Tag Archives: drug cartels

Mexican President Calderon

Christian Caryl: Why organized crime is a growing force in world politics

Mexicans are celebrating a victory over the drug mafia this month. The arrest of Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, the head of the Zeta drug cartel, is big news. Trevino, alias Z-40, made a name for himself as one of the most brutal gangsters in a country that has become sadly inured to violence. One can only hope that his imprisonment will put an end to at least some of the stomach-turning brutality he was accustomed to inflicting on his enemies. (At one point, it’s been revealed, he even considered shooting down the plane of then-President Felipe Calderon.)

But will Z-40’s arrest put an end to Mexico’s drug wars? There’s reason to doubt it. Demand for drugs from the cartels’ customers in the United States remains strong, and until that underlying structural cause is addressed, this lucrative trade will continue to thrive. Some experts point out that one of the biggest beneficiaries of Trevino’s downfall is likely to be Joaquín Guzman Loera (“El Chapo”), the head of the rival Sinaloa cartel, who can revel in the elimination of one of his most energetic competitors.

Analysts put the value of the global drug trade at some $350 billion a year — and that’s probably a conservative estimate. And yet narcobusiness comprises only one relatively small slice of the much larger world of global criminality. According to the World Economic Forum: “The cross-border flow of global proceeds from criminal activities, corruption and tax evasion is estimated at over $1 trillion, with illegal drugs and counterfeit goods each accounting for 8 percent of world trade.”

Organized crime lurks behind many of the stories in the headlines today, though the connection rarely becomes explicit. Alexey Navalny, the Russian opposition leader who was just convicted on probably spurious charges of embezzlement, made a name for himself by targeting the corruption that is so deep-seated in today’s Russia that it’s often hard to see where the government leaves off and the mob begins. European Union law enforcement officials warned recently that mobsters are capitalizing on the European financial crisis by taking advantage of black markets in goods and services. Meanwhile, the increasing prominence of the Internet in the global economy is fueling worries about the rising power of organized cybercriminals.

Gangsters are cropping up in all sorts of odd places. Criminal syndicates are implicated in everything from the poaching of rare wildlife to the counterfeiting of drugs and manufactured goods. That growing range of activities attests to the criminals’ skill at exploiting the possibilities offered by deepening global interconnectedness. Consider the opening of this story about a recent global raid by Interpol: “More than 6,000 people around the world were arrested in a two-month anti-counterfeiting sweep that netted tens of millions of dollars worth of fake shampoo in China, phony cigarettes in Turkey and bogus booze in Chile.” The investigators discovered everything from a subterranean factory in Ukraine manufacturing counterfeit cigarettes to a workshop in Peru that puts false labels on motors from China.

Mobsters thrive on instability. In the Syrian civil war, the same criminal groups that once played on their close ties to the government of Bashar al-Assad have now mutated into the shabiha, the feared paramilitaries that do the regime’s dirtiest work on the battlefield. But they’re not the only ones. “The link between insurgent groups and organized crime has long been a feature of intra-state conflict,” notes Asher Berman, an expert at the Institute for the Study of War. “Rebels often turn to criminal activity to obtain the weapons and funding they need to maintain the fight.” The rebels in Syria, desperate for cash, are increasingly resorting to mafia-like tactics of their own, ranging from car thefts to the looting of antiquities. Reports of systematic extortion — the familiar phenomenon of the “revolutionary tax” we’ve heard about so many times before — and economically motivated kidnapping are also on the rise.

What we’re seeing, though, is just the proverbial tip of the iceberg. Criminals, by definition, prefer to avoid the light of day, so the dimensions of the real mafia problem remain obscure. Was that Vatican official who was arrested in June on money-laundering charges merely trying to make himself and some well-connected friends a bit richer, or is he part of a much broader pattern of institutionalized corruption within the bank of the Holy See? Was that recent police raid in New Delhi that netted a huge haul of black-market weapons a victory over mobsters or terrorists? Did that witness who met an untimely end just before he was to testify in the Whitey Bulger case here in the United States really die of natural causes? Why did the Chinese harbor one of Taiwan’s most prominent triad leaders for 17 years before handing him over to Taipei earlier this month? In most cases, we’ll probably never know the whole story.

