May 24, 2013
Associated Press, 5/22/2013
The farm state of Michoacan is burning. A drug cartel that takes its name from an ancient monastic order has set fire to lumber yards, packing plants and passenger buses in a medieval-like reign of terror. The Knights Templar cartel is extorting protection payments from cattlemen, lime growers and businesses such as butchers, prompting some communities to fight back, taking up arms in vigilante patrols.
Lime picker Alejandro Ayala chose to seek help from the law instead. After the cartel forced him out of work by shutting down fruit warehouses, he and several dozen co-workers, escorted by Federal Police, met on April 10 with then-state Interior Secretary Jesus Reyna, now the acting governor of the state in western Mexico. The 41-year-old father of two only wanted to get back to work, said his wife, Martha Elena Murguia Morales.
May 24, 2013
Agence France Presse, 5/23/2013
Farmers wearing bulletproof vests and toting assault rifles ride in pick-up trucks emblazoned with the word “self-defense” to protect this rural Mexican town from a drug cartel. The government deployed thousands of troops to the western state of Michoacan this week, but in some towns like Coalcoman, population 10,000, vigilantes are wary of putting down their weapons until they feel safe again. “We won’t drop our guard until we see results,” Antonio Rodriguez, a 37-year-old avocado grower and member of the community force, told AFP.
Authorities detained four members of a self-defense group in another town called Buenavista on Wednesday, angering about 200 residents, some wielding sticks, who surrounded some 20 soldiers to demand their release. The situation was defused about five hours later, when two of the detainees were released, according to an interior ministry source. Local media reported that all four had been released. Interior Minister Miguel Angelo Osorio Chong said earlier that the soldiers were merely having a “dialogue” with the residents to resolve the dispute, but he insisted that the authorities would disarm and detain anyone with a weapon.
May 23, 2013
Associated Press, 5/22/2013
Help finally arrived Sunday when thousands of soldiers rolled in to restore order. The government of President Enrique Pena Nieto says troops will stay in Michoacan until every citizen lives in peace. But the offensive, headed by Secretary of Defense Salvador Cienfuegos, looks a lot like failed operations launched previously by former President Felipe Calderon, who started his first assault on organized crime in Michoacan shortly after taking office in late 2006.
Calderon was trying to stop drug cartels from morphing into mafias controlling all segments of society. But that’s exactly what has happened, as they maintain country roads, control the local economy and mete out justice for common crimes. In the Tierra Caliente, a remote agricultural region, fire has been a favored weapon of the cartel. On the highway between Coalcoman and La Ruana, the ruins of three sawmills torched by the cartel still smoldered this week.
May 22, 2013
Los Angeles Times, 5/21/2013
The Mexican government poured army troops — and high-level delegations — into western Mexico on Tuesday in a bid to take back control of a region long besieged by a deadly drug cartel. The operation in the Pacific state of Michoacan is the first major military deployment targeting drug traffickers to be ordered by the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto, which is still struggling to publicly define its security strategy six months after assuming leadership of this violent country.
Michoacan was probably chosen because it was fast spiraling into chaos. Parts of the state were awash in lawlessness, crippled by a cartel calling itself the Knights Templar, which in recent weeks blocked roads, torched businesses that refused to pay protection money and killed resisters. Entire villages were cut off, some reported to be desperately short on supplies. In response and feeling abandoned or ignored by authorities, groups of armed citizens attempted to fight back. But they often proved no match for the Knights Templar and were eager to see the army arrive.
May 21, 2013
Associated Press, 5/20/2013
Residents of a western Mexico area who endured months besieged by a drug cartel cheered the arrival of hundreds of Mexican soldiers Monday. People in La Ruana in Michoacan state lined the main road to greet more than a dozen troop transports and heavily armed Humvees with applause and shouts of joy. The town’s supplies had been blocked after the Knights Templars cartel declared war on the hamlet. The cartel dominates much of the state, demanding extortion payments from businessmen and storeowners, and even low-wage workers.
