Thursday, September 8, 2011

Royale: Victim of cartels, or corrupt officials?

Raul Rocha Cantu, majority owner of the doomed Casino Royale in Monterrey, has reported being shaken down for extortion. But who was doing the extorting -- drug cartels, or government officials?
The authorities and media are exploring this question. Vanguardia paints the attack on the Royale as the result of a showdown between two cartels: The Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas.
Vanguardia reports that casino owners in Monterrey paid Los Zetas a monthly sum of up to $50,000, and that this raised the ire of the rival Gulf Cartel, which ordered the casinos in May to stop the payments.
Other newspapers, including Milenio and El Universal, report that government officials are also suspected of extorting the Royale, and that they raised the ante from $40,000 to $140,000.
Rocha fled to Miami, fearing for his safety, after his casino was torched by a group of attackers on Aug. 25, leading to 52 deaths.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Monterrey casino attack: An analysis

Now we have a new tragedy in Mexico: The attack on a Monterrey casino on Thursday afternoon that has claimed at least 61 lives. What can we ascertain so far?
  • The 8-9 armed attackers were brazen enough to drive up to the Casino Royale on San Jeronimo Avenue in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, in four vehicles (a grey sedan, a white Mini Cooper, a grey Equinox and a black Chevrolet S10) -- practically blocking an entrance from the road -- and get out from their cars, torch the casino with gasoline, reenter their vehicles and make their getaway as smoke began clouding a security camera. It took them about two minutes to burn down the casino.
  • The dead include 35 women and 8 men. "There were a series of cadavers that could not be identified," El Universal reported. Ten people have been wounded.
  • The authorities, including Nuevo Leon Gov. Rodrigo Medina de la Cruz, consider the attack as a strike by organized crime, although they did not want to specify which criminal group was suspected.
  • President Felipe Calderon called the perpetrators "true terrorists" and also blamed the US illegal-drug market for causing such strife in Mexico and Latin America in general.
  • There is a disturbing trend of violence directed against the many casinos of Monterrey, which are reportedly linked to a turf war between two drug cartels: The Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas. In fact, the Casino Royale was one of four gambling houses attacked by an armed group on May 25, and weapons were reportedly found inside on Thursday.
  • The Casino Royale should not have been open in the first place. Mayor Fernando Lorrazabal had ordered a municipal closure of 12 casinos, including the Royale, in May. Enrique Hernandez Navarro of the CYMSA (Conexiones y Mangueras S.A. de C.V.) Corporation, which owns the Royale, had lobbied to keep it open -- and gotten the OK from a magistrate.

Calderon blames 'terrorists,' US drug market for casino tragedy

Mexican President Felipe Calderon condemned the "true terrorists" who burned down a Monterrey casino on Thursday, causing over 50 deaths, and criticized illegal drug users in the US as indirectly responsible for the calamity.
In a televised address lasting almost 20 minutes, the president called the US "friends and neighbors" but said it is also responsible for the casino attack, and that American levels of drug consumption -- and the weapons trafficking it entails -- are causing strife not only in Mexico, but across Latin America as well.
"Mexico cannot be the port of access," he said.
As for those who torched the casino, he said, "It is evident that we are not facing common criminals, we are facing true terrorists."
The president also offered a significant reward for any information leading to the capture of the individuals involved in the attack.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Could Mano con Ojos leader walk?

Did the authorities move too soon against Oscar Osvaldo Garcia Montoya, alleged leader of the "La mano con ojos" drug gang?
Mauricio Blancas Valerio, of the Central Investigations Agency, sounds doubtful of the feds' case. Garcia Montoya was arrested on Aug. 11 for alleged connections with 600 killings. He reportedly planned to kill the secretary of the State of Mexico, Alfredo Castillo. In addition to homicide, he is charged with narcotics distribution in the Tlalpan neighborhood of Mexico City. Now he sits in the maximum-security prison of Altiplano.
Yet Blancas Valerio said that the government only has "allegations, not direct proof to take penal action against him." He also said: "The simple fact that the gentleman responds to the nickname 'La mano con ojos' is not sufficient for the Public Minister to tell a judge, 'Look, this man participated because the 'cartulina' (message left near an assassination victim) said 'La mano con ojos,' and he responded to this nickname."

San Fernando massacre: 1 year later

One year ago, Mexican authorities made a grisly discovery in San Fernando, Tamaulipas. A total of 72 migrants were massacred, allegedly by the drug cartel Los Zetas. The authorities would eventually find 193 bodies in the "narcofosas" of San Fernando.
Two suspects in the mass killings remain at large: Salvador Alfonso Martinez Esobedo, "La Ardilla," and Ramon Ricardo Palomo Rincones, "El Coyote." "La Ardilla" was cited as a presumed leader of a cell of Los Zetas.
The Secretary-General of the Republic (PGR) is offering rewards for both men: 15,000 pesos for "La Ardilla," 10,000 for "El Coyote." The authorities have detained 82 others for possible connections with the killings. Yet Fernando Batista Jimenez of the National Human Rights Commission criticized the PGR's handling of the case.
So far, the authorities have been able to return just 26 of the dead to their families in different states of the country, and one to Guatemala.
Of the 72 migrants slain, 58 were men and 14 were women, coming from nations to the south such as Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala and Ecuador.
The human rights commission described a wave of violence against migrants, noting that there were at least 214 reported mass kidnappings of migrants between April and September 2010 with 11,333 victims.
Rene Zenteno, undersecretary of population, migration and religious affairs in the Governing Secretary's office, called the San Fernando killings "one of the most lamentable affairs in the history of the country."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

'Mano con Ojos' planned deadly strike

We now know quite a bit about the alleged crimes committed by Oscar Osvaldo Garcia, presumed leader of the criminal group "La Mano con Ojos" (The Hand With Eyes), who was captured last Thursday:
  • He planned to kill the secretary-general of justice for the state of Mexico, Alfredo Castillo Cervantes, even telling him that in a videotaped interview; and his syndicate dates back to 2010 and included 50 members working in about 60 stores, processing about two kilos of cocaine per week.
  • He identified himself as participating in the murder of five members of an Ajusco family on Oct. 5, 2010, and is accused of committing 300 killings total in northern and central Mexico and ordering 300 more executions;
  • His group's rivals included the "Cartel del Central" or "Cartel del Hongo," whom he fingered as the ones behind the kidnapping of former Partido Accion Nacional (PAN) presidential candidate Diego Fernandez de Cevallos.
It was in the video confrontation with Castillo Cervantes where "El Compayito" comes off as most fearsome, bobbing his head, smiling, and telling the secretary-general that he had planned to kill him.

