RAND: Mexico Is Not Colombia

June 13, 2014

06/10/14 Insight Crime

mexican drugsA new report from a leading think tank makes the case that the challenges in the drug war facing Mexico are not the same as those in Colombia, and seeks to outline a new paradigm to serve as a replacement.

The new report titled Mexico Is Not Colombia: Alternative Historical Analogies for Responding to the Challenge of Violent Drug-Trafficking Organizations was published by RAND earlier this month. The main point made by authors Christopher Paul, Colin P. Clarke and Chad C. Serena is clearly indicated in the title.

As the authors point out, the differences separating Mexico and Colombia are myriad and hugely influential: “[In Colombia], the circumstances and the threat differed from contemporary Mexico in several important ways: the nature of the perpetrators, territory, geography, targets, and tactics; the character of the violence; and the state’s ability to respond.” More specifically, Mexico has long had a stronger state that exercises greater control over the national territory than did Colombia in its worst moments; Mexico’s gangs are far less aggressive toward state actors and the general public; and Mexican organizations don’t have the vast sanctuary of the insurgent-controlled jungles.

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Sen. Klobuchar pressing Mexico on heroin cartels and sex rings

April 15, 2014

mexican drugsStar Tribune, 4/15/14

Democratic Sen. Amy Klobuchar is pressing Mexican law enforcement authorities to acknowledge responsibility for spiking numbers of heroin and sex-trafficking incidents that increasingly are ravaging neighborhoods and families across the United States — including Minnesota.

In a series of meetings in Mexico City, Klobuchar is joining North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and Cindy McCain, wife of Arizona Sen. John McCain, in urging the Mexican government to intensify its work on both sex trafficking and the illegal movement of heroin into the United States.

“One of the things we can acknowledge when we’re meeting with them is that we have our own issues on this,” said Klobuchar in an interview from Mexico. “We’re not just telling them, ‘Do this or do that.’ We are saying we have our own issues.”

The domestic heroin crisis is escalating rapidly, particularly in the Midwest. Hospital emergency department visits for heroin in the Twin Cities nearly tripled from 2004 to 2011. The number of heroin deaths in the metro area has tripled since 2011, to 63 last year.

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Tracing the U.S. heroin surge back south of the border as Mexican cannabis output falls

April 7, 2014

marijuana leafThe Washington Post, 4/6/14

The surge of cheap heroin spreading in $4 hits across rural America can be traced back to the remote valleys of the northern Sierra Madre. With the wholesale price of marijuana falling — driven in part by decriminalization in sections of the United States — Mexican drug farmers are turning away from cannabis and filling their fields with opium poppies.

Mexican heroin is flooding north as U.S. authorities trying to contain an epidemic of prescription painkiller abuse have tightened controls on synthetic opiates such as hydrocodone and OxyContin. As the pills become more costly and difficult to obtain, Mexican trafficking organizations have found new markets for heroin in places such as Winchester, Va., and Brattleboro, Vt., where, until recently, needle use for narcotics was rare or unknown.

Farmers in the storied “Golden Triangle” region of Mexico’s Sinaloa state, which has produced the country’s most notorious gangsters and biggest marijuana harvests, say they are no longer planting the crop. Its wholesale price has collapsed in the past five years, from $100 per kilogram to less than $25.

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River of drugs runs through Rio Grande Valley

March 31, 2014

800px-Puerto_ColombiaUSA Today, 3/30/14

Last year, across the Southwest, the Border Patrol, Customs and Border Protection and other law-enforcement agencies intercepted more than 3.5 million pounds of marijuana — nearly a fifth of an ounce for every person in the United States. But in the Rio Grande Valley, for every load they capture, 10 slip through, local officials estimate. Federal law-enforcement officials agreed.

The loads get through because the drug cartels closely monitor the Border Patrol and other law-enforcement agencies. The cartels study their tactics and strategies, and adapt quickly. They use that knowledge and the corrupting influence of money to win the daily cat-and-mouse games that define drug smuggling across the Rio Grande. Encounters between agents and drug smugglers are frequent but rarely lethal. When cornered, drug runners are likely to abandon the loads of marijuana and escape back across the river.

Nationwide, nearly every drug-smuggling case in which Border Patrol agents did report responding with force over a 29-month period involved marijuana, The Arizona Republic found. Force can include using firearms, physical force, less-lethal weapons and devices to stop vehicles, like tire spike-strips.

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Vast Web Hides Mexican Drug Profits in Plain Sight, U.S. Authorities Say

March 26, 2014

mexican drugsNY Times, 3/25/14

The United States calls Hugo Cuéllar Hurtado a longtime trafficker of the cocaine coming from South America, working with one of the men believed to command Mexico’s biggest drug cartel now that its leader, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, has been captured.

