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Category Archives: Drug-related violence on the border

These are reports of drug-related violence on the border – violence that is coming our way. This violence may be related to terrorism.

Officials find more tunnels along Arizona border

Posted on

August 31, 2011

Law-enforcement officials called to a house in Douglas last week found an unusual sight: a large hole in the floor of one room and mounds of dirt piled high in other rooms. The hole was the opening of a tunnel that drug smugglers were burrowing from the United States to Mexico.

It was the second tunnel discovered along the Arizona border in less than two weeks. Federal law-enforcement officials are concerned that the discoveries show that smugglers are increasingly using tunnels to smuggle narcotics into the U.S. to evade tighter border security.

This summer, the Border Patrol finished installing new fencing in Nogales that allows agents to see to the other side, making it more difficult for smugglers to avoid detection. The Border Patrol also has installed more than 300 miles of fencing and vehicle barriers along Arizona’s border with Mexico in recent years and added hundreds of agents.

“As smuggling organizations have more trouble moving their contraband both between the ports of entry and through the ports of entry due to increased technology and vigilance at the ports, then they will turn to more of these covert measures,” said Vincent Picard, a spokesman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Phoenix.

Agents in the Border Patrol’s Tucson sector, which covers most of Arizona’s border with Mexico, discovered eight tunnels through the end of July of this fiscal year. That is three more than the same period last year, said Mario Escalante, a Border Patrol spokesman in Tucson.

The eight do not include the two tunnels discovered in the past two weeks.

The house where the tunnel was found in Douglas is a few yards from the border with Mexico. The tunnel had collapsed, and smugglers were re-excavating it when Douglas police found it on Tuesday, following up on a tip from a resident.

Although the house was filled with dirt excavated from the tunnel, Mexican authorities were unable to find an entrance on the southern side of the border, Picard said.

He said the border tunnel was unusual as criminal organizations usually dig tunnels that start on the Mexican side and come out on the U.S. side because boring tunnels requires costly equipment such as saws, augers, lights, generators and wood to reinforce walls – tools that can be difficult to conceal but that may not draw as much attention in Mexico as in the U.S.

A week earlier, on Aug. 16, officials discovered a sophisticated drug tunnel in Nogales, Ariz., that was 90 feet long, 3 feet wide and 3 feet high. The tunnel, which ran from Nogales, Sonora, into Arizona, was shored up by two-by-fours and plywood, similar to a mining shaft. It also contained ventilation tubing, tools and electrical cords.

The tunnel exited in a parking lot in Nogales, Ariz., near the Morley border gate. Smugglers concealed the opening by plugging the hole with a piece of concrete supported by a large floor jack underneath, Picard said.

The tunnel was discovered after ICE agents monitoring surveillance cameras noticed a white box truck parked in the lot. After the truck pulled away, ICE agents and Nogales police stopped the vehicle and found 2,600 pounds of marijuana inside, Picard said.

ICE and Border Patrol agents determined that the marijuana had been loaded onto the truck while it was parked over the hole leading to the tunnel.

Agents arrested two Nogales residents and a juvenile from Mexico who were inside the truck, Picard said.

He said most tunnels were used to smuggle drugs – not migrants – because smugglers want to draw as little attention to the passageways as possible.

Worst incidents in Mexico’s drug war

Posted on

Aug 29, 2011

Below are some of the worst attacks since President Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006 and declared war on powerful drug cartels. More than 42,000 people have been killed in drug-related violence since then.

* Sept 15, 2008 – Suspected members of the Zetas drug gang tossed grenades into a crowd celebrating Mexico’s independence day in the western city of Morelia, killing eight people and wounding more than 100.

* Jan 31, 2010 – Suspected cartel hitmen killed 13 high school students and two adults at a party in Ciudad Juarez across from El Paso, Texas.

* March 13 – Hitmen killed three people linked to the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juarez in March, provoking “outrage” from President Barack Obama.

* June 28 – Suspected cartel hitmen shot and killed a popular gubernatorial candidate in the northern state of Tamaulipas in the worst cartel attack on a politician to date. Rodolfo Torre, 46, and four aides from the opposition Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, were ambushed on their way to a campaign event for the July 4 state election.

* July 18 – Gunmen burst into a birthday party in the northern city of Torreon, using automatic weapons to kill 17 party-goers and wound 18 others. Mexican authorities later said those responsible were incarcerated cartel hitmen let out of jail by corrupt officials. The killers allegedly borrowed weapons and vehicles from prison guards and later returned to their cells.

* July 24 – Police unearthed 51 bodies in a grave outside Mexico’s business capital Monterrey in northern Mexico over several days. Some corpses were burned beyond recognition.

* Aug 25 – Marines found the bodies of 58 men and 14 women at a ranch near the Gulf of Mexico in Tamaulipas state, some 90 miles from the Texas border, after a firefight with drug hitmen in which three gunmen and a marine died.

* April 2011. Officials unearthed the first of what turned out to be more than 450 bodies buried in mass graves in the northern states of Durango and Taumalipas.

* Aug 20. Five headless bodies were found in Acapulco, taking the number of people killed in the popular Pacific resort to at least 25 in that one week.

* Aug 25. Masked gunmen torch a casino in Monterrey, killing 52 people, most of them women. The attack takes less than three minutes.