Friday, August 12, 2011

'Hand With Eyes' leader caught

Oscar Osvaldo Garcia Montoya, "El Compayito," the presumed leader of the "Hand With Eyes" ("Mano con Ojos") kidnapping group with a five-thousand peso reward for his capture, was arrested at a safe house in the Tlalpan neighborhood of Mexico City on Thursday morning.
Columnist Katia D'Artigues Beauregard, writing in El Universal, explains the group's unusual name as "the bloody way they executed their victims" (last item in the column), while reports that the name was a way of frightening small-time drug dealers who did not wish to join the organization's ranks.
Magdalena Santiago of El Sol de Toluca unveils the accusations against Garcia Montoya. He is charged with committing 300 executions and ordering 300 more, and of leading a cartel that controlled narcotics distribution in five places, including the capital city. Alfredo Castillo Cervantes, secretary-general of justice for Mexico State, said that "El Compayito" struck out on his own after the arrest of the Beltran Leyva brothers, creating a cartel that "was characterized by the extreme violence in which it decapitated its victims."
Castillo Cervantes also said that "El Compayito" had received military training in both Mexico and Guatemala, including by the elite "kaibiles" troops of the latter country -- and deemed his arrest a palpable strike by the forces of Gov. Enrique Pena Nieto, a potential successor to the Mexican presidency.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

2 found hanging from bridge in Nuevo Leon

In the latest grisly discovery in Nuevo Leon, the bodies of two young men were found hanging by their feet from a bridge this morning.
The gruesome find occurred in the municipality of Allende, about 60 kilometers south of Monterrey, at 5 a.m. El Universal has the story, as does El Norte (registration required). The latter newspaper has a photo of the crime on its website.
Corrupt cops in NL?
The other element to this story is that the military were the first at the scene because the police in Allende are under investigation for a different crime: the kidnapping, murder and mutilation of two 24-year-old half-sisters, who were relatives of the Secretary of Social Development for Nuevo Leon, Aurora Cavazos.
The number of policemen arrested stands at about 13 or 14. El Porvenir links the police with the drug cartel Los Zetas, adding that some are accused of receiving thousands of pesos each month from the cartel, and that some were in contact with a leader of the cartel, known only by the nickname "El Loco."
A blow to Los Zetas
It should also be noted that the authorities continue to move against suspected cartel leaders. Valdemar Quintanilla Soriano, "Adal," an alleged financial mastermind of Los Zetas, is now in custody after being arrested by the military in Saltillo, Coahuila, Nuevo Leon en Linea reports.
"Adal" is accused of having close ties with Los Zetas leaders Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano and Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, and of paying off authorities.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Cops nab Acapulco cartel leader

Moises Montero Alvarez has a distinctive nickname: "El Koreano." He also has an allegedly distinctive criminal background as a leader of the "Independent Cartel of Acapulco" (CIDA, in Spanish).
Montero Alvarez is now in custody after his capture in Acapulco, Guerrero, on Monday morning.
Some in the press are treating this delicately. El Universal refused to use his full name, calling him "Moises N," whereas El Sur de Acapulco used not only his full name, but also his nickname.
Why the discrepancy? Maybe it's fear of the crimes he is charged with, which include kidnapping and murder of federal policemen.
Both El Universal and El Sur said that CIDA has used the port of Acapulco as a battleground. El Sur reported ties between CIDA and another criminal mastermind, Edgar Valdez Villareal ("La Barbie"), and an antagonism between CIDA and the Beltran Leyva cartel. El Universal has "Moises N" explaining that his crimes were committed due to a power struggle with a rival group, "La Barredora."

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

'Fast and Furious' helped 'El Chapo'

As details of the US operation "Fast and Furious" unraveled in Washington, DC, this week, Mexican politicians and media assailed it for the criminal it ended up helping: Joaquin Guzman Loera, aka "El Chapo," leader of the Sinaloa Cartel.
Alejandro Poire Romero, technical secretary of the national security cabinet, spoke on the subject at a press conference at Los Pinos, Mexico City, La Jornada reported. Poire said that Mexican authorities were publicly aware of "Fast and Furious" as an operation of the US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) to fight illegal arms trafficking in Mexico. Yet he added that Mexico was unaware that ATF authorized "Fast and Furious" to do so by allowing weapons to fall into the hands of criminal organizations in Mexican territory.
Had Mexican authorities known so, he said, they would have opposed such measures.
Meanwhile, La Cronica columnist Pepe Grillo had harsh words for "Fast and Furious," after learning that "El Chapo" ended up receiving around 2,500 weapons from the operation -- an amount sufficient to equip "an entire regiment," Grillo wrote.
"With these foreign arms," Grillo charged, "the assassins of the Sinaloa Cartel shot and killed civilians and Mexican soldiers."
Carlos Canino, head of the ATF office in Mexico City, had mentioned the link between "Fast and Furious" and "El Chapo."

