Battles and beheadings as vicious drugs war spirals out of control

By Lunar Loops · Jun 14, 2007 · ·
  1. Lunar Loops
    This from the Guardian (UK):

    Battles and beheadings as vicious drugs war spirals out of control

    Violence soars as military offensive attempts to contain territorial struggle between rival trafficking gangs

    [FONT=Geneva,Arial,sans-serif]Jo Tuckman in Mexico City
    Thursday June 14, 2007
    The Guardian

    Male, about 40, gaffer tape over his eyes, tortured, strangled, shot twice, and dumped on a patch of wasteland - and wrapped in Christmas paper.

    Without the yuletide motif the unidentified corpse would have been just another statistic. As it was, the extra detail earned him a brief mention in the nightly news roundup. Every day Mexicans are bombarded with the shocking, and at times bizarre, details of a territorial struggle between rival drug-trafficking gangs, and their battle against a major military-led offensive launched six months ago by President Felipe Calderón.
    The El Universal newspaper claims the number of execution-style murders for the year reached 1,000 by May 15 - six weeks earlier than they did last year, and more than three months earlier than the year before that. By last Sunday the paper's count had reached 1,263.

    As the violence increases observers are questioning whether the military offensive can ever fulfil its objective of reimposing order in the large parts of the country blighted by organised crime. Some warn it could be the prelude of far worse to come. "The risks are really high both for the Calderón presidency and for Mexico's institutions," said Bruce Bagley, a drug trafficking expert from Miami University. "This is a bomb with a fuse that has been lit."
    The crackdown began on December 11 2006, with 7,000 soldiers sent to the central state of Michoacan, the site of some of last year's most shocking violence, including an incident in which five severed heads rolled on to a disco dancefloor.
    Now there are some 25,000 troops and military-style federal police deployed across the country, but the traffickers hardly seem intimidated. This week a threat to the public security chief in the eastern state of Veracruz was delivered via a note beside a severed head, and two police stations in the Pacific state of Guerrero were attacked with grenades. Last week assassins gunned down two men in a Mexico City funeral parlour and two gift-wrapped grenades were left in the capital's metro.
    Last month gunmen killed a federal intelligence chief, and a commando of 50 hitmen travelled 200 miles through the desert to abduct 13 people in a small town near the US border.
    Some 69% of Mexicans believe that the term "war" aptly describes what is going on, according to a poll released this month by the Reforma newspaper. But is it winnable? "The [Mexican] army can no more control this situation than the Americans and the British can control the situation in Iraq," says Samuel González, a former Mexican drugs tsar and security analyst. "The army can make its presence felt and perhaps limit some of the most extreme expressions of the violence, but the structural causes remain."
    Mexico's drug traffickers rose to supremacy on the continent after the demise of the big Colombian cartels in the 1990s. The cocaine is grown in the Andes but the Mexicans control 90% of the routes into the US market, according to US reports that also note growing Mexican involvement in methamphetamine production and trafficking. With repatriated profits estimated at $8bn-$25bn (£4bn-£12.5bn) a year, outbreaks of turf violence are hardly surprising and nothing new. But, analysts say, they have never before reached today's scale.
    Power struggles
    Most analysts link the spiral of narco violence to the greater importance attached to territorial control since Mexico became a market, as well as a transit point, for illegal drugs. Some also say a near obsession with catching kingpins in the past triggered bloody internal power struggles within trafficking organisations, and encouraged provocative territorial grabs by rivals in areas previously dominated by the imprisoned leaders.
    The main battle today is between the Sinaloa Cartel (headed by Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán) and the Gulf Cartel (whose veteran leader Osiel Cárdenas was extradited to the US in January).
    But this is a proxy war in most of the country, filtered through local organisations fighting local battles at the same time. Leading drug analyst Luís Astorga associates the current chaos with the collapse of the one-party system that governed Mexico until 2000, which had both provided an orderly framework for corruption and been powerful enough to set limits on the violence.
    President Calderón is right, he says, to try to fill the authority vacuum left by the new democracy, but to rely so heavily on the army to do this is potentially disastrous. Mexicans largely trust the military - seen as a clean alternative to the deeply corrupt civilian police forces. "We could have the Zetas phenomenon multiplied," Astorga says, referring to the notoriously well-trained and ruthless hitmen of the Gulf Cartel formed from military deserters in the late 1990s. "That would take the violence associated with drug trafficking to a whole other level."
    Human rights activists, meanwhile, see massive army involvement as a recipe for abuse. Earlier this month two women and three children died when soldiers opened fire on a car passing a mountain checkpoint. In another incident in May soldiers allegedly raped five young women.
    "Calderón is playing with fire," says political analyst Jorge Zepeda. "It took an enormous effort to remove the generals from power in the 1940s; there are huge dangers with giving them such a key role again."
    Many believe a better answer lies in an overhaul of the police and a crackdown on corruption. But that would require a degree of political consensus improbable in Mexico's deeply polarised environment. In fact many observers interpret Calderón's offensive, launched days after he took office, as an attempt to cement himself in power after a wafer-thin election victory shrouded by accusations of fraud.
    Today the president is enjoying high approval ratings, but pollsters warn these could start to ebb away if the violence does not begin to fall off soon.
    The government and some sympathetic analysts say it is natural for things to get worse before they get better. "They are trying to generate political fallout to force a retreat," federal security chief Genaro García said recently. "They will not succeed." In the meantime Calderón finds himself trying to avoid comparisons with Colombia in the early 90s - when drugs kingpin Pablo Escobar put a price on every policeman's head - and is highlighting the more successful Italian fight against the Mafia.

