If nothing else, the slaying of cartel boss Nazario Moreno Gonzalez by Mexican soldiers may have burst the bubble of mysticism that had made him one of the stranger figures to emerge in the country’s drug war. Moreno, whose nicknames included “El Mas Loco” (“The Craziest”), was a founder of Michoacan state’s La Familia drug cartel and its offshoot, the Knights Templar — groups that have moved massive amounts of methamphetamine and other drugs north to the United States.
Since Jan. 1, Colorado has had a legal marijuana market. The same will soon be true in Washington State, once retail licenses are issued. Other states, such as California and Oregon, will likely follow suit over the next three years.
So does this creeping legalization of marijuana in the U.S. spell doom for the Mexican drug cartels? Not quite. The illegal marijuana trade provides Mexican organized crime with about $1.5 billion to $2 billion a year. That’s not chump change, but according to a number of estimates, it represents no more than a third of gross drug export revenue. Cocaine is still the cartels’ biggest money-maker and the revenue accruing from heroin and methamphetamine aren’t trivial. Moreover, Mexican gangs also obtain income from extortion, kidnapping, theft and various other types of illegal trafficking. Losing the marijuana trade would be a blow to their finances, but it certainly wouldn’t put them out of business.
More than a week after surviving a plane crash, the injured Mexican militia leader Jose Manuel Mireles rejected the government’s call for his movement to disarm, vowing to fight on until the drug cartel leaders in his area have been arrested and the state of Michoacan establishes the rule of law.
Mireles, a 55-year-old surgeon who leads the militia movement that has spread rapidly over the past year across Michoacan and seized territory from the Knights Templar drug cartel, spoke to reporters late Monday from a safe house after being treated at a private hospital in Mexico City.
It is a distressingly common part of life in modern Mexico: the bullying phone call demanding that the person who answers pay up — or else. Businesses get the extortion calls. Families get them.
And now, apparently, so has the country’s main Roman Catholic seminary.
In a sermon Sunday, Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera announced that a vice rector at the Conciliar Seminary of Mexico received a number of threatening phone calls Nov. 20-21. The callers, the cardinal said, demanded 60,000 pesos — about $4,500 — “in exchange for respecting the lives of the superiors of that institution,” according to a statement issued Sunday evening by the Archdiocese of Mexico.
“Last week we were meeting in the seminary; they called numerous times, and identified themselves as La Familia Michoacana,” Rivera said, according to the news service Milenio, referring to a drug cartel based in Michoacan state. “But who knows?”
Rogelio Valencia peered out from a sandbag bunker outside Tepalcatepec in a fertile region of Mexico’s Michoacan state, keeping an eye cocked for marauding gangsters.
“They might come in 10 or 12 pickups. But we are prepared,” says Mr. Valencia, a civilian with a pistol tucked in his waistband and a two-way radio at hand.
Tepalcatepec is in a “liberated” region of Michoacan state, where an armed uprising of civilians has succeeded in lifting a yoke imposed by a crime group with a feudal-sounding name, the Knights Templar, which keeps a searing and heavy hand on the majority of Michoacan’s 113 municipalities.
The availability of heroin and methamphetamine in the U.S. is on the rise, due in part to the ever-evolving entrepreneurial spirit of the Mexican drug cartels, according to a new study released by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The report, which analyzes illicit drug trends through 2012, also notes that cocaine availability was down across the United States. It offered various possible reasons for the decline, including cartel versus cartel fights over drug routes in Mexico, declining production in Colombia and various anti-narcotics strategies that have put more heat on the groups that control production and shipment of the product.
It is tempting to separate Mexico’s drug cartels into six hierarchical groups, each competing for trafficking turf. The reality, however, is that the Sinaloa Federation, the Gulf Cartel, the Tijuana Cartel, the Juarez Cartel, the Zetas and La Familia, not to mention several new offshoot organizations, are fluid, dynamic, for-profit syndicates that sometimes operate under the umbrella of what are effectively conglomerates but more often than not operate as independent, smaller-scale franchises.
An audacious band of citizen militias battling a brutal drug cartel in the hills of central Mexico is becoming increasingly well-armed and coordinated in an attempt to end years of violence, extortion and humiliation.
What began as a few scattered self-defense groups has spread in recent months to dozens of towns across Michoacan, a volatile state gripped by the cultlike Knights Templar, a drug gang known for taxing locals on everything from cows to tortillas and executing those who do not comply.
The army deployed to the area in May, but the soldiers are mostly manning checkpoints. Instead, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is facing the awkward fact that a group of scrappy locals appears to be chasing the gangsters away, something that federal security forces have not managed in a decade.
July has been an interesting month for Mexico watchers. The country started the month with local elections, captured a major cartel boss, faced a series of tough losses on the futbol pitch, and experienced a series of violent attacks by organized crime groups.
Here are some articles from this past month.
Last year, voters in Colorado and Washington state approved initiatives legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. While the details are being worked out, those watching the developments are in not only the United States. Mexico, too, is taking note, having paid an enormous price waging a costly — and, to a certain degree, futile — years-long crusade against drugs in consonance with the international community’s punitive approach.
A growing number of Mexicans are asking logical questions: Why should their leaders follow a path that provokes violence, generates human rights violations, erodes the country’s image abroad and costs a fortune — mainly to stem the northern flow of drugs? Why spray and uproot marijuana fields in the hills of Oaxaca, search for tunnels in Tijuana and incarcerate “weed” traffickers in Monterrey if consumption is made legal in parts of the United States? Why deploy such an enormous effort to deter drug trafficking if Washington does virtually nothing to stop the flow of firearms to Mexico — and has concluded that it can, and should, prevent migrants from Mexico and Central America from entering the United States? If Congress can “secure” the border against people, using walls and drones, why can’t it do the same against drugs or guns and, in the process, respect Mexico’s right to design its own policies?
**Fernando Gómez Mont was Mexico’s interior minister in the administration of Felipe Calderón. Jorge G. Castañeda was minister of foreign affairs in the administration of Vicente Fox.