>– WikiLeaks: President Calderon to US National Intelligence Director Blair: Links between Iran, Venezuela, Drug Trafficking, and Mexico’s Democratic Revolutionary Party (source)
– More than 100,000 Residents of Ciudad Juarez Flee Drug War, Seek Refuge in USA since 2008
– Narcistas Gun Down Their First Female Police Chief near Ciudad Juarez, Garcia in Post for 50 Days
– Mexico’s Men Cower as Housewives and Rookie Officer Step Forward to Fill Top Cop Roles in Chihuahua’s Embattled Police Departments
Mexico’s besieged authorities are worried that the country’s powerful drug cartels may disrupt the 12-day United Nations summit on climate change that kicked off in Cancun on Monday. The resort city on the Yucatan Peninsula, according to the Canadian media, has been “mostly immune” to the narco-insurgency in the northern and Pacific coast states. However, the recent explosion at a hotel in Playa del Carmen that killed five Canadians, prompting the opening of a homicide case; allegations that a former Cancun mayor with Cuban connections helped to protect two drug cartels; and the unearthing of 12 torture-and-murder victims in graves just outside Cancun this past summer have shaken up the region’s hospitality industry.
More troubling still, at least for the UN summit organizers, is a news story, first published on November 22, in which Mexican police arrested heavily armed men who had detailed plans of the security arrangements for the summit. Accompanying the plans were photographs of the Moon Palace Hotel, one of the conference venues, and lists of police and army checkpoints. The Mexican government later insisted that the reports were false, but this did not stop news agencies from “running” with the story.
Toronto-based terrorism expert Alan Bell commented: “It is especially important in a country where crime is outpacing the government’s ability to react and respond to it. Delegates attending the Cancun summit are potential targets for extremists and narco-terrorists.” Pointing to the type of mass disobedience that occurred at the recent G20 summit in Toronto, Bell wondered how Mexico would handle such a threat.
Meanwhile, this week narcistas gunned down two police chiefs, including Alvaro Gilberto Torres Ramirez, head of the Ciudad Juarez police department, and Hermila Garcia Quinones, head of the Meoqui police department in Chihuahua state. Both Torres, who was killed on Wednesday, and Garcia, who was killed on Monday, were ambushed in their personal vehicles.
Garcia held her position for only 50 days and had received no previous death threats. She is one of many brave women in Chihuahua, including two housewives, who have stepped forward in recent months to assume police posts that many men are too scared to occupy. In October, a 20-year-old male cadet was the only candidate for police chief of Praxedis G. Guerrero, near Ciudad Juarez.
The body count in Mexico’s drug war grew elsewhere too. On a ranch near the town of Palomas, in the same state and across the border from Big Bend National Park in Texas, soldiers unearthed 20 bodies, one of which was identified as a US citizen. The discovery came only hours after Garcia’s assassination. It was not immediately clear when the killings took place.
Since the summer, when police arrested Texas-born Edgar (“La Barbie”) Valdez Villarreal, alleged boss of the Beltran Leyva cartel, now awaiting extradition to the USA, Mexican authorities have scored several such victories. Several weeks ago, authorities nabbed Carlos Montemayor, Valdez’s replacement.
On November 22, police surrounded a house in Morelia, capital of Michoacan state, and arrested Jose Alfredo Landa, alleged boss of La Familia cartel, the country’s main trafficker of methamphetamine. In 2006, La Familia made headlines by rolling severed heads into a discotheque in the city of Uruapan and, in June 2010, by ambushing and killing 12 federal police.
On December 1, federal police captured Eduardo Ramirez Valencia, a regional boss of Los Zetas, which is vying with the Gulf cartel to control the state of Tamaulipas (pictured above). According to regional security chief Luis Cardenas, Ramirez collaborated with Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, alleged leader of the Zetas, by handling smuggling operations between Panama and the Dominican Republic.
Mexico’s drug war has led to the long-feared tragedy and crisis of refugees, some fleeing northward to the USA, others internally displaced. In Ciudad Juarez, more than 5,000 families have abandoned their homes in the last six months, bringing to a total of 230,000 the number of residents who have fled the border city since 2008. The independent Safety and Civic Coexistence Observatory estimates that more than one half of these refugees have sought refuge in the USA. Ciudad Juarez, which is located across the border from El Paso, Texas, suffers an average of eight murders a day and has registered 2,700 murders this year and nearly 8,000 homicides since the beginning of 2008.
