By ACI for Borderland Beat
How it happen….
The war began before Calderon, but no one could have known what lay in store. It was so unlikely; most thought that some arrangements would be made, life would go on as it always had. But as time passed it became clear this was not to be and many simply wished that this Pandora's box would simply close. Little did anyone know how pervasive and ingrained the darkness had become.
Only a few saw the demons lurking in the shadows, even then no one predicted what lay ahead. The true roots of the evil had been lurking within the almost 80 year reign of the PRI and its predisposition to corruption. The system was well worn, the networks had been laid, there was a price for everything, and this was all before the age of the Narco.
When the PRI lost to the PAN in 2000, it shook the foundation of the system to its core. The old way of doing things had radically changed, the old networks fragmented, alliances broken, and what we have now come to know as the fragmentation of Mexico's criminal underworld had begun. The chaos had arisen. This was the cost of years and years of nepotism and corruption and the consequences were finally coming to pass.
|Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo|
There was a time when one man stood above all others. He was part of the old guard, well entrenched with the workings of the world in which he lived. His name was Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo or El Padrino (The Godfather); he oversaw over an entire empire; his industry, illegal smuggling.
He was soon to create what would soon be know as the Mexican Cartel. For years his network remained unchallenged, immune to justice. At the time Felix Gallardo was untouchable, too big to fail as they would say. His organization laid the foundation for the TCO’s to come.
He masterfully greased the hands of politicos and high ranking military officials. He reached out and began relationships with the Colombians. The relationship he forged with the Colombians was to be worth more than even he could imagine. Seemed like there was nothing anyone could do about El Padrino or his organization. That was until the untimely death of DEA agent Enrique Camarena.
|Enrique "Kiki" Camarena|
Enrique Camarena, an agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency began working in Guadalajara in 1981. His goal was to find out how powerful the Guadalajara Cartel had become. At the time he was only one of a handful of agents working within Mexico. He spent years infiltrating the Guadalajara Cartel for the DEA and had built close ties to El Padrino. Everything was going according to plan until the betrayal.
In 1984 Camarena led a raid on a 10,000 acre plantation called the Buffalo Ranch. Miguel; through his network of police and federal informers quickly became aware of Enrique’s role in the raid. The ranch was reportedly worth 8 billion dollars. To Miguel and his ego this was line that should have never been crossed.
Miguel reacted and had Enrique kidnapped, tortured then killed, to serve as a warning to any who might want to disrupt cartel business. The blow back was historic; the United States began the largest murder investigation in its history. It did not take long before Miguel was identified as a target of interest. The United States put an enormous amount of pressure on the Mexican Government to apprehend Miguel. It would take the authorities 5 more years before they would be able to secure his arrest in 1989.
All Empires Eventually Fall
But as with all kings, his reign was to come to an end, all kings eventually fall. Miguel could see the wheels in motion, he could hear the whispers from those that tended to his mansion, his telephones were a lit with the chatter of governors he had so faithfully served. He listened as his friends in the government turned on him, the end was near.
He thought he might be able to save what he had built; that he could prevent his subjects from feeding on each other. He was wrong. Little did he know how fragile his empire had become, or the monsters he would release upon the Mexican people. Prior to his arrest he held a meeting in the upscale tourist town of Acapulco.
Here he met with his top lieutenants; Arellano Felix, Carrillo Feuntes, Miguel Quintero, Juan Abergo, Chapo Guzman and Mayo Zambada. During this meeting he divided up his empire. Tijuana went the Arellano Felix brothers, Sonora would go to Miguel Quintero, Guzman and Zambada would get Sinaloa and Juarez would go to Carrillo Feuntes.
The Gulf would remain in the hands of Juan Abergo. His plan worked for a short while, but greed has its own temptations, and the empire he sacrificed his soul for, was doomed to fail.
Let the Good Times Roll
One major shift occurred in the early 1980’s with the Cocaine Wars in Florida. As law enforcement started to seal off the Caribbean route, as it was called, the money dried up and the routes shifted west; towards Mexico and its porous border with the US. Prior to this Mexican drug traffickers mainly focused on marijuana and opiate cultivation. El Padrino had already established connection with the Colombian Cartels, so the transition came naturally.
Cocaine brought with it vast amounts of cash, but with that cash also came blood. The influx of cash changed the face of the game. It also changed its nature, violence increased as did the tactics used to intimidate enemies. It turned one king into to many; soon it would be the Mexicans dictating to the Colombians how the game was played.
