Thursday, November 15, 2012



Note: couple background pieces.

Gang rules 6 years after start of Mexico drug war
Posted: Friday, November 2, 2012 9:28 am | Updated: 12:00 pm, Fri Nov
2, 2012.
Associated Press |

Forest-camouflaged pickups roared to life as the Mexican soldiers
pulled on their black masks and hoisted their Heckler & Koch G3
assault rifles.
The three-truck convoy pulled out of the base to patrol the rugged,
mountainous region of the western state of Michoacan, when a raspy
voice burst out of an unencrypted radio inside one of the cabs:
"Three R's, 53." Three army vehicles, headed your way.
It wasn't a soldier's voice. The radio had picked up a call from the
Knights Templar, a quasi-religious drug cartel that controls the area
and most of the state. Its web of spies monitors the movements of the
military and police around the clock. The gang's members not only
live off methamphetamine and marijuana smuggling and extortion, they
maintain country roads, control the local economy and act as private
debt collectors for citizens frustrated with the courts, soldiers say.
"Because they're vigilant and well-organized they roll around here
with a lot of ease," said Lt. Col. Julices Gonzalez Calzada, the
leader of the patrol.
Felipe Calderon launched his presidency in December 2006 by sending
the army to Michoacan, his home state, to battle organized crime that
he said threatened to expand from drug trafficking to controlling
civil society. His administration says it has debilitated many of the
cartels with a leadership-focused offensive that has killed or
captured 25 of the country's 37 most-wanted men.
But he has failed to stop drug cartels from morphing into mafias
infiltrating society in the sun-seared Tierra Caliente, or Hot
Country, a region named for its steamy weather, but now also too hot
with gang activity for many to live and work safely. The government
annihilated the leadership of one previous cartel, La Familia
Michoacana, but a splinter group, the Knights Templar, moved in to
take control.
Rank-and-file soldiers say they feel largely powerless in the face of
an enemy that hides among the population. They say whenever they make
strategic strikes, the gang's professional-grade infrastructure is
replaced almost as fast as it's taken down.
Now the two sides largely co-exist.
To get a soldier's eye view of the conflict, The Associated Press
spent two days embedded with the 51st Battalion of the 43rd Military
Zone, a vast region that's home to about 3,000 soldiers, a force
that's more than doubled since Calderon mounted his offensive. Gen.
Miguel Angel Patino, commanding officer, said his troops' work
against the gangs has "limited a lot of their activity. They don't
have the freedom to act that they used to."
But patrols through dry forests, avocado fields and hardscrabble
towns show that the cartel operates with few restrictions. Soldiers
point out pastel-colored, air-conditioned narco-mansions that stand
out from the cluster of humble rural shacks in many of the small towns.
In the deep hills around El Alcalde, a town 12 miles from Apatzingan,
is a brand-new sports arena with a cock-fighting pit and a bull-
fighting ring that seats hundreds. The stables are filled with dozens
of sleek, well-groomed horses. Soldiers say it was built and run by
the Knights Templar.
The Calderon government claims its efforts are reducing violence in
Mexico, though it stopped reporting the number of drug-related
killings more than a year ago, when it reached 47,500 since Calderon
started his term. Many private groups now put the number close to
Indeed, things are quieter in the Tierra Caliente, where in 2009 La
Familia rounded up, tortured and dumped the bodies of 12 federal
police officers working the area.
In 2010, police battled with cartel forces for several days as gang
members hijacked and torched buses, blocking major highways in the
state capital of Morelia. Authorities say it ended with the killing
of La Familia founder Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, known as "The Craziest
One," though his body was never found.
Soldiers say confrontations are down to about one a month. But even
the general agrees it's because the Knights Templar won the war
against the rival gang.
"What the Knights Templar is doing is maintaining tight control on
organized crime in this area," Patino said. "The dominance allows the
area to stay quiet to a certain point."
Most citizens are quiet, too, shaking off questions about the drug
gang. Local residents questioned by the AP about extortions or cartel
rule declined to talk.
When the then-mayor of Apatzingan was pressed by reporters last year
about a string of kidnappings in his town, he practically broke down.
"I want to go away, I want to resign this job, because I wasn't made
for this. I can't even ensure the safety of my own children, who are
also in danger," Mayor Genaro Guizar said in an emotional interview
with the Milenio television station.
Calderon's office declined to comment directly on the situation in
the Tierra Caliente, but referred The Associated Press to a speech
the president delivered this year in Michoacan emphasizing the
importance of purging local, state and federal police forces of
corruption in order to produce trustworthy agencies capable of
investigating crimes and bringing suspects to trial.
The cartel's territory begins at the gates of the military base in
the center of Apatzingan. Each of the five entrances is watched
around the clock by the Knights Templar, as are virtually every
highway exit, toll booth and village square, according to the soldiers.
The cartel consists largely of men from the Tierra Caliente, and they
promote themselves as a mystic Christian order dedicated to
protecting the population from abuse at the hands of the military and
police. They have self-published at least two books and a variety of
pamphlets collecting the sayings and memoirs of their leaders, most
prominently the late Moreno, founder of their predecessor gang, La
Even the troops acknowledge the cartel has a substantial degree of
local support due to its family networks, patronage of local
communities and exploitation of citizens' anger at the government.
