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Mexico

With the focus on Syria, Mexico burns, by Robert D. Kaplan

The growing ecnomic power south of the border will help rewrite the American story in the 21st century. As it matters more in the long term than almost anywhere except China, more attention should be paid to it, he argues below.

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By Ben West and Fred Burton

In an indictment handed down Nov. 20, the U.S. Federal District Court for the Northern District of Illinois accused 15 individuals of being involved in the trafficking of cocaine and other narcotics in the Chicago area. The 15 were arrested in a nationwide counter-narcotics operation led by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) dubbed "Project Coronado," which was aimed at dismantling the drug trafficking network of La Familia Michoacana (LFM), a mid-sized and relatively new drug cartel based in Michoacan state in southwestern Mexico.

The U.S. investigation of LFM has revealed many details about the operation of the group in the United States and answered some important questions about the nature of Mexican drug trafficking and distribution north of the border.

LFM stands out among the various drug cartels that operate throughout Mexico for several reasons. Unlike other drug trafficking organizations (DTOs) that have always been focused on drug trafficking, LFM first arose in Michoacan several years ago as a vigilante response to kidnappers and drug gangs. Before long, however, LFM members were themselves accused of conducting the very crimes they had opposed, including kidnapping for ransom, cocaine and marijuana trafficking and, eventually, methamphetamine production. The group is now the largest and most powerful criminal organization in Michoacan a largely rural state located on Mexico's southwestern Pacific coast and maintains a significant presence in several surrounding states.

Beyond its vigilante origins, LFM has also set itself apart from other criminal groups in Mexico by its almost cult-like ideology. LFM leaders are known to distribute documents to the group's members that include codes of conduct and pseudo-religious quotations from Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, also known as "El Mas Loco" ("the craziest one"), who appears to serve as a sort of inspirational leader of the group.

Unanswered questions

In April 2009, STRATFOR published a report on the dynamics of narcotics distribution in the United States. It laid out the differences between trafficking (transporting large quantities of drugs from the suppliers to the buyers over the most efficient routes possible) and distribution (the smaller scale, retail sale of small quantities of drugs over a broader geographic area) as well as the various gangs on the U.S. side that are involved in drug trafficking. The report outlined the differences in the resources and skills required to transport tons of narcotics hundreds of miles through Mexico versus picking up those loads at the border and managing the U.S. retail networks that distribute narcotics to the individual buyers on the street.

In our April analysis, we identified several intelligence gaps in the interface between the Mexican-based drug traffickers (such as the Sinaloa Cartel, the Beltran-Leyva Organization [BLO] and Los Zetas) and the U.S.-based drug distributors (such as MS-13, Barrio Azteca and the Mexican Mafia). One question we were left with was: How deeply involved are the Mexican DTOs in the U.S. distribution network? While it appeared that narcotics changed hands at the border, it wasn't clear how or even whether the relationships between gangs and drug traffickers had an effect on the distribution of narcotics within the United States. Although we suspected it, there was little evidence that showed cartel involvement in the downstream or retail distribution of narcotics in the U.S. market.

Command and control in Chicago

Now there is evidence. The indictment handed down Nov. 20 in Chicago clearly alleges that a criminal group in Chicago was directly conspiring with the drug trafficking organization LFM to distribute shipments of cocaine. The indictment specifically links the criminal group in Chicago to LFM and labels it a "command and control group" run by someone in Michoacan. While the indictment only referred to this person as "individual A," we suspect that the unidentified person was LFM operational manager Servando Gomez Martinez, the second in command of LFM. The manager of the Chicago command and control group, Jorge Luis Torres-Galvan, and the distribution supervisor, Jose Gonzalez-Zavala, were allegedly in regular contact with their manager in Mexico, updating him on accounting issues and relying on him to authorize which wholesale distributors the group could do business with in the United States.

