assessments

Feb 2, 2009 | 20:50 GMT

6 mins read

Mexico Security Memo: Feb. 2, 2009

Mexico Security Memo

Hints of a Possible Cartel Cease-fire

Violence related to organized crime continued across Mexico this past week. Among the more noteworthy incidents was the discovery of three severed heads inside a cooler just outside Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state. Meanwhile, some 20 armed men shot and killed two police officers in San Miguel Totolapan, Guerrero state, then set fire to two buildings before fleeing. And in Durango, Durango state, a group of gunmen traveling in at least one vehicle shot and killed two people. While violence in most of the country continues at a level we have come to expect, Sinaloa state registered a noticeable decrease in homicides. This decline also coincided with reports that Mexico's major drug-trafficking organizations had reached at least a limited cease-fire as a result of several meetings held in December. Rumors of such meetings and truces are quite common in Mexico, and more often than not, such agreements quickly break down. Nevertheless, the situation warrants monitoring, especially considering that this has been a year of flux in cartel relationships, and any new truces or alliances could have a significant impact on the country's security environment.

Talk of a Shift in Strategy

Mexican Attorney General Eduardo Medina Mora told a group of legislators this past week that the United States and Mexico are finalizing a new strategy for the fight against the cartels that will be launched in the next few days, according to several press reports. The new strategy will focus on slowing the flow of weapons and money crossing into Mexico from the United States, one Mexican legislator said, adding that it would involve a change in actions in two current hot spots of violence: Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, and Tijuana, Baja California state. Another Mexican congressional source told reporters that Mexico City and Washington have been in contact regarding how to combat organized crime. During the meeting, several congressmen from northern Mexican states reportedly complained to Medina Mora about the continuing violence in their districts and the general lack of progress in the cartel war. Also this past week, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security ordered a top-down review of border policy, which includes customs, immigration and other law enforcement functions. While at first glance these reports suggest that Mexico and the United States might soon adopt a new approach to fighting the cartels, it is important to recall that this is not the first time the Mexican government has considered a so-called shift in strategy. In many cases, such reports often turn out to be intended to show the Mexican public and congress that the federal government is considering all options and pursuing a coherent strategy. It would appear that is the case with these latest reports as well, especially given that breaking up weapons trafficking networks in the United States — something law enforcement north of the border has been engaged in for a long time — is hardly a new strategy. Nevertheless, Medina Mora's statement could be an indication of a U.S. reassessment of the situation, something STRATFOR has been looking for from the new Obama administration.

Sinaloa Cartel Operations in Nicaragua

The Sinaloa cartel continues to operate drug-trafficking routes in Nicaragua and is looking to recover its operations along the country's Pacific coast, Nicaraguan national police chief Aminta Granera reported this past week. Granera said that the majority of Sinaloa operatives are Nicaraguan nationals from the eastern part of the country who operate in the west, citing recent arrests and small cocaine seizures in the western cities of Rivas, Chinandega and Villanueva (though the Chinandega arrest also involved Salvadoran nationals). She added that the trafficking routes involve land and maritime components, and that most small boats tend to sail in international waters to avoid running into Nicaraguan authorities. Despite Granera's description of the arrests, it appears that they have had little impact on the Sinaloa cartel's operations there. The routes and trafficking patterns described by Granera closely match previous arrests and seizures associated with Sinaloa operations in Nicaragua. In addition, Granera's description of arrest locations suggests that Sinaloa continues to operate the same routes as before, presumably still relying on private vehicles to carry small shipments from Costa Rica to El Salvador. While the arrests will be a nuisance to the organization, there is no reason to think the routes cannot quickly be restored. Click to view map

Jan. 26

  • Assailants armed with assault rifles shot and killed two men in Zapopan, Jalisco state.
  • Mexican army officials reported discovering and destroying a marijuana field and clandestine airstrip near Jilotlan de los Dolores, Jalisco state, believed to have been used by the Sinaloa cartel.
  • Authorities at Panama City's international airport reported the arrest of a Mexican man in possession of $430,464 that he failed to declare upon arriving on a flight from Mexico City.
  • At least five gunmen shot and killed five motorcyclists at a seafood restaurant in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state. At least 10 others were killed in separate incidents in the state.
  • Mexican officials confirmed that alleged Sinaloa operative Lamberto Verdugo Calderon died in a firefight with Mexican army forces in Sinaloa state on Jan. 22.

Jan. 27

  • Federal police arrested one Russian and one Cuban citizen, both reportedly U.S. residents, on charges of human smuggling in Frontera Comalapa, Chiapas state.

Jan. 28

  • Authorities in Cosoleacaque, Veracruz state, discovered the body of an unidentified man bearing signs of torture.
  • Several gunmen in a vehicle shot and killed three unidentified people in La Mesa, Baja California state.
  • Police near Durango, Durango state, found the body of a man who had been kidnapped several days before. Authorities believe he had been beaten to death.
  • Several gunmen shot and killed two police officers in Chihuahua, Chihuahua state.
  • Authorities recovered more than 20,000 rounds of ammunition, as well as assorted firearms and grenades, from a safe house in Culiacan, Sinaloa state.

Jan. 29

  • Mexican army forces raided a safe house in a suburb of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state, seizing some seven vehicles and undisclosed documents.

Feb. 1

  • At least one assailant shot and killed a police officer in Guadalupe y Calvo, Chihuahua state.

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