Drug war bloodshed tarnishes Mexico’s richest city

October 13, 2010

Reuters, 10/13/2010

Once an oasis of calm, Mexico’s richest city has become a central battleground in the country’s increasingly bloody drug war as cartels open fire on city streets and throw grenades onto busy highways.

Escalating violence in Monterrey, one of Latin America’s most affluent cities and seen as a symbol of Mexico’s economic prowess, is arguably the most dramatic development in Mexico’s four-year campaign against powerful drug cartels.

Firefights are spilling into leafy suburbs, putting ordinary Mexicans and foreigners at risk and raising the stakes for President Felipe Calderon as he faces pressure to protect a city generating 8 percent of Mexico’s gross domestic product.

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US, Mexican Authorities Say Prop. 19 Won’t Squelch Drug Cartel Violence

October 11, 2010

KPBS, 10/11/2010

Supporters of Proposition 19, that would legalize marijuana in California, argue that regulating the drug will end violence associated with Mexican drug cartels. Officials on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border doubt that because marijuana is just one of many drugs that cartels smuggle.

Richard Lee, a marijuana activist and a key backer of the proposition to legalize marijuana in California, says Proposition 19 is the best way to undermine drug cartels. “The strongest argument I think personally is to make a first step toward ending the violence in Mexico. It’s worse than Iraq and Afghanistan.”

Lee and other Proposition 19 backers say legalizing marijuana in California will slash cartels’ profits. Marijuana has been their cash crop for decades. Under Proposition 19, Lee says, there would be no need to buy from cartels anymore because Californians could grow their own legally.

But, David Shirk who directs the Transborder Institute at the University of San Diego, doubts that losing the California market would hurt the drug gangs that much. “The reality is that you would probably have to legalize consumption of marijuana throughout the United States, or in several significantly sized states, to have any kind of reverberations here in Mexico,” says Shirk.

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The Economics of Drug Violence

October 11, 2010

The Wall Street Journal, 10/11/2010

President Felipe Calderón still has two years left in office. But he is already on track to go down in history as having presided over the bloodiest Mexican sexenio since the revolution of 1910. By December, when Mr. Calderón completes his fourth year as president, the national death toll from his war on the drug cartels could reach 30,000.

Statistically speaking, Mexico is a relatively safe place with 12 murders per 100,000 inhabitants in 2009. The trouble is that the violence is concentrated, and according to one economist I talked with here, that’s because the drug-trafficking business is structured much like Colombia’s was in the 1980s and ’90s.

Powerful monopoly suppliers need to control key zones so they can guarantee an army of contract employees. These “ants” carry the drugs over the U.S. border at a limited number of strategic points in small shipments. Without mafia-style terror, the cartel’s domination along the route cannot be maintained.

Mexican law enforcement has been courageous in trying to confront these monopolies, but firepower has not done the job. That’s because this is an economic problem. Lower levels of violence in the U.S., despite widespread availability of drugs, and an improved picture in Colombia, where cocaine still flows, are best explained by competition and the smaller scale of the operators. It wasn’t always that way in Colombia. In Mexico it could also change.

To help Mexico deal with this “antitrust” problem, the U.S. has to recognize that competition in the narcotics sector is preferable to the monopolistic syndicates that threaten the state and could move north. But this would require greater flexibility from U.S. drug warriors.

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Mayors Are New Targets In Mexico’s Deadly Drug War

October 11, 2010

NPR, 10/11/2010

Eleven mayors in Mexico have been killed since January, caught up in the violent drug war.

As the Mexican government pushes forward with its offensive against the drug cartels, criminal groups have slaughtered their rivals, killed police and now increasingly are targeting public officials — particularly mayors. The places where politicians have been murdered in Mexico this year are the same places where drug violence has been raging.

The first assassinations in February occurred in the northern states of Chihuahua and Durango. Then the killings shifted south to Guerrero, Oaxaca and Michoacan.

Lately, the violence has moved to the volatile northeast. Over the last two months, four mayors have been gunned down in municipalities surrounding the northern industrial city of Monterrey.

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Brutal drug violence stalks mayors in Mexico

October 3, 2010

The Washington Post, 10/3/2010

Gustavo Sanchez worked hard in this Mexican farming town at one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. He was a mayor. Last weekend, Sanchez and a town councilman disappeared. Their bodies were found Monday, the skulls smashed open in the fifth killing of a mayor in six weeks.

