The military continues to operate the major west coast seaport of Lazaro Cardenas. The military took control of port operations the first week of November. Army and navy personnel have since replaced over a hundred municipal police officers and “several hundred” customs officers and inspectors. Military personnel have also manned other critical port offices. When the military made the move everyone assumed the major concern was drug smuggling operations. Federal security officials have said on several occasions that the port serves as a major conduit for Asian and South American drugs. It is also a major transit point for precursor chemicals for methamphetamines. After the military took control, security officials said that extortion activities by cartels, particularly the Knights Templar cartel, was another major reason the government made the aggressive decision to put the port under direct military control. The cartels were charging businesses for each container unloaded at the port. The port takeover may also have another goal: putting a dent in cartel diversification operations. For the last three years security officers in Mexico and the U.S. have expressed deep concerns over cartel diversification. For example, in Coahuila the Zetas have moved into the coal business. U.S. police have found counterfeit CDs and software smuggled from Mexico, and some of it may have been produced in Asia. It has been noted that the cartels are running very sophisticated logistics operations. The Knights Templar and Los Zetas are not FedEx or UPS, but they could muscle in to the legitimate shipping and freight business if they are not stopped. Lazaro Cardenas is a major logistics hub and transit point. The port is also a key railroad center for shipping Asian products to Central America, Mexico, and the U.S. The military takeover gives investigators an opportunity to closely inspect containers which were packed and prepared for shipment 60 to 90 days ago. Port operations have slowed down. Government officials have acknowledged that the checkpoints and tighter security operations have hindered legitimate trading operations. Several local leaders have complained. However, a local business group has told Mexican media that in the long run the military takeover might be a boon for business if it ends the extortion rackets. (Austin Bay)
December 7, 2013: The Guatemalan government confirmed that its security personnel had arrested 21 people in a series of operations conducted the first week of this month. The people arrested have been charged with money laundering for the Sinaloa drug cartel. On December 3 Guatemalan prosecutors reveled that over $46 million had been laundered through a Mexican agricultural products company and moved to Guatemalan banks. Both Mexico and Guatemala have attempted to introduce banking transaction reforms which increase transparency and make money laundering more difficult.
December 6, 2013: Police arrested six men who stole a truck carrying surplus radioactive medical equipment. The truck was reported stolen on December 2, somewhere outside of Mexico City. Its radioactive cargo caused a panic throughout the country. Police found the truck and its radioactive cargo on December 4. Investigators reported that the arrested men were tested for exposure to the radioactive material and found to be uncontaminated.
December 4, 2013: Both legislative chambers in the Mexican government approved an election reform bill that ends the strict on-term limit for elected political leaders that dates from the Mexican Revolution. Before the new law passed, Mexican politicians could run for a second term. The new law applies to legislators only; presidents and governors are still limited to one term. The theory is that the political leaders will be more accountable if they can run for another term and have to face voters. The new law also renames and expands the role of the Federal Electoral Institute (IFE). The IFE is now the National Electoral Institute (INE). The INE is tasked with overseeing both federal and local elections. The Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), led by President Enrique Pena Nieto, and the conservative National Action Party (PAN) both supported the changes in the election laws and term limit law.
December 3, 2013: Authorities confirmed that the government had received a letter from drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero which asked that the government not extradite him to the U.S. for the murder of U.S. DEA agent Enrique Camarena. Caro was released in August 2013, when an appeal court overturned his 40 year prison sentence on technical grounds. The Mexican Supreme Court overruled the lower court decision in November, but Caro’s whereabouts are unknown. Caro’s letter attempts to appeal to nationalist sympathies and portray the U.S. extradition request as an act of revenge and an imposition on Mexican sovereignty. Caro also claimed since he had served 28 years in prison he had paid for his crime. The U.S. is not buying that nor are many senior Mexican security officials.
December 2, 2013: The body count continues to climb. Investigators at the mass grave site at La Barca (small village on the Jalisco-Michoacan border) have now found the remains of 64 murdered victims. Police have confirmed that two of the bodies are those of two federal police officers who disappeared in early November and were thought to have been killed by cartel gunmen. The Jalisco New Generation and Knights Templar cartels are fighting a turf war in Michoacan state.
December 1, 2013: A group of armed, masked rebels calling themselves the “Revolutionary Armed Forces- Peoples Liberation” held a press conference and announced they had formed a revolutionary organization dedicated to overthrowing the government. The group is based in Guerrero state and authorities suspect the group may be connected to the old Marxist Popular Revolutionary Army, which operated in Guerrero in the 1990s and may have blown up an oil facility in 2007. The group demanded that the government release all of the leaders of community self-defense militias currently in jail or being detained by the government. The group also said it opposed free market reforms of Mexico’s energy industry.