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In December the administration of President Felipe Calderon comes to a close. Mexico’s legislature is just now approving financial reform laws Calderon proposed two years ago. Last month the legislature passed a measure that cracks down on money-laundering. This week the legislature approved a law that is designed to make it harder for crooked politicians to loot the public treasuries, at all levels of government. The new law requires state and local governments to keep close track of spending, keep accurate financial records, and provide accurate data on all debts. Governments are also required to publish their budgets online. The law is designed to provide auditors with direct access to information that in the past had been difficult to obtain when bureaucrats decided they did not want to cooperate with the bookkeepers or accountants. The concept is that transparent information will make corruption more difficult. The law also imposes stiff penalties for public workers who try to hide information or alter information that has appeared online. The federal government believes the law will make it difficult for state and municipal governments to pay what are sometimes called informal workers. An informal worker could be a legitimate consultant but he might also be a political crony’s nephew.
November 8, 2012: Security officials in Australia announced that their police had arrested two key figures in a criminal ring which smuggled cocaine from Mexico to Australia. Police began the investigation in mid-2011. Two men were arrested, one of them identified as a senior member of a motorcycle gang. Airline passengers flying in from Mexico delivered the cocaine to the Australian gang.
November 6, 2012: The bad news first: A Mexican media outlet recently estimated that a total of 57,449 people have died in the Cartel War since it began in December 2006. The dreadful figure is arguable but it is probably in the ballpark. Now the better news: In October 2012 only 30 people were murdered in Ciudad Juarez (Chihuahua state). This was the lowest monthly murder toll in five years. Juarez has been called the murder capital of the world. As of November 1, around 8,330 people have been murdered in Mexico this year. This is a drop of almost 20 percent compared to the first ten months of 2011.
November 4, 2012: For a long time Mexican and U.S. media have closely followed the Los Zetas cartel. The Zetas are especially brutal and their acts of spectacular violence (like the casino attack in Monterrey) rate big headlines. Now the Zetas are making news because some analysts believe they are trying to take control of territory. Their likely target is the state of Coahuila, which borders on Texas. There are numerous reports that the Zetas are increasing business extortion operations. Threats to police and government officials have increased. These tactics are, however, not unique. The Knights Templar is using similar tactics in the state of Michoacan (western Mexico). They are also reminiscent of the mob tactics used by Al Capone and other American gangsters in order to assure freedom from government interference.
November 3, 2012: A group of drug cartel gunmen blocked several streets in the border town of Reynosa (Tamaulipas state, Mexico-Texas border). A Mexican Army unit responded. The first firefight began around 6 a.m. Several other battles broke out as the army moved from neighborhood to neighborhood, clearing out the blockades. Nine people died in the gunfights. According to the military, all of the dead were cartel gunmen. Police said that the Gulf cartel and Los Zetas are fighting for control of the Reynosa corridor.
November 1, 2012: Mexican Army soldiers arrested a key Sinaloa cartel deputy-commander, Jesus Alfredo Salazar Ramirez, in the town of Huixquilucan (Mexico state). Prosecutors believe Salazar is one of Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin Guzman’s top lieutenants. He is also believed to be the man who ordered the murder of a leading anti-violence activist in 2011.
Security officials reported that Federal Police arrested Aldo Ramos de la Cruz. Ramos de la Cruz is a deputy commander in the Beltran Leyva drug cartel and runs the cartel’s Acapulco operations. He was arrested in Mexico City. The Beltran Leyva cartel began as a splinter faction of the Sinaloa cartel. Government prosecutors believe that the cartel has been seriously damaged by the deaths of several leaders and the arrest of a number of cartel operatives.