U.S. Widens Role in Mexican Fight

Posted on

August 28, 2011

The Obama administration has expanded its role in Mexico’s fight against organized crime by allowing the Mexican police to stage cross-border drug raids from inside the United States, according to senior administration and military officials.

Mexican commandos have discreetly traveled to the United States, assembled at designated areas and dispatched helicopter missions back across the border aimed at suspected drug traffickers. The Drug Enforcement Administration provides logistical support on the American side of the border, officials said, arranging staging areas and sharing intelligence that helps guide Mexico’s decisions about targets and tactics.

Officials said these so-called boomerang operations were intended to evade the surveillance — and corrupting influences — of the criminal organizations that closely monitor the movements of security forces inside Mexico. And they said the efforts were meant to provide settings with tight security for American and Mexican law enforcement officers to collaborate in their pursuit of criminals who operate on both sides of the border.

Although the operations remain rare, they are part of a broadening American campaign aimed at blunting the power of Mexican cartels that have built criminal networks spanning the world and have started a wave of violence in Mexico that has left more than 35,000 people dead.

Many aspects of the campaign remain secret, because of legal and political sensitivities. But in recent months, details have begun to emerge, revealing efforts that would have been unthinkable five years ago. Mexico’s president, Felipe Calderón, who was elected in 2006, has broken with his country’s historic suspicion of the United States and has enlisted Washington’s help in defeating the cartels, a central priority for his government.

American Predator and Global Hawk drones now fly deep over Mexico to capture video of drug production facilities and smuggling routes. Manned American aircraft fly over Mexican targets to eavesdrop on cellphone communications. And the D.E.A. has set up an intelligence outpost — staffed by Central Intelligence Agency operatives and retired American military personnel — on a Mexican military base.

“There has always been a willingness and desire on the part of the United States to play more of a role in Mexico’s efforts,” said Eric L. Olson, an expert on Mexico at the Woodrow Wilson Center. “But there have been some groundbreaking developments on the Mexican side where we’re seeing officials who are willing to take some risks, even political risks, by working closely with the United States to carry out very sensitive missions.”

Still, the cooperation remains a source of political tensions, especially in Mexico where the political classes have been leery of the United States dating from the Mexican-American War of 1846. Recent disclosures about the expanding United States’ role in the country’s main national security efforts have set off a storm of angry assertions that Mr. Calderón has put his own political interests ahead of Mexican sovereignty. Mr. Calderón’s political party faces an election next year that is viewed in part as a referendum on his decision to roll out this campaign against drug traffickers.

Deputy Secretary of State William J. Burns walked into that storm during a visit to Mexico this month and strongly defended the partnership the two governments had developed.

“I’ll simply repeat that there are clear limits to our role,” Mr. Burns said. “Our role is not to conduct operations. It is not to engage in law enforcement activities. That is the role of the Mexican authorities. And that’s the way it should be.”

Officials said Mexico and the United States began discussing the possibility of cross-border missions two years ago, when Mexico’s crime wave hit the important industrial corridor between Monterrey and Nuevo Laredo. To avoid being detected, the Mexican police traveled to the United States in plain clothes on commercial flights, two military officials said. Later the officers were transported back to Mexico on Mexican aircraft, which dropped the agents at or near their targets.

“The cartels don’t expect Mexican police coming from the U.S.,” said one senior military official. None of the officials interviewed about the boomerang operations would speak publicly about them, and refused to provide details about where they were conducted or what criminal organizations had been singled out.

They said that the operations had been carried out only a couple of times in the last 18 months, and that they had not resulted in any significant arrests.

The officials insisted that the Pentagon is not involved in the cross-border operations, and that no Americans take part in drug raids on Mexican territory.

“These are not joint operations,” said one senior administration official. “They are self-contained Mexican operations where staging areas were provided by the United States.”

Former American law enforcement officials who were once posted in Mexico described the boomerang operations as a new take on an old strategy that was briefly used in the late 1990s, when the D.E.A. helped Mexico crack down on the Tijuana Cartel.

To avoid the risks of the cartel being tipped off to police movements by lookouts or police officials themselves, the former officers said, the D.E.A. arranged for specially vetted Mexican police to stage operations out of Camp Pendleton in San Diego. The Mexican officers were not given the names of the targets of their operations until they were securely sequestered on the base. And they were not given the logistical details of the mission until shortly before it was under way.

“They were a kind of rapid-reaction force,” said one former senior D.E.A. official. “It was an effective strategy at the time.”

Another former D.E.A. official said that the older operations resulted in the arrests of a handful of midlevel cartel leaders. But, he said, it was ended in 2000 when cartel leaders struck back by kidnapping, torturing and killing a counternarcotics official in the Mexican attorney general’s office, along with two fellow drug agents.

In recent months, Mexico agreed to post a team of D.E.A. agents, C.I.A. operatives and retired American military officials on a Mexican military base to help conduct intelligence operations, bolstering the work of a similar “fusion cell” already in Mexico City.

Meanwhile the Pentagon is steadily overhauling the parts of the military responsible for the drug fight, paying particular attention to some lessons of nearly a decade of counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. At Northern Command — the military’s Colorado Springs headquarters responsible for North American operations — several top officers with years of experience in fighting Al Qaeda and affiliated groups are poring over intelligence about Mexican drug networks.

One officer said, “The military is trying to take what it did in Afghanistan and do the same in Mexico.”

