Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War

Drug Violence in Mexico Hit New Level of Brutality in 2010

Monday, January 3, 2011 |


By Alfredo Corchado and Lauren Villagran
The Dallas Morning News

Mexico's drug violence in 2010 was striking not only for its scale but also for its brutality.

In the northern city of Santiago, the mayor's body was found with the eyes gouged out. In the picturesque town of Cuernavaca, four decapitated men were hanged from a bridge along a heavily traveled highway. And in Ciudad Juárez this week, two university students were hunted through a maze of streets and killed with bullets to the head, their bodies set on fire.

In 2010, the levels of Mexican violence and the kind of extreme cruelty once reserved for Quentin Tarantino movies reached new heights, not just along the Texas-Mexico border, but in regions that were once spared such bloodshed. More than 13,000 people were killed across the country in drug violence, up from an estimated 9,600 a year earlier.

"Mexico has a long history of violence, which is completely different from a culture of violence," said Harvard historian John Womack. "This kind of violence, however, hasn't been seen in Mexican modern history."

Theories as to why such violence is surfacing now include Mexico's difficult transition to democratic government after decades of authoritarian rule, when unwritten understandings – even among drug gangs – kept a lid on things.

The Mexican ambassador to the U.S., Arturo Sarukhan, has said that the heart of President Felipe Calderón's strategy is an effort to create a more democratic society with functioning governmental institutions that could help combat crime. But the transition has been difficult. For much of its history, Mexico has been ruled by authoritarian leaders whose tools of power were cajoling, co-opting or bludgeoning rather than governing by rule of law.

"We are what we are because we were what we were," Sarukhan said in comments before the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations.

The violent year has left Mexicans shocked and perplexed, posing challenges for the government's U.S.-backed strategy and particularly for Calderón, whose presidency slides into lame-duck status in 2011. The U.S. supports Mexico with the $1.2 billion Mérida Initiative, which aims to help build institutions and provide training and equipment, but U.S. officials wonder whether the strategy will continue beyond the Calderón administration.

"There's always doubt on how much more Mexicans can tolerate," said a senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity. "Building rule of law is not an overnight task. It's taken Colombia more than a decade, and they've made some impressive gains, but the road remains a long one. Will Mexicans, the next administration, show the same resiliency and determination? Those are questions that you cannot help but ask."

Calderón administration officials acknowledge the exceptional violence in the past year but insist that it began stabilizing in the second half of 2010 – a claim that some independent experts dispute.

"Violence is usually cyclical," said Carlos Flores, a former analyst for Mexico's intelligence agency and a visiting scholar at the University of Connecticut. "The numbers vary and are not necessarily conclusive."

For decades, cartels have operated in Mexico, often enmeshed with the government itself. Democracy was supposed to change that, strengthening institutions like the courts and reducing the number of crimes that go unpunished.

The reality has been starkly different: Ten years after the so-called democratic opening, with the election of the first opposition party to the presidency in 2000, the rate of unsolved crimes hovers around 98 percent, virtually unchanged from a decade ago.

"The democratization succeeded in breaking up power relations that controlled the violence," said Georgina Sanchez, an independent security analyst. "Governors, police, military, all institutional powers – when their power base was broken, an enormous void opened that the democracy wasn't prepared to confront."

With democracy, "the top came off the pressure cooker," she said, and the violence that had long been simmering boiled over.

Business between rival cartels was once negotiated quietly, but now these groups, including those operating along Mexico's border with Texas, battle openly for territory and have become notorious for torture and horrendous killings. One group in particular, the Zetas, has raised the stakes for violence.

"Previously you had an informal code of ethics," said Maureen Meyer, a Mexico analyst with the Washington Office on Latin America. "Women were not targeted; children were not targeted. You took out your rivals, but you didn't hang their bodies from bridges. It was a quieter type of violence than what you're seeing now."

Genoveva Sánchez, a vendor who sells roasted chickens on a street corner in Ciudad Juárez's 16th of September neighborhood, said she pays a weekly extortion fee of 700 pesos – about $60 – to the Juárez cartel in order to operate.

"In the end, organized crime has proven to be very organized and more visionary than the government itself," she said. "We wanted democracy and voted for that, and look what we got: criminals who scare everyone off, from cops to politicians to citizens. How can we ever change that? Do we even stand a chance?"

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12 Borderland Beat Comments:

Anonymous said...

