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

Friday, May 21, 2010

Horror on the Border: Mexico's War on Drugs

By Tahereh Ghanaati
Press TV
The long border between Mexico and the US state of Texas is dotted with dusty little towns, dreaming in the sun. They are towns of pastel adobe walls and shady bowers of bougainvillea - towns out of legend, with names such as El Paso, Juarez, Del Rio, Laredo, Reynosa and Matamoros.
They line both sides of the Rio Grande (or Rio Bravo), the shimmering river that forms the boundary between Texas and the country to which it once belonged.

There was a time, not too long ago, when life could be very good on 'the border.' The picturesque, little pueblos, that had retained much of their Spanish charm with a soupçon of the American 'Old West', had become a major tourist draw.

The constant flow of US tourists along with the new string of maquiladoras (plants built by US companies in Mexican border towns) had infused the once-sleepy villages with new life and a viable source of income. The new prosperity gave rise to a new type of Mexican.

Well-educated, sophisticated, upwardly mobile, bilingual and often, dual-national, these people were unique to the Texas-Mexico border.

To all appearances, these 'new' Mexicans had the best of both worlds. Often Texas-born, they opted to live in Mexico due to its lower cost of living. Thus, their advantages of dual citizenship and affluent lifestyle made them the envy of people on both sides of the river.

They had no fear of drug-related violence, which they assumed was confined to the lower-income barrios and would never affect their upscale neighborhoods. They were soon to discover how wrong they had been.

A case in point is Juan Garza Mendoza and his wife, Marisol. Juan was born in McAllen, Texas and Marisol, in Reynosa, Mexico. Both are dual citizens. Juan, an entrepreneur, who also owns limited stock in a South Padre Island hotel, clears around $60,000 a year.

Marisol, a former legal secretary, gave up her career to be a stay-at-home mom and care for their three children, Juanito, 14, Conchita, 9 and Lupita, 6. Though comfortably middle class, the Garzas decided to move to Matamoros, Mexico.

The cheaper cost of living there enabled them to purchase a spacious, custom-built home and maintain a lifestyle they never could have afforded in the United States.

Their enviable life is abruptly interrupted one day when Juanito fails to come home from school. Though Marisol is worried, Juan points out that the kid is only an hour late. Maybe he stopped by a friend's house and forgot to call. The afternoon deepens into evening and the boy still hasn't shown up.

Marisol has already called all of the youngster's friends, but no one has seen Juanito. Now Juan is becoming worried, as well. He calls the police, who obtain a description of the boy and promise to search for him, but there is little else they can do.

Finally, after two agonizing weeks, Juan receives a telephone call. The police have discovered a body that they have reason to believe might be the missing child. The clothes match the description, but the face is so badly disfigured, it is unrecognizable. The coroner's examination reveals that the youngster had been savagely beaten before he was finally killed. Dental records give the corpse a name. It is Juanito.

The Garzas are both shocked and devastated, but the Matamoros police have seen countless cases like this. Youngsters experiment with drugs and get in with a rough crowd.

Occasionally, they cross the wrong person, or just happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time and serve as a convenient example. This homicide, like so many others, is most likely drug-related. And the savagery involved points to the dread Gulf Cartel.

The Gulf Cartel, one of Mexico's largest and most dangerous drug rings, is based in Matamoros, in the frontier state of Tamaulipas. The group maintains a presence in 12 Mexican states and operates primarily along the border with Texas, smuggling illicit drugs to major US cities. Notorious for its violence and brutal methods of intimidation, the formidable cartel has become the 'horror of the border.'

Founded in the 1970s by Juan Nepomuceno Guerra, a former Mexican bootlegger, the cartel was expanded in the 1980s and '90s when Nepomuceno's nephew, Juan Garcia Abrego, took control. Though Garcia was apprehended in 1996, he was quickly replaced by a series of drug lords until strongman Osiel Cardenas Guillen seized power.