These wholesale distributors also appear to have had close ties to the command and control group. According to the indictment, they were allowed to sell cocaine on consignment they could wait to pay Zavala once the entire load was sold an agreement that indicates a great deal of trust between the supplier and the retail distributor. It was likely a matter of the LFM commander in Mexico authorizing their involvement and probably was based on an existing business or extended-family relationship. Due to LFM's ideological basis, its members should be thought of more as adherents than employees. The group does not operate using the same business objectives as most other major DTOs, so we would expect personal relationships to be more valued than strictly business relationships among LFM members.

Another member of the group, Jorge Guadalupe Ayala-German, allegedly operated stash houses in the Chicago area where deliveries of narcotics would come in and shipments of cash would leave. The indictment says Ezequel Hernandez-Patino was responsible for physically delivering the shipments of cocaine to the wholesale distributors, and Ismail Flores with Oscar Bueno were responsible for transporting money south to Dallas, where they would deliver cash proceeds from the sale of cocaine and pick up more cocaine to sell. The indictment does not indicate that Flores or Bueno supplied any other markets between Dallas and Chicago, which suggests that the Chicago-based LFM members were fairly compartmentalized.

Project Coronado

The larger operation from which the Chicago indictment emerged, the DEA-led Project Coronado, was a joint operation with the FBI, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and numerous other agencies. It followed several similar nationwide sweeps such as Operation Xcellerator, a multi-year effort to dismantle the Sinaloa cartel's connections in the United States, and Project Reckoning, which went after a Gulf cartel network in the United States that was trafficking cocaine to Italy. Under Project Coronado, the DEA, FBI and ATF, along with other federal, state and local law enforcement agencies, have made a total of almost 1,200 arrests, seized $32.8 million in U.S. currency and seized 11.7 tons of marijuana, methamphetamines, cocaine and heroin since the operation began in 2005. Dozens of other indictments and criminal complaints (in addition to the Chicago indictment) have been unsealed against associates of the group across the country since Oct. 22, the official culmination of Project Coronado.

The other cases revealed more details about LFM's operations in the United States: how it trafficked methamphetamines and cocaine from Mexico to Dallas, how a cell in Nashville was supplied by a distribution hub in Atlanta, and how a group in New York had obtained automatic assault rifles, high-caliber pistols and ammunition with the intent to smuggle those weapons back to Mexico to supply LFM. LFM has been responsible for a substantial level of violence in southwestern Mexico, and former Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Morina Mora recently called it the most dangerous cartel in Mexico.

The Northern District of Texas had the most cases as a result of Project Coronado. It appears that Dallas was a major U.S. hub for LFM, where it managed drug shipments from Mexico to other regions (Chicago and Arkansas were specifically mentioned) and the collection of cash from those distributors before shipping the cash back to Mexico. Dallas is a logical hub for such activity because of its proximity to Mexico and its location along Interstate 35 and Interstate 20, which link Dallas to the rest of the United States as well as points to the south. In at least one case, an individual attempting to smuggle four kilograms of methamphetamines to Dallas passed through the McAllen, Texas, border crossing on a passenger bus but was interdicted by police.

Most indictments (including the one in Chicago) pointed out that LFM groups in the United States conducted countersurveillance while moving drug shipments. On one occasion, accused Dallas drug distributor Soto Cervantes changed the location of a meet-up point when he learned that the person he was meeting suspected that he was being followed. The change in location caused the police (who were indeed following the transporter) to call off the surveillance mission in order to not compromise their investigation. As a result, authorities relied primarily on electronic surveillance of the suspects' communications through wiretaps on home and cellular phones of which the suspects had many and which they changed frequently.

There were other cases when police were unable to follow suspects due to such surveillance detection tactics, when targeted traffickers called off meetings and changed vehicles in an effort to confuse police. While seemingly simple, these tactics indicate a higher degree of tradecraft and professionalism among the suspects linked to LFM, who don't appear to be members of run-of-the-mill street gangs. It is unclear if these tactics have been institutionalized in the LFM network, but judging by the frequency that police encountered them in various U.S. cities during Project Coronado, they appear to be a standard practice for many if not all LFM members.