I don't understand. I really don't. I hope I never do.

Anonymous said...

Is this anti-democratic propaganda? I don't think democracy is what blew the lid off. It's that the government started interfering in the cartels operations, making them more unstable, and the instability led to infighting between the cartels. That's what started the wave of violence.

Anonymous said...

Was back in Dallas a few brief days over the Holidays. Boy has the Dallas Morning News totally dumbed itself down to the reading level of about for 1st graders! This article is from the Dallas Morning News...

'Anonymous said... I don't understand. I really don't. I hope I never do.'

Neither does the Dallas Morning news evidently, since their article was mainly full of the most tired cliches possible. Cliches like this one...

'Mexico has a long history of violence, which is completely different from a culture of violence," said Harvard historian John Womack. "This kind of violence, however, hasn't been seen in Mexican modern history."'

Bullshit! It has been seen repeatedly all across the country. Mexico has been a culture full of violence of the upper class against the lower classes for almost like forever, Mr. Paid Historian of Harvard And listen to this cliched bs, too!

'The Mexican ambassador to the U.S., Arturo Sarukhan, has said that the heart of President Felipe Calderón's strategy is an effort to create a more democratic society with functioning governmental institutions that could help combat crime."

Calderon 'won' the s-election based on rampant fraud ignored completely by the US government and Western Institutions. They, and most especially in D.C.) wanted Calderon in Mexico's presidential office no matter how fraudulently he got his position.

'But the transition has been difficult. For much of its history, Mexico has been ruled by authoritarian leaders whose tools of power were cajoling, co-opting or bludgeoning rather than governing by rule of law.'

Pure PAN pap that blames all on the former in office PRI guys. This plays well in Texas whose own corrupt business community helped set up the PAN political party in Mexico from their very beginning. The problem in both Texas and Mexico is the same though. Both are regions where super corrupt business communities rule over all and give all other than themselves no voice in government. From that flows out what we have going on now in Mexico, and YES, elsewhere, too...

In short, Mexico still is totally dominated by corrupt 'authoritarian leaders whose tools of power were cajoling, co-opting or bludgeoning rather than governing by rule of law'. The Dallas Morning News taking some of the PAN's portavozes' (spokesmen's) proclamations at face value hardly gives any credence to thinking that anything really has changed for the better in the political scene in Mexico at all.

Ernest1

Anonymous said...

What is most amazing to me is that there are obviously thousands, if not tens of thousands of human beings in a "civilized" Western country that are capable of commiting this level of brutality against a fellow man. Is there no voice of reason or conscious?

Anonymous said...

I thought BB was toning down the graphic images shown on the front page! Sheech! This is why I send the kids out of the room when I see whats going on at BB.

Anonymous said...

To build a "democratic society" from an authoritarian one you must start at the concept of Justice. Does the government provide justice for all equally and impartially. Does it seek out injustice and punish it through the courts. Does it protect its citizens from harm and impunity. Does it allow men to act freely so long as they cause no harm or injustice to other men.

"No man may initiate the use of force against another man" without consequences. Until humans understand this concept and decide to implement it as a core value of their society, freedom and justice for all will not prevail.

J said...

Today in Tijuana they found a human head with a message

'This is going to happen to all those who walk with Achilles'

Hope it's not starting again.

Anonymous said...

My my

Anonymous said...

Man I spit my coffee out when I opened BB today, lordy have mercy. Never view BB before dinner, especially if you are eating taquitos de carnitas!

Anonymous said...

Largest problem that has to be solved is the court system and the penitentiary system. Mexico does not have a judicial system and does not put its criminals in jails that they cant escape. Until your justice system obeys the rule of law ans serves and protects your citizens you have no legitimate democratic country.

Chuck said...

Screw your problems with the upper classes and the courts. The mexican people need to be armed so they can EXTERMINATE THE CARTELS.

Because if the CARTELS ARE NOT EXTERMINATED and the violence flashes across our border, after Pres. Obamito is gone in 2012, the next U.S. President will INVADE MEXICO, exterminate the cartels FOR the people of mexico, and, oh, yeah, this time we ARE taking over your oil wells.

Anonymous said...

This is an imperial destabilization and weakening of government by proxy drug war. Could this be an attempt to build a coalition for a future war on Venezuela?
Brazil is probably neutral, Argentina support can be bought. Chile and Colombia will likely help and Mexico will probably be the one that declares war.

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