Thursday, July 7, 2011

4 guilty in Juarez slayings

Four men were found guilty on Thursday in the January 30, 2010 assassination of almost 20 people in the Villas de Salvarcar neighborhood of Ciudad Juarez.
News accounts differ as to the number of the dead -- La Jornada says 16, Norte Digital says 15. Yet both newspapers link the four men who killed them to the criminal group La Linea.
La Jornada describes La Linea as an armed wing of the Juarez drug cartel in the state of Chihuahua, and says that the four assassins believed their victims worked for two other criminal factions: the Gente Nueva group and the Los Doblados (AA) gang. La Jornada adds that both of these groups were linked to the cartel of Joaquin Guzman Loera ("El Chapo").
Norte Digital reports that the slayings took place at a birthday party and lists the names of the dead: 14 males and one female. In addition to the slain, almost a dozen others were wounded -- Norte Digital says 10, La Jornada says nine.
As for the assassins, La Jornada has some background info, saying that one is a former metropolitan police officer. La Jornada reports that a fifth person (Israel Arzate Melendez) was arrested for the crimes, but that he alleges that he was tortured by the servicemembers who apprehended him.
The four men found guilty will be sentenced on July 11.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Reflections on the Peace Caravan

Mexican poet Javier Sicilia and his Peace Caravan have concluded their journey to protest the ravages of the drug war.
Sicilia, who lost his only son in March, almost 80 days ago, led the caravan, which marched from June 4-10 and included about 500 people: mothers, wives and children of people slain or disappeared in the narcoviolence. They traveled thousands of kilometers, across 12 Mexican states and the US border, from Cuernavaca to El Paso, Texas.
Leading the coverage is El Universal, which has heartwrenching stories from caravan participants.
One woman, Maria Herrera, lives in Michoacan, the territory of the "La Familia" cartel. Four of her sons have disappeared -- first two on one occasion, then two more. She said, "I don't know if they are alive, if they are eating. On their birthdays, I can't cry." She said that her sons are "innocent, good people." It was unclear if she was the same person as caravan member "Maria Herrero Magdaleno" described by La Jornada columnist Luis Hernandez Navarro, who also lost four sons in two separate incidents -- one in 2008 in Guerrero, the other in 2010 in Veracruz.
Meanwhile, Maria del Carmen Carlos Herrera, who lives in Coahuila, home of the "Los Zetas" cartel, told El Universal that her husband, Rafael Ibarra Bernal, was kidnapped, reportedly by Los Zetas, in Ramos Arizpe on April 2; she does not know if he is alive or dead. He was the pastor of a Christian church. She said that the president of Ramos Arizpe, Ramon Oceguera, told her not to waste time because the authorities cannot and will not do anything.
Sicilia ended the caravan by calling for a binational effort between Mexico and the US to combat drugs, La Cronica de Hoy reported, adding that the poet said that the US has "a high responsibility" for the narcoviolence. Sicilia also stopped in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico, last Thursday to sign a 70-point plan calling for the Mexican army to disengage from the struggle and for a more human-rights based approach.
In La Jornada, Hernandez Navarro assesses the legacy of the caravan. He calls it "an act of justice," adding, "For the victims of the war on narcotrafficking, the caravan has won both the right to speak and the legitimacy of their discourse." He reported that these victims include both women and indigenous people, and called the drug war "absurd."

Friday, June 10, 2011

Mexico to launch anti-crime offensive Monday

Mexico will deploy 310,000 policemen in a weeklong push to combat crime next week, El Universal reported.
Beginning on Monday and concluding on Sunday, June 19, this National Security Operation will focus on a range of crimes, from kidnapping to belonging to a criminal group to car theft to driving with tinted windows or no license plates. Marcelo Ebrard, the head of a national governors' association, said that the wide array of crimes targeted constitute 65 to 70 percent of the crimes that have citizens worried.
The operation was decided upon in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, at the end of May, El Porvenir reported.
Nowhere in the list of crimes are drugs mentioned ... but it seems that the government is using an approach similar to that of New York City under the Rudolph Giuliani administration, when former police commissioner William Bratton used the cops to target smaller crimes as a way to stop larger crimes.
Measures that the government will take next week include using small cameras on public transit vehicles such as subway trains. You can see the cameras in a video on the El Universal website. On Monday, June 20, the government will assess what it has accomplished.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Big drug bust in Coahuila

The press is reporting the seizure of uniforms, weapons and (in an apparently separate raid) drugs in the states of Coahuila and Nuevo Leon, with El Universal calling the weapons and uniforms "presumed property" of the drug cartel Los Zetas. Periodico Zocalo has a smaller story that does not mention Los Zetas.
In photos from El Universal and Periodico Zocalo, you can get an idea of the enormous stash -- about 200 weapons and 500 uniforms -- uncovered by the Navy in Villa Union, Coahuila. Five people were arrested in the raid, and they, along with the arms and uniforms, were presented to the media on Thursday. A Navy spokesman, Rear Adm. Jose Luis Vergara, told El Universal that the weapons would presumably have been used by criminal personnel of Los Zetas.
Meanwhile, last month, authorities found separate stashes of cocaine on the Colombia-Monterrey highway in Nuevo Leon. The stashes, totaling about 200 kilos of cocaine, were also presented to the media on Thursday.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Military: Indigenous women used for drug transport

Two indigenous women from the state of Nayarit were arrested and charged with transporting opiates in Mazatlan on Monday, the Sinaloan press reported.
El Sol de Mazatlan cites military sources who say that drug gangs are now using such indigenous women as "mules" (people who transport drugs).
The two women, Marina and Elvira Lopez, were found with almost 28 kilograms of opiates and about 33,000 pesos. El Debate reports that the drugs were found in a coffee-colored handbag between two seats, as well as in a black bag under a seat.
El Sol reports that the women said they did not know they were carrying drugs. They boarded a bus from La Mesa del Nayar on Sunday afternoon that was stopped at a Villa Union military checkpoint. El Sol added that the women told authorities that each of them was paid 3,000 pesos to transport the goods.
You can see a soldier standing beside a red-clothed table with at least 10 packets of the white substance, plus an additional amount beside the packets, in a photo on the El Sol website. The El Debate website has a photo of the bus.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Ex-Tijuana mayor in hot water