Implications

The details released in the Nov. 20 indictment provide solid evidence that drug trafficking organizations in Mexico (specifically LFM) have established command and control groups inside the United States that report to and receive orders from commanders in Mexico. And this shows that LFM has had an international presence far beyond what we originally suspected and is not just a small-time trafficking group in southwestern Mexico.

Whereas most drug distribution in the United States is carried out by individual gangs serving their own interests and operating on their own familiar turf, the criminal group in Chicago working for LFM was carrying out orders issued by a drug trafficking organization some 3,000 miles away. And based on the interaction the Chicago group had with its contact in Mexico, the use of such tactics as countersurveillance measures, the coordination among groups in different cities and reports from STRATFOR sources within U.S. counternarcotics agencies, it is likely that the individual in Mexico was managing several groups throughout the United States.

Most criminal enterprises avoid this kind of command and control structure for two reasons. First, distribution in a foreign country is not typically in a Mexican-based drug trafficker's area of expertise. Their interests tend to focus on their own territory, which they can control much more easily due to their familiarity with and proximity to it. Second, as seen in these latest arrests, U.S. law enforcement agencies are much more proficient at thwarting drug distribution operations than Mexican law enforcement agencies are. (LFM has recently proved very proficient indeed at challenging Mexican security forces.) By passing the drugs off to gangs in the United States, major cartels are also able to avoid a great deal of liability at the hands of U.S. law enforcement. In a way, LFM's efforts to move downstream, farther from the source of the cocaine, mirror those of other, larger Mexican DTOs that are expanding their control over the supply of cocaine in South America as they move upstream, closer to the source.

And this raises the question: Why would LFM want to expand its operations so deeply into the United States when other Mexican DTOs maintain a more superficial presence there? One possible answer is that LFM is much smaller than Sinaloa, Los Zetas and BLO, controls much less territory and gets a smaller share of the narcotics being trafficked through Mexico. By expanding business into the United States, LFM is able to leverage what little control it does have in order to gain access to the highly lucrative retail market. And then there is LFM's ideological bent, which makes it behave at times more like a cult than a purely pragmatic business.

Our answer to the above question is only conjecture. What is certain, at this point, is that there is now a precedent for Mexican DTOs to have a greater influence over their lower-level supply-chain operations in the United States. The details released in the Chicago indictment provide a better understanding of how Mexican-based drug traffickers impact the drug distribution network inside the United States and prove that at least one, "La Familia," is taking a very hands-on approach.

(c) Stratfor www.stratfor.com Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved

 

By Scott Stewart and Alex Posey

There are two cartel wars currently raging in Mexico that have combined to produce record levels of violence in 2009. The first war is the struggle between the government of Mexico and the drug cartels. The second, a parallel war, is the fight among the various cartels as they compete for control of lucrative supply routes. Shortly after his inauguration in December 2006, President Felipe Calderon launched an all-out effort to target the cartels, which he viewed as a major threat to Mexico's security and stability. Over the past three years, the government's effort has weakened and fragmented some of the major cartels (namely the Gulf and Sinaloa cartels), but this government progress has upset the balance of power among the cartels, which has resulted in increased violence. Former cartel allies have been pitted against each other in bloody battles of attrition as rival cartels have tried to take advantage of their weakened competitors and seize control of smuggling routes.

In this year's report on Mexico's drug cartels, we assess the most significant developments of the past year and provide an updated description of the country's powerful drug-trafficking organizations as well as a forecast for 2010. This annual report is a product of the coverage we maintain on a weekly basis through our Mexico Security Memo as well as other analyses we produce throughout the year.