Cardenas, who was arrested in 2003, allegedly continued to run the ring from prison, relinquishing control only upon his extradition to the US in 2007. Since that time, the cartel's structure has decentralized, with leadership shared between Cardenas' brother, Antonio Ezequiel and Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez, a drug lord with close Colombian contacts.

Though Mexican drug rings have existed for decades, the destruction of Colombia's Medellin and Cali cartels in the 1990s cleared the 'playing field,' allowing the Mexican groups to flourish. As the power of the cartels increased, however, so did the turf wars - particularly between Mexico's two most powerful groups, the Sinaloa and Gulf cartels.

Then in December 2006, Mexican president Felipe Calderon launched an all-out war on drugs and the cartels struck back with an arsenal of sophisticated weaponry that shocked the world.

The exact numbers and types of weapons the cartels posses are still unknown, but vast arrays have been confiscated including: AK-47 assault rifles, AR-15 semi-automatic rifles, fragmentation grenades, M4 Carbines with M203 grenade launchers, various .50 caliber rifles, machine guns and light anti-tank rockets. According to reports, 90 percent of all the firearms that could be traced came from the United States. Many of them were purchased legally.

It should be stressed that these arms are the ones that have been confiscated. We can only guess what other 'surprises' the cartels might have in their arsenals.

We do know, however, that when a savage group acquires a stockpile of lethal weapons, the outcome is almost always violence. And if the government of the country in which that group operates dares challenge it, the violence skyrockets. That has been the case in Mexico since 2006.

The figures tell the story. On April 19 of this year, CNN reported that over 22,700 people had been killed since the 2006 launch of the Mexican drug war. Moreover, according to an Associated Press report, drug-related violence has soared with 3,365 fatalities casualties in the first three months of 2010. The trend is still going strong.

On May 7, in the border town of Juarez, cartel gunmen burst into a church and opened fire on a wedding ceremony. Ordering the bride and guests to the floor, they kidnapped the groom, along with his brother and uncle. The bodies were found 4 days later in the back of a pickup truck.

Then, on May 14, gunmen opened fire on a van outside the same town, killing 6. According to a May 12 article in the Washington Post, 900 people have been killed in drug-related violence this year in the city of Juarez, alone.

Further south along the Rio Grande, in Reynosa, a city official and a mayoral candidate for the town of Valle Hermosa were gunned down on May 13 in separate drug-related shootings and according to a South Texas news source, a lethal gang, called the 'Zetas,' who were once allies of the Gulf Cartel, are presently preparing for an assault on Reynosa.

One of the reasons for the recent surge in violence is a turf war between the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel. However, despite their differences, both groups attack federal agents whenever they are dispatched to the area in an attempt to stem the violence.

Undoubtedly, President Calderon and the Mexican government have taken on a herculean task in their war on drugs. The war has taken a heavy toll on the Mexican military. The army, which numbers 100,000, is both overworked and overextended with 96,000 soldiers on constant duty.

The hopelessness of the situation has caused some to call the conflict "Mexico's Iraq." According to the country's officials, one of the main stumbling blocks the Mexican government is facing in the war is the continued high consumption of illegal drugs in the United States.

US Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano agrees. While enroute to Mexico City last March for a meeting on the Mexican conflict, she admitted that the US shares the blame for the enormity of the drug violence problem and added that Washington needs to continue focusing on the "drug demand reduction issue."

Mexican President Calderon maintains that American consumption isn't the only thing the US has done to exacerbate the problem. He says that since the cartels obtain most of their weapons from the United States, stopping over-the-border arms trafficking is a critical step in winning the war on drugs.

He also said in a CNN interview in March of this year that US officials have admitted that there are powerful Washington lobbies opposing such a move. Thus, it appears there is little end in sight to Mexico's war on drugs. It has indeed become the country's quagmire.


