Saturday, December 10, 2011

AZMEX Background 10-12-11


Note: If the PRI wins the presidential election in July, look for
things to get worse, for us.

Violence Tops Results of Mexico's 5-Year Drug War
Published December 10, 2011
| Associated Press

VERACRUZ, Mexico - Brighitte Cuesta Sanchez answered the telephone
the same day a local newspaper ran a front-page story that she was dead.

It was her mother checking on the 22-year-old sex worker, a local
celebrity in blond extensions and black hot pants who drove a red
Mini Cooper. The two laughed and called the paper for a correction.
But that night Brighitte disappeared.

Two days later masked gunmen dumped her bound body along with 34
others on a central boulevard at rush hour. A banner claimed the dead
were members of the Zeta cartel, eliminated by rivals.

The governor said most of the victims were convicted criminals.
Federal prosecutors differed, saying only a handful had prior
records, and loose if any ties to organized crime. Nearly three
months later, none of the victims have been publicly identified.

Meanwhile, Brighitte's mom said her daughter's disappearance seemed
like a kidnapping for ransom. She got a call from someone demanding
the Mini Cooper.

This is a snapshot of Mexico five years after President Felipe
Calderon launched his all-out assault on organized crime: Mass
killings as cartels fight each other for territory and civilians
caught in the violence; police unable to prevent the mayhem or to
investigate the aftermath.

Just 10 days into his term, on Dec. 11, 2006, Calderon sent 6,500
troops to his home state of Michoacan to battle drug cartels. The
government needed to act decisively, he said, to prevent organized
crime from taking over the country.

Over the next five years, he deployed 45,000 troops, made major hits
on the leadership of at least five cartels and spent nearly $46
billion fighting organized crime, his defining domestic policy.
Since then, chaos has exploded on the ground in once-quiet places
across the country, including Veracruz. As authorities cracked down
in one spot, violence moved to another. When cartel leaders were
arrested, the gangs dissolved into more violent splinter groups
fighting in areas where corrupt local authorities did not fight back.

The warring splinter groups have allowed two major cartels to take
over most of the territory.
The death toll has grown from 2,000 in 2006 to more than 45,000 by
many counts. Calderon says the government was reacting to violence
that was already heating up among cartels, not the cause of it.

Meanwhile, drugs continue to flow into the United States. According
to various U.S. drug reports, cultivation of marijuana and poppies is
up. Mexico continues to be a source of 95 percent of all cocaine
going into the United States and remains the primary foreign source
of marijuana and methamphetamine.

"They're afraid when they leave their houses," said pollster Roy
Campos, adding that one in six Mexicans knows someone killed by drug
violence. "We no longer just watch it on television, we feel it."

Calderon's initial offensive was one-dimensional -- to send the
military to destroy crops and labs, set up checkpoints and do
searches and arrests. In January 2007, he outlined a five-point
program that included sending soldiers to reinforce the federal
police, increasing his security budget and asking the attorney
general for a plan to improve security and prosecution of crime.

Five years later, Calderon has managed to build a large, vetted
federal police force. But his main tool is to deploy them and the
military to quell explosions of local violence. Programs to reform
the courts and police have been anemic. A constitutional judicial
reform passed in 2008 called for open trials, and established
principles of innocence until proven guilty and cases built on
evidence rather than confessions extracted by torture. But only one
of 32 states has implemented the reform so far. Twenty-three,
including Veracruz, are still in the initial phases.

Even Mexico's closest allies, who praise Calderon's efforts, say the
government wasn't prepared for the chaos its policy created in the

"I don't think they realized how difficult this undertaking would
be," said one senior U.S. law enforcement official in Mexico, who
couldn't be identified for security reasons. "I don't know if they
thought that they would need the support of the state and local
security apparatus. I think they probably thought they could do it
with the feds and the military."

Calderon has said he needed to act to keep parts of Mexico from
falling into the hands of the cartels. But some entire states were
controlled by cartels, which benefited from a culture of corruption
that dated back decades.

Under Mexico's 71 years of single-party rule, traffickers moved drugs
and controlled certain states, often making alliances and truces with
other cartels, as well as law enforcement and politicians, to do

The new attack on the cartels' leadership led to the break up of some
of the gangs, triggering the creation of smaller groups vying to
control local territory. Security rapidly deteriorated because
police, long the purveyors of local organized crime in Mexico, were
colluding with the cartels.

The rapid recruiting of foot soldiers for gang warfare created an
increasingly vicious kind of criminal.

"It's the spontaneity of criminality in a state without laws," said
Homero Aridjis, a Mexican poet, diplomat and environmentalist who
grew up in Michoacan, where Calderon's war started. "This produced a
new kind of Mexican, monsters, who people can't believe have the
capacity to commit these atrocities."

Calderon used to say the spike in violence meant that gangs were on
the run and that the government was winning. He dismissed the dead as
criminals. Now he has changed course, emphasizing a need to take care
of victims and reform courts, police and forces necessary for long-
term security.

It has been a stubborn process.

Calderon, who leaves office in December 2012, has promised to leave a
secure police force. To root out corruption, the federal government
has been pushing an elaborate process for vetting all of Mexico's
460,000 police officers.

According to federal figures, only 16 percent have been vetted so
far, and only 8 percent of the total passed the background checks and
tests. In Veracruz, a state even Calderon conceded had been handed
over to the Zetas, 14 percent of state police had been evaluated as
of the end of September, and 6 percent of municipal police. The
number who passed was not available, but less than a month after the
35 bodies were dumped, authorities announced the firing of nearly
1,000 state police officers for failing their tests.