Mexico's Drug Trafficking Organizations

La Familia: This cartel has garnered a great deal of media attention during the past year, especially after being labeled in May "the most violent criminal organization in Mexico" by former Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora. La Familia has grabbed headlines mainly because of its brazen attacks against government forces and its pseudo-ideological roots. In spite of its public image, the La Familia organization still remains relatively small and geographically isolated compared to the larger and more established cartels. The La Familia organization's headquarters and main area of operation is in the southwestern state of Michoacan, hence the name of the principal group: La Familia Michoacana. The organization also has regional franchises that operate in the neighboring states of Guerrero, Guanajuato and Mexico, as well as a limited presence in Jalisco and Queretaro states. The degree to which these groups coordinate with each other and how much autonomy they possess is unclear, though they all reportedly follow the same cult-like ideology. Without direct access to the U.S.-Mexico border, La Familia is geographically constrained and must pay "taxes" to the organizations that control the border corridors through which La Familia's product is moved.

Gulf cartel: At the beginning of Calderon's campaign against the cartels, the Gulf cartel was considered the most powerful drug-trafficking organization in Mexico. After nearly three years of bearing the brunt of Mexican law enforcement and military efforts, however, the Gulf cartel is today only a shell of its former self. At its height, a great deal of the Gulf cartel's power came from its former enforcement arm, Los Zetas. Today the two are separate entities, with Los Zetas being the dominant organization and controlling much of the Gulf cartel's former territory. The relationship between the two organizations reportedly was somewhat strained over the past year when the Gulf cartel leadership refused to take orders from Los Zetas chief Heriberto "El Lazca" Lazcano Lazcano. Despite this rift, the two organizations continue to work together when their interests align.

Los Zetas: Over the past year, the group has held firm its position as one of the most powerful cartels operating in Mexico while trying to extend its presence southward into Central America from its core area of operations along Mexico's eastern coast and the Yucatan Peninsula. The organization remains fully under the control of "El Lazca." There have been rumors that Lazcano Lazcano has tried to consolidate control over what is left of the Gulf cartel over the past year and integrate the remaining personnel into Los Zetas' operations, but these reports have not been confirmed. Los Zetas have a well-documented relationship with Los Kaibiles (Guatemalan special forces deserters turned criminal muscle) since at least 2006, which has helped facilitate Los Zetas' expansion into Guatemala. A Guatemalan joint military and law enforcement operation in March raided a Los Zetas camp and air strip in the border department of Ixcan that were being utilized for the tactical training of Los Zeta recruits as well as a destination for aerial deliveries of cocaine further indication that Los Zetas have an established presence in Guatemala. This push southward has given the organization greater control of its overland cocaine supply line into Mexico and enabled it to control much of the human smuggling from Central America into Mexico and the United States.

Los Zetas have also worked with the Beltran-Leyva Organization (BLO) throughout 2009. The two organizations are currently trying to wrest control away from La Familia in the Michoacan and Guerrero regions to gain access to the lucrative Pacific ports of Lazaro Cardenas and Acapulco. There has also been a concerted effort by the Los Zetas leadership to become stakeholders in the BLO over the past year, but currently their role remains that of hired muscle to supplement the BLO's ongoing operations as the organization pursues its own agenda. Los Zetas have also contracted themselves out to the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes Organization, also known as the Juarez cartel, to serve as advisers and trainers for the organization as they both battle their common rival, the Sinaloa cartel, for control over the Juarez border region.

Beltran-Leyva Organization: After a very active 2008, the BLO has kept a relatively low profile throughout much of 2009. After the BLO secured control of its territory in mid-2008 following its split with the Sinaloa cartel (the BLO/Sinaloa battle for territory accounted for a significant portion of the violence in Mexico in early 2008), the cartel was able to concentrate on consolidating and streamlining its narcotics smuggling operations. After the consolidation, the group went on the offensive again in October and November when it teamed up with Los Zetas to target La Familia in Guerrero and Michoacan states. The BLO remains under the command of Arturo Beltran Leyva, who is supported by a well-established network along Mexico's Pacific coast and into northeastern Mexico. The BLO has been in the narcotics business a long time and has perhaps the most sophisticated intelligence capability of any of the cartels.