According to supporters at city hall, Sanchez was honest and brave. Less than a year ago, the 36-year-old schoolteacher and martial-arts instructor agreed to lead this prosperous western community after the previous mayor abruptly quit, citing threats by drug traffickers, and took the entire town council with him.

Sanchez’s short political career ended on the side of a muddy, lonely road, his handsome, mustachioed face unrecognizable. His mutilated colleague Rafael Equihua lay dead beside him.

At least 11 mayors have been killed this year across Mexico, as a spooky sense of permanent siege takes hold in the many communities where rival mafias fight for control of local drug sales, marijuana and poppy fields, methamphetamine labs and billion-dollar smuggling routes to the United States.

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Vehicle searches yield few weapons at U.S.-Mexico border

September 30, 2010

USA Today, 9/30/2010

Searches of vehicles crossing into Mexico are yielding few weapons in what U.S. officials concede is a frustrating effort to slow the flow of guns to violent Mexican cartels operating across the U.S. border.

Almost immediately after Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced a stepped-up vehicle search program beginning in March 2009, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials went five consecutive months — May through September — without recovering a single weapon in El Paso, within sight of the bloodiest battleground in the Mexican drug war

Weapons seizures from vehicles moving through the Southwest border’s busiest crossings have increased to 310 so far in fiscal year 2010, up from 155 in fiscal year 2009, CBP records show. Besides guns, weapons include grenades and rockets. Yet the seizures represent a tiny fraction of arms flooding Mexico from the USA, at a rate of 2,000 per day, according to Brookings Institution estimates.

“It is a challenge for us,” says Steven Stavinoha, director of CBP’s outbound search operations. He says the agency is revamping its strategy. Stavinoha says federal authorities have been hampered by staffing limitations, spotty intelligence and gun smugglers who alter their operations to elude capture. “Smuggling organizations are able to adapt to our activities and use it against us,” he says.

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IFAI asked for the names of “narcomilitantes” to be revealed (in Spanish)

September 28, 2010

Reforma, 9/28/2010

The Federal Institute of Access to Information (IFAI) on Tuesday revoked the 12-year ban that the Defense Ministry had put in place on the revelation of the names of military personnel sentenced for crimes related to drug trafficking, and ordered them to be made public.

With a vote of four in favor and one against, that of commissioner Sigrid Artz, the committee approved the request of a citizen who had asked for the names, levels, and date and place of detention, of personnel convicted for committing crimes related to organized crime in the past ten years.

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7 killed in shootout in Mexican resort city

September 23, 2010

Associated Press, 9/23/2010

Mexican authorities say seven people were killed in a shootout between rival drug gangs in the Pacific resort city of Acapulco.

Guerrero state investigative police director Fernando Monreal says gunmen used grenades and automatic rifles to attack a house in a residential area of Acapulco on Thursday.

The state of Guerrero, where Acapulco is located, has become a drug cartel battleground.

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LA Sheriff counsels dialogue with narcos (in Spanish)

August 12, 2010

El Universal, 8/12/2010

The Sheriff, Lee Baca, from Los Angeles County, signalled that the Mexican government should enter into dialogue with the criminal groups in order to reduce the violence that threatens the country.  He said that legalization of drugs is not the solution, but supports the debate.

Sheriff Baca: You can never resolve a problem just by talking about it.  Solutions come when you undertand the logic of the issue, and you cannot understand the logic of the problem without talking to the people that cause the problem.

You should dialogue with all the parties causing the problems and try to understand or find answers to see how it can be reduced.

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Mexico hopes $270 million in social spending will help end Juarez drug violence

August 12, 2010

Washington Post, 8/12/2010

“We have to repair the social fabric here,” said Abelardo Escobar, a cabinet member sent by Mexican President Felipe Calderón with a new rescue package for Juarez, a $270 million surge in social spending.

The money is paying for schools, hospital renovations, student breakfasts, a youth orchestra, anti-violence training and drug treatment centers. There are funds to promote physical fitness, build eco-friendly houses and support free concerts — 160 projects in all.

The government calls the campaign “Todos Somos Juárez” — “We are all Juarez.”

“We need to build trust and a sense of belonging,” Escobar said. “We need to give people hope again.”

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