  1. when i find inaccurate information in one part of an article it leads me to believe that their are other parts that are not accurate. case in point is the frequently stated 90 percent of all weapons come from the US. the 203 40mm grenade launchers are a military only caliber and the gold tip rounds are HE or high explosive rounds again never sold at stores or gun shows. If unscrupulous US military personnel are stealing equipment from the US military and selling it into Mexico lets plug those leaks. the public can purchase a 37mm launcher and the rounds that are offered are rubber ball or smoke but no HE rounds.
    the rpg rocket launchers are not even American manufacture but i often see them included in photo ops to influence the uninformed public to create a sensational story. the hand grenades are never sold over the counter at gun stores or gun shows but are widely available in the world wide arms black market. this brings me to the small arms mostly ak47 and m16 fully automatic weapons squeeze the trigger and you get a "burst of gunfire" favored by the cartels. automatic weapon is a misnomer in that we use the word loosely. here is the point some of us know that fully automatic weapons are highly regulated in the USA although available for sale they are impossible for the mexican cartels to purchase. You would have to see all the red tape involved in purchasing one let alone many to understand this. truth be told in a world with military conflicts going on and governments willing to trade drugs or money for military grade automatic weapons all fully automatic manufactured weapons are coming from other countries and not the USA. the correct term for the US bought ak47 and ar 15 is semi automatic weapon, which means one squeeze of the trigger one round fired.
    follow the disarmament of the world and you will understand that our government is ready willing and able to include America. look at the united nations small arms proliferation treaty and you will find out what i am talking about. In the last 6 years England has been completely disarmed of private gun ownership and Australia is in the middle of being disarmed. I think that this Mexico US gun connection will be used to further the agenda of anyone who feels that law abiding citizens of the USA should not be allowed to own firearms.

  2. Well maybe as a European I see this a little bit differently and there are always heated debates and discussion concerning the American Rifle laws and who should be allowed to use them.
    Since I live in a very safe country I never felt the need to own a gun and since I percieve the US. as a safe place I don't see why the Americans need to arm themselves so heavily or is it because so many other fellow citizens are armed too?

    Well anyway I think the rifles lobby is just too strong to change a lot in that perspective over the next couple of years. Even though this would clearly be a blessing for Mexico.

    Even though I don't know all the meassures that are taken by the US to reduce drug consumption I imagine that it's not enough since its on the rise. This aspect certainly has to be pushed with various meassures.

  3. The percentage of guns coming from the U.S. is based not on the total number of arms seized, or even the total number of firearms that the ATF attempted to trace. The number is based on the very small numbers that the ATF was able to trace. This makes sense as the American ATF is much more capable of tracing American guns. The high percentage is only useful to anti-gun groups. It is simply not accurate. Most of the small arms and military weapons in Mexico are from military sources in Latin and South American countries. China and other countries probably make a pretty penny exporting military hardware to Mexico. STRATFOR is a great resource for accurate information on this and other topics.

  4. You must read carefully.

    The article says...."According to reports, 90 percent of all the firearms that could be traced came from the United States. Many of them were purchased legally."

    The truth is that only about 16% of all confiscated arms could be traced.

    However, the Ejercito Mexicano cannot account for substantial amounts of their own weapons and intelligence reports indicated that NORINCO, wholly owned by the Peoples Liberation Army regularly ships loads of military weaponry into Mexico through its own ports.

    Don't apologize for America. Obama does that quite well.

  5. Toronto has been disarmed.

    Yet more Canadians actually own guns than Americans.

    The guns aren't the problem and when the mayor of Toronto outlawed handguns he basically kissed away any hope of being taken seriously let alone reelected.

    Handguns were outlawed here and gun violence went up.

    Mexico has a violence problem because it has a poverty problem. Plain and simple. Desperate people will do things most people could never imagine doing and guns are just a tool. What needs to be addressed is the actual cause.