That’s exactly what some Mexicans are afraid of, said a Mexican political scientist, Denise Dresser, who is an expert on that country’s relations with the United States.

“I’m not necessarily opposed to greater American involvement,” Ms. Dresser said. “But if that’s the way the Mexican government wants to go, it needs to come clean about it. Just look at what we learned from Iraq. Secrecy led to malfeasance. It led to corrupt contracting. It led to torture. It led to instability. And who knows when those problems will be resolved.”

Drug Gangs Control Half of Mexico

Posted on

August 28, 2011

Violent crime has become a problem of national security in Mexico, where half of the territory is outside of state control and “we’re in the hands of the narcos,” an intelligence expert and author of a new book on Mexico’s public safety woes, said.

Jorge Carrillo Olea, founder of Mexico’s leading intelligence center, said the “state has lost territorial control, and therefore governability,” over roughly 50 percent of the country.

The government has been incapable of fully enforcing the law and ensuring justice is upheld, said Carrillo, who spoke to Efe while in Mexico City to promote his new book, “Mexico en riesgo; una vision personal sobre un Estado a la defensive” (Mexico at Risk: A Personal Vision of a State on the Defensive), published this year by Grijalbo.

Carrillo, who in 1989 founded the Center for Research and National Security, or Cisen, a civil entity overseen by the interior ministry, said Mexico’s crime and public safety problems will last for decades because the society has “reached a point of no return.”

He said the country has neglected to combat money laundering and weapons trafficking to avoid stepping on the toes of big Mexican and foreign capitalists, particularly from the United States.

Mexico has shirked its commitment to halt this traffic and “things go no further than empty rhetoric,” said Carrillo, who formerly held top posts in the country’s public administration.

Governments also have undermined the nation’s sovereignty with their policies, ceding authority to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the FBI – “who act like lords and owners in our country” – and even openly requesting assistance from the United States, he said.

The national security expert said drug gangs receive huge profit margins on their business and their battles for control of territory can pose enormous national security risks to countries like Mexico.

Cartels have weapons to combat Mexican security forces, although “with enormous losses for (the gangs)” because they recruit young men without military training, “give them an AK-47 and they use it as if they were watering a garden,” Carrillo said.

The expert said that although the army keeps killing young men recruited by drug mobs, these groups will continue to find more impoverished persons willing to earn between 8,000 and 12,000 pesos ($650-$970) a month and gain a sense of power, obtain women and defy authority.

“If policies are measured by their results, there haven’t been any positive results so far. Even though the authorities say they’ve decapitated the (criminal) organizations, these have multiplied and extended (their reach),” Carrillo, who also once served as governor of the central state of Morelos, said.

Only the formal structures have changed and President Felipe Calderon’s 2006-2012 administration will conclude with some 50,000 drug-related deaths, according to the expert, who worked closely with the previous administrations of Luis Echeverria, 1970-1976; Jose Lopez Portillo, 1976-1982; Miguel de la Madrid, 1982-1988; and Carlos Salinas, 1988-1994.

More than 40,000 deaths attributed mainly to turf battles among the cartels and clashes between gangsters and the security forces already have occurred since Calderon took office in late 2006.

While the president’s militarization of the drug war has led to high-profile arrests and slayings of drug lords, it also has coincided with a sharp increase in drug-related violence.

The growth of the cartels also has sparked a rise in the number of small-time criminal outfits who commit robberies, kidnappings and, especially acts of extortion, against law-abiding citizens, Carrillo said.

Referring to Cisen, the expert said that its original mission was to create a national security system to safeguard the Mexican state but that in recent years it has been placed at the service of each successive administration.

He added that previous intelligence agencies, such as the Federal Security Directorate, had always acted as espionage mechanisms that defended the administration in power from subversive threats.

In that regard, he said Mexico must establish a National State Security policy that is enshrined “in the constitution and other laws, create awareness in Congress and among the citizenry so they monitor its enforcement and prevent it from being changed (with each new president) every six years.”

“We’ve passed the point of no return and no president,” regardless of party affiliation, can do much to solve the security woes, Carrillo said, adding that Calderon’s successor will have to have a “very serious, large team in place to analyze and tackle the problem.”

But “that won’t satisfy people,” the expert predicted. He therefore called for a grand national alliance that promotes long-term solutions, which he said must be in the hands of institutions, not individuals.

Mexico’s Sinaloa cartel makes big move into meth

Posted on

August 28, 2011

MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico’s most powerful drug cartel appears to be expanding methamphetamine production on a massive scale, filling a gap left by the breakdown of a rival gang that was once the top trafficker of the synthetic drug.

The globe-spanning Sinaloa cartel is suspected of dealing record tons of drugs and precursor chemicals processed in industrial-sized operations.

The apparent increase in the Sinaloa group’s involvement comes as the Mexican government says it has dismantled the La Familia gang with key arrests and killings of its leadership, and as Mexico is once again the primary source of meth to the United States, according to U.S. drug intelligence reports.

Methamphetamine production, gauged by seizures of labs and drugs in Mexico, has increased dramatically since 2008.

Mexican authorities have made two major busts in as many months in the quiet central state of Queretaro. In one case, they seized nearly 500 tons (450 metric tons) of precursor chemicals. Another netted 3.4 tons (3.1 metric tons) of pure meth, which at $15,000 a pound would have a street value of more than $100 million.