The cartel runs "training schools," including one in Apatzingan, that
teach courses in leadership portraying cartel members as clean-living
men of honor, steeped in Asian religion alongside Catholicism, and
dedicated to protecting the people of Michoacan from a government
they say is manipulated by a ultraconservative religious group known
as El Yunque, or the Anvil.
According to cartel leaders, it is their duty to go against the
government, saying Calderon used insecurity as a pretext for
launching a bloody war.
"It has brought death and pain on thousands of homes," according to
one book attributed to Moreno, whose philosophy was adopted by
Knights Templar after the downfall of La Familia. "It was my
obligation, with my comrades, to mount this fight. It's the only way
to guarantee a change in our country."
Under Mexican law, soldiers can't formally investigate crimes and can
only stop criminal activity that occurs directly in front of them. So
they are limited to patrolling, responding to tips about crimes in
progress, searching cars at roadside checkpoints and hunting for meth
labs and marijuana fields by helicopter and on foot.
Most officers in the 43rd Military Zone carry two radios, one
encrypted for military communications, and the other to listen to the
Knights Templar watching their men. They also carry laminated cards
confiscated from cartel operatives printed with hundreds of the
gang's radio codes. The code "53" refers to the army, "69" to the
U.S.-made Humvees and "56" to military intelligence operatives.
One army officer said he had heard Templar operatives checking the
status of roads all the way to Mexico City, some six hours drive east.
On Monday, the army said, soldiers with the 43rd Military Zone,
raided a ranch named "The Horses" in village outside Apatzingan that
is believed to be the property of Enrique "Kiki" Plancarte Solis, co-
leader of the Knights Templar along with Servando "La Tuta" Gomez
The troops were attacked with gunfire and grenades and returned fire,
killing one of the attackers, the army said. Inside the ranch the
troops found more than 28 pounds of marijuana, a pound of crystal
meth, a smaller amount of cocaine, dozens of grenades, anti-tank
rockets, pistols and rifles, including a powerful 50-caliber sniper
rifle, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash.
The soldiers have taken down 90 labs so far this year, but the number
of arrests they've made _ 95 _ does not reflect the amount of
criminal activity they're aware of.
"All we can do is keep working, keep patrolling, moving through the
countryside and the streets, and try to find them from time to time,"
Patino said.
The army says it is well-received by people in the Tierra Caliente,
though Michoacan's state commission on human rights says complaints
against the army and federal police in Apatzingan have risen sharply,
from 69 in 2008 to 391 last year.
Riding in groups of six or seven, the riflemen of the 51st Battalion
scan the traffic and the roadside from benches mounted in the backs
of their pickups. In each truck, one soldier mans a heavy weapon
mounted on a pivot behind the roof of the cab.
They pull onto a dirt road and head to a series of little towns that
are home to some of the Knights Templar leadership, including the
communally owned village of El Alcalde, where they stop at a yellow
stucco house filled with new appliances and surrounded by a chain-
link fence topped in barbed wire.
The gate is open, and the soldiers walk up to the open windows,
pulling aside the shades and peering inside. The house is cleaned
every day but rarely occupied. They have no doubt that it's owned by
a high-ranking member of the Knights Templar, Gonzalez said.
Each of the little towns in the area has such a house, newly built,
assiduously maintained and filled with luxury finishes, thick carved-
wood doors, marble floors, faux-Greek concrete columns, and
immaculately tended rose bushes. Most sit on high ground at the edge
of the towns, offering vistas of the roads and other houses. The
money that paid for them didn't come just from avocado trees.
Outside of town, a shrine to La Familia founder Moreno Gonzalez sits
atop a steep flight of concrete steps, dominating the road. Dozens of
votive candles set on the chapel steps have been smashed to shards,
the glass panels of the chapel doors are broken and deep pockmarks,
apparently from bullets, mar the doors.
A black "Z' has been spray-painted on the front of the chapel, the
trademark of the paramilitary Zetas cartel that battled the Knights
Templar and La Familia before being largely driven out by the Knights.
Gonzalez said he believes the Knights Templar left the vandalism
unrepaired as a way of inspiring their followers to maintain
vigilance against future Zeta incursions.
Soldiers say the Knights Templar extort protection money from nearly
every legitimate business in the Tierra Caliente, including at least
three taxes on the region's famous avocados _ one on the owners of
the fields based on the area they own, one charged per ton on the
middlemen who buy the crop and a third for exporters based on every
kilogram of avocados.
The cartel also taxes Michoacan's lemon farmers as well as urban
stores and markets.
"They've come as far as fixing the price of a tortilla or a kilo of
meat," Gonzalez said. "They give the order that everyone is going to
sell it for 60 pesos and all of butchers adjust their price to 60
pesos a kilo."
The military has found ledgers with budgets for road maintenance in
rural areas. Around El Alcalde, in the neighboring towns of
Guanajatillo, Moreno's reputed birthplace, and Los Laureles, roads
are notably smoother than elsewhere, with well-tended culverts and
surrounding fields of freshly planted and rigorously cared-for sorghum.
Gonzalez says local people have reported that the Knights Templar
have planted hundreds of acres of the crop, and the equipment in the
fields is expensive and new, including a shiny green John Deere
combine harvester. Following the trail of funds earned from criminal
activity falls to civilian prosecutors and investigators, and the
soldiers say they see virtually no evidence that authorities are
tracking the Knight Templars' money.