But there are a few things that we can say with certainty. First, organized crime in cyberspace is becoming a core problem, one that’s particularly hard to combat precisely because of its amorphousness. Indeed, there’s considerable anecdotal evidence that hackers-for-hire are increasingly lending their services to both governments and gangs. But the opacity of the culprits shouldn’t delude us about the scale of what’s at stake. A report issued earlier this week by a global financial organization noted that half of the world’s securities exchanges came under attack by hackers last year. That means that web-based criminals are potentially in a position to destabilize the global financial system — entirely aside from the untold losses to individuals and companies from mushrooming cybercrime.

Second, illicit financial flows are a big part of the problem. The biggest problem for large-scale criminals is banking their ill-gotten gains, and right now there are plenty of entirely legal lawyers, accountants, and offshore tax havens that are happy to help. Let’s put aside for the moment the theoretical arguments over the virtues and drawbacks of secrecy jurisdictions, and note simply that preserving the present system, which allows criminals to shift their profits almost effortlessly across the globe without scrutiny, will lead to disaster if allowed to continue unchecked. One recent report co-published by Global Financial Integrity and the African Development Bank claims that Africa alone lost up to $1.4 trillion to illicit financial flows. Surely the continuing existence of a system that allows for the existence of a “shadow financial system” on this scale is not good for anyone — countries developed and developing alike.

Third, powerful global crime syndicates are the enemy of good government. Democracy can hardly flourish when politicians meld with the shadowy forces of the mafia. It’s precisely this understanding that has spurred the recent wave of protests in Bulgaria, where demonstrators took to the streets after a thuggish young tycoon was appointed as the government’s top security official. Such concerns are by no means restricted to Eastern Europe, though. The wave of recent protests in places from Turkey to Brazil shows that citizens are increasingly worried about official malfeasance and the lack of transparency that allows it. From what I can see, they’re right to worry.

Christian Caryl, the editor of Democracy Lab, is a senior fellow at the Legatum Institute and a contributing editor at Foreign Policy. He is also the author of “Strange Rebels: 1979 and the Birth of the 21st Century.”

Source: twincities.com


Mexico’s ‘new’ drug war

President Peña Nieto’s strategy is a lot like his predecessor’s. For obvious reasons.


By Ricardo Ainslie
July 26, 2013

Last week, Mexican authorities arrested Miguel Angel Treviño Morales, the leader of the Zetas, Mexico’s deadliest and most feared drug cartel. In Mexico, the news was met with relief, although there is also apprehension that his arrest will lead to a convulsion of violence; historically, taking out cartel kingpins has meant power struggles within organized crime groups, schisms that leave many dead in their wake.

Treviño Morales, known as Z-40, was apprehended — along with a bodyguard and a third man, reported to be the cartel’s accountant — without a shot being fired as he traveled along a back road near Nuevo Laredo and the U.S. border.

For observers of the Mexican drug war, his arrest provides an unanticipated window into how President Enrique Peña Nieto will address his nation’s entrenched organized crime problem.

From the beginning of his presidential campaign, Peña Nieto, who assumed office in December 2012, vowed a different approach to the drug war from that of his predecessor, Felipe Calderon. Calderon’s frontal assault, though initially popular, very soon became the object of criticism as violence soared. Last summer, the electorate handed Peña Nieto a decisive victory over Calderon’s party, the PAN. Having suffered about 70,000 deaths (a conservative estimate) over the course of Calderon’s presidency, the country was exhausted by the violence, anxious for change.

Calderon pursued a kingpin strategy: Drawing from American counterinsurgency tactics developed in Iraq, his administration declared war on a list of 37 most-wanted cartel operatives. In contrast, many Mexicans believed Peña Nieto would negotiate a peace agreement with the cartels, allowing them free rein in exchange for ending the violence. In addition, Peña Nieto signaled that he might be reevaluating Mexico’s close cooperation with American law enforcement in the drug war.

