Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War

Mexico's Drugs War: Lessons and Challenges

Sunday, January 1, 2012 |

For the past five years, Mexico has been engaged in a bloody confrontation with drug gangs. Mexican political scientist Eduardo Guerrero Gutierrez looks at how the struggle is going and the implications for Mexico's presidential election in July.

Troops have been deployed in different Mexican states since late 2006.

The past year has been one of light and shade in the fight against organised crime in Mexico.

The violence of the drug cartels, against one another as well as against the security forces and innocent citizens, continues to dominate the headlines.

Five years after President Felipe Calderon launched his crackdown on the gangs, there have been some 50,000 drug-related killings.

The number of murders in 2011, estimated at around 16,700, is 9% up on the total for 2010.

However, a more detailed analysis suggests that the level of violence has stabilised, especially given that from 2009 to 2010 killings jumped by 60%.

Indeed, the past year saw an improvement in some of the cities worst hit by organised crime.

The main example is Ciudad Juarez where killings in 2011 were down some 40% compared with 2010. Given these figures, it no longer seems justified, if it ever were, to call Juarez the world's most dangerous city.

2011 was marked by the increasing confrontation between two criminal gangs.

On the one side is the Pacific Cartel (also known as the Sinaloa cartel) headed by Joaquin Guzman Loera, El Chapo or Shorty. He is one of 11 Mexicans who are on the multimillionaires' list compiled by Forbes business magazine.

On the other are Los Zetas, originally the "armed wing" of the Gulf Cartel.

Extortion rackets
Troops are also trying to root out home-grown illegal drugs.

Given the federal government's success in weakening other drug gangs, the Pacific Cartel and Los Zetas appear to be the only organisations still able to mount large-scale drug-trafficking to the US market.

The Pacific Cartel has what could be termed a more "business" profile, focusing in general terms on drug smuggling.

The Zetas, by contrast, have more of a military stamp (given that its founders include deserters from the Mexican army) and tend to be heavily involved in extortion rackets in the communities where they operate.

A key plank of President Calderon's security strategy has been tackling the organised crime gangs head-on, with the emphasis on arresting their leaders. This policy is likely to remain in place until the end of his administration in December 2012.

One positive development in 2011 was a greater effort to contain violence.

For example, resources have been concentrated on tackling Los Zetas (the most violent cartel), with a rapid and more effective deployment of troops and federal police in areas where violence surges.

This was seen in joint operations in Acapulco and Veracruz in October, and which in a few weeks managed to reduce killings considerably.

A perverse effect, however, of the strategy of arresting gang leaders and confronting the cartels has been the rise of mafias dedicated to extortion.

Some criminal cells, who belonged to now-defunct cartels, have recognised there is no space for them in the transnational drugs trade and have opted to focus on more local crimes.

Given the climate of conflict between cartels and the ineffectiveness of local authorities, people are more prepared to tolerate a gang that protects them in return for regular payments.

It could be that extortion already poses a greater public security problem in Mexico than drug-trafficking, at least from the viewpoint of Mexican citizens.

Although there are no reliable figures, statements from local people suggest that the "cobro de piso" (the protection payment) and reprisals against those who refuse to pay are systematic practices in various parts of the country.

Crime question
There has been a growing involvement of organised crime in local politics over the past five years.

Thirty-one mayors, former mayors and mayoral candidates have been killed, as well as the front-runner for governor of Tamaulipas, a northern border state that has seen some of the worst violence.

There may possibly be attacks or other high-profile actions designed to put on a show of force and intimidate candidates, the president-elect or the incoming government.

However, it is unlikely that the cartels would try to impose their choice of candidate in the July presidential election, or try to directly influence federal elections.

The main factor for this is that there are other interest groups with more resources and in a better position to influence national politics. These include the larger public sector trade unions, such as the teachers' union, or the telecommunication companies.

The parties' stance on security will be a central part of their campaigns - and their attacks on one another.

Felipe Calderon's term will actually end in December 2012.

For example, President Calderon has already suggested that the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), whose presidential candidate is leading the polls, has members who wish to return to "past arrangements".

This refers to supposed pacts agreed with the PRI, which was in power from 1929 to 2000, that allowed some cartels to freely carry out their trafficking.

The PRI's candidate, Enrique Pena Nieto, roundly rejected such an accusation.

What is clear is that organised crime and the government's security policy will be major issues in the election - and beyond.

Translated from the original Spanish by Liz Throssell, BBC News

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18 Borderland Beat Comments:

Anonymous said...

All who follow and live with the Mexican experience know what the score is,there is much power and money behind Moving Mexico back to the "past arrangments",will the Mexican people show core value and ethics,OR NOT ? Business as usual would put Mexico right back on the slow slide to a retarded crippled society.

Anonymous said...

Lo q va pasar es q los ztas van a chingar a todos sus aliados nomas ISO alianzas con ellos para saver y conocer las rutas de trasiego de droga ya ven ya estan en sinaloa y juarez al rato se les van a voltiar pongase trucha cdj,blo,familia y millenio los zetas nomas ISO aliansa para venser al cartel mas poderoso por q solo no puede y despues de q Eso pase acavar con las minorias q son las fracciones de carteles Mejor pongasense s pensar de esas rataz yamadaz zetamierdas es una opinion y respetenla pa yo respetar la suya ok.....MEXICO LIBRE DE BASURA LLAMADA ZETA....

Anonymous said...

11:06am muy correcto. Asta que algien abrio los ojos

Anonymous said...

