As the violence in Mexico rages on, with murder totals recently surpassing 28,000 since the start of 2007, it's easy for anyone watching or keeping up with the news to become desensitized. Daily stories of kidnappings and murder scenes, complete with photos of dismembered bodies piled in the backs of pickup trucks or lying bloody in the street, can make the whole scenario overwhelming and extremely hard to wrap your head around. Statistics, death counts, unsolved murders; all with seemingly no end, no beginning, and no point.
With gubernatorial elections coming to twelve Mexican states this Sunday, a definitive test for Mexico is taking place. By most accounts, the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party, the PRI, is riding a big wave of momentum, capitalizing on the public perception that the cataclysmic violence of the past few years is the fault of Mexican President Felipe Calderon's war on the Mexican cartels. But more than for the parties themselves, the elections have become a symbol of whether or not Mexico can still hold its basic institutions together in the face of the threat posed by the rampant and insidious drug cartels.
On Monday, just after the conclusion of a wedding ceremony, a group of armed men burst into a Juarez church and ordered everyone down on the floor. Moving quickly, they collected the groom, his brother and their uncle and led them out. When another man tried to intervene, they shot him dead. The three relatives were then thrown into a truck and disappeared. On Wednesday, state police found their bodies in the bed of an abandoned pickup in the eastern sector of the city. They had been tortured for many hours before they were killed. It was a particularly horrifying example of the fact that violence in Juarez can [...]
Following the Rio Grande southeast out of the Valley of Juarez, past the Big Bend region and across the vast emptiness of the Chihuahuan desert, one eventually comes to the states of Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas, historic base of the Gulf Cartel and home to the newest outbreak of everyday violence in the Mexican drug war. In February, the Gulf Cartel announced the formation of "La Nueva Federacion", an alliance with their former enemies, the Sinaloa Cartel and La Familia Michoachan, and publicly declared war on its own former enforcement wing, a group of ex-Mexican special forces soldiers known as the Zetas. The two sides went to [...]
In a luxury suburb of Guadalajara last Thursday afternoon, one of the key leaders of the Sinaloa cartel, Ignacio 'Nacho' Coronel, was shot dead during a brief gunfight with Mexican Army special forces. Drawing on intelligence gathered over the past few weeks, the Army staged a raid on a home they believed was linked to drug trafficking; Coronel was inside. Witnesses reported hearing loud explosions and plenty of gunfire as helicopters and more than 150 men closed in on the drug baron. According to reports, Nacho got off enough shots with an assault rifle to kill one soldier before being killed.
In immediate terms, the raid was [...]
Obama's Drug Czar, Gil Kerlikowske, announced a few weeks ago that the federal government would begin to shift its strategy in the War on Drugs, to a focus on prevention, treatment and the public health aspects of domestic drug use and addiction. A lot of people applauded the policy shift as a step in the right direction. It reflects the thinking that the best way to fight drugs isn't a frontal assault on supply, but instead a campaign to reduce demand. This sort of tactic is important, because it's less about stopping the drug trade itself and more about trying to root out its causes.
But if [...]
This Cinco de Mayo, while some are celebrating Mexico's past, most Mexicans are anxious about its uncertain future. Yesterday in Mexico City, national security minister Genero Garcia Luna remarked at the Reuters Latin American Investment Summit that the war against the cartels will in all probability take years before anything is accomplished. Citing other prominent examples of long-lasting wars on organized crime in places like Italy, Colombia and Chicago in the 1920s, Garcia Luna explained that expectations for a quick finish should be tempered against these historical examples that lasted "six years on average."
The AP ran quite a story the other day, capped with the blockbuster headline "Sinaloa cartel wins Juarez turf war." After 3 years of brutal assassinations, countless kidnappings and the shuttering of roughly 10,000 local businesses, the article claims the battle between the local Juarez cartel and the Sinaloans (who began to try to take over in 2007) has essentially been won. The proclamation is largely based on an FBI memo and cited confidential sources, as well as the fact that recent drug seizures indicate that between 60% and 80% of the drugs currently being trafficked through Juarez now come from the Sinaloa cartel, to draw the same [...]
Last week in Ciudad Juarez, the Federal Police received an emergency call from a payphone explaining that a police officer had been shot and was lying wounded on the Avenue 16 de Septiembre, a street named for the day of Mexican independence from the Spanish. Several federal police officers and an emergency team of paramedics arrived to tend to the injured officer. A TV crew arrived on the scene around the same time. As the officers and doctors gathered around the body to assess the damage, nearby members of the Juarez cartel used a cell phone to detonate a bomb hidden in a parked car at the intersection. The blast [...]
Last week Mexican president Felipe Calderon spent two days visiting Barack Obama at the White House. In the weeks leading up to the summit, which was punctuated by a state dinner on Wednesday, there was much in the press about issues the two presidents had to discuss, including the Mexican government's negative reaction to the new Arizona immigration bill and the need to improve trade relations and get more Mexican trucks on the roads in the US. But no issue was expected to be more pressing than the question of security. With over 24,000 dead in the past 3 years and growing international concern that Mexico could be on [...]
Just a few weeks after the AP declared that the Sinaloa cartel had won the drug war in Juarez, the city saw one of its bloodiest days in recent memory. On Wednesday, 20 murders were recorded in a 24-hour span. The first murders of the day set the tone for the brutality to follow, as gunmen burst into a bar in the early morning and dragged eight people out into a nearby lot, lined them up against the wall, and executed them.
Eduardo Ravelo is the new 'face of Ciudad Juarez terror," according to the LA Times this week. This mean-looking specimen is the purported leader of the Barrio Aztecas street gang, the mostly teenage subcontractors that the Juarez drug cartel uses for the murder, kidnapping and torture of its rivals in the city. Near the end of last year, Ravelo was quietly placed on the FBI's ten most wanted list, and a couple weeks ago, he reached a criminal pinnacle, officially supplanting Osama bin Laden as the FBI's number one most wanted man in the world.