In February, the town formed self-defense squads to kick the cartel out, drawing the wrath of the gang. Convoys of cartel gunmen attacked the town, which was forced to throw up stone barricades and build guard posts. Supplies like gasoline, milk and cooking gas began to run low as cartel gunmen threatened to burn any trucks bringing in goods. On Monday, hundreds of soldiers moved in, erecting checkpoints on the highway leading into La Ruana and setting up an operating base in the town.
April 22, 2013
Military Checkpoint in Juarez
Los Angeles Times, 4/20/13
Gen. Tomas Angeles Dauahare, who once held the plum post of military attache to the Mexican Embassy in Washington, was rumored to be the next defense minister of Mexico. Until that day in May last year when he and three other top military men were arrested on suspicion of working on behalf of a notorious drug cartel.
It was the largest indictment of army officers on charges of drug-trafficking in recent memory, hailed in many quarters as proof of then-President Felipe Calderon’s determination to root out corruption at every level. But one night last week, Angeles stepped from the Altiplano maximum-security prison, all charges dropped.
February 5, 2013
The New York Times, 2/4/2013
As Mexico’s military staged its annual Independence Day parade in September, spectators filled the main square of Mexico City to cheer on the armed forces. Nearly 2,000 miles away in Washington, American officials were also paying attention. But it was not the helicopters hovering overhead or the antiaircraft weapons or the soldiers in camouflage that caught their attention. It was the man chosen to march at the head of the parade, Gen. Moisés García Ochoa, who by tradition typically becomes the country’s next minister of defense.
The Obama administration had many concerns about the general, including the Drug Enforcement Administration’s suspicion that he had links to drug traffickers and the Pentagon’s anxiety that he had misused military supplies and skimmed money from multimillion-dollar defense contracts. In the days leading up to Mexico’s presidential inauguration on Dec. 1, the United States ambassador to Mexico, Anthony Wayne, met with senior aides to President Enrique Peña Nieto to express alarm at the general’s possible promotion.
January 22, 2013
American Forces Press Service, 1/22/2013
With a U.S. defense strategy focused heavily on the Asia-Pacific region and the Middle East, officials at U.S. Northern Command here are enthusiastically advancing engagement to the United States’ immediate southern border.
Mexico, which has long focused its military internally, is increasingly receptive to building a closer bilateral relationship with the U.S. military, Army Maj. Gen. Francis G. Mahon, Northcom’s director for strategy, plans and policy, told American Forces Press Service.
“During the past two to three years, as the Mexican army and Mexican navy have taken on a larger role beyond internal security issues, our relationship with them has really grown and expanded through security cooperation,” Mahon said. “They have opened up to us and said, ‘Let’s start working closer and closer together.’”
December 27, 2010
The Los Angeles Times, 12/29/2010
Four years and 50,000 troops into President Felipe Calderon’s drug war, the fighting has exposed severe limitations in the Mexican army’s ability to wage unconventional warfare, tarnished its proud reputation and left the U.S. pointedly criticizing the force as “virtually blind” on the ground.
The army’s shortcomings have complicated the government’s struggle against the narcotics cartels, as the deadliest year of the war by far comes to a close.
December 25, 2010
Associated Press, 12/25/2010
Joseph Proctor told his girlfriend he was popping out to the convenience store in the quiet Mexican beach town where the couple had just moved, intending to start a new life.
The next morning, the 32-year-old New York native was dead inside his crashed van on a road outside Acapulco. He had multiple bullet wounds. An AR-15 rifle lay in his hands.
His distraught girlfriend, Liliana Gil Vargas, was summoned to police headquarters, where she was told Proctor had died in a gunbattle with an army patrol. They claimed Proctor – whose green van had a for-sale sign and his cell phone number spray-painted on the windows – had attacked the troops. They showed her the gun.
His mother, Donna Proctor, devastated and incredulous, has been fighting through Mexico’s secretive military justice system ever since to learn what really happened on the night of Aug. 22.
It took weeks of pressuring U.S. diplomats and congressmen for help, but she finally got an answer, which she shared with The Associated Press.