Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Unknown Drug War

Mexico City, March 23rd 2010
On March 23rd, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano visited Mexico City to discuss efforts to battle the increasing violence and power of Mexico's drug cartels. The meeting with their Mexican counterparts focused mainly on accelerating military and civilian aid to Mexico and Central America.

It was recognized that Mexico's southern border through which weapons and drugs flow north is of equal importance to the border with the U.S

Up until 2007 only about 1% of cocaine shipments traveled overland through Central America. The DEA now estimates that up to 75% of the cocaine flowing north to the United States and an increasing domestic market in Mexico passes thru Central America.

It is believed that the majority of all the heavy weaponry in use by Mexican drug cartels such as fully automatic AK 47 assault rifles, machine guns, RPG launchers and hand grenades are imported through Mexico's southern border from El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala.

This is a legacy of the vicious civil wars fought in Central America from the 1960's to the early 1990's

A Brief History of the Drug Cartels

Up until the late 1980's cocaine trafficking was controlled by the powerful Medellin and Cali cartels in Colombia and the majority of the drug was shipped directly by sea into the U.S. through the Caribbean. However this route was eventually closed by effective U.S. air and naval patrols and the death of Pablo Escobar and the dismantling of the Colombian cartels

In the 1990's Mexico became the new route for shipment of cocaine into the U.S.. Cocaine was shipped directly from Colombia to Mexico by land and sea. During this time the Mexican cartels began to amass great wealth and power, in particular Juan Garcia Abrego of the Gulf cartel and Amado Carrillo Fuentes of the Juarez cartel. As the Colombian cartels were broken up and weakened these cartels took control of the shipping routes into Mexico. The transhipment routes, or "Plazas", were well defined and fighting between the cartels was not widespread.

Initially the cartels only controlled the ability to run criminal enterprises within a given territory but as they became more powerful they began to compete with the Mexican state over de facto control of their plazas. Through their great wealth they acted with impunity as a result of the ability to increasingly corrupt many in the police, the judiciary, the military and leading politicians.

Gradually the Sinaloa cartel under Joaquin "Chapo" Guzman and the enforcement arm of the Gulf cartel known as the "Zetas" began to gain ascendancy. New ruthless cartels such as La Familia Michoacana and the Beltran Leyva organization were formed.

After his election in 2006 President Calderon aggressively used his military and federal police forces to attack the cartels which were beginning to terrorize the nation with an increasingly brutal and homicidal competition over control of the plazas. The cartels retaliated by increasing attacks against the police and the military. The descent into today's war against the cartels had begun.

By 2007 the pressure against the cartels began to bear fruit as the air and sea smuggling routes were effectively closed to large scale drug trafficking.

By 2008 the majority of cocaine trafficking northwards from South America moved by land
through Central America, in particular Honduras and Guatemala. This was to have drastic consequences for both these countries and for Mexico.

The land based drug smuggling corridors connecting Honduras, Guatemala (El Salvador to a lesser degree) and Mexico drastically the increased the transshipment points and the length of the plazas. The violence within all three countries is increasing to ever higher levels as the cartels fight each other and government authorities to control and consolidate these new routes.

The Land that Time Forgot

The Mexican drug cartels could not have picked 2 better countries to extend their plazas into
than Honduras and Guatemala. Honduras is the poorest and least developed nation in the North American continent. 80% of Guatemalans live under their poverty line.

Both countries suffer from high rates of crime, homicides and the presence of street gangs such as "Calle 18" and "Mara Salvatrucha". They have never known strong government or civil institutions. Corruption is rampant This was before the Mexican cartels arrived.

Guatemala suffered through a 30 year old brutal civil war in Guatemala a military dictatorship against a Marxist insurgency. Honduras was occupied for almost a decade by the Nicaraguan Contra army supported by the U.S. and is still prone to military coups.

The modernization of society and the economy that has benefited the rest of Latin America is only a dream here.

Follow the Money

During the last 2 years the Zetas cartel has come to dominate northern and eastern Guatemala as well as the capital. They operate with impunity in these areas. Many elite army troops, known as kaibiles, have deserted and joined the ranks of the Zetas.

It is believed that the kaibiles introduced to Mexico the habit of beheading and dismembering their victims. This is a practice leftover from the bloody Guatemalan civil war.

Guatemala now suffers more that 6000 murders annually , or 17 murders daily, in a country of 13 million people.

Honduras is the entry point in the plazas that stretch all the way to the Mexico - U.S. border. It is a strategic warehousing point for Colombian cocaine, waiting for transportation north. The Sinaloa and Zeta cartels have carved out parts of the country and are importing their cartel wars to Honduras.

General Julian Gonzalez, the head of antidrug forces in Honduras, gave an interview in late 2009. He stated that the Farc guerrillas and other traffickers now export most of the cocaine leaving Colombia through Venezuela. He said president Chavez was unwilling or unable to stop the traffic. He also accused the recently deposed president of Honduras of being involved in the drug traffic.

General Gonzales also stated the Mexican cartels are buying up land and businesses to solidify their presence and launder money. He said they are unloading crack cocaine in Honduras to develop a market.

The National Drug Intelligence Center of the Justice Department estimates that Mexican drug cartels generate up to 38 billion dollars annually in revenue from drug smuggling. This does not include revenue from kidnapping, extortion, human smuggling and other crimes.

For fiscal year 2009, U.S. anti drug assistance under the Merida Initiative was 100 million dollars for all of Central America , Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

In December 2009 General Julian Gonzalez was assassinated by unknown gunmen. No arrests have been made in this case, as with most of the other tens of thousands of murders committed in Mexico's and Central America's drug war.


  1. What a JOKE the Merida initiative is. 100mil vs. 38BILLION would be laughable if the situation wasn't so dire. Yet our politicians see fit to press on with their heads against the wall.

  2. Kevin: merida initiative, is a joke in reality. If the U.S really wants to stop this monster growing bigger every year that goes by.. They are going to need to do more than send money.

    The problem is already in the U.S, the mexican cartels, already have precense in many states. They are involving the street gangs into the trade, adding more fuel onto the fire. Street gangs from every corner of the u.s no longer fight for the color, now they fight, to maintain a presence in the street, and for the cartels to recognize them and deal with them.

    people i guess are to blind to see that, street gangs and prision gangs, are growing, and recruiting more and more, eventually forming armies of them.

    things are so messed up, it feels like if the goverments, wnat them to grow..

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