Authorities said they couldn’t put a value on the precursors, which were likely headed for a 300-foot-long (100-meter-long) industrial processing lab found buried 12 feet (4 meters) underground in a farm field in the cartel’s home, Sinaloa state.

“We think it was Sinaloa,” said a U.S. law enforcement official in Mexico, noting that Sinaloa can piggyback meth onto the network it already has for cocaine, heroin and marijuana. “They may now have this renewed interest in trying to control a bigger portion of the meth market. Although La Familia has distribution points in the U.S. … they don’t have the distribution network that Sinaloa cartel has.”

He couldn’t be named for security reasons.

Steve Preisler, an industrial chemist who wrote the book “Secrets of Methamphetamine Manufacture” and is sometimes called the father of modern meth-making, said “the quantity is just amazing.”

“It is a huge amount of starting material which would allow them to dominate the world market,” Preisler, who served 3½ years in prison more than two decades ago, emailed The Associated Press in reply to questions. He added that the most efficient production methods would yield about half the weight of the precursors in uncut meth, or between 200 and 250 tons, which could be worth billions of dollars.

Officials of Mexico’s federal police, army and attorney general’s office refused to comment on who owned the meth lab or precursor warehouses.

Meth availability in the U.S. has rebounded since the drop in 2007 and is directly related to production in Mexico, according to the U.S. Justice Department.

Meth seizures remained roughly level in the U.S. at 8.16 tons (7.4 metric tons) in 2008 and 8.27 (7.5 metric tons) in 2009. But Mexico went from seizing 0.37 tons (0.34 metric tons) in 2008 to 6.72 tons (6.1 metric tons) in 2009, the U.N report said.

Mexican meth seizure figures for 2010 are not yet published, but the U.S. official said they almost certainly rose over 2009.

Authorities seized 200 tons of precursor chemicals at the seaport of Manzanillo last year, a raid that the Attorney General’s Office described at the time as the largest in Mexican history. The Queretaro seizure last month was double that.

Seizures of methamphetamine laboratories also have increased dramatically, according to the U.S. State Department’s 2011 International Narcotics Control Report. The number of methamphetamine labs seized by Mexican authorities jumped from 57 in 2008 to 217 in 2009, and the number of busts remained almost as high in early 2010. The volume “suggests that it is not solely for U.S. and domestic consumption,” the report said.

The Mexican government says its offensive against La Familia, a pseudo-religious gang based in western Michoacan state that was once the country’s main meth producer, is one of the key successes in its crackdown on organized crime and drug-trafficking. Founder Nazario Moreno Gonzalez was killed in a two-day shootout with federal police in December. His right-hand man, Jose de Jesus Mendez Vargas, who allegedly ran the meth operations, was arrested in June.

But the U.S. official said other gangs are now trying to fill the void.

Sinaloa, headed by fugitive drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, tends to think big: in mid-July, Mexican soldiers found a 300-acre (120 hectare) marijuana field in Baja California, the biggest such plantation in the country’s history. The army said laborers working for the Sinaloa cartel planted thousands of plants under vast swaths of shade cloth and irrigated and fertilized them.

But nobody was prepared for the size of the meth network officials found in industry-heavy Queretaro, one of Mexico’s safest states in terms of drug violence. The two seizures were related, the U.S. official said, and came out of the arrest of a local meth distributor months ago.

When soldiers raided three interconnected warehouses on June 15, they thought they had found 1,462 50-gallon drums filled with various precursors. But when experts examined the stash, they found 3.4 tons (3.1 metric tons) of pure meth.

Last month, soldiers discovered another warehouse at an industrial park piled with 300 metric tons of solid phenylacetamide and the equivalent of about 150 tons of liquid methyl phenylacetate.

Used in an old type of meth production known as “P2P,” the ingredients are easier to smuggle, or to make from other substances that aren’t specifically banned. Such precursors have become more prevalent since Mexico outlawed meth’s main ingredient, pseudoephedrine, in 2007.

Authorities say the P2P method produces a less-potent drug. But the 2011 World Drug Report released in June by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime noted that the sheer quantity of meth the Mexican cartels are producing allows them offer it in purer form.

Soldiers found a sophisticated underground meth lab near the Sinaloa coast city of Mazatlan on June 26. The two-story structure had an elevator and ventilation systems, cooking and sleeping facilities. The house-sized under ground complex was reachable only by a 30-meter (yard) long tunnel, the opening disguised under a tractor shed.

The U.S. official said the warehouse in Queretaro raided in July was apparently meant to supply the underground lab in Sinaloa.

Some speculate that the Sinaloa cartel is trying to reach even beyond the U.S. Police in Malaysia arrested three Mexican brothers in March 2008 at a secluded meth factory along with a Singaporean and a Malaysian, and seized more than 60 pounds (nearly 30 kilograms) of methamphetamine.

While the U.S. official wouldn’t say that the men belonged to the Sinaloa cartel, he noted that were from Sinaloa state.

“Were they over there showing people how to cook meth? … Or was it a test for Sinaloa, a test of the capability of expanding the market to that part of the world?” he said.

Such an Asian connection would be a natural link for the cartel, since most of Mexico’s precursor chemicals come from the region.

The cartels behind Mexico’s drug war

Posted on

Aug 28, 2011

Although a specific drug cartel has not as yet been implicated in the recent arson attack on a Monterrey casino that killed 52 people, many observers suspect the incident is a product of the bloody turf wars and extortion rackets involving Mexico’s notorious drug cartels.