Sinaloa cartel: In spite of losing some of its former allies like the Carrillo Fuentes Organization and the BLO in 2008, the Sinaloa cartel remains the most formidable and dominant cartel in Mexico today. Headed by the world's most wanted drug lord, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera, the Sinaloa cartel demonstrated its resiliency in 2009 and remained quite active throughout the year. Guzman's partners, Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada Garcia, Ignacio "El Nacho" Coronel Villareal and Juan "El Azul" Esparragoza Moreno, each have their own respective networks and continue to work together when necessary to traffic narcotics northward from South America.

The conflict in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua state between the Sinaloa cartel and the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes Organization (VCF), also known as the Juarez cartel, has undoubtedly been the primary focus of the Sinaloa cartel over the past year. The conflict has essentially resulted in a stalemate between the two organizations as they battle for control over the lucrative Juarez plaza. The Sinaloa cartel still maintains a significant presence in the territory along the Pacific coast of Mexico and the Sierra Madre Occidental. While violence has lessened significantly between the Sinaloa cartel and the BLO, their overlapping geography continues to generate some conflict between the two organizations, particularly in the state of Sinaloa. The Sinaloa cartel has also remained active in Central and South America throughout 2009 as it attempts to exert greater control over the flow of weapons and narcotics from South America to Mexico.

The Vicente Carrillo Fuentes Organization/Juarez cartel: The VCF is based out of the northern city of Ciudad Juarez in Chihuahua state. The cartel is led by Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, who took over after the 1997 death of his brother and cartel founder Amado Carrillo Fuentes. Throughout 2009, the Juarez cartel has maintained its long-standing alliance with the BLO, which is helping the VCF in its vicious battle with the Sinaloa cartel for control of Juarez.

The VCF is yet another Mexican drug trafficking organization (DTO) that has fallen significantly in the past few years. The VCF and its enforcement arm, La Linea, have been locked in a battle for nearly two years with their former partners from the Sinaloa cartel for control over the lucrative Juarez plaza. The prolonged conflict has taken its toll on the VCF and has forced the cartel to resort to other criminal activities to finance its battle for Juarez, primarily kidnapping, human trafficking, prostitution, extortion and the retail sale of drugs to the domestic Mexican market. In its weakened state, the VCF has been forced to focus almost all of its efforts on fighting the Sinaloa cartel and has not been able to effectively project its influence much farther than the greater Juarez area.

Arellano Felix Organization/Tijuana cartel: The Arellano Felix Organization (AFO) also known as the Tijuana cartel is based in the far northwestern state of Baja California, across the border from San Diego. With the arrests of all the Arellano Felix brothers and several other high-ranking members, infighting has caused the once-powerful AFO to be split into two competing factions one led by Arellano Felix nephew Fernando "El Ingeniero" Sanchez Arellano and the other led by Eduardo Teodoro "El Teo" Garcia Simental. Garcia initially sought the support of the rival Sinaloa cartel and it is now thought that the Garcia faction is essentially a Sinaloa proxy in the greater Tijuana area. The Sanchez faction has remained relatively dormant in 2009. The organization has been forced to diversify its operations into other criminal activities, such as kidnapping, human trafficking, prostitution and extortion. This was due in part to increased scrutiny by Mexican law enforcement after an extraordinary spike in violence in 2008 that saw, at its height, more than 100 executions during one week in the greater Tijuana area. Much of the violence that has occurred in Tijuana in 2009 has been a result of clashes between these two rival factions. The overall level of violence in Tijuana has been far lower in 2009 than it was during the height of the conflict in 2008.

Debate Over the Military's Mission

One of the most important facets of the Calderon government's campaign against the drug cartels has been the widespread deployment of Mexican military personnel. While previous presidents have used the military for isolated counternarcotics operations, the level to which Calderon has used Mexico's armed forces in that role is unprecedented. During Calderon's term in office, he has deployed more than 35,000 military personnel to a number of regions throughout Mexico to carry out counternarcotics operations. Because of this, 2009 witnessed a growing debate over the role of the Mexican military in the country's war against the cartels.