October 30, 2012: A Mexican national, Manuel Osorio-Arellanes, entered a plea of guilty in the murder of U.S. Border Patrol officer Brian Terry. Terry was murdered on December 14, 2010, when a firefight erupted between Terry’s patrol unit and a band of intruders near the Mexico-Arizona border. Two of the weapons involved in the incident were traced to the Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation. Operation Fast and Furious shipped between 1,700 and 2,000 weapons to Mexico in what was supposed to be a sting operation, designed to identify weapons smuggling routes to Mexican drug cartels and key operatives in the cartels’ gun-running operations. In other words, a U.S. Border Patrol agent was slain with weapons sent to Mexico by U.S. security agencies. Terry’s murder led to a suspension of the Fast and Furious. Osorio-Arellanes entered the plea in a U.S. federal court in Tucson, Arizona. Another Mexican national involved in the murder, Lionel Portillo-Meza, is in jail in Mexico, pending extradition to the U.S. Mexican police arrested Portillo-Meza in September.
October 25, 2012: Several small villages and at least one town in Michaocan state (western Mexico) have formed their own local security forces. Citizens self-defense forces is another term for the ad hoc, volunteer groups. There have been reports for quite some time that ad hoc local defense groups exist in Michoacan state but few precise details on what these forces are doing. The reason these communities have created them, however, is clear: the communities fear attack by cartel gunmen and with good reason. For several years La Familia cartel and the Knights Templar cartel have been fighting over control of Michaocan’s drug smuggling routes and villages and towns are caught in the crossfire. Mexican journalists recently visited the tiny Michaocan village of Urapicho and discovered that the villagers were reluctant to talk about the cartel threat. They told the reporter they feared individual and mass reprisal if they talked on the record. They asked for, and were granted, anonymity. Several villagers then said they distrusted municipal and state police forces and they regarded these forces as being corrupt and unreliable. This is not a surprise; President Felipe Calderon has said on numerous occasions that Mexico must pursue systemic judicial and police reform because everyone knows many (most?) Mexican citizens distrust local police forces. The villagers have asked the Mexican Army to place a permanent garrison in the village and this request is an official request. However, the army has not put a unit in the remote mountain area. A request for a Mexican Army presence is no surprise either. Mexican military forces remain the most respected government institution. This is why Calderon decided to use the military in the Cartel War. The citizens of Urapicho reflect a nation-wide attitude. So what have the citizens done to protect their homes? The citizens defense force has erected a barricade on the only road entering the village that is designed to stop vehicles from entering. Volunteers man the barricade on a round-the-clock basis. What is the barricade designed to do? One tactic frequently used by cartel gunmen is to run a high-speed convoy of two to four large SUVs carrying gunmen into the center of a village or a suburban neighborhood. The gunmen pile out of the vehicles, quickly shoot up the town hall or village plaza, then quickly climb back into their vehicles and retreat. The attack demonstrates the vulnerability of the village or neighborhood and usually leaves several dead citizens. The gunmen strike and depart quickly. They don’t want to take any casualties themselves in the initial assault and if they stay Mexican Army soldiers may respond. A barricade on the only road into the center of town would offer some protection from this tactic. In the past, state security officials have characterized local security forces as vigilante groups and opposed them. There is no sign that this official position has changed, but it appears that Michaocan state’s frightened villagers don’t care what government bureaucrats think. (Austin Bay)
October 23, 2012: Federal security personnel have exhumed the body of a relative of deceased Los Zetas drug cartel senior commander Heriberto Lazcano. Government forensic experts took DNA samples from the body. The government will use the DNA samples as additional evidence that Lazcano is dead. Lazcano was killed in a firefight in Coahuila state on October 7, 2012, but Zetas gunmen stole his corpse from a funeral home where it was being kept. The government has fingerprints and photos of Lazcano’s corpse, but that has not stopped the proliferation of conspiracy theories.
October 21, 2012: The government is implementing a new law that gives the police greater latitude in investigating cash purchases of luxury items like jewelry and luxury vehicles. The law also applies to cash purchases of homes and real estate. The new law is intended to make it more difficult for criminal organizations to launder money. The government estimated that Mexican crime organizations launder around ten billion dollars a year in illegal cash. The U.S. thinks that figure is low. The U.S. State Department recently estimated that every year between $19 and $39 billion in cash in Mexico.