Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Drug war opposition and support

I wrote a short piece on the polarity of voices in the drug war, for Voice of Mexico, a friend's web site. Here it is (link in title of the post, too)

Creel's drug war plan

PAN presidential hopeful Santiago Creel on Wednesday pulled a smart political move by declaring he would break with the current drug war strategy (which he condemned) and then laying out plans that fit perfectly into the currently designed template.

Creel, no ally of Calderon within PAN circles, said he would change "everything" if elected in 2012. "The direct, frontal, expansive strategy is a strategy that should end with this administration."

Creel said that he would begin to take the army off the streets - he gave a 24-month withdrawal timeframe – and insisted the priority should be going after the cartel's revenue streams, going after money laundering, and cleaning up prisons.

This is no different from Calderon's strategy. In fact, according to a senior official I spoke with about the matter about a year ago, it is considered to be Phase 4 of the current drug war plan. So, clearly, Creel has calculated that by bashing the current administration's strategy, he will win political points with an increasingly disillusioned electorate, while also appeasing the powers that be inside the PAN (and of course, winning friends internationally – the US has invested $1.4 billion in Merida Initiative money towards this drug war strategy; so does anyone think things are going to change dramatically in the next sexenio?)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Calderon interview with NY Times/Chapo stuff

The New York Times interview with President Felipe Calderon is really pretty interesting, if you read the Spanish transcript rather than the edited version. (Link in title of post.)

I won't analyze it, or go into the statements about the PRI, but will comment on his remarks about Chapo, which are now generating buzz in Mexican dailies.

Here's what he says: (in response to a question about Chapo's wife giving birth to twins in a Los Angeles hospital and how she might have made it there)

Calderon: Well that you have to ask US border authorities. Because the [customs/immigration checkpoint] one has to cross in order to get to Los Angeles is American, not Mexican. If Chapo was in Los Angeles I'd ask the Americans why they didn't catch him. I don't know if he was in Los Angeles, but those are questions I have.

NYT: But he/she (unclear from context whether NYT is referring to Chapo or his wife) had to travel across Mexican territory to get to LA.

Calderon: He/she is not in Mexican territory, and I suppose/guess that Chapo is in US territory. Here the surprising thing is that he or his wife are so comfortable in the United States, which makes me ask myself... How many families [of drug lords] or capos would be more comfortable on the northern side of the border than on the southern side? What does Chapo Guzman gain by having his family in the United States?

Calderon, speaking about Chapo and other capos: Chapo, like other leaders, Los Zetas, Lazcano... these are very protected people, people who have very complex cover networks. In the specific case of El Chapo, we suspect his area of influence extends through the Sierra Madre Occidental, between the states of Chihuahua, Durango and Sinaloa, which allows him great mobility and regardless of what operations we conduct to catch him, he has a way of detecting [the authorities] at dozens of kilometers distance, hours away.

Certainly, during my administration, the Mexican army has arrived, probably twice, at a site where Chapo had been just hours before. Sooner or later, he and other leaders will fall.

NYT: Do you want Chapo dead or alive?
Calderon: Frankly, I don't wish death upon anyone.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Them's fightin' words

I might have to reconsider my last post: La Jornada has published a scathing editorial in the aftermath of Fast and Furious, asking whether the United States is an "ally or enemy?"

Link in title of the post.

Global Post piece on US military assistance to Mexico

Global Post has an interesting story on US military assistance to Mexico. (Link in title of post).

The headline: US troops aid Mexico in drug war... The US doesn't need to invade — it's already there.

The piece, by Ioan Grillo (admittedly a very good foreign correspondent in Mexico), is decent, and outlines the ways in which the U.S. is offering assistance to Mexico in the drug war.

Then, however, Grillo proceeds to write: "But few in the U.S. are aware how entrenched their military machine has already become south of the Rio Grande. The rising American presence has caused consternation in Mexico, a strongly nationalist country that annually celebrates the ninos heroes, child soldiers who died fighting the U.S. in 1847.
Some commentators here say new American involvement violates Mexico’s constitution."

True, some commentators have indeed noted their offense to US assistance on the ground; they have also expressed unease at the amount of US agents (DEA, FBI, ICE) on their soil.

