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Feb 23, 2009 | 22:48 GMT

8 mins read

Mexico Security Memo: Feb. 23, 2009

Mexico Security Memo

Chihuahua governor's convoy attacked

As organized crime-related violence continued throughout Mexico this past week, the country's death toll for the first 51 days of 2009 rose above 1,000, according to tallies maintained by Mexican news outlets. While this is the earliest in a calendar year that the 1,000 mark has been reached, it represents a slightly slower pace than the final months of 2008, when the number of homicides rose from 3,000 to 4,000 in 48 days and from 4,000 to 5,000 in 42 days. Violence continued in Mexican cities along the U.S. border and elsewhere; one particularly noteworthy incident occurred in Chihuahua, Chihuahua state, when several armed men exchanged gunfire with bodyguards protecting the Chihuahua state governor. The incident occurred the evening of Feb. 22 as the governor was driving to his home after making a personal visit, which he was described as doing every Sunday evening. The governor reportedly was driving his own armored vehicle and was escorted by a security detail traveling in two other vehicles. According to information released by the governor, as his convoy approached a stoplight, one of the governor's security guards stopped approximately five armed men traveling in two vehicles nearby. Officials said that after the bodyguards stopped the two suspect vehicles and identified themselves as police officers — not as protective agents assigned to the governor — the men in the suspect vehicles opened fire on them. During the firefight the governor managed to drive off unhurt, but the exchange of gunfire left at least one protective agent dead and two wounded. Several reports indicate that all of the gunmen managed to escape, though at least one was believed to have been wounded during the firefight. Based on the available information, it is difficult to conclude that this was in fact an attack on the governor. Indeed, the governor's emphasizing that his protective agents identified themselves as police officers seemed intended to imply that the gunmen thought they were simply attacking police officers — hardly unusual in Chihuahua — and were unaware that the governor was nearby. That the governor's vehicle was apparently not attacked lends credence to this theory, though it bears mentioning that in many previous assassination attempts in Mexico the target's security details were neutralized before the targets were attacked. Despite these details, several aspects of this case suggest it was much more than coincidence. That the governor appeared to have been following a routine travel pattern would have made him vulnerable to attack at that time. In addition, the governor had received several threats in the past, including banners that appeared outside his residence last year naming him and the attorney general as supporting rivals of the Sinaloa cartel. Incidents such as this bear careful monitoring, especially in the context of cartel attacks against high-ranking government officials in Mexico, which have left many federal, state and local officials dead but have yet to claim the life of a governor.

Maritime drug trafficking

The Mexican navy released new information this past week regarding the Feb. 12 seizure of a Mexican-flagged fishing boat loaded with some 7 tons of cocaine. According to officials, the boat was initially detected and stopped by the U.S. Coast Guard more than 700 miles off the Mexican coast. U.S. Coast Guard authorities boarded the suspect vessel, inspected it, discovered the cocaine and transferred custody of the boat and four Mexican crew members to the Mexican navy in Mexican territorial waters. Officials further stated that all four crew members were from Sinaloa state, and that the boat was registered in the port city of Mazatlan, Sinaloa state. Officials said the boat sailed from Mazatlan during the first few days of February. This incident bears several similarities to the last large-scale maritime seizure of cocaine off the coast of Mexico. During the previous incident, in September 2008, the Mexican navy interdicted a Mazatlan-registered fishing boat manned by Mexican nationals and loaded with some 4 tons of cocaine off the coast of Oaxaca state. As in the most recent incident, the boat was captured within weeks of sailing from Mazatlan. In both cases it is unclear where the boats had traveled, though the quantity of cocaine aboard suggests that they received their loads in a source country — such as Peru or Colombia — and not a transit corridor like Central America. Another likely possibility is that the boats had received their shipments not on land but at sea, having transferred the cocaine from another boat — perhaps a Colombian semi-submersible vessel. Several such boats have been known to deliver shipments directly to Mexican ports, while others frequently make deliveries in international waters. It is difficult to draw any conclusions without more information on the vessels' range and speed capabilities, but the short time between the boats' departure from Mexico and their capture suggests that they would not have had enough time to travel all the way to South America. Assuming that the same Mexican drug cartel was involved in both cases, it appears that despite the loss of the September shipment, the traffickers managed to possess the resources, connections and willingness to continue using the similar smuggling methods and routes. Furthermore, these incidents underscore the diversified approach that Mexican traffickers take to smuggling cocaine from South America to Mexico; even as overland shipping through Central America has increased during the last 18 months, these incidents make it clear that maritime drug trafficking remains alive and well. Click to view map

Feb. 16

  • A government official from Guadalupe, Chihuahua state, died when she was shot multiple times in a store.

Feb. 17

  • A gunbattle in Reynosa, Tamaulipas state, Reynosa, Tamaulipas state, left at least seven people dead. Several reports suggest that Gulf cartel member Hector Manuel Sauceda Gamboa died during the incident. The firefight occurred the same day that anti-military protests — allegedly organized by drug-trafficking organizations — took place in Tamaulipas and two other states.
  • A deputy police chief in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, died when he was shot multiple times. Two of his bodyguards also died during the attack.
  • A police commander in Cardenas, Tabasco state, died when he was shot several times by armed men in two vehicles as he arrived at his home.
  • A series of firefights in Torreon, Coahuila state, left some six people dead. Police said the various incidents appear to involve the same group of criminals traveling in a vehicle.

Feb. 18

  • Several men armed with assault rifles shot and killed an unidentified man in Reynosa, Tamaulipas state, as he exited his vehicle.
  • Authorities in Zihuatanejo, Guerrero state, found the bodies of two unidentified men wrapped in blankets inside a car.
  • Police near Culiacan, Sinaloa state, found the body of one unidentified man with several gunshot wounds lying next to two abandoned luxury vehicles.

Feb. 19

  • At least seven people were reported killed in Chihuahua state, including four in Ciudad Juarez. The killings bring the state's total for February to 160, surpassing January's total of 159.

Feb. 20

  • Two men were arrested near Tuxtla Gutierrez, Chiapas state, in possession of 66 fragmentation grenades, which they said they planned to transport to Morelia, Michoacan state. The grenades appeared to have been manufactured by Israel and sold to the Guatemalan government.
  • Two men opened fire on a vehicle belonging to the federal electrical committee in Comitan, Chiapas state.
  • At least four men were reported killed in separate incidents in Tijuana, Baja California state. In one case, the body of a man with several gunshot wounds was found inside a vehicle.
  • The police chief in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, resigned from his position amid threats that more police officers would be killed if he remained in his position.

Feb. 21

  • A group of heavily armed men threw two grenades at a police building in Zihuatanejo, Guerrero state, wounding at least five people.
  • A firefight between two criminal groups in Pueblo Nuevo, Durango state, left some 10 people dead.

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