its relationship with the Mexican military. Most Mexicans remain deeply suspicious of U.S. military involvement. The Colossus of the North took a vast swath of territory after the 1847 Mexican War. That said, U.S. and Mexican military to military relations have been very good at the professional level. The government has indicated that its military is interested in improving intelligence and surveillance capabilities, and the U.S. military can play a very positive role in training personnel and providing access to high-tech intelligence, surveillance, and communications equipment. U.S. unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) used for "overhead" visual and electronic surveillance are particularly valuable. Mexican authorities also want U.S. technology used to detect the presence of tunnels. Smugglers use tunnels to move drugs and people across the border.
March 20, 2009: The government said that the Mexican Army had arrested the son of a senior leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel, Vicente Zambada Niebla (nom de guerre "El Vicentillo"). Zambada ran operations and logistics for the cartel.
March 18, 2009: U.S. police inspecting a vehicle at a border crossing between El Paso and northern Mexico discovered $300,000 in cash, wrapped in 26 bundles. Authorities suspect the money is drug money being sent back to Mexico.
March 17, 2009: The U.S. government said that an "integrated plan" dealing with the problems posed by Mexican cartels must include dealing with Mexican cartel operations in U.S. cities. Recent testimony before Congress indicates that Mexican drug cartels have a presence (ranging from cartel members to sales connections) in 200 to 230 U.S. cities.
March 16, 2009: The U.S. government and the Texas governor are arguing over a request that the federal government post 1,000 National Guardsmen to the border. The U.S. had a program of sending Guardsmen to the border to reinforce police operations, but this was ended in mid-2008. The Texas governor has argued that the weaponry wielded by cartels can overwhelm police forces. The federal government wants to reinforce civilian police efforts.
March 14, 2009: The government said it would send an additional 2,000 troops to Cuidad Juarez.
March 10, 2009: Police discovered ice chests containing five severed heads in Jalisco state, near the city of Guadalajara. The ice chests contained notes from one drug gang that threatened another with further retribution.
March 1, 2009: The 2008 official death toll in Mexico from Cartel War-related violence is 6290 -- an increase of almost 600 from estimates made at the end of 2008. Mexico now has 45,000 military personnel deployed to fight drug gangs in the Cartel War.