The teachers and administrators of Ciudad Juarez’s schools also live in fear of the mafias, especially since a series of graffiti messages appeared on school walls, threatening attacks if teachers do not hand over their Christmas bonuses. Chihuahua state Governor Cesar Duarte traveled to Juarez to speak out against the threats. “We could not ever allow what is being signaled, even with the severity of the security crisis, but an attempt is being made to destroy the integrity and the tranquility of the teachers, the principals, the parents and the children,” he said. “To the criminals we say that whoever dares to extort will face life imprisonment.”
Large northern cities like Tijuana, Ciudad Juarez, Nuevo Laredo, and Reynosa have suffered a total or near-total breakdown in law and order. The Gulf cartel and the Zetas are presently fighting for control of Mexico’s third-largest and wealthiest city, Monterrey. “The deterioration happened nearly overnight,” explains the AP news agency, “laying bare issues that plague the entire country–a lack of credible policing and the Mexican habit of looking the other way at the drug trade as long as it was orderly and peaceful.” Last week, the Mexican government announced that it would increase the army presence in Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon, home to Monterrey.
“When warfare erupted between the Gulf cartel and the Zetas,” explains US ambassador to Mexico Carlos Pascual, “there was no viable law enforcement [in Monterrey] to counter the onslaught. The Zetas control the local police.” Other police forces aligned with the Gulf cartel in the turf war. Nearly one half of the 750 police officers in Monterrey have been fired on suspicion of links to organized crime. “Rather than becoming part of the solution, they [the police] become part of the problem,” Pascual said.
In Monterrey more than 500 people died in drug violence during the first 10 months of 2010, compared to 56 slayings for all of 2009. Daily routines are frequently interrupted by carjackings and narcobloqueos, in which narco-traffickers block roads with stolen vehicles to hold off police and soldiers while the cartels conduct “transactions.”
In March, two students at the prestigious Monterrey Tech University died when they were caught in a gunfight between soldiers and gunmen near the campus. Five months later, the US State Department ordered diplomats to remove their children from the area after a shooting outside the American Foundation School, a private school attended by many US children and the children of Monterrey’s wealthiest families.
With the promise of regular military patrols, the residents of Ciudad Mier, Tamaulipas, have begun to cautiously return to their bullet-scarred homes, and re-open schools and businesses. Nine months of gun battles between the Gulf cartel and the Zetas forced most of the city’s 6,000 inhabitants to flee to Mexico’s first shelter for drug war refugees, in neighboring Miguel Aleman.
Joint US-Mexican efforts to halt cross-border narco-trafficking led to a small victory last Thursday when police from both countries discovered a nearly half-mile long drug tunnel and seized over 20 tons of marijuana. The tunnel had two entrances on the US side, some 800 feet apart in the Otay Mesa industrial complex in southern San Diego, where another major tunnel was found on November 4.
The southern end of the tunnel, which was almost 40 feet underground, emerged in Tijuana, inside a residence outfitted with a garage large enough to handle deliveries by tractor trailer truck. The newly discovered tunnel was equipped with “advanced rail, electrical and ventilation systems,” US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) said in a statement.
At least eight people were arrested, including three in the USA. “This discovery again shows the cartels’ growing desperation in the face of beefed up border security and the costly extremes these organizations are trying,” remarked the chief US investigator in this case, Miguel Unzueta. US officials explained the tunnel was located after ICE investigators grew suspicious about a tractor trailer parked near an Otay Mesa warehouse. After stopping and searching the truck, they discovered some 27,600 pounds of marijuana on board. A similar set of circumstances led to the finding and closure of the previous drug tunnel.
Since the beginning of 2010, authorities have found a dozen tunnels used for drug and immigrant smuggling near San Diego-Tijuana, the busiest crossing along the US-Mexican border. In past years, the US Border Patrol and security experts have noted that international terrorists could readily use drug/human smuggling tunnels as conduits to secrete weapons of mass destruction into the USA. The lawless states of northern Mexico, some of which have coastal access, like Tamaulipas and Sinaloa, make this a particularly acute threat.