The arrest of Z-40 would seem to prove those notions wrong. Within days, the national director of Calderon’s party accused Peña Nieto of disingenuously building expectations of a new approach when, for all practical purposes, he was continuing Calderon’s tactics. Indeed, the arrest had all the familiar hallmarks: Treviño Morales’ moves were tracked in real time by a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement drone, while American intelligence monitored his communications and shared what was learned with Mexican authorities.

Pragmatism may be one explanation for Peña Nieto’s decision not to jettison the kingpin strategy altogether. His administration simply could not ignore that Mexico’s drug cartels are criminal organizations that not only operate an international drug trade but also commit brutal acts against ordinary Mexican citizens on a daily basis, including kidnapping, human trafficking and extortion — on a massive level — of individuals and businesses. The Zetas, in particular, are infamous for having a “diversified business plan” when it comes to criminal activity.

For Peña Nieto — and Mexicans tired of the violence created by the government crackdown — it is one thing to entertain a live-and-let-live strategy toward the cartels when their primary activities are understood to revolve around servicing the high demand for drugs in the U.S. However, that strategy is no solution if Mexicans continue to be victimized in the absence of government protection in their communities.

It is also likely that Peña Nieto was presented with a politically awkward choice vis-a-vis the United States. The Mexican president apparently faced incontrovertible evidence from U.S. sources indicating that the head of Mexico’s most feared cartel was, literally, in their sights. To have not acted on that intelligence would have certainly raised speculation that the Peña Nieto government was protecting Z-40, which wouldn’t have played well at home or helped in negotiating a new relationship with Washington.

Still, it would be a mistake for Peña Nieto to simply pick up where Calderon left off. The previous administration overemphasized a militarized law enforcement strategy, only belatedly looking at the social conditions that helped create a culture that allowed the cartels to thrive (lessons important in tamping down cartel violence in Colombia and Brazil).

That said, the kingpin strategy is not going to go away. There is no sign that the U.S. will end its intelligence work in Mexico, with or without overt cooperation from Mexican authorities, and the U.S. will undoubtedly continue to exert pressure on those officials to act on that intelligence. But so will everyday Mexicans, with their sometimes conflicting needs for peace and protection. In Mexico’s budding if imperfect democracy, the latter pressures can no longer be ignored.

Ricardo Ainslie, a native of Mexico City, is the author of “The Fight to Save Juárez: Life in the Heart of Mexico’s Drug War.” He is a psychoanalyst and a professor of education at the University of Texas at Austin.

Source: latimes.com


6 die in Zacatecas including 3 armed suspects

A total of six individuals have been killed or were found dead in ongoing drug and gang violence in Zacatecas state, including three armed suspects who died in an encounter with a Mexican Army unit, according to Mexican news accounts.

According to a news item posted on the website of El Sol de Zacatecas news daily, a unit with the Mexican 97th Infantry Battalion exchanged gunfire with armed suspects who were travelling aboard two vehicles Saturday morning.

The gun battle took place in a location about 20 kilometers west of Fresnillo municipality where the army unit was on patrol. The unit apparently crossed paths with the small convoy and were fired on as armed suspects attempted to flee. Mexican Army return fire killed three.

One unidentified Mexican Army soldier was wounded in the encounter.

An undisclosed number of armed suspects surrendered to the unit, and the two vehicles were seized.

Three other individuals were killed in Zacatecas state, according to news items posted on the website of El Sol de Zacatecas.

  • Two woman were found dead on a road in Zacatecas municipality Wednesday. They were identified as Gloria Guadalupe Gomez Ruiz, 25, Zacatecas and Laura Ivone Rodriguez Cervantes, 22 , of Guadalupe municipality. Both victims were found naked and had been tortured by a beating. They were strangled in the location they were found. Zacatecas Procuraduria General de Justicia or attorney general, Arturo Nahle Garcia later dismissed speculations that the women were part of a wave of femicides in the state, suggesting that the victims died from local criminal gangs.
  • An unidentified man was found beaten to death between Jerez and Fresnillo municipalities Saturday afternoon. The victim was found near the village of Purisima del Maguey with a message from organized crime. The content of the message was not disclosed in the news item. However, reports did say the victim was caught in an intergang struggle in the area.