Former Tijuana mayor Jorge Hank Rhon was arrested on Saturday and charged with links to organized crime after authorities allegedly discovered a stash of illegal weapons, El Universal reports (with video).
Hank and 10 members of his security detail were taken into custody, and the length of their custody was doubled from 48 to 96 hours. A member of the Undersecretary of Specialized Investigation into Organized Crime told La Jornada that there are discrepancies in the statements of the 11 individuals.
The arrests were made after the authorities received a report of armed persons in the Hipodromo neighborhood of Tijuana.
The 11 people arrested by members of the Army had an alleged arms stash of 88 firearms, over 40 of them high-caliber, and 9,298 cartridges, in a possible violation of the Federal Firearms and Explosives Law.
Grisly discovery on Monterrey bridge
The bodies of two men were found hanging from a bridge in Monterrey on Sunday. Their identities were unknown and reports of their ages differ; but the gruesome photos in both El Porvenir and La Prensa clearly depict what was done to them (one of them had his leg amputated).
Reports also cite narcomessages left on the bodies of the slain, who were discovered around 6 a.m. local time. La Prensa attributes the deaths to a bloody clash between two drug cartels -- Los Zetas and their former allies, the Gulf Cartel -- that has consumed the states of Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Lujambio praises Calderon's drug policy

Alonso Lujambio Irazabal -- the secretary of public education and a potential future president -- has praised the antidrug policies of current president Felipe Calderon Hinojosa.
Appearing at a Mother's Day ceremony at the Tlatoquemecatl primary school, Lujambio expressed two ideas that sounded somewhat dissimilar: The president's policies are carried out well ... but reforms are needed.
Specifically, Lujambio suggested consolidating the 32 state police forces (although he added that Calderon supports this policy). He also said that he would not enter the debate about whether or not public safety secretary Genaro Garcia Luna should relinquish his post.
Los Zetas' "Monster" truck
Army personnel have a new prize: a "Monstruo" (Monster) truck used by the Los Zetas drug cartel, taken in a raid in Ciudad Mier, Tamaulipas.
The gray truck, spray-painted with phrases like "Mas Mierda" (More Fear), can go up to 110 kilometers per hour and features two turrets from which assassins can open fire with a variety of arms.
You can see a photo of "El Monstruo" here.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Armed groups clash near Culiacan

Armed groups battled in two municipalities near Culiacan, Sinaloa, on Thursday morning, with reports indicating between seven to 10 people dead.
It seems that there were several clashes. The first took place between 3 and 3:30 a.m. in the municipality of Guamuchil. Media reports differ on the details but indicate that the assailants -- "part of an armed group," El Sol de Sinaloa reports -- targeted police cars (about 10 vehicles shot) and municipal buildings (including a Salvador Alvarado police station) with four people slain by bullets.
The group that launched the attack subsequently encountered a rival gang, and the two groups clashed a few times on the highways from Guamuchil to Guasave. The streets were strewn with the remains of the carnage: three dead and almost 10 vehicles abandoned (El Sol de Sinaloa has concrete details on six).
El Sol further reports that elements of the Army have already seized 46 AK-47 cartridges, four hand grenades and an amount of marijuana, and calls the gangs "rival groups working for organized crime and narcotrafficking cartels."

Mexico and Colombia: Back to the Future?

Is Mexico mired in the same problems that befell Colombia in the 1980s and 1990s?
That was the provocative question asked at a Harvard University conference on Tuesday.
Brown University doctoral student Angelica Duran Martinez discussed the topic at length in the opening panel. She studied five cities -- Medellin and Cali in Colombia; Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez and Culiacan in Mexico -- and compared the Colombia of 1984-93 with Mexico today. Her comparison showed some similarities ... and it indicated that Mexico has a long way to go toward solving its problems.
The two strongest comparisons she made between the two countries were the level of violence committed by the cartels ("similar tactics," she said, citing beheadings; notes left on bodies; bodies hanging on bridges; bombs; and narcomantos, blankets with threatening messages), and the response by the state (she said that Colombia tried to "move the military into Medellin," presaging Mexico's use of the armed forces today).
However, where the comparison seemed to falter was in the scope of the players involved. As she noted, "the situation in Colombia was complex, with Medellin and Cali (cartels), guerrillas, paramilitaries and emerald traffickers." I found it curious that she did not bolster her overall comparison by mentioning that Mexico is also dealing a complex cast of opponents: in addition to the cartels, it faces the Zapatista movement in Chiapas.
Still, I felt her presentation raised some good points -- including a sense of foreboding about the future.
"Before Colombia found a way to dismantle the cartels, it had a 10-year struggle," she said. She also noted that Colombia remains the world's main source of cocaine.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Mexico experts talk narco wars at Harvard

