Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Who The Hell Is Winning This War?


Mexico City - Well, major news organizations are now calling the Mexican military's counter-cartel operations in northern Mexico a “surge.” It is accurate to say that the number of reported Mexican Army operations in northern Mexico is increasing.

That does not mean, however, that the actual number of operations run by the military has gone up, rather, the number getting ink and electrons in Mexican and U.S. news outlets has jumped. The government and media reports all acknowledged that the big fight continues to be for Cuidad Juarez (Chihuahua state), but there are reports of operations by the military and national police all along the Mexico-Texas border. An example of this is the December 5, 2009 reports on the army action in the town of Nuevo Progreso (Tamaulipas state).

It turns out some of the reports came from tourists who heard the gunfire. The Cartel War is now entering its fourth year and perhaps the Calderon government has decided to mark the anniversary with an offensive (a “surge,” which is a term American media understand).

The government has been talking about the success of its “constant pressure” strategy on the cartels. Many critics call that hogwash and say the cartels are getting stronger. If the critics are correct, then more fights may be occurring because the cartels think they can win engagements with the military and they are in the process of proving it.


The government's “pressurization” strategy is multi-pronged, but it includes “eroding” the power of cartel leaders and going after their financial assets. The government has racked up some major convictions and a number of cartel leaders have been captured or killed-- and that is erosion of a definite sort.

That suggests another scenario: some of the cartels, instead of being stronger, are getting more desperate. They have decided they have to come out and fight. That means more engagements with the military, which is something the military wants.

Mexican media sources estimate 4,000 people have been murdered in drug gang-related violence in Ciudad Juraez (across the Rio Grande from El Paso) and its surrounding area during 2009. Official figures place the number murdered around 2600.

December 23, 2009: A journalist from the town of Tulum (Quintana Roo state, southeastern Mexico) was murdered by a gunman on a motorcycle. The murdered man, Jose Alberto Velazquez Lopez, owned a newspaper in Tulum. He had recently accused the local mayor, Marciano Dzul Caamal, of corruption. Velazquez and Dzul are described as “sworn enemies.” Media lobbyists have asked the Mexican government to investigate.

Drug cartel gunmen attacked the family of a Mexican Marine who was killed in the Navy's raid that killed drug kingpin Arturo Beltran Leyva. The government called the murders an act of reprisal. The mother of the dead marine, two siblings, and an aunt were killed, in their home in Tabasco state, by the cartelista hit men. A media report said that the gunmen were likely members of Los Zetas. Some government critics now say that releasing the names of military members and police officers killed in battles with drug gangs is a mistake.


December 16, 2009: Mexican Marines killed notorious drug lord Arturo Beltran Leyva (nicknamed “The Beard”) when they raided an apartment in Cuernavaca (south of Mexico City). Five of Beltran Leyva's bodyguards also died in what Mexican media described as a “dramatic shoot-out” in the apartment and in the streets of the town. Three marines were wounded by grenade fragments. One marine later died. The Beltran Leyva cartel split from the Sinaloa cartel. It is closely aligned with Los Zetas. Beltran Leyva himself had been dealing drugs since the 1980s. Mexico's Marine force (Infanteria de Marina) are sometimes called Mexican Naval Infantry. The Marines are part of the Mexican Navy. The Marines are a select force trained for amphibious operations, port security, reconnaissance, and crisis response. Crisis response includes performing security and emergency functions in natural disasters (like hurricanes). Mexico's Marines are a very professional outfit. Like U.S. Marines, they have a high esprit de corps.

The U.S. is going after “kingpin” businesses. The U.S. Treasury Department announced that it had blacklisted three men who it accused of providing material and financial support for the Sinaloa cartel. Treasury can now freeze the assets of the men involved and can exclude them from doing business in the U.S..

The government said Gulf cartel gunmen (likely members of Los Zetas) “dumped” six severed heads in a town in Durango state. The heads were those of a state prosecuting attorney and five policemen. The government said it believes the six men were killed as an “act of revenge.” The Mexican Army killed ten Gulf cartel gang members in the area earlier this month.

December 15, 2009: The Calderon government proposed that future presidential elections, where no candidate receives over fifty percent of the vote, be decided in a run-off election. Several recent elections have been decided by a percentage point (or less) between two candidates who both collected around 35 percent of the vote in a three-way race. The run-off idea has merit, since it would give the new president a definite mandate. The government reform proposal also backed citizen ballot initiatives.

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