"Some commentators."

This is important; over the past few years, there's been a notable shift in US-Mexican relations, one that few media have dared report. The shift is this: there has been very little public outcry (even from the traditionally anti-gringo Left) over US assistance in the drug war. Even La Jornada has refrained from outright gringo-bashing, because, well, they realize Mexico needs all the help it can get. "Consternation?" Not to much.

So what's the point of this statement in the Global Post article? In my mind, it's simply an attempt to rile people up, to try and throw a spanner in the works by harkening back to bygone eras of nationalist fervor – rather than a real effort at serious reporting of a serious issue.

I welcome thoughts on this subject. Sovereignty is obviously an important issue in this drug war, and it's important to put Rick Perry's comments in proper context. But as reporters, I think it's equally important to look for the facts and then make the point, rather than the other way around.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Chronology of bloodshed

The video released by the matazetas just recently has some new elements to it, and the killing of 35 alleged zetas in Veracruz seems to be a ratcheting up of drug violence. So I thought I'd do a quick recap of the violence, and how it has evolved. I welcome any incidents that I've left out:

2005 – Video featuring La Barbie and his men interrogating, torturing and then killing four alleged Zetas is uploaded onto the Internet.

Sept. 2006 – Five heads are rolled onto a dance floor at the Sol y Sombra nightclub in Uruapan, Michoacan. La Familia takes credit, mentions "divine justice."
This is the first mention of religion in context of drug cartel violence. It is not the first beheading, but it garners much media attention.

Also in late 2006, the head of a decapitated Acapulco policeman is placed on a pike outside of the police station.

2007 - Narcomantas start appearing on overpasses throughout Mexico, often accompanied by dead bodies of rival narcos. Some of the messages taunt rivals, others accuse the authorities (as high up as the president) of collusion with groups like the Sinaloa cartel. Some narcomantas, attributed to Los Zetas, attempt to lure soldiers to the other side with offers of "better salaries and benefits."

During 2007 and 2008, beheadings become commonplace. Dozens of heads, sometimes left in coolers, are discovered alongside roads throughout Mexico. A couple are even discovered at Mexico City's airport.

August 2008 – Thirteen apparent innocents – including several teenagers, a 4-year-old and a 16-month-old – are massacred in the Chihuahua town of Creel.

January 2009 – 'El Pozolero' is arrested. Confesses to having dissolved more than 300 bodies in caustic soda for one drug cartel.

Early 2009 – In Caborca, Sonora, a gang of Sinaloa cartel hitmen kidnap a group of rivals. Limb by limb, they saw them to bits.

Some time also in 2009, the headless bodies of two men are thrown out of a small plane flying over Sonora. Stunned farmers discover them shortly after.

September 2, 2009 – An attack on a rehab center in Ciudad Juarez leaves 18 dead. This would be the first of several attacks on rehab clinics nationwide.

In 2009, there were more than 300 beheadings throughout Mexico.

Around New Year's Eve, 2009: A thirty-six-year-old man is found dead in Sinaloa. His body has been cut into seven pieces. His face has been carved off, delicately. It was later found, stitched on to a football. A note was left with the ball: "Happy New Year, because this will be your last."

August 2010 - The bodies of 72 migrants are found in a mass grave in Tamaulipas.

December 2010 – 14-year-old Edgar Jimenez Lugo is arrested, confesses that he worked as a sicario and participated in four executions.

February 2011 – Sicarios fail to find their target in Ciudad Juarez, so kill his three daughters (aged 12, 14, and 15) instead.

March 2011 – A state police commander in Chihuahua is attacked as she walks her 5-year-old daughter to school; both die of gunshot wounds.

Also in March, a young woman is bound and gagged, shot and abandoned in a car in Acapulco. Her 4-year-old daughter is discovered next to her, killed with a single bullet to the chest. That same week, according to the Washington Post, four other kids are killed in Acapulco.

April 2011 – 193 dead bodies found in a mass grave in Tamaulipas.

May 2011 – More than 180 bodies are dug up at five sites in Durango.

There are more incidents, obviously, but these are the ones that spring immediately to mind.