The drug wars in Mexico are continuing to spiral out of control as cartels fight each other and the Mexican government for control of the various "plazas," or choke points for the transportation of drugs into the United States. Of late, it has been particularly violent.
Heads in coolers
by Sean Mattson of the San Antonio Express
Out of Durango, a northern state, we have reports Friday that four human heads were found in coolers. Different stories report that a note found with the heads said, "We've arrived..." and, "for the friends of El Chapo." Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán is the reputed head of the Sinaloa drug syndicate.
The cartel, named after the Pacific coast state where it is based, might be going through some bloody infighting right now, according to reports that have not been officially confirmed. One of El Chapo's sons (not the one who was recently released from jail — he reportedly walked without incident) was killed recently in what might have been part of that infighting.
Milenio newspaper leads its web site Friday afternoon with a story out of Culiacán, the cartel's home turf: Eight people executed in eight hours. (Warning: link contains photograph of one victim.) Other stories have a federal police officer killed today in Michoacán state, in western Mexico, and five more found dead in Ciudad Juárez, across from El Paso. From the slice of life section, we have a story on how the coroners in Ciudad Juárez just can't keep up. (Warning: see last warning.) More cops quit...
Out of Guerrero, in southern Mexico, we have news that another police force quit due to violence from drug gangs. This would be the third small police force in Mexico to do that this year and the second one this month, and it's just one sign of the misery that small towns struck by drug violence live through. ...maybe this had something to do with it And El Universal, which seems to be breaking a lot of drug war news of late (but using a lot of unsourced or anonymous information), notes that the price drug cartels place on the head of a federal police commander is $15,000. The story also mentions a case where $5,000 would be paid to cop killers in Baja California.
Finally, AP recounts the federal attorney general giving the official statistics on drug war bloodshed in a radio interview: 1,378 people have died this year in organized crime violence, compared to 940 last year. The figure is higher than Reforma's toll but reflects the same trend noted by the paper: An almost 50-percent increase in the bloodshed when compared to last year.
What a mess. — Sean Mattson
Shifts in cartel alliances fuel shootouts in Mexico
By DUDLEY ALTHAUS
Houston Chronicle Mexico City Bureau
MEXICO CITY — At least eight men were killed in related shootouts Tuesday as shifting alliances feed the already vicious rivalries among Mexico's criminal empires.
Initial press reports quoting town officials in western Durango state said the clashes between rival drug cartel gunmen killed as many as 19.
But a spokesman for the attorney general of Durango, where marijuana and heroin are produced and through which U.S.-bound cocaine flows, insisted that only eight men had died.
"This frightens us, because we aren't accustomed to this kind of thing here," said the spokesman, Ruben Lopez.
It was not immediately clear who the antagonists were this time. But the killings mirror others this year between criminal factions in which up to 15 people at a time have been slain.
The gangland competition for narcotics smuggling routes has been heightened by the Mexican government's success in dismantling or pressuring some of the factions that comprise the cartels, President Felipe Calderon said.
"The Mexican government has hit in a key way the financial and operating structures" of the cartels, Calderon told reporters. "This is forcing their realignment.
"A confrontation is occurring not only against public security but particularly — in a very, very intense way — between the cartels themselves."
A U.S. counternarcotics official characterized Calderon's campaign as "a muddy, bloody uphill climb."
"It's not over. It's going to get worse before it gets better," said the official, who spoke on condition that his name not be reported.
$1.4 billion packageThe U.S. House voted last week to approve the first annual installment of a three-year, $1.4 billion package of equipment and training for Mexican and Central American police fighting the drug war. But the first year's spending was trimmed by about $100 million to $400 million, all going to Mexican security forces.
The Merida Plan, proposed during a summit between Bush and Calderon in that Mexican city last year, must be approved by the Senate before it is implemented.
Durango is considered the territory of the so-called Federation, which includes criminal groups based in Chihuahua and Sinaloa states.
The Federation, whose nominal head is Sinaloa trafficker Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, has been rattled recently by the reported desertion of the Beltran Leyva clan, considered a major trafficking gang. It joined the Gulf Cartel, based in the Mexican cities bordering Texas' Lower Rio Grande Valley, the Mexico City newspaper El Universal reported, quoting Mexican officials.
Fighting between the Beltran Leyvas and the Gulf Cartel's gunmen, the Zetas, has caused much of the nation's violence, including the Nuevo Laredo and Acapulco areas.
The Federation and the Gulf Cartel reportedly negotiated a truce last spring which diminished the violence for several months. But the bloodshed resumed this spring as the cartels — and the smaller criminal gangs that comprise them — jockey for dominance.
The violence was particularly intense in Sinaloa state in northwest Mexico on the Gulf of California. Among those slain there was one of Guzman's sons. In addition, Arturo Beltran Leyva, the leader of his family's clan in Sinaloa, has been singled out by Mexican officials as the likely mastermind of the May 8 assassination of a senior federal police office in Mexico City, Edgar Millan.
The Gulf Cartel's reputed chieftain, former policeman Osiel Cardenas, awaits federal trial in Houston on drug-related charges after Mexico allowed his extradition in January. Police now consider Heriberto Lazcano, a former special forces soldier who heads the Zetas, as the de facto head of the organization, officials said.
Tuesday's shootout in Durango was linked in the Mexican press to the weekend kidnapping of a state police commander in the area and to the attack on the family of a local politician.
But Lopez, the attorney general's spokesman, dismissed those reports as speculation.
A TOWN SEIZED
There are no police anymore in Villa Ahumada. Even the mayor has fled. Drug gangs have virtually seized this town of 1,500 not far from Texas. The Mexican military took over the police department this week because all 20 officers have either been killed, run out of town or quit, officials said Tuesday.
Mayor Fidel Urrutia took refuge in the state capital of Chihuahua City 600 miles away, where he's waiting for the soldiers to recover his town. The killings came a month after soldiers arrested eight men, including a police officer, during the burial of an alleged drug hit man in Villa Ahumada, about 80 miles south of El Paso.
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