The ruthless battles among competing cartels and between the cartels and the government forces trying to take them down have claimed at least 40,000 lives since 2006, the year that Mexico’s president, Felipe Calderon, launched a crackdown against the cartels that many say has only increased the violence. In 2010 alone, the bloodiest year to date, more than 15,000 people were killed in drug-related violence.

Although there are many areas of Mexico where cartels are not active, in the states and cities they do control, their reach is vast. They not only employ local gangs as enforcers but exert control over police, the military and politicians. Mayors, governors, journalists and police officers have all fallen victim to the cartels’ particularly brutal brand of intimidation and violence.

What’s more, the cartels have branched out from drug trafficking in recent years and are involved in numerous other criminal enterprises, including kidnapping, counterfeiting, human-smuggling and business extortion of the kind authorities suspect may have been behind the attack at the Monterrey casino, which had been hit twice before the Aug. 26 incident.

With a presidential election on the horizon in 2012, the pressure is on Calderon to curb the violence and rethink the strategy he set in motion in 2006. Back then, the president set about dismantling the local police forces he felt had been corrupted by the cartels and brought in tens of thousands of his own federal troops and police to pursue the drug lords. Some say this only led to more violence, as the cartels were now fighting not only each other but federal forces as well, and more and more civilians were getting caught in the crossfire.

Calderon has also been criticized for his tactic of going after the high-profile heads of the cartels, which often provokes violent power struggles within the organizations that breeds more killing and violence.

Mexico a player in global drug trade

Drug production and trafficking in Mexico go back decades, but its role as a supplier has grown considerably in the 2000s, as has the control Mexican cartels wield over supply routes from Colombia and other Central and South American countries. The UN reported in its 2010 World Drug Report that by 2008, Mexico was the third-largest source of opium after Afghanistan and Burma. As the drug trade has grown, so has the number of cartels that want a piece of it. Many of the old family clans that controlled trafficking in the 1980s and 90s have lost the old guard and splintered into smaller criminal groups, and the gentlemen’s rules they followed went out the window as fights over territory became increasingly violent.

Much of Mexico’s drug trade is driven by U.S. demand. It is the main foreign supplier of methamphetamine and marijuana sold in the U.S. and the main transit route for the country’s cocaine and heroin. The U.S., in turn, is the primary supplier of arms to the Mexican cartels. About 70 per cent of the firearms recovered at crime scenes in Mexico in 2009-10 were from the U.S., according to a June 2011 U.S. Senate report. The Mexican government’s own statistics reveal that almost one-third of all drug-related homicides occur in the six states that border the U.S.

Given those facts, the pressure has increased on U.S. authorities to help Mexico fight its drug problem.

Earlier this year, the U.S. began flying unarmed drones over Mexican territory to obtain images of drug-production facilities and smuggling routes, and it has also deployed manned aircraft to eavesdrop on cartel communications. U.S. intelligence and law enforcement agencies have begun working more closely with their Mexican counterparts, even allowing them to launch clandestine operations against the cartels from U.S. territory.

Mexico’s network of drug cartels is nebulous and complex, with organizations merging, splintering and shifting alliances in their quest to control drug-trafficking routes. Below is a rough overview of some of the major groups involved in the country’s drug trade, although there are numerous other affiliate groups and smaller players.

Sinaloa cartel

Named after the state on Mexico’s Pacific coast that has a long history of drug trafficking and where most of the country’s cartels originated, this is Mexico’s largest and most powerful cartel. It is an alliance of several powerful drug lords that operates in dozens of countries. The cartel’s head is the country’s most-wanted drug baron, Joaquin “El Chapo (Shorty)” Guzman, who escaped from a high-security prison in 2001 and has eluded capture ever since. The cartel operates on a large scale, as was shown in July 2011 when police discovered a 120-hectare Sinaloa marijuana plantation in the state of Baja California. One of its top leaders, Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel, was killed by the army in July 2010. The cartel is known for buying off government and military officials. Some suspect it has ties to the governing party and as a result gets favourable treatment from justice officials and law enforcement in return for providing incriminating information about its competitors.

Gulf cartel

A once-powerful and storied cartel that has lost influence since the 2004 arrest of its leader, Osiel Cárdenas Guillén. Based in the eastern state of Tamaulipas on the Gulf of Mexico coast, it has been waging turf wars against its former armed wing, the Zetas, in that state as well as in two other northern border states, Nuevo Leon and Coahuila. The Zetas split from the cartel in 2010 and are now one of Mexico’s most powerful criminal groups. Its fight with the Zetas has forced the Gulf cartel into a strategic alliance with its sworn enemy, Sinaloa, with whom it fought brutally over control of Tamaulipas in 2004-05, as well as with former rivals La Familia.

Los Zetas

The former armed wing of the Gulf cartel, it is considered the most violent and ruthless criminal organization in Mexico. Made up of former special forces troops, it is highly organized, well armed and equipped, and known for its brutal tactics, which include beheadings, torture and indiscriminate slaughter. An example of the latter is the August 2010 killing of 72 migrants blamed on the Zetas. The bodies of the migrants were found dumped in a mass grave in Tamaulipas state near the U.S. border. Some suspect Los Zetas were also behind the Monterrey casino attack. The group is known to have influence over security forces, which has enabled it to carry out brazen prison breaks and attacks on police stations and other high-profile government targets. It controls much of the Gulf coast and has access to trafficking routes from Central America. Is allied with Beltran-Leyva Organization.

