Proceso/El Diario de Coahuila (4-1-13)
Translated by un vato for Borderland Beat
Despite the daily confrontations and murders in northern Mexico, the U.S. military and a drug trafficking analyst argue that extreme violence associated with organized crime has gradually shifted away from the border area to settle in the center of the country. It involves, they insist, a readjustment by the cartels and is not the result of a successful government strategy.
WASHINGTON, DC (Apro).-- The violence that is lashing the State of Mexico, Michoacan, Morelos, Hidalgo, and other states in central Mexico, is due to a dispute over territory among drug trafficking cartels, and is not the result of the government's purported success in its battle against them in the northern states, claim United States specialists.
"There has been a slight decrease in the levels of violence in the states in northern Mexico, but it's anecdotal. There's extreme violence in other parts of the country due to territorial disputes among the cartels," says Jeffrey Davis, a U.S. Army captain and spokesperson for the Northern Command (Northcom) in an interview with Proceso.
Davis agrees with the analysis that his superior, General Charles Jacoby, Commander of Northcom, presented Wednesday, February 20, to the Congressional Armed Services Committee of the House of Representatives.
"The violence situation has changed a little; today there is less of it in the north and more in states in Mexico's interior. There has been a percentage decrease in 2013 (in the north), but it has shifted to, and increased, in other parts of the country," Jacoby stated in his testimony before U.S. congress.
The same day that Jacoby was presenting his analysis regarding narco violence in northern Mexico, one of the most intense confrontations between suspected drug traffickers took place in Reynosa, Tamaulipas.
"The testimony of General Jacoby in Congress was based on what he observes from day to day in Mexico: I insist, it is simply an anecdotal evaluation. What is true is that there has been a change from north to south with respect to the level of violence," points out Davis in a telephone conversation.
Northcom, the arm of the United States Department of Defense tasked with watching and monitoring everything that happens in an area that runs from Mexico to Canada, admits that so far this year "there was a slight decrease, in statistical terms," in the levels of narco violence in the Mexican states on the border with the United States.
Consulted on the causes of the violence that afflicts the state of Mexico, in particular, the state governed by Enrique Pena Nieto for six years, a specialist in the United States comments: "It's due to the dispute between the Sinaloa Cartel and the Zetas for territory."
An expert on intelligence matters and with a broad knowledge of Mexico's drug trafficking problems, the specialist -- who spoke only on the condition that his identity not be revealed-- agrees with Northcom with respect to the reality of the narco violence in the country's north.
In the States of Mexico, Hidalgo, Michoacan, and other states in central Mexico, including states in the south that border Guatemala and Belize-- according to intelligence reports analyzed by the specialist-- the narco violence was provoked and caused by Los Zetas.
"When Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano was killed by the Navy (October 7, 2012), Los Zetas were left without a leader who knew about military tactics. In order to survive, they began to move towards the center of the country, where they have come face to face with the Sinaloa Cartel and La Familia Michoacana," he emphasizes.
According to this expert, the almost nomadic actions of Los Zetas are because Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, "El Z-40", (leader of the group) lacks the expertise and military skills that his partner had.
"He chose the easiest paths to maintain certain power; he associated with Central American criminal organizations and small criminal groups that were already operating in central Mexico. He did this to take control of the drug trafficking routes that run from the south to the north," he comments.
Another motivation that forced the Zetas to "invade" territories in Central Mexico that were almost totally under the control of the Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's Sinaloa Cartel, was the presence of the Army, Navy and Federal Police in the northern states, mainly in Tamaulipas, where they took on the drug traffickers directly.
"When Los Zetas moved from the north and tried to take over the south-north drug, weapons and money smuggling corridors, narco violence broke out in the State of Mexico and Michoacan. The Zetas ran into Chapo's people, who they still erroneously think they are going to defeat," says this specialist on intelligence and drug trafficking matters.
Gulf in decline
The new reality of narco violence in Central Mexico is a result of the logistical dispute between Los Zetas, El Chapo and La Familia Michoacana, with some participation by the Beltran Leyva Organization, insist the sources that were consulted. But the most important plazas for transporting drugs into the United States are located in the north.
In Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Chihuahua and Sonora, the territorial disputes between cartels continue, but the displacement of Los Zetas towards the south and the weakening of the Gulf and Juarez cartels has allowed El Chapo to establish a certain degree of control in the region. That's the reason behind the decrease in the levels of violence that Jacoby pointed out to the United States Congress.
After the capture of Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez, "El Coss," on September 12, 2012, the Gulf Cartel was left without a leader, and this triggered an internal dispute for control of the organization.
The expert argues that this in turn caused a repositioning of control over the northern plazas by the Sinaloa Cartel, and confused Z-40 even more, and he chose to move south to try to take over other territories.
"The internal dispute within the Gulf Cartel benefits El Chapo. We know that the fights for control of the group are being carried out by factions led by Miguel Villarreal, El Gringo --allegedly killed on February 20 during the confrontation in Reynosa --; Mario Armando Ramirez Trevino, "El X-20"; Sergio Ortegon Silva and Juan Reyes Mejia," explains the expert.
Another reason for the apparent lull in narco violence in the north is the rumor of the forced retirement of Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, "El Viceroy", leader of the Juarez Cartel, who -- it is said -- negotiated an agreement with El Chapo to divide plazas up and end the threat and presence of Los Zetas.
"Z-40 and his gangland partners want to broaden their domains in southern and central Mexico, that's why they're engaged in a fierce and bloody battle with El Chapo's people," sates the specialist.
He adds that the presence of these criminals in places like the state of Mexico, for example, at the same time triggers the rise of of small groups that pass themselves off as Zetas to commit crimes unrelated to the drug trafficking group. "They rob, kidnap, extort and murder using the Zetas' criminal label," he indicates.
(Drug) corridors in southern and central Mexico are especially valuable for drug cartels. With respect to plazas that are located in the south, that border with Central America, or that provide ingress and egress in the area, these are valuable for building clandestine landing strips for aircraft and small planes that transport drugs from South America, Guatemala, Belize or Honduras.
"There are also ocean routes for fast boats and land based centers for loading drugs that are transported towards the interior before they end up in the north," explains the expert.
The territories in the State of Mexico, Hidalgo, Morelos, Queretaro and Michoacan " are valuable "because they are densely populated zones, and this makes them prized jewels for drug traffickers: They are ideal points for moving drugs north and strategically valuable for hiding product," he explains.
Confidential reports from the Mexican as well as the United States governments, which the source claimed it had access to, indicate hundreds drug warehouses are concentrated in the State of Mexico and in the very capital of the country. "This explains perfectly why, since the arrival of Los Zetas into these areas, acts of narco violence traditionally associated with disputes amongst narcos for the plazas in northern Mexico began to be reported," he adds.
Pena Nieto's Challenge
On Tuesday, February 19, the report "Pena Nieto's Challenge: Criminal Cartels and the Rule of Law in Mexico" was released simultaneously in Mexico, Bogota and Brussels.
The 58-page report written by the International Crisis Group (ICG, based in Brussels) points out that, in terms of the the war against drug trafficking and organized crime, Pena Nieto's government is faced with a great challenge: how to contain criminals who commit all sorts of crimes without caring about respect and integrity of their victim's human rights.
"Cartels have hundreds of armed men and they have become diversified criminal groups who not only traffic drugs, but also carry out massive kidnappings, supervise extortion and extract resources from the state petroleum industry.," says the report by the Belgium group, which characterizes itself as an organization dedicated to preventing world conflict.
When discussing the violence that the drug traffic generates in Mexico, the ICG points to the use of Army and Navy troops as the best alternative for controlling drug traffickers, but, with respect to this, he points out:
"Military forces continue to battle against them (the criminals) in large areas of the country, in polemic missions that often end in shootouts instead of criminal investigations." For that reason, it warns Pena Nieto that his government must build effective police and judicial systems, because if it fails to do this, violence will continue or could even get worse.
"The transformation of cartels into death squads who are fighting for territorial control with military weapons challenges the Mexican government's monopoly on the use of force in some areas. The brutality of the crimes cripples the trust that citizens place on the government's ability to protect them, and corruption from drug money damages their trust in public institutions. Cartels challenge the nature of the State, not with the threat of taking it over, but rather, by damaging and weakening it."