Note: even CNN?

Why is Mexico drug war being ignored?
By Ted Galen Carpenter, Special to CNN

Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, is the
author of nine books on international affairs, including the just
released The Fire Next Door: Mexico's Drug Violence and the Danger to
America. The views expressed are his own.

A striking feature of the presidential debate on foreign policy was
the total lack of attention given to Latin America –notably the drug
violence wracking our next door neighbor, Mexico. Nearly 60,000
people have perished since 2006 in the Mexican government's military-
led offensive against the country's powerful, ruthless drug cartels.
But while President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney both obsessed about
the Middle East, they virtually ignored Washington's relations with
our southern neighbors. After a brief observation from Romney near
the start of the debate that the region offered important – and
neglected – economic opportunities for the United States, both
candidates quickly abandoned the Western Hemisphere.
That was extraordinarily myopic. Given its geographic proximity,
historical ties, and mounting importance as an arena for trade and
investment, Latin America should be high on Washington's diplomatic
and economic agenda. And near the top of the national security agenda
should be the alarming developments involving the drug violence in
Killings continue to rise, and hardly a week passes without a new
report of grisly acts south of the border. Portions of several key
cities, especially Ciudad Juarez and Monterrey, are now virtual war
zones. The Mexican government's control is becoming precarious in
major swaths of territory, including the crucial northern states of
Nuevo Leon, Chihuahua, and Tamaulipas. Several of the cartels,
especially the Sinaloa cartel and the ultra-violent Zetas, pose a
threat to the integrity of the Mexican state.
More from CNN: Bodies for billions
Equally troubling, the turmoil in Mexico is spreading to Central
America and beginning to seep over the border into the United States.
One would think that such a national security problem would merit
some attention from the incumbent president and the man who aims to
replace him.
Indeed, Mexican opinion leaders were justifiably miffed at the
failure to address the drug war. Prominent journalist Leon Krauss's
widely circulated tweet summarized the frustration. "Mexico, facing
100,000 deaths, neighbor to the United States, didn't deserve a
single mention tonight. A disgrace."
Mexico's problems with the Sinaloa cartel and the Zetas are now
plaguing the countries of Central America. According to Leonel Ruíz,
Guatemala's federal prosecutor for narcotics offenses, the Zetas had
gained control of nearly half of Guatemala's territory. Kevin Casas-
Zamora, a former vice president of Costa Rica, suggest the figure is
about 40 percent.
The cartels' penetration of Honduras and El Salvador has also reached
the point that in significant portions of those countries
governmental control is eroding or already nonexistent. El Salvador's
president, Mauricio Funes, admits that the Zetas successfully bribe
elite police units with $5,000 monthly payments to cooperate with the
cartel and to steal high-powered weapons and grenades from the
military. Honduran President Porfirio Lobo argues that in his
country, drug gang members now outnumber police officers and soldiers.
Even Costa Rica, long an enclave of democracy and stability in the
region, has come under growing pressure. The drug trade there is more
prominent than ever before, and the Obama administration for the
first time put that country on the official list of "major drug
transit or major drug-producing countries."
Most importantly, Mexico's troubles are also beginning to afflict the
United States. According to law enforcement authorities, Mexican drug
organizations now have ties to criminal gangs in at least 230
American cities, including all of the 50 largest cities. The cartels'
presence now even extends to relatively small cities and, in some
cases, to rural counties – and not just in the southwestern states,
but portions of the South, the Midwest, and other regions.
People in impoverished Mexican-American communities along the border
are feeling the menace of drug cartel enforcers. As Associated Press
correspondent Paul Weber reported from Fort Hancock, Texas: "When
black SUVs trail school buses around here, no one dismisses it as
routine traffic. And, as I've noted before, when three tough-looking
Mexican men pace around the high school gym during a basketball game,
no one assumes they're just fans…Mexican families fleeing the
violence have moved here or just sent their children, and authorities
and residents says gangsters have followed them across the Rio
Grande" in a campaign of intimidation.
Even Anglo populations along the border are becoming nervous.
Complaints are surging from ranchers in the borderlands of Arizona,
New Mexico, and Texas that intruders use their properties with
impunity as routes to enter the United States. And the level of fear
is rising as more and more of the uninvited seem to be involved in
drug smuggling rather than being ordinary people looking for work and
better lives in the United States.
While Romney and Obama obsess about Iran, Syria, Afghanistan, and
virtually every development in the Middle East, North Africa, and
Central Asia, we have a significant security problem brewing much
closer to home. Yet that issue did not merit even a single sentence
in a presidential debate supposedly devoted to foreign policy. That
is a classic case of blind spots and misplaced priorities. But the
candidate elected president on November 6 will not have the luxury of
ignoring the drug violence on our southern border.

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