By Chris Covert

Enrique Pena

New paramilitary force to battle narco cartels in Mexico

Enrique Pena
MEXICO CITY — President Enrique Pena Nieto laid out a security strategy Monday that creates a new national force, or gendarmerie, to combat organized crime and restore law to the most distant corners of Mexico.

The paramilitary force will be set up with 10,000 members but may grow to 40,000 in coming years, following models like those of Spain’s Civil Guard or the Italian Carabinieri.

While the new corps takes shape, Pena Nieto said dozens of disparate state police forces would fall under a unified command led by Mexico’s interior secretary, centralizing anti-crime efforts that have lacked coordination in the recent past.

The announcements underscored how Pena Nieto, in his third week of a six-year presidential term, seeks to mark distance from his predecessor, whose all-out war on crime gangs resulted in a frenzy of killing and soaring homicide rates.

“There is a grand national consensus. We all want a Mexico at peace, a more just, fair and safer Mexico,” Pena Nieto told the National Council on Public Security.

As Mexico’s 31 state governors and the powerful mayor of Mexico City looked on, Pena Nieto’s top security aides offered a blistering assessment of the security situation and the inability of prosecutors to punish criminals.

Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong said seven out of 10 Mexicans tell pollsters that they don’t feel safe, and one out of every three households has been victim of a crime. Only one out of each 100 criminal acts is punished, he added.

Pena Nieto hailed Mexico’s armed forces and said soldiers and marines would remain in the streets of some cities and rural areas until order is more fully restored and the national gendarmerie takes shape.

“This corps will be responsible for strengthening territorial control in municipalities with weak institutions and guard strategic facilities such as ports, airports and borders,” Pena Nieto said.

Currently, Mexico has more than 2,000 municipal and state police forces, with some 430,000 officers. Corruption often weakens larger forces, while municipal police in some towns have fallen entirely into the hands of crime gangs.

Mexico’s former interior secretary, Alejandro Poire, said in Washington in September that fully a third of state and local police who’d undergone vetting were found unfit to serve.

Osorio Chong said 60 percent of police in Mexico have only an elementary school education, and their wages average less than $315 a month, he said.

Pena Nieto emphasized that his administration would observe “unrestricted respect” for human rights while combating organized crime.

He pledged to create guidelines for when law enforcement agents may use lethal force, enact laws to protect and compensate victims of abuse, and set up a registry of disappeared persons that meets global standards.

Under Pena Nieto’s predecessor, Felipe Calderon, Mexico suffered what human rights monitors said were between 60,000 and 80,000 homicides and tens of thousands of disappearances, much of them blamed on crime gangs.

To centralize anti-crime efforts, Pena Nieto said his government would divide the nation into five regions, each with a police training facility. It also will set up 15 specialized federal police units to combat extortion and kidnapping.

Source: mcclatchydc.com


Mexican officials report that crime crackdown created more drug cartels



Attorney general says about 70,000 died in drug war under Calderon

* About 10 cartels were active six years ago-consultancy

The fracturing of Mexico’s criminal establishment in the government-led crackdown on drug traffickers created between 60 and 80 new cartels, the nation’s attorney general said on Tuesday, far more than were active six years ago.

Speaking on Mexican radio, Attorney General Jesus Murillo said former President Felipe Calderon’s efforts to stamp out drug trafficking and go after the kingpins had splintered the gangs, spawning many smaller criminal syndicates.

“I would calculate there are between 60 and 80 (new cartels), both medium-sized and small,” Murillo said.

The Sinaloa Cartel of Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman and the Zetas gang are arguably the two biggest organized crime groups in Mexico, though a number of lesser ones are strong in some areas and certain cities like Acapulco are home to many small gangs.