Five experts -- including a representative of the Calderon Administration, two journalists and a former DEA official -- discussed the drug wars in Mexico at a panel discussion at Harvard on Wednesday.
Before a packed house, the panel members marshaled both statistical and anecdotal evidence in debating a crisis that has rocked Mexico since at least 2006 and claimed tens of thousands of lives. Their forecasts were largely pessimistic and indicated that the crisis will continue.
"There is a sense that the strategy isn't working," said Dallas Morning News journalist Alfredo Corchado, one of the panelists. He added that two weeks after President Felipe Calderon had taken office, a Mexican intelligence official said that "you're charging uphill, not on a horse but a donkey, you have no saddle, and the cavalry's going in different directions."
In the half-decade that has passed since then, the media has plenty of gruesome stories to cover, such as the mass graves of Tamaulipas discovered last month. Yet even the press is intimidated and the violence, it seems, is spreading. Corchado said that now, no one wants to visit "areas we once thought were safe."
Against these gloomy statements was cast the presence of Mexican official -- and Harvard Ph.D. -- Alejandro Poire. Armed with reassuring statistics, Poire alternately defended his administration, said that the situation was not as bad as it seemed, and voiced hope for the future -- with a degree of Machiavellianism. Among his statements:
  • Of the 35,000 killed in the drug wars between 2007-10, most of that number represent the cartels waging war against each other.
  • Ciudad Juarez, "the main theater of the fight," endured 11 homicides a day in October 2010, but that number has "gone significantly down in the last few months."
  • Mexico has "much less corrupt institutions and much better institutional capability."
  • The drug problem is a combination of Mexico being both too poor ("five successive economic crises tore apart the social fabric and made urban areas ripe for crime groups" from 1976-95) and too rich ("from 1994 to 2010 there was an increase in incentive for organizations to sell drugs in Mexico ... per capita income in Mexico almost quadrupled").
Between these poles of pessimism (Corchado) and optimism (Poire) were three people who provided context: moderator/Harvard Law professor Philip Heymann (background); Angela Kocherga of Belo TV (facts on the ground; she was particularly helpful in discussing Operation Fast and Furious); and Michael Braun, formerly of the DEA (drug-related issues).
In the question-and-answer session, audience members pressed the panel on different subjects. We learned that the US is not entirely to blame for weapons illegally brought to Mexico (Braun: "Rocket-propelled grenades and very, very heavy weaponry comes from Central America, Venezuela and other locales") ... and that even if the US legalized drugs, panelists did not envision the drug wars ending (Heymann: "Cartels would shift toward kidnapping and extortion in Mexico ... I can't imagine that anyone in the US would want (harder drugs) to flow into the US freely").
At the end, the most hopeful note came from Corchado, whose pessimism seemed to change itself into guarded hope.
"People want to be able to measure some degree of success," he said. "Colombia took decades. The question is, will Mexicans have the same degree of patience?"

Thursday, April 21, 2011

30 bodies discovered in Durango

Officials in the city of Durango, capital of the state of the same name, have made a grisly discovery: 30 bodies found in a mass grave between Wednesday and Thursday. The original total was 26 before authorities found four more today.
State attorney general Ramiro Ortiz Aguirre said that because of the large number of corpses, there are not enough refrigeration units for the medical forensic services to use. He also said that the state lacks the resources for DNA testing of the bodies for identification, added that the equipment would cost between 5-6 million pesos, and requested support from the nearby states of Zacatecas, Chihuahua and Aguascalientes.
El Universal has the story.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Tamaulipas body count surpasses 100

Authorities continue to unearth more bodies in the mass graves of the northeastern municipality of San Fernando, Tamaulipas.
The count is now up to 128 bodies previously concealed in clandestine pits, according to Tamaulipas en Linea.
The increasingly grisly discoveries have prompted a convergence on San Fernando of federal forces (Governing Secretary Francisco Blake, appearing with Secretary General Marisela Morales and Tamaulipas Gov. Egidio Torre, has said they will remain for now) and family members of disappeared persons seeking to identify their loved ones. As of Tuesday, seventeen people have been arrested in connection with the discoveries, which are reportedly linked to the drug cartel Los Zetas.
At least one Guatemalan citizen was among the slain: Feliciano Tagual Ovalle, 44, of Chimaltenango, whose identity was confirmed by the Guatemalan government.
Reports indicate that it is both easy and dangerous to be a Central or South American migrant in Mexico. Tamaulipas en Linea notes that crossing the Guatemala-Mexico border can be done for a fee of about one US dollar. Yet for those seeking to pass through Mexico to the US, the costs apparently rise -- and so do the dangers. Last year, 72 bodies -- among them Central and South American migrants -- were discovered not far from the site of the mass graves unearthed this year.
Meanwhile, speaking in the city of Torreon, Coahuila, President Felipe Calderon issued a collective call to the cartels to end their violence, El Universal reported. His call seemed to contain a reference to Tamaulipas, as he criticized, among others, "those who kidnap and assassinate migrants."

Friday, April 8, 2011

Body count up to 72 in Tamaulipas

The Mexican press is reporting that the body count has reached 72 persons in a number of mass graves in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, with possible links to the Los Zetas drug cartel.
Originally the authorities found the bodies of 59 people in eight mass graves on public land on Wednesday, March 30, El Universal reported. The newspaper noted today that at least 13 more bodies have been discovered.
Meanwhile, La Jornada examined possible causes of the killings: that Los Zetas was abducting members of rival cartels and extorting their families for their supposed ransom; that the victims were trying to reach the US by bus but did not pay a fee to a cartel; and that Los Zetas was intending to add them to the cartel's ranks.
Just two of the victims have been identified as of yesterday, Noticias de Tamaulipas reported, with the office of the state Secretary-General of Justice confirming that they were from San Fernando.
Fourteen people have been arrested in connection with the grisly discovery: nine on April 1 and five more on April 6. Also on April 1, authorities freed five kidnapping victims, Alejandro Poire of the National Security Council told the media.
Tamaulipas has witnessed similar atrocities in the past. Last year, near the site of the mass graves unearthed in the previous week, authorities found the bodies of 72 Central and South American migrants.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Embarrassing drug discoveries in Cancun