Juarez cartel

Operates in the northern border town of Ciudad Juarez, a coveted trafficking point and the most violent city in the country. Its bloody rivalry with the Sinaloa cartel has led to almost 6,500 deaths in Ciudad Juarez between December 2006 and December 2010, which accounted for 19 per cent of all homicides in that period. The cartel is allied with the Zetas and Beltran-Leyva and is sometimes called the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes Organization after its leader. Like other cartels, it uses smaller local gangs to control territory and secure drug shipments. Its main enforcer arm on the Mexican side of the border is known as La Linea and has carried out operations with the Zetas in Chihuahua state in attempt to rout Sinaloa from the area.

Beltran-Leyva Organization

Established by the Beltran-Leyva brothers who used to head up security for the Sinaloa cartel, the group split from Sinaloa in 2008 after the arrest of Alfredo Beltran Leyva and allied itself with the Zetas, setting off a violent turf war in Sinaloa state. Leader Arturo Beltran-Leyva was killed in a navy operation in 2009 and was succeeded by the middle brother, Hector Beltran-Leyva, who still heads the group. The death of Arturo and arrests of other top cartel members have severely weakened the group. Middle sibling Hector Beltran-Leyva currently heads the group.

Tijuana cartel (Arellano Felix Organization)

Once a powerful player in Mexico’s drug trade, the cartel, founded by the Arellano Felix clan, has been diminished since the arrests and assassinations of the five brothers who once led the organization. It is now led by a nephew of the brothers, Fernando Sanchez Arellano, known as El Ingeniero. After the arrest of the last brother, Eduardo Arellano Felix, in 2008, the group split into two factions, allying, respectively, with Sinaloa, the clan’s long-standing enemies, and the Zetas. A bloody round of infighting ensued and ended only after the head of one faction, Eduardo Teodoro Garcia Simental, was arrested in January 2010. Currently, the reunited cartel is fighting to retain control of its extortion and kidnapping racket in the face of Sinaloa’s incursions into the strategic northwestern border town of Tijuana.

La Familia Michoacan

Active in Calderon’s home state of Michoacan, this cartel is known for its bizarre brand of cult-like religious ideology. It began as an anti-drug vigilante group before moving into the drug trade itself, famously signaling its entry into the business in 2006 by throwing five severed heads onto a nightclub floor. Its fight with the Zetas over territory is what set off the government crackdown against the cartels in 2006. It was the main supplier of methamphetamine before its charismatic leader, Nazario Moreno González, known as El Mas Loco (“The Craziest One”), was killed by police in December 2010 and Sinaloa stepped in. Following his death, the group split into two factions, one called the Knights Templar, and a weaker splinter group that retained the Familia name. The head of the latter, Jose Mendez Vargas, was arrested in June 2011, which reinforced the Knights Templar as Its fight with the Zetas over territory is what set off the government crackdown against the cartels in 2006. the dominant faction.

Burning Down Casino Royale: Mexico’s Latest Drug Atrocity

Posted on

Aug. 26, 2011

After Monterrey saw piles of severed heads and corpses hanging from overpasses, it was hard to imagine a more gruesome attack in Mexico’s industrial heartland. But the survivors pulled out of the city’s burning Casino Royale described the truly hellish dimensions of the worst act of violence in the city in recent memory. The massacre illustrates how Mexico’s drug cartels have steadily raised the stakes in trying to outbid one another as the most brutal player in the conflict. While their victims used to be limited to gangsters and police, now they are increasingly civilians, with catastrophic consequences.

CTV footage shows a gang of eight gunmen descending on the casino, located in an upper-middle-class neighborhood, on Thursday afternoon, Aug. 25, while about 150 croupiers and customers — mostly women — played bingo, roulette and slots. The scene quickly descended into psychosis and panic, as the crowd stampeded from the games into bathrooms, stairwells and a blocked emergency exit. They heard gunfire and explosions that they thought were grenades and saw men pour gasoline over the machines and set them alight. As the building burst into flames, most of the victims choked to death in trapped corners, while others burned as they tried to escape or were crushed by the stampede. When emergency crews finally smashed down the walls to rescue the survivors, corpses littered the game tables, stairwells and bathrooms. By Friday morning, police had counted 52 dead; dozens more were in hospitals.

President Felipe Calderón quickly underlined the terrorist nature of the attack, whose victims appeared to mostly be innocent civilians with no connection to the drug war. “I express my solidarity … with the victims of this abhorrent act of terror and barbarity,” he wrote in a statement. “These deplorable acts require all of us to persevere in the fight against those unscrupulous criminal gangs.” The President’s message reaffirmed his commitment to the all-out war against drug cartels he has waged since taking power in December 2006. But the promise of more fighting back from the government offered little comfort to Mexico’s shaken public, which has watched cartels steadily escalate their tactics during the past decade. The bloody casino attack would have been inconceivable in Mexico five years ago. Yet as the country woke to news of the tragedy on Friday, people were disgusted but not surprised.