The federal government this year allotted $331 million (4.3 billion
pesos) for 200 cities to train and re-equip municipal police forces.
It suspended aid to 162 cities in July for not meeting the spending
requirements, then changed course yet again, deciding to give most of
the money back.
Governors in turn have complained that they lack the expertise to set
up centers equipped to do polygraphs, background checks and other
measures to ensure the integrity of their police forces.

Half of Mexico's 32 states still don't have an accredited evaluation
center. One of three centers planned in Veracruz has been accredited.
Security analyst Eduardo Guerrero, who initially supported Calderon's
attack on organized crime, now thinks the strategy was ill-conceived.

"They should have taken the first year to plan, to size up the enemy
we're dealing with and to clean up the government itself, purge the
elements linked to organized crime," Guerrero said.

Former Interior Secretary Francisco Blake Mora would not say if
corruption was a factor when asked by The Associated Press why states
are so resistant to the cleanup. He only said the process was slow,
"but going in the right direction," and called on citizens to hold
their local authorities accountable for making the proper changes.

Blake Mora died in a helicopter crash last month. The new secretary
of the interior, Alejandro Poire, was unavailable for comment.

Long a grower and supplier of marijuana and opium poppies, Mexico has
waged a drug war since at least 1948, when the government sent troops
under the "Great Campaign" to destroy illegal crops.

Under Calderon's term, spending on security among the army, navy,
federal police and attorney general's office has nearly doubled since
2007, totaling more than $46 billion (600 billion pesos) through next
year. The $900 million spent so far by the U.S. under the Merida
Initiative is but a small fraction.

About 45,000 troops have been deployed, plus several thousand more
from the navy infantry, or marines. More than 45,000 people have been
killed by several counts, though the government stopped giving
figures on drug war dead when they hit nearly 35,000 a year ago.

With each military and federal police crackdown, the violence moves
to a new location. The breaking up of cartels and disruption in the
balance of power has led to the growth of two major cartels, Sinaloa
and the Zetas.

The Calderon government has made major hits on several cartels, most
notably La Familia in Michoacan, the Beltran Leyva gang in central
and southern Mexico and La Linea in Ciudad Juarez. It also has
weakened the Gulf Cartel, which created the Zetas as its enforcement

Veracruz is bearing the brunt of both: When the government cracked
down on violence-plagued Tamaulipas, the state north of Veracruz that
borders the U.S., the bloodshed moved to Veracruz.
The Zetas and Sinaloa now battle for the state.

The Zetas have arguably been the biggest beneficiaries of Calderon's
assault on other cartels, metastasizing in little more than two years
into one of Mexico's top criminal organizations. When the Zetas
sought to expand into territory traditionally controlled by the
powerful Sinaloa Cartel in the west, a splinter group aligned with
Sinaloa called the New Generation arrived to terrorize the Zetas.

The 35 bodies dumped Sept. 20 were left with a warning note from the
New Generation, a cartel aligned with Sinaloa, that it intended to
rid Veracruz of the Zetas. Since then dozens more bodies have been
found, including seven last week.

Now that marines heavily patrol Veracruz, authorities already see the
conflict moving to Guadalajara, Mexico's second-largest city, home
turf of the New Generation. Until now, it has been known for
mariachis, tequila and colonial cobblestone streets.

Twenty-six bodies were left in three abandoned trucks there late last
month in what many consider revenge for the 35 in Veracruz. The
victims included a truck driver, a soft-drink vendor and a dental

It is unclear what will happen to Mexico's drug war when Calderon
leaves office a year from now. All the presumed candidates planning
to run for president in 2012 promised to stop the violence and put
the military back in its barracks. But to get there, none has
proposed anything much different from what Calderon is already doing.

People try to carry on the everyday life of Veracruz, including the
"Papaquis," street celebrations and competitions leading up to
Carnival in February, one of Mexico's biggest fiestas. On a recent
school day, a dozen girls in purple leotards twirled batons and
danced to Reggaeton alongside a truck decorated with balloons. A
young beauty queen waved to the crowd.

But life is not the same.

The marine raids have gotten out of control, said Ezequiel Guzman,
president of the Mexican Hotel and Motel Association in Veracruz and
Boca del Rio.

"Sometimes they violate human rights. In the past 20 days, they've
entered eight hotels looking for people, making unreasonable
searches," he said. "They scare the guests -- honest people."

A marine official in Veracruz, who couldn't be identified for
security reasons, says his troops operate within the law.

The families of the victims don't want to talk about the body
dumping. Not one person who came to retrieve their loved ones wanted
to make a criminal complaint, said Gina Dominguez, spokeswoman for
Gov. Javier Duarte.

Brighitte's mother had a small funeral for her transgender child, who
was born Ivan Cuesta Sanchez and left high school to transform
herself into a local star. She advertised on Facebook, made enough to
drive a nice car and charged for media interviews -- one of which got
more than 100,000 views on YouTube.

Her mother is as much afraid and confused as grief-stricken.

"I don't want to give anymore information because of the way things
are," she said from her apartment in a rough area of Veracruz as
dozens of taxis drove by, lookouts for the drug dealers.

"I don't want anything to happen to my family, my kids, my mother."
She has heard that the marines have Brighitte's Mini Cooper. But she
doesn't intend to ask.

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