  6. I have a second amendment right to bear arms,
    I don't think what goes on in Mexico should affect our laws here,
    If drugs money and guns are being crossed over, than our government needs to step up and secure our border.'The president of Mexico wants this to ends but doesn't want the us to stop his poor people from crossing the border and being a burden on our tax dollars.

    And it says 90% of the weapons that could be traced, i think only27% of the total weapons siezed could be traced. So not even a third of the weapons come from the US..

  7. The Drug Wars have been promoted and pushed by the US government as an excuse for their interventionism in the internal affairs of Latin American countries. First start a panic about drugs, then call for a military and police response, then supply armaments to the allied Latin American countries' security forces, then form alliances with the worst Right Wingers in the security forces there, then you can intervene constantly in Civil Wars or for any reason what so ever. The US government can then just say that all we are doing is fighting the drug pushers.

  8. Gun ownership in the united states is a right that all citizens have. Many people enjoy owning a gun, rifle becuase its a hobby or because they like to hunt and for many other reasons that doesn't involve a CRIME.

    Remember folks the gun itself doesn't commit the crime, nor does a vehicle, knife(get the hint).
    I constantly read that the government of a group of people want to eliminate the "right to bear arms" because a crime was committed with a handgun or a rifle. In that note why dont we feel the same way about alcohol or vehicles. Crimes are committed using those to things either combined or not. Now in good conscience how many of us have not had a glass of wine, beer, shot of something an then gotten behind the wheel? Im not implying anything or suggesting anything.

    I agree we should have laws that protect the law obeying citizens. An owning a weapon (when registered), a vehicle (when registered) and consuming alcohol responsively does not make you a criminal. LETS PUNISH AND RESTRAIN THE CRIMINALS NOT THE GOOD CITIZENS.

    In regards to mexicos situation about the cartels having high power rifles(AK-47), granades and other type of weaponry......I only have one question to ask you... When was the last time you saw an american soldier with an AK-47?? I read an article the other day that mexico was dissapointed because the U.S. didnt want to sell them high power weapons,..... Would you? Lets face it we know their government is corrupt. If we would to sell them weapons the mexican army officials would simply put them in the the hands of the highest cartel bidder,, Thus BLAMING hmmmmm lets see U.S.???

    Mexico stop crying....reporters get the facts..Mexicos judgement day has come. Dont blame the U.S. for their corruption. In fact why dont we also blame south america for supplying weapons to the cartels.

    I agree certain weapons should exclusively be used by the military.

  9. In case you don't know, Mexico and other Latin American countries have access to ATF's eTrace (firearms tracing software):

    And this is a 2009 press release from the Mexican government about firearms smuggling:

  10. Here's where I should post this.

    Quote from ATF's fact sheet (2008):

    "In the past two years, ATF has seized thousands of firearms headed to Mexico. Trends indicate the firearms illegally crossing the U.S.-Mexico border are becoming more powerful. ATF has analyzed firearms seizures in Mexico from FY 2005-07 and identified the following weapons most commonly used by drug traffickers:

    9mm pistols;
    .38 Super pistols;
    5.7mm pistols;
    .45-caliber pistols;
    AR-15-type rifles; and
    AK-47-type rifles."

  11. HMMMMMM!
    "Mexican President Calderon maintains that American consumption isn't the only thing the US has done to exacerbate the problem. He says that since the cartels obtain most of their weapons from the United States, stopping over-the-border arms trafficking is a critical step in winning the war on drugs."

  12. I'll let Calderon speak for himself (

    But I think what really rubs a lot of people in the wrong way about Calderon's speech is that usually it's been the US government who's done the blaming and finger pointing at other countries in the past, regarding the drug problem. That is until now...

    Besides, if I read correctly, he was asking (almost begging) for CO-operation between both countries.

  13. @J. Rojas, not only is Calderon and the Mexican equivalent of Customs doing a piss poor job, but lets not forget the numbers they and the US mainstream media pull out of their collective anus WRT to the "90% of all cartel guns" coming from straw purchases at US gun stores.