But while Mr. Guzmán — known as El Chapo, or Shorty — spent 13 years on the run, sometimes even escaping through underground tunnels dug under bathrooms, Mr. Cuéllar walks freely around Guadalajara, attending luncheons and chatting up diplomats. He says he even won a government grant for an ostrich farm he runs here.

“Let them come and investigate me,” he said leisurely over a breakfast of ostrich steaks and sausages at his 57-acre ranch, which the Treasury Department just designated a money-laundering pit for Mr. Guzmán’s Sinaloa cartel. “I have nothing to hide.”

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Massacre Near Arizona-Mexico Border Shines Light In Increase As Drug-Trafficking Corridor

March 24, 2014

Border fence by couchlearnerFox News Latino, 3/23/14

The massacre of seven men near the Mexico-Arizona border came in a previously quiet area increasingly used as a drug-trafficking corridor, and a U.S. expert said Friday the attack in the newly valuable territory could be the work of rivals of the once-dominant Sinaloa cartel trying to exploit the arrest of the gang’s leader.

Analysts have expected rival cartels to try to move in on Sinaloa territory in response to the Feb. 22 capture of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman and the apparent death in December of one of his top lieutenants in a shootout with federal police.

The ambush-style attack this week happened in a rural area near Sonoyta, Mexico, close to the U.S. border crossing at Lukeville, Arizona. The crossing is frequently used by U.S. travelers to reach the Gulf of California beach town of Puerto Penasco.

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How to Reach New Criminal-Political Equilibrium in Mexico’s Post-‘Chapo’ Vacuum

March 4, 2014

prison - open doorInSight Crime, 3/1/14

With Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman now back in a cage many analysts and ordinary Mexicans alike fret about the expected knock-on effects. What those effects are, and how bloody they might be, will depend on President Enrique Peña Nieto’s next moves in dealing with both the power vacuum Guzman leaves and the political and financial networks that supported his grip.

As Guillermo Valdez, former head of Mexico’s premiere spy agency, explained at a Washington DC conference in the week following his capture, much of the violence this past decade can be explained by the efforts of Guzman and his cartel allies to rebuild the dominion Sinaloans had held over Mexico’s drug trade for a century.

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Will Mexican cartels go the way of Colombia’s crime syndicates?

February 26, 2014

Border - MexicoThe Sacramento Bee, 2/24/14

Almost as soon as Sinaloa Cartel boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, reputedly the head of one of the world’s largest crime syndicates, was captured after a 13-year manhunt, young drug dealers began campaigns to take his place – a sign that the group, responsible for 25 percent of all illegal drugs smuggled into the United States, might not be headless for long.

But even as the internal jockeying intensified, experts predicted that the arrest of the legendary crime boss over the weekend would prove to be a watershed event likely to usher in the breakup of Mexico’s huge crime syndicates.

“The fragmentation we’ve seen here in Colombia will be replicated in Mexico,” said Jeremy McDermott, a former British army officer based in Medellin, Colombia, who’s a co-director of InSightCrime, a research group. “The capture of Chapo will accelerate that process in Mexico of criminal fragmentation. The days of big cartels are gone.”

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Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán: US to seek cartel leader’s extradition from Mexico

February 24, 2014

prisonThe Guardian, 2/23/14

Washington will seek the extradition of Mexico’s most-wanted man, the US attorney’s office announced Sunday, as reports emerged that Joaquín Guzmán Loera spent his final days of freedom scrambling through tunnels and drains before ending up pinned to a bed in a beachside condominium unable to reach a Kalashnikov rifle lying on the floor.

The arrest of Guzmán (known as El Chapo, or Shorty) in the Pacific resort city of Mazatlán just before dawn on Saturday punctured the myth of untouchability that had enveloped the capo since his escape from a high-security jail in January 2001 and his rise to the status of world’s most wanted trafficker.

News of Guzmán’s capture has been triumphantly received in the US, where he is blamed for up to 80% of the drugs trade in cities such as Chicago, with the official response emphasising the successful collaboration of the US with the Mexican authorities.

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Ciudad Juárez, a Border City Known for Killing, Gets Back to Living

December 16, 2013

The New York Times, 12/14/2013

cuidad juarezWith violence down to a quarter of its peak, Ciudad Juárez, a perennial symbol of drug war devastation, is experiencing what many here describe as a boom. New restaurants pop up weekly, a few with a hipster groove. Schools and homes in some neighborhoods are gradually filling again, while new nightclubs throb on weekends with wall-to-wall teenagers and 20-somethings who insist on reclaiming the freedom to work and play without being consumed by worry.

Critics here fear that the changes are merely cosmetic, and there is still disagreement over what, exactly, has led to the drastic drop in violence. Some attribute it to an aggressive detention policy by the police; others say the worst killers have died or fled, or that the Sinaloa drug cartel has simply defeated its rivals, leaving a peace of sorts that could quickly be undone.

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