As the international anti-drug conference continues to meet in Cancun, Quintana Roo, the Mexican authorities continue to unearth stashes of illicit drugs.
Among the latest finds are those discovered on Tuesday morning in separate police actions, Por Esto! and Novedades de Quintana Roo report. The first was the stash found in a taxi in a Supermanzana (Novedades says 54, Por Esto! says 57) district of Cancun in the wee hours of the morning. A security guard in the district spotted the operator of the cab driving suspiciously -- and noticed a firearm inside. He alerted the police.
The authorities -- who eventually came to include elements of the army and Public Security forces -- arrested 19-year-old Ivan Sosa Tuc (AKA Ivan Dzib Pech), who was found with a Colt .45, 60 packets of cocaine, four packets of crack and between four to eight thousand pesos. Novedades reports that a drug deal was under way in a nearby building and that the other deal-makers escaped. Sosa Tuc was placed in the custody of the office of the Secretary General of the Republic.
About five hours later, Por Esto! reports, a security guard (it is unclear if this was the same one who reported the taxi) alerted the authorities that three abandoned suitcases had been found at a nearby building. He had seen them outside, knocked on the door, and received no answer. (Novdades reports that it was neighbors called the authorities, reporting that someone had abandoned a backpack.)
Police found one backpack-type suitcase and two women's bags. In the backpack they discovered plastic containers apparently containing chemical substances, including wrapped packages of crack, but in the other two suitcases they only found women's clothing. They alerted the military.
Inside the house were alleged quantities of cocaine, crack and rock, in packets, in brick form, and in plastic bottles.
Neighbors said that three women and one man lived in the house and had left several days ago (it sounds like the man may have been Sosa Tuc). It was suspected that the house was used as a drug preparation center, but this was not confirmed.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

DEA voices fears over Zetas

The Mexican drug cartel Los Zetas has been singled out by the United States for concern at an international anti-drug conference in Cancun, Quintana Roo.
Drug Enforcement Agency Administrator Michele M. Leonhart voiced American fears over the cartel at the 38th International Drug Control Conference in Cancun on Tuesday, El Universal reports. Her fears stem from the fact that Los Zetas has extended its operations into Central America. She mentioned possible ties between the cartel and "terrorist or guerrilla organizations" and said that Los Zetas are moving drugs through new routes (such as Africa) to Europe.
Leonhart compared the cartels in general to "caged animals" attacking each other, according to Manrique Gandaria of El Sol de Mexico. The newspaper also mentioned that she said that while the level of violence in Mexico may indicate otherwise, it is a signal of success against organized crime.
There were 103 countries represented at the conference. Among the Mexican officials present was public safety secretary Genaro Garcia Luna.
84-year-old man dies in custody has a disturbing story about an 84-year-old man, Ramon Duran Munoz, who died after being transported to a prison in Ensenada.
Duran Munoz was detained by the army for about a month under charges of arms stockpiling and narcotrafficking. He was arrested at his home in Maneadero without a search warrant and placed in custody in Tijuana. While in custody -- first under the army and then under the Secretary General of the Republic -- he was denied medication for the diabetes and other chronic degenerative ailments from which he suffered.
He was to be brought before a judge in Ensenada, but after his arrival at a prison there, his condition deteriorated and he was taken to the city's general hospital in an ambulance. Shortly after arriving at the hospital, he died.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Suspects in Tijuana police killing were let off earlier

Two suspects in the killings of Tijuana policemen have a long history of crime ... and a long history of getting off relatively easily, the weekly publication "Zeta" claims.
Jose Mario Lago Villarreal, whose list of aliases includes the colorful "El Rambo" and "El Boyler," was arrested with four others after the murder of municipal policeman Ernesto Tamayo Lopez on Friday, March 18. According to reports, it was "El Boyler" who gave the order to kill Tamayo, whose partner was wounded in the shooting. The policemen were investigating a car-theft operation. Bail was set at $15,000 for Villarreal's release on March 20.
This is not the first time Villarreal has been arrested. Six months ago, on Sept. 12, 2010, he was nabbed for possession of a Colt .45 and five cartridges. "Zeta" charges the state attorney's office with incompetence in putting Villarreal at the disposal of the federal Attorney General's office ... from which he was set at liberty.
"Zeta" also mentions Villarreal's alleged crime boss, Jorge Manuel Alarcon Jacobo, as another suspect who has been arrested and set free. The publication mentions both men as suspects in a series of murders and attacks on the military, police and government officials from April to December 2009. Alarcon was busted with three others (one of whom had marijuana on him) on Jan. 25, 2011 for shooting at a police unit, an offense with severe penalties under the Penal Code of Baja California. However, Alarcon is not sitting in a prison these days (there were reports that he was imprisoned in January, but they did not disclose much details). The state attorney's office once again kicked the case to the feds ... and Alarcon is a free man (in fairness, two of his accomplices are reportedly behind bars in Tijuana).
Sicilia mourns son's death
The poet and journalist Javier Sicilia eloquently spoke about his grief over the death of his 24-year-old son, Juan Francisco Sicilia, who was found slain in a car with six others in Temixco, Morelos, on Monday morning.
Sicilia said that not even the Mafia of old would act as brutally as the narcotraffickers of today, and that the latter are indiscriminately killing innocents.
"I don't want another dead boy," he said, as related by El Universal. "I don't want another boy branded by the authorities and the press, linked with narcotrafficking. I want our boys to have opportunities to grow, and that they will be able to really rebuild this nation, because this nation is absolutely torn apart."

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Human rights fears raised; 7 found dead in Cuernavaca

As Mexico continues to prosecute its war against drug cartels, human-rights groups in the country are concerned over the government's conduct.
Representatives of 20 such groups voiced their concerns during a meeting of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights -- a subgroup of the Organization of American States -- in Washington, DC on Tuesday, El Universal reported.
"In Mexico we are living under a state of emergency, but a state of emergency has not been decreed," said Marie Claire Acosta of the Network of Defenders of Human Rights and Families of Disappeared Persons in the Northern Mexican States.
Among the specific practices criticized by the human-rights groups were arbitrary detentions, torture and harassment allegedly committed by forces of the state -- including the military. Many of the accused violations occurred in the northern states of Mexico.
Representatives of the government were present at the meeting and vowed that the nation remains committed to human rights.
Felipe de Jesus Zamora, undersecretary of Legal Issues and Human Rights, said that "the struggle for security is the same as the struggle for human rights," and that the national strategy against organized crime employs a "strict respect" for human rights.
Seven dead in Cuernavaca
The press (including La Prensa and La Union de Morelos) is covering the horrific discovery of seven bodies -- six men and one woman -- in a car in Temixco (near Cuernavaca, Morelos) on Monday morning.
Reports state that a "narco-message" was found on a card among the slain, claiming that the victims had made anonymous calls to the military and threatening that the same fate would befall two captains -- "Barrales" and "Castillo." It was signed "El CDG."
The bodies were found inside a wheat-colored Honda Civic near the Hotel Paris Burgos in the Las Brisas estate. Their hands and feet were tied, and they showed signs of torture. The victims were apparently killed by gunfire. Four were in their 20s -- one was the son of the writer and poet Javier Sicilia -- and the other three were in their 40s. One report stated that the previous night, the victims left a party and went to a dive bar, "La Rana Cruda," after which they were tortured and assassinated and their bodies dumped at the hotel.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Baja California police chief slain