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  1. Heretic.Ape.
    More Than 1,000 Police Officers, Soldiers and Members of Enemy Cartels Have Been Killed This Year As President Calderon Has Turned Up the Heat

    "In the helicopter is where they began to beat us," recalls Sara, a 17-year-old who was released on May 16 after a week in military detention. ( Her name has been changed to protect her identity. )

    "They threw me really hard into the helicopter," she says. "They kicked me all over my body. Then one got on top of me; I could hear the other girls screaming. The soldiers said that this would take the whore out of us, that we were going to hell, that they were the law."

    Seven months ago, President Felipe Calderon of the conservative National Action Party took office and declared war on drug traffickers, ordering 20,000 troops into the streets to put an end to drug-cartel related murders. Despite the troops, the number of drug-related murders has tripled and the army's massive deployment has yielded tales of widespread human rights violations, like that of Sara.

    More than 1,000 people, mostly police officers, soldiers and members of enemy cartels, have been killed since Jan. 1. In Veracruz, elite armed gangs linked to the Gulf Cartel planted a decapitated head outside an army barracks with a note: "We're going to keep going when the federal forces get here." In Tabasco, men in a Jeep Cherokee delivered a refrigerator to the front door of the newspaper /Tabasco Hoy/; inside security agents found the severed head of a city councilman.

    Drug trafficking across the Mexico-United States border exploded in the '80s in the wake of U.S. moves to quash traffickers from Colombia and the Caribbean. Since the '90s, drug traffickers have moved an estimated $10 billion worth of cocaine, marijuana, heroin and methamphetamines across the border each year. As much as 70 percent of the cocaine that enters the United States crosses the border from Mexico. Drug-related violence between warring cartels has plagued the borderlands for years, increasing in the '90s and then exploding in the last two years.

    Three thousand people died of drug-related violence during the six-year reign of former President Vicente Fox. Last year, more than 20 police officers and rival gang members were beheaded, and their heads were often put on public display in harrowing fashion. In Acapulco, two police officers' heads were posted on the fence outside a state government building above a poster-board sign that read: "So that you learn some respect." In Michoacan, assassins stepped into a crowded nightclub and rolled five severed heads onto the dance floor.

    The army roundup that detained Sara M. started with a shoot out on May 1 between soldiers and members of a cartel gang, who were driving down the only paved road in Caracuaro, Michoacan. When a group of soldiers in civilian clothes apparently backed into the gang members' truck, a minor fender bender erupted into a fierce 20-minute gun battle. Locals ran for cover and the town police stayed indoors, thinking that the gunfight was between two rival gangs. Five soldiers, including a colonel, died and three more were wounded. The gang members escaped, leaving behind one dead.

    Within hours, the army mobilized more than 1,000 soldiers to comb the Tierra Caliente region of Michoacan and look for the gang members. The army raided houses in Caracuaro, neighboring Nocupetaro, and surrounding villages. Soldiers beat, detained and tortured dozens of farmers who had the misfortune of sharing the same last name as the dead gang member. Mexico's National Human Rights Commission gathered more than 50 complaints of human-rights violations during the army's operation around Caracuaro.

    Soldiers took Sara, a 17-year-old friend and 32-year-old Carmela Martinez from Martinez's house. Soldiers also detained two waitresses, ages 16 and 17, from a nearby restaurant owned by Martinez. They were all hooded, with their hands tied behind their backs, on the floor of the military helicopter when the soldiers began to undress them.

    "They kicked me, they bound my hands so tight that my blood could barely circulate. That day a friend and me were wearing miniskirts, and they raised them up, they lowered our underwear and they were touching us," Sara says.

    Two of the girls told members of the Human Rights Commission that during the helicopter ride, after being threatened, beaten and molested, the soldiers placed warm rags over their mouths that caused them to lose consciousness. One girl awoke with vaginal pain and bleeding.

    Police with close connections to the army said that Sara and her friends were "connected to the Zetas," a gang connected to the Gulf Cartel. One police official told the Mexican national newspaper, El Milenio: "No, look, these girls even have kids and like to party. I don't think the soldiers raped them; I'm sure they just grabbed them in a few places, just a couple of touches here and there, but no rape, they were even ugly."

    Sara says she didn't know anything about the Zetas and the recent clash between soldiers and a drug gang. She had just come to visit from Cuernavaca and was set to leave the next day.

    Now, Sara does not know where to go. Her husband sounds distant on the phone, she says, and she doesn't know if he will allow her to go back home. Moreover, one thing the soldiers told her has consistently haunted her: "They said that if the Zetas don't kill me then they will."

    On May 23, the Mexican Congress passed a resolution urging Calderon to professionalize and train the federal police forces so as to avoid using the army to fight drug traffickers. The resolution noted that the army's involvement has "taken on a Messianic dimension." But the following day Calderon said he had no intention of backing down.

    Neither do the cartels. The following weekend, drug-related assassins killed 20 people in eight different states across the country.
  2. Nagognog2
    Sounds just like Chile in 1973 after Henry Kissinger got done handling the coup against Salvador Allende for the Nixon Regime. Government sanctioned rape. Spies. Wire-taps. Bodies found (or not) in mysterious locations.

    One wire leading back that no one could hide or cut: Straight to The White House. Murder by any other name is......?

    May I recommend a movie, though not about drugs - about how these wars are fought? "MISSING" Starring Jack Lemmon.
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