When Calderon, whose six-year term ended on Nov. 30, took office, about 10 cartels were operating in Mexico; four large, and six smaller ones, according to consultancy Risk Evaluation.

Murillo estimated about 70,000 people died in drug-related violence under Calderon, with roughly 9,000 bodies unidentified.

“(Calderon) tried to confront the situation with emergency responses … but this caused things to break down brutally and they got really out of control,” the attorney general said.

Calderon’s forces arrested or killed dozens of drug lords in his struggle against the gangs, but that military-led offensive led to more violence, kidnappings and a spiraling death toll.

Mexico’s new president, Enrique Pena Nieto, won election pledging to restore stability to the country, and on Monday he laid out his plans for reducing the violence.

Pena Nieto belongs to the centrist Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which ruled Mexico for most of the last century until it was voted out of office in 2000.

Critics say the PRI tolerated the presence of drug gangs in Latin America’s second biggest economy, making deals with them to keep the peace and allowing corruption to take root.

But Murillo said the new government was committed to going after the cartels’ money, and emphatically rejected the idea that there could be any negotiation with them.

“No way,” he said. “That would not make any sense.”

By Lizbeth Diaz (Reuters)

119275_58d490a7c7 bones chih

The whole valley smells of death

For the inhabitants of the Ejido Jesus Carranza, the discovery of 20 skeletal remains buried in clandestine graves on private property came as no surprise. Years back, they witnessed suspicious activities, but for them denunciation (reporting to authorities) was never an option because they feared retaliation.

“Here, we would see new cars…we also saw a lot of military and police in that place,” said several neighbors when they were interviewed, asking for their identities not to be revealed and for them not to be photographed.

From the start, the ejidatarios (local communal landowners) dismiss the idea that there are any townspeople among the victims; they affirm that there are no disappeared persons. At least, not there.

“We don’t have anybody missing here. We were born here and we’ve known each other all our lives. Up there (he points towards the ranch) is where people from the outside bought (properties),” said one of the ejidatarios.

All the structures adjacent to the clandestine cemetery are abandoned. It was quiet last week for the residents of the Ejido Jesus Carranza.

“Everything was very peaceful, nothing ever happens here, the truth is that the the village had been peaceful for several months,” they assured us, although they did not dismiss the idea that the relative tranquility was due to the fact that the people who were using at least two properties for safe houses and illegal graveyards had left the town.

“The military also left. We only see them on the highway,” they said.

It was only last weekend that a helicopter flying over and dozens of municipal prosecutor’s vehicles arriving broke the peace and told them something bad was happening.

“Then (the investigators) told us that they were looking for bodies,” they stated.

The official report from state authorities states that “investigation and intelligence (work) developed during the past year” led to the discovery of the skeletal remains, all belonging to males.

Prosecutor Jorge Gonzalez Nicolas specified in a press conference that it was thanks to support of U.S. authorities that the exact location where the cadavers were buried.

Unofficial sources say that the support came from the anti-narcotics section of the U.S. Consulate General in Mexico, the same (unit) that provided information on the exact location of Jose Antonio Acosta Hernandez, “El Diego”, which allowed them to make a “clean” arrest.

The information from U.S. authorities led the investigators to Ejido Jesus Carranza. On the Juarez-Porvenir highway, at kilometer marker 35, you take a right turn on an unpaved street that goes to the ranch.

Two kilometers (1.2 miles) ahead, one can see several uninhabited structures on the desert terrain. And there, among the sand dunes and the brush, can be seen the open pits dug by personnel from the office of the medical examiner (SEMEFO; Servicio Medico Forense).

A foul odor is everywhere, and also enormous piles of trash left behind by employees from the State Attorney General’s Office during their three-day stay, which is how long the search and the excavations took.

This ranch, located east of Ciudad Juarez and adjacent to the San Agustin Ejido, also part of the municipality, is less than three miles from the metal fence that divides Mexico and the United States.

The excavations were conducted in a 100 yard radius, and there were graves side by side. The closest one was less than 30 yards from the swimming pool built in front of the main house.