Domestic and international human rights organizations have expressed concerns over an increase in alleged civil rights abuses by Mexican military personnel, and U.S.-based Human Rights Watch has even gone so far as to call on U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton not to certify Mexico's human rights record, which would effectively freeze a portion of the Merida Initiative funds allocated by the United States to aid Mexico in its counternarcotics campaign. Even members of Calderon's own National Action Party have stated that there needs to be a better balance between the needs of the cartel war and the civil rights of Mexican citizens.

The Calderon administration's unprecedented use of the military is due in large part to the seemingly systemic corruption in the ranks of local, state and even federal law enforcement agencies in Mexico. Less corrupted as an institution, the military has been increasingly called upon to handle tasks that would normally fall under the responsibilities of law enforcement such as conducting security patrols, making traffic stops and manning checkpoints. As the military has taken over these traditional law enforcement tasks, it has come into closer contact with the Mexican civilian population, which has resulted in human rights-abuse accusations and the current controversy.

Calderon has defended this strategy saying that the military's large role in the war against the cartels is only a temporary solution and has tried to minimize the criticism by involving the federal police as much as possible. But it has been the armed forces that have provided the bulk of the manpower and coordination that federal police agencies hampered by rampant corruption and a tumultuous reform process have not been able to muster.

Calderon is aware that it is not ideal to use the military in this capacity, but the fact is that the military remains the most reliable and versatile security tool presently available to the Mexican government. While Calderon's ultimate goal is to professionalize and completely hand over all the traditional law enforcement tasks to the federal police, the military will be needed to help in Mexico's war against the cartels for the foreseeable future. The Mexican government has no other option. It will be years before the federal police will have the capability and manpower required to take over the missions currently being performed by the military.

Trends in Violence

As noted in last year's cartel report, the last three months of 2008 saw an explosion in violence and a dramatic increase in the number of cartel-related deaths across Mexico. The levels of violence seen at the end of 2008 have persisted into 2009 and have gradually worsened over the course of the year. Estimates of the current death toll for organized crime-related deaths in Mexico at the time this report was written ranged from 6,900 to more than 7,300. The previous yearly record was 5,700 deaths in 2008.

The geography of the violence in Mexico has remained relatively static from the end of the 2008 through 2009. Chihuahua, Sinaloa, Guerrero, Michoacan and Baja California were the five most violent states in 2009 and all happen to be the top five in terms of violence throughout Calderon's term. Chihuahua state once again sits atop the list as the most violent state, with more than 3,200 deaths so far in 2009, and more than 2,100 in Juarez alone. The extraordinary levels of violence seen in Juarez and Chihuahua state can be directly attributed to the ongoing conflict between the Sinaloa cartel, the Juarez cartel and their street-gang proxies.

High levels of violence returned to Michoacan and Guerrero states in 2009 due in large part to the increased activities and expansion of the La Familia organization. La Familia has launched numerous high-profile attacks against the military and law enforcement personnel operating in Michoacan as well as its rivals in the region. Federal police and military patrols in the region frequently come under fire and are sometimes ambushed by La Familia gunmen. The attacks on security personnel are often associated with the capture of a high-ranking La Familia member.

While Mexican security forces have been able to weaken and divide some of the more powerful cartels, this diminution of cartel power has actually spawned even more violence as the organizations scramble to retain control of their territory or to steal turf from other cartels. Over the past few decades, the only time intercartel violence has diminished has been during periods of stability and equilibrium among the competing cartels, and the Mexican government's anti-drug operations will not allow for such stability and equilibrium. This means we can expect to see the high level of violence continue between the government and the cartels, and among the competing cartels, throughout 2010.