Nothing was too expensive, anything could be purchased, and everyone could be bought. This is the moment that the Mexican Cartels became the main suppliers of drugs to the United States.
|Ramon Arellano Felix|
It wasn’t long before Guzman started warring with the Arellano Felix brothers. In the early nineties the Arellano Felix brothers; Ramon in particular, branded extreme violence as par for the course. Savage daylight hits, terrible stories of torture and vats filled with acid became their legacy.
The war between Guzman and Ramon took place during the early 1990’s. The war hit its climax with the killing of Archbishop at the Tijuana airport. But while the world was focused was on the AFO, the rest of Mexico’s criminal underworld were quietly making moves in the shadows, and they were just beginning.
The Gulf Cartel which had been around since the 1950’s smuggling booze and other forms of contraband across the border began consolidating power. The Juarez Cartel run by Carrillo Feuntes, which at the time was considered the most sophisticated and wealthy of the cartels was enjoying the height of its power. It operating fleet of 747s that were so well known, law enforcement gave Carrillo Feuntes the nickname, the lord of the skies.
During this period Carrillo Feuntes work closely with a man who would become known as the king maker amongst the underworld. His name was Juan José Esparragoza Moreno or El Azul.
|Carrillo Feuntes "The Lord of the Skies"|
In the 1990’s the Lord of the Skies died from complications during a surgery. Many members defected and joined up with Guzman and his gang. Guzman was arrested but his organization was kept afloat by Beltran Levya brothers, Mayo and El Azul.
The game was changing; some of the original leaders grew closer, while others grew further apart. Family ties were fostered, while others were severed, the wheels of destiny were slowing starting to turn. Marriage became a popular way of gaining grace, or hedging bets.
So with the CDJ losing many of its members to CDS and the AFO losing ground due to key arrests and deaths, the stage was set for what was to come. The Gulf Cartel and the Sinaloa Cartel were primed and ready to go toe to toe.
Before the Sinaloa and the Gulf Cartels beef began another unforeseen factor emerged. The game changer was the introduction of large scale methamphetamine labs. Prior to the late nineties almost all methamphetamine production was made by small groups in small labs all across the heartland of America.
When US law enforcement began cracking down on these mom and pop operations, the manufacture of the drug moved south, and in a massive way. Instead of small labs producing small amounts of the drug, the Narcos in Mexico began large scale laboratories that would shock the world; both in their scale and complexity. This gave the Narcos a new and highly lucrative cash supply.
It would create several new networks that dedicated themselves to the manufacture of methamphetamine. La Familia, Milenio or Los Valencia and Ignacio Coronel Villarreal began to wield great power. Since then Mexico has become the world’s largest producer of Methamphetamine. It allowed cartels to have a source of income that did not rely on the unpredictable Colombians or on the treacherous weather of the Sierras.
It is now thought that methamphetamine has superseded the demand for cocaine in the United States and meth use in Mexico has since exploded. It has also added to the increase in random acts of violence and brutality that has been witnessed so far in this conflict.
The Zetas were another major shift in the way that Mexico Cartels functioned. Salvador Gómez took control of the Gulf Cartel from Juan Abergo after his arrest in 1996. Salvador Gomez's second in command and close friend and confidant was Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, Osiel killed Salvador Gómez shortly after his accent to power. Thus earning the nickname "Friend Killer" as a result.
As Osiel Cárdenas Guillén came into power he was paranoid; he had always felt bribes only took you so far. His solution to this problem was to build a paramilitary outfit that would act act an armed wing of his organization. The faction took the name Los Zetas. At the time this was a new development for the cartels in Mexico. Neither Osiel, nor Mexico could have foresaw the terror which was to be unleashed.
With the formation of the Zetas came a new way of confronting both the government and the Gulfs rivals. They used fear and intimidation openly, displaying their contempt for a system they saw as ridged. No longer were Narcos to remain out of sight, hiding their acts of terror. They advertised the horror, using public displays of death marked with the trademark Z, a letter which struck fear in all those who encountered it. But what truly set Los Zetas apart was the knowledge which they brought with them. These were the same soldiers trained to apprehend the Narcos themselves.
The tactics used by the Cartels suddenly became more militaristic, more sophisticated and more brazen. It wasn’t long before the other cartels formed their own military wings, carrying out acts of savagery that would equal the Zetas. The escalations have continued unabated to this date, and there seems to be no limit to the brutality and fear they are willing to unleash upon the innocent population.
The Slaves Become Masters
The rapid increase in power of the Zetas after Osiel was extradited to the US also changed the way most cartels operated, the old rules were challenged by those who had no respect for the ways of the past.
Those from the older generations were caught off guard by how fast the Zetas began to obtain territories. They broke from their predecessor and set out on their own. Instead of the focus being on bribes and long standing relationships with government officials, the Zetas preferred fear and intimidation to achieve their goals. They broke with convention by preying on civilians within their territory.
