At least three drug groups are fighting for control in Acapulco, Mexico

January 10, 2011

The Cliffs of La Quebrada in Acapulco

The Los Angeles Times, 1/10/2011

With a weekend death toll of more than 30 victims, including 15 who were found decapitated, the Mexican resort city of Acapulco is facing its most gruesome levels of drug-related violence since the start of the drug war in 2006. Authorities in Guerrero state, where Acapulco is located, said that in all31 people died violently in or around the city on Saturday and Sunday (link in Spanish).

Reports said decapitated bodies were found with messages indicating that the killings were ordered by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, leader of the powerful Sinaloa cartel and Mexico’s most-wanted man.

If Sinaloa hit men are indeed active in the Acapulco area, it would suggest a likely escalation in future violence for a city that has seen drug-related killings soar since the death of Arturo Beltrán Leyva, the capo who had controlled the valuable trafficking port.

Beltrán Leyva was killed in an operation led by the Mexican navy in December 2009. Like previous deaths or captures of high-profile drug lords, the sudden absence of a criminal figurehead in the region resulted in a scramble for control among splintering or rival groups. (The same phenomenon, for example, occurred in the Tijuana border area after the deaths or captures of capos in the Arellano Felix cartel.)

In this case, Beltrán Leyva’s death was believed to have spurred Edgar “La Barbie” Valdez to step in briefly as leader before Valdez was captured in August 2010. (He entered federal custody and possible extradition to the United States with a now-famous smirk.) His father-in-law Carlos “The Cowboy” Montemayor reportedly took his place, but he also was captured, in November in Mexico City.

The violence currently gripping Acapulco is now due to a turf war among three groups, two of which have emerged only in the last year, according to the weekly news magazine Proceso.

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Success or Failure? Evaluating U.S.-Mexico Efforts to Address Organized Crime and Violence

December 29, 2010

Andrew Selee, Perspectives on the Americas, 12/29/2010

Mexico has seen an upswing in drug-related violence as at least seven different organized crime groups dispute key corridors for trafficking cocaine, marijuana, heroin and methamphetamines to the U.S. market.  In 2009 alone, over  6,500 people were killed in showdowns between criminal organizations or between them and public authorities, and a growing number of civilians have been among those murdered. The number appears to have surpassed 10,000 already this year.  In addition, many of the trafficking organizations have branched out into other criminal enterprises, including extortion, kidnapping and immigrant smuggling.  The murder of 72 migrants in Tamaulipas in August 2010 was a tragic reminder of these new ventures.

Mexican authorities correctly point out that the country’s overall murder rate is far below that of several other countries in Latin America, including Brazil, Venezuela, Colombia and El Salvador, and no different than that of the United States in the early 1990s.  Yet this is small comfort to those who live in those parts of the country, including many of the cities on the U.S.-Mexico border, where trafficking organizations are fighting against each other with a savagery that shapes people’s daily life.  Moreover, the violence is only one symptom of a deeper problem – the growing strength of organized crime.  The murder rate is high  in the places where two or more groups are fighting over shipment corridors, but there are many more parts of the country where a single trafficking organization operates with impunity and often, with the complicity of public authorities.Mexican organized crime groups were not always so powerful, but perhaps it was inevitable that a country located next to the United States, the world’s largest consumer market for illegal narcotics, would eventually  become home to powerful crime groups bent on satisfying that market.  Mexico had long had small drug trafficking organizations that controlled some of the marijuana and heroin trade to U.S. consumers.  However, in the 1980s, Colombian drug trafficking organizations began shifting their routes through Mexico, in response to increased interdiction in the Caribbean, and partnered with the Mexican traffickers to transport cocaine.  Throughout the 1990s, the Mexican traffickers grew in strength as the Colombian trafficking organizations were weakened, and they grew to control more of the cocaine market, as well as establishing themselves in the newly-lucrative business of synthetic drugs.  By the new millennium, the Mexican organizations had established their country as the new epicenter of the illegal narcotics trade in the hemisphere and the principal route to the United States.

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Mexican waves, Californian cool: Three things to stop the gangs: better police in Mexico, stricter gun laws in America and legal pot in California

October 14, 2010

The Economist, 10/14/2010

There have been gunfights outside the American school and a big private university. The mayors of two suburbs have been murdered. And a grenade has been thrown at Saturday evening strollers in a square, injuring 12. All this has happened since August not in Kabul or Baghdad but in Monterrey in northern Mexico (see article). The latest battleground in a multilateral war between drug-trafficking gangs and the authorities, Monterrey is not a dusty outpost. It is one of the biggest industrial cities of North America, a couple of hours’ drive from Texas and home to some of Mexico’s leading companies.

The maelstrom of drug-related violence that is engulfing Mexico has produced exaggerated, sometimes xenophobic, alarm in parts of the United States. The response in Mexico City has, until recently, been defensive denial.

Both reactions are wrong. The violence, in which at least 28,000 people have been killed since 2006, reflects a double failure of public policy: decades of neglect of the basic institutions of the rule of law in Mexico, and a failed approach to drug consumption (plus lax gun laws) in the United States. These mistakes have helped to create the world’s most powerful organised-crime syndicates. Reforms in both countries could help tame them.

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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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