(c) Stratfor www.stratfor.com Reproduced with permission. All rights reserved

 

By Scott Stewart

This week's Stratfor's Geopolitical Intelligence Report provided a high-level assessment of the economic forces that affect how the Mexican people and the Mexican government view the flow of narcotics through that country. Certainly at that macro level, there is a lot of money flowing into Mexico and a lot of people, from bankers and businessmen to political parties and politicians, are benefiting from the massive influx of cash. The lure of this lucre shapes how many Mexicans (particularly many of the Mexican elite) view narcotics trafficking. It is, frankly, a good time to be a banker, a real estate developer or a Rolex dealer in Mexico.

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By George Friedman

STRATFOR argued March 13, 2008, that Mexico was nearing the status of a failed state. A failed state is one in which the central government has lost control over significant areas of the country and the state is unable to function. In revisiting this issue, it seems to us that the Mexican government has lost control of the northern tier of Mexico to drug-smuggling organizations, which have significantly greater power in that region than government forces. Moreover, the ability of the central government to assert its will against these organizations has weakened to the point that decisions made by the state against the cartels are not being implemented or are being implemented in a way that would guarantee failure.

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Defence Viewpoints has been reproducing a series of detailed analyses about the drugs cartels in Mexico, their lethal habits, and the impact on the United States, for more than a year. They include:

- Mexico : the war with the cartels December 2009
- La Familia north of the border December 2009
- Mexico : the emergence of an unexpected threat October 2009
- Confidential informants : a double edged sword August 2009
- The role of the Mexican military in the cartel wars August 2009
- Mexico : economics and the arms trade August 2009
- A counter-intelligence approach to controlling drugs June 2009
- Central America's emerging role in the drugs trade April 2009
- Mexican lawlessness spreads March 2009
- The third Mexican war March 2009
- Mexico's drug cartels December 2008
- US prison gangs and Mexico's drug cartels November 2008
- The criminal gangs of Mexico and their weapons November 2008

 

By Scott Stewart

At approximately 2 a.m. on Sept. 25, a small improvised explosive device (IED) consisting of three or four butane canisters was used to attack a Banamex bank branch in the Milpa Alta delegation of Mexico City. The device damaged an ATM and shattered the bank's front windows. It was not an isolated event. The bombing was the seventh recorded IED attack in the Federal District and the fifth such attack against a local bank branch since the beginning of September.

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By Scott Stewart and Fred Burton

Police in El Paso, Texas, announced on August 11th that they had arrested three suspects in the May 15 shooting death of Jose Daniel Gonzalez Galeana, a Juarez cartel lieutenant who had been acting as a confidential informant (CI) for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency. It was an activity that prompted the Juarez cartel to put out a hit on him, and Gonzalez was shot multiple times outside his home in an upscale El Paso neighborhood. A fourth suspect was arrested shortly after the Aug. 11 announcement. Among the suspects is an 18-year-old U.S. Army soldier stationed at nearby Fort Bliss who the other suspects said had been hired by one of the leaders of the Juarez cartel to pull the trigger on Gonzalez. The suspects also include two other teenagers, a 17-year-old and a 16-year-old.

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By Stephen Meiners and Fred Burton

U.S. drug czar Gil Kerlikowske pai a four-day visit reecntly to Mexico, meeting with Mexican government officials to discuss the two countries' joint approach to Mexico's ongoing cartel war. In prepared remarks at a July 27 press conference with Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora, Kerlikowske said Washington is focused on reducing drug use in the United States, supporting domestic law enforcement efforts against drug traffickers and working with other countries that serve as production areas or transshipment points for U.S.-bound drugs.

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By Scott Stewart and Fred Burton

On June 26, the small Mexican town of Apaseo el Alto, in Guanajuato state, was the scene of a deadly firefight between members of Los Zetas and federal and local security forces. The engagement began when a joint patrol of Mexican soldiers and police officers responded to a report of heavily armed men at a suspected drug safe house. When the patrol arrived, a 20-minute firefight erupted between the security forces and gunmen in the house as well as several suspects in two vehicles who threw fragmentation grenades as they tried to escape.

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