As in so much of the violence in this conflict, it is hard to fathom the motives of the criminal hit squads. In a news conference, officials said it was the work of “organized crime” — meaning drug cartels — but it did not say which gang it suspected. Monterrey has been torn by fighting between the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas, a criminal militia led by former special-forces commandos. Officials also said they are investigating the casino owners themselves for operating without a license. Casinos are one of the key businesses used by cartels for money laundering, and gangs like to hit their rivals’ assets. But many businesses are the victims of cartel extortion and are attacked when they don’t pay protection money.

Whatever the reason gangsters hit the casino, most of the victims were simply customers having a flutter. Some witnesses were reported as saying that although the assailants ordered them to leave, the terrified people in the crowd fled further into the building. Others didn’t hear anything but gunshots and stampeding. Many with knowledge of cartels allege that the attackers were deliberately attacking civilians to make a bigger impact. On El Blog del Narco, a website that broadcasts cartel propaganda videos, the editor concluded that the attackers knew exactly what they were doing. “Without a doubt, the attack was thought up and ordered from the high levels of an organized crime group,” he wrote. “The assassins knew perfectly what they were getting into. Their plan was to sow terror in the population.” For many, killing civilians to make an impact is the definition of terrorism.

Mexico’s cartels started the brutal tactic of beheading rivals as recently as 2006 — a technique they mimicked from al-Qaeda videos, investigators say. The stunt was meant to terrorize both their enemies and the public. In September 2008, gangsters hit civilians directly when they lobbed two grenades at revelers celebrating Independence Day, killing eight. In July 2010, the public became even more worried, when the Juárez Cartel set off a car bomb, killing police and civilians. Then, in August, the world was stunned when 72 migrants traveling through Mexico were shot dead in a massacre allegedly carried out by the Zetas in San Fernando County, which lies between Monterrey and the Texas border.

The Casino Royale tragedy is the second most deadly massacre in the conflict, after San Fernando. While the victims of last year’s atrocity were poor migrants, the Casino Royale victims included many wealthy residents of Mexico’s top business center. Among those waiting desperately outside the casino for word on family members was a former professional soccer player. In response, Calderón called for three days of national mourning. Amid this lamenting of what happened, many worry about what lies ahead — and what the cartels could possibly do next.,8599,2090601,00.html

Violent Mexican drug trafficking organization indicted for meth and heroin distribution

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August 25, 2011

A grand jury indictment returned in Seattle targets a Sinoloa, Mexico, drug trafficking organization smuggling heroin and methamphetamine into Arizona, and then transporting it for distribution as far east as Alabama and Ohio, and as far north as Western Washington.

The investigation of the OLAIS ROCHA organization began in 2009, through the efforts of the South Snohomish County Narcotics Task Force (SSCNTF).

Between January and June 2011, DEA partnered with SSCNTF, on a court authorized wiretap of cell phones used by the ring providing insights into the flow of drugs and cash, and the violence that is part and parcel of the drug trade.

When officers and agents moved in to make arrests in June 2011, law enforcement seized eight pounds of crystal methamphetamine, seven pounds of heroin, more than $174,000 in cash, nine firearms and ten cars.

Fifteen of eighteen indicted have been arrested and will be arraigned on the superseding indictment next week. They include:

· Orlando Olais Rocha, 31, Lynnwood, WA

· Everardo Olais Rocha, 27, Lynnwood, WA

· Heriberto Perez Ruiz, 29, Puyallup, WA

· Eleno Sepulveda Acosta, 25, Puyallup, WA

· Santos Segundo Gerardo, 21, Tuscaloosa, AL

· Mitzy Patino Leon, 21, San Luis, AZ

· Jose Martin Villa Rivera, 31, Lynnwood, WA

· Jacqueline C. VillA, 28, Lynnwood, WA

· Raul Alfaro Munoz, 35, Everett, WA

· Julio Cesar Villafana, 32, Everett, WA

· Luis Fernando Soto Baez, 24, Marysville, WA

· Edgar Omar Hernandez Valdez, 24, Marysville, WA

· Ernesto Millan Velderrain, 48, Everett, WA

· Brian Batts, 48, Snohomish, WA

· Geoffrey Wright, 42, Everett, WA

The court authorized wiretap recordings reveal details of the drug ring.

Members smuggled drugs across the border from Mexico, to a stash house in Arizona.

Drugs and cash were packed in special compartments of vehicles or in voids within the frame of the vehicle.

Some loads were packed in the void beneath the bed of a pick-up truck.

The drugs were then transported to the Seattle area, and elsewhere, for distribution.

In conversations recorded on the court authorized wiretap, members of the conspiracy were heard discussing a contract killing of unknown persons in Mexico.

Thursday’s superseding indictment added two new federal firearms charges against two of the leading defendants.

Orlando Olais Rocha and Everardo Olais Rocha were charged by the grand jury with two counts of Possession of a Firearm in Furtherance of a Drug Trafficking Crime.

These charges involve six firearms, including an AK-47 assault rifle, which were seized from a duplex in Puyallup and an apartment in Lynnwood.

These new firearms charges are in addition to three previously charged counts alleging conspiracy to import methamphetamine and heroin, conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and heroin, and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

If convicted on the drugs counts, the defendants face a mandatory term of imprisonment of at least ten years, and up to life imprisonment, a fine of up to $10 million, a term of supervised release following imprisonment of at least five years, and forfeiture of all drug proceeds and facilitating property.

If Orlando and Everardo Olais Rocha are convicted of the newly added firearms offenses, they will face an additional mandatory five-year sentence which must run consecutively to the sentencing imposed on the drug offenses.