As of yesterday, the investigating authorities had not yet fully identified the owner of the ranch.

Arturo Sandoval, spokesman for State Prosecutor’s Office (FGE; Fiscalia General del Estado) , explains that they were working on identifying the owner through the Public Property Register.

The house was still under construction. There’s broken ceiling material and insulation on the floor, and also a bar that takes up a large part of the room.

Translation: borderlandbeat.com

Major drug trafficker Edgar "La Barbie" Valdez is escorted by Mexican federal police during a news conference at the federal police center in Mexico City

Accused drug lord claims police corruption

Mexico’s federal police deny accusations

(CNN) – Mexico’s federal police had harsh words Wednesday for an American-born accused drug lord who claimed he paid off top security officials.

Edgar Valdez Villarreal has repeatedly “tried to blackmail authorities to obtain privileges,” Mexico’s Public Safety Secretariat said. “Held in a federal maximum security prison, he has tried to get benefits during his stay, including threatening hunger strikes to pressure them.”

Police released the statement after Mexico’s Reforma newspaper published a letter purportedly from the alleged drug lord, a former Texas high school football star known as “La Barbie” because of his blue eyes and light complexion.

In the letter, Valdez claims that Mexico’s top security officials have received bribes from him, “from drug trafficking and from organized crime.”

Valdez told Reforma that authorities arrested him in 2010 after he refused to participate in a deal President Felipe Calderon was allegedly trying to negotiate with the country’s major drug gangs. In an address broadcast Wednesday night, Calderon did not respond to that claim, but the outgoing president has repeatedly spoken out against organized crime and corruption.

Investigators have described Valdez as one of the most ruthless drug traffickers in Mexico.

His letter, police said, aims to stop “authorities’ actions against criminal organizations by publicly discrediting those who have fought them.”

Federal police said Wednesday that Valdez is connected with many violent homicides and implied that he could be trying to avoid justice with his letter.

“Organized crime and its allies historically have tried to maintain themselves in impunity and avoid at all costs that the Mexican government pursues and captures them,” police said.

Spokesman Jose Ramon Salinas read the federal police statement Wednesday but did not take questions from reporters.

He said federal police had arrested 128,242 criminals in the past six years, including nearly 3,500 connected with the command structure of organized crime groups.

The letter’s publication comes amid increased scrutiny of Genaro Garcia Luna, who heads Mexico’s federal police. He is scheduled to testify before lawmakers Thursday about his division’s human rights record.

And his agency is in the crosshairs of Mexican President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto, who takes office Saturday.

Pena Nieto has proposed a bureaucratic overhaul that would eliminate Garcia Luna’s Cabinet post and place the force under Mexico’s Interior Ministry.

Asked why she released the letter from Valdez, the accused kingpin’s lawyer said she was “simply and sensibly complying with an instruction my client gave me,” according to Reforma, and said that her client could be extradited to the United States at any moment.

Attorney Erendira Joselyn Guerra Gutierrez told the newspaper that Valdez had a right “for facts to be clarified and for justice to be done.”

Valdez is accused in the United States of attempting to launder money and conspiring to import and distribute cocaine. Valdez is believed to have played a key role in shipping roughly 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of cocaine across the border at Laredo, Texas, every week for much of 2005, U.S. authorities have said.

Before his arrest, U.S. Justice Department officials offered a $2 million reward for information leading to the capture of the alleged cocaine kingpin.

In Mexico, Valdez faces charges that include drug trafficking, kidnapping and arms possession, Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office has said.

Mexican authorities touted his 2010 arrest as a high-profile win in the nation’s drug war.

Valdez was allegedly a one-time top lieutenant of Mexico’s most wanted man, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.

He later joined the breakaway Beltran Leyva cartel, but the leader of that group, Arturo Beltran Leyva, was killed in a shootout with Mexican officials in late 2009. Beltran’s brother Carlos was arrested, leaving Valdez in a fight to fill a power vacuum in one of Mexico’s most powerful drug cartels.

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