Another lesson by the government : you kill 100 report 10, you kill 50 report 5,

God knows how many troops and police died aswell.

To be exact you guys remember a ranch that was assaulted by the army in treviño N.L this year they reported 20 guys dead, well from good sources in the Sultan del Norte "monterrey" said it was over 100 dead, why post only 20 in the news?

Another at the beggining of 2011 cerralvo N.L was assaulted by la Marina, supposely only 8 gunmen died. False! The alcalde told some folks I know it was over 80 dead! They were placing the bodies in dump trucks and burying them in a large hole,
excavated with a machine of the city; close to dr. Gonzalez N.L....its up to you guys to believe this story but it does make sense


G(-)057

Anonymous said...

2:11 PM That is awesome news if it's true! If they are killing 10x as many as they report, that's the best thing I've heard in a long time. I wish it was 100x! They should fucking kill everyone in Nuevo Laredo for a start! They are all fucking Zetas and deserve to die.

Anonymous said...

This is the point of No Return for the Mexican government who is already shit deep into the war with the cartels

Anonymous said...

p.r.i backs zetas and 2012 will be the year of the Z

Anonymous said...

Lessons, challenges, and horse-puckey.

Anonymous said...

Respect is earned not a given, if Mexicans want to have a real life they must earn it,at presant they have not. The conduct of Mexican politics,Mexican society,Mexican culture has given a bad name to ALL. Claderon good or bad is still the ONLY President,or major politician in Mexico to TRY and change the country wide reality of corruption and crime, who ealse has done anything? Its always been a joke to watch highly nationalistic Mexicans waving a flag,as if they had anything to be proud of! Well its time for them to stand up and force Mexico into the 21st century protect LEGAL commerce create jobs open the country to investment Quit Profiteering off of every aspect of business, kickbacks,bribes,Mordida. Hope the elections keep the faith.

Anonymous said...

January 2, 2012 8:50 AM .Couldn't have said it better myself.All true valid points.Everyone having a go at Calderon?The man tried,at least he did that,and now,through constitutional rules,he has to lay it down.I applaud Calderon for trying to drag Mexico,kicking and screaming,into a more "enlightened"country.One where the wealth is spread out,instead of cliques who take all the wealth.Hopefully job creation will be ramped up sometime,but i fear the old status quo will be applied when his term ends.Respecto Snr Calderon.

Anonymous said...

Long live independent mexico and long live america.
Happy new year and time to live by individual example.

Anonymous said...

No va ganar el pri se va quedar el pan asi Como el pri gano por 70 anos con fraudes a hora le toca al pan seguir con el mandato por muchos anos...

Anonymous said...

Expect Calderon to be murdered after his presidency,no matter where in the world he tries to hide.

The Old Gringo said...

I live in Mexico, in a rural area that has had more than its share of cartel contention. The fact is, due to direct observation, what the Army and Naval Infantry say about casualties and operations is accurate. They try to be hermetic about matters that might possibly relate to forensics and future strategy and tactics.
Concerning the General Trevin~o affair, just before the Hinkley matter at Falcon Lake, our neighbuors in our Texas home are ranch folks who have long-time (240 years)interests and ownership of a couple of small ranches between Cerralvo, General Trevin~o, and Parras. Their understanding of the casualty count....having been there...is exactly what the Army indicated.
In all of my dealings with the Army and Naval Infantry, they have been straightforward, professional, and pleasant under the circumstances. I am an honourably discharged, United States Army veteran, drafted in 1968.
Finally, Calderon is to be regarded as one of the great leaders of the Americas for all the history of the New World. He is a common upper-middle class dumboe called in to serve his country, he has done his best, made errors, made many,many,many advances and successes and has taken the war to the Devil. Only idiots who have no power of critical thinking can associate this man with haveing "caused" a drug war. With luck, Mexico is living its finest hour....standing up to pure evil and winning.

Anonymous said...

@January 2, 2012 12:59 PM

Bullshit. I wellcome him as hero to refugee in my country where murders are solved 97-98%. When that rate in Mexico is purely opposite. :D

Anonymous said...

You guys will all remember an idiot told you Calderon will be murdered,when he is murdered.

You think Transnational drug cartels cant plan a high profile murder?We will just have to wait and see.

Anonymous said...

@January 2, 2012 12:59 PM

Dont know who u really are but the truth is:

20 YEAR OF DRUG WAR HAS NOT STOPPED THE DRUGS FLOWING FREELY INTO THE US

IT HAS CAUSED DEATH, DESTRUCTION AND ABOVE ALL C O R R U P T I O N ! ! !

Lets hope it spills over the border so that finally the only logical and human solution will be implemented:

L E G A L I Z A T I O N ! ! !

L E G A L I Z A T I O N O F A L L O F I T !

Anonymous said...

We all point our fingers to Mexico, its culture and Calderon's efforts; how about looking at ourselves and the role we play in this whole situation. What efforts have we made in curbing the demand for drugs? US law enforcement has done a great job, but that is not where the solution is! What effort have we made to curb the abundance of weapons crossing the border and facilitating thousands of homicides? It is not ATF&E’s fault for making one error; it’s our congressmen’s fault which allow for the laws to exist that facilitate the purchase of weapons. Don’t be fooled by our claims that we are doing everything we can; I was part of our government’s efforts and I can actually attest to the fact that we have done very little! I heard former President Fox say that normally neighbors help their neighbors when their house is on fire, and that Mexico is on fire and needs help. However, we, the US, have become more a spectator in this calamity.

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