Mexico's cartel war passed another bloody milestone this past week as the total number of homicides in the country during 2008 surpassed 5,000, ending the week at more than 5,100. At this rate, it seems all but inevitable that the 2007 total of approximately 2,700 killings will be at least doubled by the end of the year. Not only does this affirm 2008 as the deadliest year yet in Mexico's war against drug cartels, a closer look reveals that the homicide rate in Mexico has continued to worsen throughout the year. It took 113 days to reach the first thousand, 73 days to go from 1,000 to 2,000, 60 days to go from 2,000 to 3,000, and 48 days to go from 3,000 to 4,000. The last jump from 4,000 to 5,000 took just 42 days, which represents approximately one killing every hour. Several violent incidents helped boost the total over the past week, including the bodies of 13 agricultural workers found in a bus along a highway in rural Sinaloa state. The victims appeared to have been shot multiple times, and then shot again in the head at close range. The incident came less than a month after a mass kidnapping in the area, in which some 50 armed men abducted 27 agricultural laborers from a ranch owned by a relative of the Carrillo Fuentes crime family — also known as the Juarez cartel — where the cartel presumably cultivated marijuana. The victims in this case appear mainly to be unskilled migrant workers from southern Mexico who would have been of little value to the Carrillo Fuentes organization and easily replaced. Going to the trouble of simply removing a group of expendable cartel assets makes little sense. What makes more sense, however, is the intimidation value associated with these incidents, as presumably the killings will have made it more difficult and costly to convince laborers to return to the ranch. It also sends a clear signal to the Juarez cartel regarding the vulnerability of their property and associates.
Mexican Drug Violence in Guatemala
One of the most notable incidents of Mexican drug violence this past week occurred just across Mexico's southern border in Guatemala. A series of firefights and vehicle pursuits that began late Nov. 30 in Guatemala's northwestern Huehuetenango department eventually left 17 dead, including at least two Mexican nationals. Shortly thereafter, authorities announced the arrest of several suspects, including at least one Mexican. Police initially reported that the fighting was sparked by a disagreement at a rodeo, though later versions suggested that the violence was related to a turf battle between two rival drug-trafficking organizations. Regardless of what actually triggered the incident, the participation of drug traffickers is almost a certainty based on the high casualty count and the fact that the gunmen fired several hundred shots from assault rifles and at least a few rounds from an M-79 grenade launcher. Over the past twelve months, STRATFOR has observed an increase in the presence of Mexican drug traffickers in Central America. A series of gunbattles in Guatemala earlier this year were the first clear signs that both the Gulf cartel and its rival Sinaloa were seeking to establish control over land-based smuggling routes in the region. Later reports of technical surveillance equipment being discovered in the Guatemalan president's offices also suggested the hand of Mexican cartels. Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom blamed Gulf for this latest round of violence, but added that the presence of drug traffickers in that region of the country came as a surprise. Indeed, Colom's general description of where and how Mexican cartels are operating in his country confirms that Guatemala is even more ill-equipped than Mexico to track and fight drug-trafficking organizations, since Colom said the country lacks radar systems to monitor its airspace for illicit air traffic. Some of these gaps can presumably be filled with U.S. counternarcotic funding through the Merida Initiative, but there is only so much that can be done with $100 million.
Mexico's Anti-Crime Initiative
The Mexican legislature this past week approved a much-anticipated sweeping anti-crime initiative, which officially establishes Mexico's crime problem as a matter of national security. The National Accord for Security, Justice and Legality lists 75 goals for the three branches of the federal government, as well as state and municipal governments, private industry, religious associations, civil society organizations and the news media. Representatives from each of these institutions were involved in negotiations over the text of the agreement. The agreement also establishes deadlines, ranging from a few weeks to a few years, for the completion of these goals. Mexican politicians were quick to applaud the agreement's approval, but it remains to be seen how much of an impact it will have. For one, the impetus for pursuing the agreement was public outrage over the country's soaring kidnapping problem, not the more fundamental issue of the drug trade. Second, the vague commitments of many of the goals — such as "strengthen the prison system," with a deadline of two years — makes it tempting for leaders to take small steps toward these goals without pursuing fundamental changes. Finally, truly pursuing these objectives, nearly all of which the government had been trying for years to do anyway, will require massive increases in funding. It seems far-fetched that the country will have room in its budget anytime soon, especially considering Mexico's current financial woes. (click to view map)
Mexico's Citizen's Council for Public Safety estimates that during 2008 the country has experienced a 31 percent increase in kidnappings over 2007.
Two police officers died when a group of men armed with assault rifles attacked a police building in San Sebastian Tuxtla, Oaxaca state.
A father and his two adult children were found dead along a highway in Rosario, Sinaloa state. They owned a taxi service in the area.
Three of the nine beheaded bodies found the previous day in Tijuana, Baja California state, were identified as police officers, according to officials.
Officials reported that a federal police commander was among the victims of a shooting that occurred the previous day in Plutarco Elias Calles, Sonora state.
A series of five grenade attacks in Durango, Durango state, caused minor damage to vehicles and buildings in the city. At least 13 officers were reported wounded in one attack on a state police building.
Authorities in Acapulco, Guerrero state, discovered the beheaded body of a man suspected of killing three police officers.
Three people died when they were shot multiple times in their vehicles outside a shopping center in Culiacan, Sinaloa state. Witnesses said at least eight men armed with assault rifles were responsible for the killings.
The deputy representative of the federal attorney general's office in Chihuahua state died when he was shot multiple times while driving in Ciudad Juarez.
Authorities in La Barca, Jalisco state, found the body of a man reported kidnapped several days before.
U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Antonio Garza signed a letter of agreement with the government of Mexico that formally allowed for the implementation of the Merida Initiative. The letter makes available $197 million of the $400 million in U.S. aid pledged in the 2008 budget for the Merida Initiative.
Mexico's Gulf cartel has a physical presence in Italy and elsewhere in Europe, an Italian prosecutor stated, declining to give further details due to ongoing criminal investigations.
Several gunmen shot and killed a man outside the home of the mayor of Tijuana, Baja California state.
Several armed men shot and killed a private pilot in Cajeme, Sonora state; they later abducted and shot one of his sons.
The charred remains of a body were found inside the trunk of a car in San Ignacio, Sinaloa state.
Two high-ranking commanders of the Federal Preventive Police (PFP) — including Victor Gerardo Garay Cadena, a former interim PFP director — were arrested on charges of protecting the Beltran Leyva drug-trafficking organization.
Police in Ciudad Altamirano, Guerrero state, arrested seven alleged members of a kidnapping organization in possession of assault rifles and various other weapons and equipment.
Authorities in Los Cabos, Baja California Sur state, announced the arrest of five members of a kidnapping gang who had planned to kidnap the young son of a local businessman.
A firefight between police and several armed men in Tijuana, Baja California state, left three suspects dead.
Soldiers in Arcelia, Guerrero state, exchanged gunfire with a group of suspected drug traffickers as they attempted to detain them. Two people died in the engagement, including one soldier.
Police in Chilpancingo, Guerrero state, found two severed heads near a road.