    The cartels lifeblood is smuggling things. They smuggle cocaine, marijuana (though not as much as they used to since many states legalized it outright, or put laws in place decriminalizing amounts appropro to personal consumption), heroin and machine guns into the US. That's right. The cartels are running REAL assault rifles, and other military weapons from N. Korea, China, and Venezuela (remember a few years back when Hugo Chavez was showing off the shiny new arms factory the Russians built for him to make all manner of Soviet bloc weapons? Yeah. Think he's not above making a tidy profit helping the narco-traffickers stick it to the "imperialist dogs" in the US by selling them AK-74s, RPKs, and whatever else they want?) north of the border.

    The relatively small amount of US made semi autos that they retrieve are most likely stolen, and not straw purchases. The full auto M4 carbines and .50 cal M2HBs were sold to the Mexican military with permission of the US for their fight against the traffickers, and they were taken with them when the soldiers defected to go work for the narco-traffickers.

    Infringing on the 2nd Amendment is not going to do diddly except make law abiding US citizens less safe in their homes, especially in cities where the cartels are fighting turf wars, and won't affect the cartels ability to get guns one whit.

    Also @ Anonymous living in "Europe", which nation is that? Europe has the full gamut of firearms laws ranging from very liberal (in the true sense of the word) like Switzerland and Finland, to tyranically oppressive like the UK. Funny thing, violent crime in Sweden and Finland are REMARKABLY lower than the UK and other countries that heavily or almost completely restrict private citizens from keeping and bearing arms. I know Britain has a real problem with muggings, rapes, assault and battery and hot home invasions (where the invaders kick the door in and assault the residents during the robbery, versus waiting until the house is empty to rob it.), and from what I've heard from Finnish friends living here, that kind of thing is almost unheard of in Finland or Sweden.

  14. The USA, USA, USA....anything comes from the USA. I don`t know why people forgot when the USA troops during the second war used drugs from south america and marijuana from Sinaloa mexican state. And what about CIA and Juan N Guerra relationship? What about the guns?....Who made that guns and create insecurity on third war countries? REPUBLICANS, don`t you see this violent wave will reach your peaceful country of peaceful laws?

  15. There is a direct correlation, in Western developed countries, between gun laws and gun violence. The United States has lax gun laws, and probably always will, and has the highest rates of gun violence, by far, in the developed world. Canada and Europe has far stricter gun laws, and have far less gun violence as a result.

  16. I see that my right to be armed has been well supported here,you know who you are and I thank you. For the posters wishing to take this right away go suck on a Lemon, and hopfully choke on it.

  17. Sure it would be great if Mexico would inspect the incoming goods so as to be able to weed out any illegal weapons that could fall into the wrong hands. It would be great too if Afganistan's scientific community could discover a cure for cancer. The problem is in both case that they can't. We can whine in the U.S. all we want but it won't change thing. I live in San Antonio and we are seeing a huge influx of upper class Mexicans who are fleeing the violence in their country. As the higher echelons of Mexican society who is left to solve these problems? We can sit here in the U.S. and blame Mexico all we want but that does not change the Iraqification of the country on our southern border. The barbarity that is happening due south is changing the very fiber of our southern neighbor and it may no be able to be turned back. The worst part is that most the people in the U.S. are completely oblivious to the problem.

  18. i agree...most people in the US have no idea what is going on in Mexico...mebbe if they did they would want to help out some way...Mexico is a beautiful country ... and the Mexican people are good people....but they have to solve their own problems...and if us Americans ever give up our guns ...the US will be worse than Mexico....if the Mexican population was armed they could defend themselves, the way it is ...they are at the mercy of any one with a gun..these gangs could never exist in the US because we are all armed to the teeth, and not defenseless...

  19. we steal from our loved ones to get our drugs and only get to enjoy the fact that the drug busines has a terrible retirement plan do you see anything realy wrong with this.. iiit


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