A Baja California police chief was killed in an ambush in Playas de Rosarito, near Tijuana, on Sunday afternoon.
Jose Carlos Ventura Isada was slain while at an intersection with his wife in his blue 2002 GMC truck. His wife was wounded in the assault; their children were unharmed. The family was in Rosarito to go shopping.
An automobile with tinted windows caught up to the truck and opened fire. The office of the Procurator General of Justice for Baja California has confirmed the assassination.
Ventura Isada was municipal police commander of the Primo Tapia station in Rosarito. He becomes the third policeman in the district to be assassinated in 2011 -- a year that is only three months old.
The attack took place in the Cross White neighborhood of the city. and La Jornada both have the story.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Two Transit officials slain in Linares

In a tragedy in Linares, two municipal transportation officials -- as well as the wife and young daughter of one of them -- were shot and killed by gunmen in Linares.
The two slain agents, identified as Javier Alvarez Hernandez, 32, and Raymundo Arevalo Mendez, 35, were shot on the Avenida Lampazos. Alvarez, who was on his day off, was driving a wine-colored sedan with his wife and two daughters and apparently encountered his colleague Arevalo in the latter's Patrol 122 car (you can see a photo of the cars plus the story on Nuevo Leon en linea).
The report says that Alvarez' car was apparently marked by the gunmen. The only one who escaped physical harm was Alvarez' younger daughter. Arevalo found the strength to go to his patrol car and communicate for assistance.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Mexican media takes stand against narcoviolence

Members of the Mexican media have published an agreement that they will not shirk from covering the narcoviolence currently gripping the country.
The six-page document, available as a PDF through El Universal, was signed by a range of representatives of the mass media -- print, broadcast and Internet -- at the National Museum of Anthropology and History in Mexico City this morning. No government officials were invited or provided assistance, La Jornada reports.
The document reveals the media's stance as unequivocally against the drug cartels. Among the editorial positions taken by the agreement are to take a stand against the cartels -- "Under no circumstance should the media justify the actions and the arguments of organized crime and terrorism" -- and to avoid being an involuntary voice for them -- i.e., by not portraying the guilty or presumed guilty as "victims or public heroes." In some ways this puts the media behind the state -- most notably in the editorial position of not interfering with law-enforcement operations. The media signatories to the agreement vow not to disseminate information that would jeopardize state policies or personnel engaged in the struggle against the cartels.
This is a 180-degree turn from, say, the devil-may-care disclosures of WikiLeaks ... or even the recent reportage of US newspapers like The New York Times. Yet it is understandable. "According to the international organizations that are the most well-versed in this issue, Mexico is one of the riskiest countries for practicing journalism or the freedom of the press" as a result of organized crime, the agreement states, adding that "Today, the freedom of expression is threatened."
That said, the press is trying to stay as objective as it can. The agreement includes a reminder of the media's function to take note of any actions of the state that might go outside the law or violate human rights. It also asks signatories to remember that those detained by the state, however odious the accusations are against them, are innocent until proven guilty.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Pascual, Feeley critiques anger Mexico

US diplomats' lack of confidence in Mexico's ability to win the narco wars is coming back to haunt the American embassy.
The Mexican press is detailing not only the rise and fall of former US Ambassador Carlos Pascual, but also the indiscretions of fellow American diplomat John Feeley. Pascual has already resigned in the wake of the WikiLeaks scandal, while Feeley's confidential cables are being trumpeted in the Mexican newspapers.
El Universal depicts Pascual as a man who upset not only President Calderon, but also the Mexican political establishment, listing four politicians who were peeved by the ex-ambassador: foreign minister Patricia Espinosa, Mexican ambassador Arturo Sarukhan, ex-minister Rosario Green and Sen. Carlos Navarrete. Green and Navarrete were concerned enough to speak of a "foreign invasion" and it seems that Calderon followed the political winds.
As for Feeley, he is facing both favorable and unfavorable winds. El Universal mentions that he has the support of ex-US Ambassador Tony Garza. However, La Jornada is quick to pounce on Feeley for his criticism of the Mexican army and politicians that became public via WikiLeaks.
Feeley slammed the army multiple times, saying among other things that it was reluctant to pursue the leaders of drug cartels and "risk-averse." He also spoke freely about politicians, saying that Defense Secretary Guillermo Galvan Galvan was seeking to declare a state of emergency to help the military against the cartels ... and questioning the merits of the past and present Procurators General, Eduardo Medina Mora and Arturo Chavez Chavez.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bad news for US ambassador, Mexican police