The charges contained in the indictment are only allegations.

A person is presumed innocent unless and until he or she is proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law.

This was an Organized Crime and Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) investigation, providing supplemental federal funding to the federal and state agencies involved.

Forget Cliff Diving, Acapulco Now Known as Hot Spot in Mexico’s Drug War

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The days of jet set vacationing in Acapulco are long gone, but the Mexican resort city is once again in the news, this time for drug violence. It is one of the few tourist spots in Mexico suffering from public shootouts

August 25, 2011

Moises Montero, aka ‘The Korean’, was arrested this month as the alleged leader of the ‘ Independent’ drug cartel of Acapulco. He is suspected in the kidnapping and killing of 20 Mexican tourists in Acapulco in 2010.

While many of Mexico’s tourist areas have remained separate from the bouts of drug violence buffeting the country, the popular resort city of Acapulco has emerged as one of the new hot spots of organized crime.

A bloody week in which more than two dozen people were killed, and five decapitated bodies were found around the city, is the latest marker of Acapulco’s decline.

As Excelsior reports, many of those murdered in the resort were taxi drivers, who often work as lookouts for one drug gang or another. On the year, 42 cab drivers have been murdered in the city, according to figures from the newspaper Reforma.

The recent wave of violence has led to a broader spike in crimes against the population in this port city, including people unconnected to organized crime.

Twenty-three local gasoline stations shut their doors for three hours on Friday to protest against increased extortion demands, while authorities reported a 20-fold rise in car robberies along the famed Autopista del Sol, or Highway of the Sun, which connects Acapulco to Mexico City. After a series of robberies on shops last week, a handful of jewelers in the city’s downtown announced a weekend shutdown to take a stand against the violence.

As of early August, 650 people had been killed in Acapulco in 2011, making it perhaps the bloodiest big city in Mexico after Juarez.

Acapulco’s body count has been strikingly high for a number of years.

As a key entryway for South American cocaine, the city has long been an attractive piece of real estate for drug gangs, with agents of the Sinaloa Cartel battling the Zetas as far back as 2005. But breakdowns in the coherence of the hegemonic networks in Mexico have transformed Acapulco from the site of a battle between two competing gangs to an anarchic mess of newer groups.

Much of the recent surge in violence stems from battles between the Independent Cartel of Acapulco (known as CIDA for its initials in Spanish), which is made up of the remains of the network run by Edgar Valdez Villarreal until his arrest in September 2010, and the South Pacific Cartel, a newly emerging gang that is loosely affiliated with the Beltran Leyvas.

Other smaller gangs such as the Barredora, which saw 10 members arrested for a litany of crimes earlier this month, are also carving out a toehold. The increase in petty crimes like armed robbery and car theft also suggests a rise in smaller groups capitalizing on the climate of insecurity, though they are less active in the international cocaine trade.

At the same time, larger groups like the Zetas, the Sinaloa Cartel, and the Familia Michoacana continue to compete for space in this city of some 700,000 residents.

Authorities say that the recent rash of murders in Acapulco stems from the arrest of CIDA boss Moises Montero Alvarez, alias “El Coreano” earlier this month, as others in the region fight over the scraps of his network.

While violence in Mexico has by and large sidestepped the nation’s vital tourism industry, the killings in Acapulco have been enough to drive down the number of foreign visitors, according to some local proprietors.

Mexican tourists still flock to Acapulco, though not without at least some danger: almost two dozen residents of nearby Michoacan were abducted and killed late last year, after being mistaken for members of the Familia.

Local officials have struggled to find an answer to the insecurity. Manuel Añorve Baños, the mayor of Acapulco, has been requesting federal security reinforcements for months, as local police have proven unable to tamp down on the violence hitting the city.

Of course, there already is a substantial federal presence in and around Acapulco, and it has done little to rein in the violence.

Other officials have suggested different tactics: the attorney general in Acapulco’s home state of Guerrero, Alberto Lopez Rosas, provoked controversy earlier this week when he called for a pact among the competing groups to reduce the violence.

Lopez Rosas was subsequently obliged to clarify that he was not proposing that the government strike a truce with criminal groups, but only that the gangs follow certain rules of behavior among themselves.

1 dead, 5 wounded in Mexico border school shooting ‎

Posted on

August 25, 2011

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (AP) — Gunmen attacked a group of parents waiting for their children outside an elementary school Wednesday, killing one man and wounding five other people in a dangerous part of the Mexican border city of Ciudad Juarez.

The Chihuahua state prosecutor’s office said two cars drove up to the school around noon, and two men got out and started shooting, apparently with assault rifles.

The gunfire wounded one man and four women, prosecutors’ spokesman Arturo Sandoval said.

Teachers locked down the school, not allowing students to leave until the situation calmed down. Frightened parents rushed to the school to search for their children.

No information on the motive for the attack was released, but schools in Ciudad Juarez have reported receiving threats and extortion demands in the past.

The federal Interior Ministry condemned the shootings. “This is precisely the irrational violence that should be combatted equally by all three levels of government,” its statement said.

Mexico’s federal government has been urging state and local authorities to improve their police forces with better training for their officers and by investigating officers for possible ties to crime organizations.

The Sinaloa and Juarez drug cartels have been fighting for control of Ciudad Juarez, which neighbors El Paso, Texas. More than 6,000 people have been killed in the city since 2008.


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