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."