The Scorpion and the Frog: A New Phase in Mexico’s Drug War

In Sight: Organized Crime in the Americas, 10/23/11

On October 12, Mexico saw its second high-level drug-lord arrest in eight days. And both arrests, on different sides of Mexico, came wrapped in the same snappy, tantalizing language. Official communiques called them “precision operations … without a shot fired.”

The wording seemed to boast that as of mid-2011 something in the Mexican drug war had changed. These were not old-style mega-busts–as when capo Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel bled out in his mansion on July 29, 2010, and the apartment of Antonio Cardenas Guillen, alias “Tony Tormenta,” was gutted November 5, 2010, with aerial fire hitting parked cars a block away.

The new-style arrestee on October 12 is “La Rana,” the Frog (Carlos Oliva Castillo), who is said to be the third-highest leader of the Zetas cartel. His “precision” capture, in the northeast Mexican city of Saltillo, came as part of something called Operation Scorpion, whose sting hides a long history. Tracing the shadowy pedigree of Operation Scorpion illumines the drug war as a whole.

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