Salvador Garcia Soto has an amusingly titled column ("Adios, Pascualito, adios!") in El Universal about the resignation of Carlos Pascual Lus, the US ambassador to Mexico.
Pascual, whom Soto tweaks for calling Mexico a "failed state," was a casualty of his indiscreet comments revealed by WikiLeaks. Soto seems happy to see him go, tying him to such demonstrations of US power as the drone aircraft it has sent into Mexico. The "Snakes and Ladders" columnist also describes the resignation as a "caramel" to Mexican President Felipe Calderon from US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Yet he also describes the resignation as something brought about not only by "Pascualito's" loose tongue ... but also by the White House perception that he did not do enough to combat the threat of the Mexican drug cartels.
Meanwhile, El Diario de Juarez has cited a report that blames the Mexican crime-fighting forces for making things worse in what it describes as the battleground that Ciudad Juarez has become in the narco wars.
Covering a period that began in 2008, the report makes for grim reading as it details instances of corrupt police, army and law-enforcement agency officials committing crimes that include homicide, drug trafficking, kidnapping and extortion.
The lawyer Salvador Urbina Quiroz calls such corruption one of the fundamental factors causing the current crisis in Ciudad Juarez, and Leticia Chavarria of the city's Medical Committee says that rogue government officials have led to minimized results over the last three years.
Among the highest-level instances of alleged corruption is the case of Saulo Reyes Gamboa, a former top-ranking official of the Municipal Public Security Secretariat from 2004-07. He was arrested in the US city of El Paso, Texas, and accused of drug trafficking.
The list of those arrested also includes two officials -- a ministry agent and a technician from the office of the state of Juarez' former Procurator General of Justice -- who were arrested by soldiers who found them with a stash of marijuana and weapons in a residential area. The list also includes the two federal policemen accused of

Friday, March 11, 2011

Sources of drug cartels' illegal arms

Yesterday's post cited the governor of the State of Juarez (Cesar Duarte Jaquez) blaming the United States for its role in allowing illegal arms to cross the border into Mexico. Today El Universal continues the conversation, asking: Where, exactly, do the cartels get their illegal arms?
The security consulting firm Sratfor cites three sources: Mexico, the US and the black market in Asia (such as China) and Latin America (such as Guatemala). It is the latter category that the firm describes as providing the deadliest weapons, such as rocket-powered grenades and automatic assault rifles. The firm also blames corrupt Mexican soldiers or deserters for providing such arms to the cartels. As for the cartels that use such heavy arms, the firm cites Los Zetas, Gente Nueva and La Linea.
Weapons that come from the US include 9-mm pistols as well as .45 and .40-calibers, plus .50-caliber rifles and semiautomatic assault rifles (AK-47s, M16s and FN57s). The smallest-caliber pistols, meanwhile, tend to be bought in Mexico.
So it seems that the US' role in the illegal arms trade is significant, but that Mexico, Asia and Latin America also play a role here.
Meanwhile, alleged drug gangs blocked off traffic in the Monterrey metropolitan area on Friday, minutes after an afternoon attack on police forces left one officer dead and another seriously wounded. The assassins shot at the police at least 25 times and apparently killed the driver of the police vehicle. El Universal has the story, via El Pulso.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Duarte calls out US in Ciudad Juarez

Today's news from Mexico begins with the governor of the state of Juarez calling out the United States for its role in illegal arms trafficking in its southern neighbor.
While the drug cartels in Mexico have generated headlines over the last few years, Gov. Cesar Duarte Jaquez said that illegal drug activity in the US is also strong and is responsible for maintaining a state of permanent war in Mexico.
Gov. Duarte, who delivered his remarks during an appearance in the northern city of Ciudad Juarez, also had strong words for the US government -- saying that it was not vigilant enough in preventing truckloads of thousands of illegal arms shipments from crossing the border into Mexico -- and urging his own country to be more energetic in this regard (he used the word "energetic" twice in his remarks).
Salvador Castro has the story in Norte Digital.
In an ironic twist, there is another drug-related story in Mexico with a US connection. This one comes out of the state of Baja California Sur and the private airport of Las Arenas in the city of La Paz. The man running a terminal at the airport, an American named Joseph Angelo Bravo, has a sketchy past: In 1994 he was sentenced to 87 months (7 years and 3 months) in prison in Nevada for conspiracy of cocaine trafficking; he also had to pay a $25,000 fine. The airport itself has a dubious past, as it was closed on Oct. 1, 2008 amid reports of people stealing aircraft, which were presumably used to transport narcotics.
The governor of Baja California Sur, Narciso Agundez Montano, could be in hot water for this happening under his watch (Agundez attended a reinauguration ceremony at the airport on Feb. 26). Articles 22-23 of the Mexican airport law prohibit persons with prison backgrounds from holding positions of authority -- such as the one Bravo now holds -- in airports.
Mexican news agencies have the story.
The Mexican press also has more on a suspect accused in the Feb. 15 homicide of Jaime Zapata, a US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agent in Santa Maria. The suspect, Mario Jimenez "El Mayito (The Bobolink)" Perez, 41, is accused of working for the Los Zetas drug cartel. It also seems that he and the 15 others who were taken into custody on March 5 are suspected of providing armed protection to leaders of Los Zetas. Police found quite a stash on the suspects: 6 pistols of differing calibers, 114 plastic bags of cocaine and 15 bags of marijuana.
La Prensa has the story, as does El Universal.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mexican feds detain suspect in ICE agent's death

The main news out of Mexico today:
In San Luis Potosi, federal police have detained a man suspected in the drug-connected killing of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) special agent Jaime Zapata. The announcement came today out of the office of Secretary of Public Security (SSP) Genaro Garcia Luna.
The suspect, Mario Jimenez "El Mayito" Perez, is a 41-year-old man who was taken into custody on March 5 along with 16 others -- who have nicknames like "La Flaca" (The Skinny One) and "El Duende" (The Elf) and are also accused of having ties to Las Zetas. He is accused of being a financial operator for the drug gang Los Zetas.
Zapata was killed in an ambush in San Luis Potosi in February. However, the SSP's office did not provide specifics of just how El Mayito was connected to Zapata's death, according to Alfredo Mendez of La Jornada.
El Pulso (SLP) has the story as does El Universal.
In Aguascalientes, capital of the Mexican state of the same name. "El Sol del Centro" reports that organized crime members south of the city have killed a man who is apparently in his 40s, a taxi-cab driver, known as "El Gordo," and linked to organized crime. The killing occurred on the Panamericana highway. It is the 14th death linked to organized crime in Aguascalientes this year.