They expanded the criminal rackets to include traditional crimes such as extortion and kidnapping but also incorporated more exotic rackets such as oil theft and human smuggling. With this warlord like mentality they became the fastest growing Cartel in Mexico. This lead to a more militarized approach towards the Cartels from the Government. Attacks became more outrageous as time continued.
The public was to bear witness to these atrocities; what were once rumors now became national news. La Famililia who evolved from the Zetas took public displays of brutality even further when they threw several severed heads on the floor of a club in Michoacán.
This signaled the start of what we now see; the war against the Narcos, a war which would become more savage than darkest nightmare that even Hollywood slasher films would envy.
If It Is War You Want War, Then War You Shall Have
The acts of violence were so outrageous and the impunity so thick, the Government was forced to act. Calderon who himself a native of Michoacán decided to take the war to the Cartels. Keep in mind, the cartels had now spent several years militarizing their forces.
Calderon took a bat to the wasps nest and beat it as if it were a piñata. To say the wasps reacted badly would be an understatement. No one could have seen what was to become; the bloodiest conflict to hit Mexico since it revolution nearly 100 years ago.
The Government took a top down approach recommended by the Americans. It was known as the Kingpin Strategy, this focused most of the effort on taking out the top bosses. The unintended consequence of this however was the fragmentation of some of the most powerful cartels in Mexico. Some of the cartels splintered never to recover, allowing them to be swallowed up by the remaining cartels. Others went on to rebrand themselves, others simply faded away.
This approach led to a dramatic increase in violence; with up and comers eagerly showing their machismo though savagery. A kind of one up man ship emerged, with newer cartels having to show their worth through debauchery. This fracturing and assimilation has rapidly increased with the landscape which is always shifting and always changing. This has cumulated with most of the smaller groups falling in line either with the Zetas or the Sinaloa Cartels.
The Breakup of the PRI
With PAN winning the election in 2000, the old way of doing business disappeared, payments to those who allowed for business to continue was ruptured. To understand this one must look at the almost 100 years or PRI rule. The PRI functioned through bribes, always had, it was the way business was done.
This helped create one of the largest income gaps in the world. The rich in Mexico are very rich, the poor, very poor. Nothing was done without bribes but at least you got what you paid for. Corruption was vertical, money went up and permits and the like went down. What no one thought of was what would happen if the PRI lost.
When this happened the corruption became horizontal in nature. No one knew who to pay, or what type of protection they would receive. This added considerably to the volatility of the situation in Mexico. Suddenly corruption also became fragmented. For the underworld, this was the equivalent of a credit crunch in a recession. It created such a level of uncertainty that reprisals and false agreements became part of the game.
Loyalty became a nuanced term, only thought of when thinking about the way things used to work. How the upcoming elections will shift this dynamic remains to be seen
With the smaller cartels seeming to have either assimilated or forged alliances with either the Sinaloa or Zeta Cartels, violence is sure to continue.
While grisly displays seem to be on the rise, overall violence in Mexico seems to be stabilizing. This statistic is deceiving however; the security of everyday people in Mexico has deteriorated substantially in the past 6 years of war. With low impact crime on the rise and an influx of criminals trying to take advantage of the chaos, the typical Mexican is less secure now than they have ever been.
While two cartels are much easier to control than many, the chance of these pacts to sustain themselves is low. Fragmentation will surely follow; the cartel able to maintain its alliances the longest will come out on top.
This is also true for the corrupted officials who must navigate the the treacherous option of silver of lead. One thing that is sure, is that no matter what prediction lay ahead for Mexico , we should be expect the unexpected.
This war has not been fought by old men but rather by those who are lost. Those who see no hope in an honest future, those who dream of romantic stories of gold and fame, believing that the horror will not reach them.
Children who see nothing but loss and injustice, those who believe the only way to gain anything from life is to take it, by force if necessary. The youth who would prefer to die young as false kings rather than toil in abject poverty. This generation, which has thrived on the material, rather than the righteous, has been misguided.
The faces of the thousands of the unnamed and unseen, the invisible; need to become seen, become visible. Time has a way of healing wrongs, but to blind oneself to what has been lost and what continues to be lost; is in and of itself an injustice and makes it impossible to move forward. Hope is what is missing for many, but changes could be made, change can occur.
Incentives need to shift; the poor need opportunities to make something good out of themselves. Poor men deserve dignity, when they are not afforded this, many choose the Narco way of life. It is easy to preach virtue from gilded perspectives. Hope needs to be available to all not just the elites. Mexico for all its beauty must look at what has become so ugly, not just in terms of this drug war but at society as well.