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Mexico Security Memo: Nov. 24, 2008

7 MINS READNov 24, 2008 | 22:12 GMT
Mexico Security Memo

Border Violence and Threats to Schools

Drug-related violence in Mexico continued this past week in all the usual hotspots. In Tijuana, Baja California state, at least nine people were killed over two days, despite the recent arrival of army reinforcements. In Culiacan, Sinaloa state, an ambush on a police convoy left five officers dead and two wounded. And in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, some 16 people were killed over a 24-hour period, including two U.S. residents who were shot to death while traveling in the funeral procession of a friend who had been shot several days before. Ciudad Juarez was also the scene of threats and extortion attempts against school teachers in the past week. Telephone messages and banners outside the schools warned teachers that their students would be harmed if the teachers did not pay protection money to organized crime groups. In response, police assigned some 300 police cadets to increase security at the city’s 940 school buildings. It is unclear whether the threats were serious. Such threats are not at all common in Mexico. The unfortunate reality is that, if a criminal group in Juarez intends to extort payment from teachers, there is little the authorities can do to stop them.

Arson and Threats to Businesses

An e-mail began circulating in Mexico this past week warning businesses to stop cooperating with the Juarez cartel. The e-mail, signed by the Sinaloa cartel, named 26 businesses in Chihuahua state that it accused of performing such services as money-laundering for the Juarez cartel. Among the businesses listed are night clubs, restaurants, fitness centers and even U.S.-owned maquiladoras. The e-mail emerged around Nov. 13, about the same time several night clubs and restaurants in Chihuahua City — including some named in the e-mail — burned down in what authorities suspect were arson-related fires. Threats conveyed by e-mail and other Internet forums have become a common element of the Mexican drug war. In most cases, including this one, it is nearly impossible to confirm where the threats originated and whether they are hoaxes. Even when the threats are legitimate, the power of intimidation often makes it unnecessary to actually resort to violence. What is particularly worrisome about this latest e-mail, however, is the fact that several of the restaurants listed in the e-mail were actually burned down, suggesting that the author of the message should be taken ¬seriously. It is also noteworthy that the threat includes American maquiladoras, which normally are not well-known partners of drug traffickers. Of course, there is no evidence that the companies named in the email actually launder money for a drug trafficking organization. But the fact that the email's author believes they do is enough to cause concern about further attacks.

Drug Czar Arrest

Mexican federal authorities announced this past week the arrest of former federal drug czar Noe Ramirez Mandujano on charges that he received bribes from drug traffickers. According to one witness, Ramirez received monthly payments of $450,000 from the Beltran Leyva organization in exchange for information on investigations and upcoming operations. Ramirez presumably also used his position in the federal attorney general's office (PGR) to shift law enforcement attention away from the Beltran Leyva organization and onto the cartel's rivals. His arrest came the same week that the director of Interpol in Mexico was arrested on corruption charges. It is no secret that Mexico's rampant corruption presents a serious challenge to its war against drug cartels, and these arrests are a good reminder of just how high up the cartels can reach. According to media reports, Ramirez began his relationship with the Beltran Leyva organization shortly after he took office and met at least twice in person with a representative of the cartel. On one occasion, he also met with two former officials of the PGR's anti-organized crime unit (SIEDO) who were among some 30 officials arrested in October. So far, investigators have uncovered several federal corruption networks associated with the Beltran Leyva organization, for which the cartel was paying more than $700,000 per month. Since 2007, President Felipe Calderon has taken steps to combat corruption, including polygraphs for incoming officials, investigations of police officials and the firing of a large number of federal law enforcement commanders. However, the fact that 18 months later much of the country's elite counternarcotics group — including the drug czar — was in fact working for a drug cartel demonstrates how difficult the corruption problem is. In the wake of Ramirez's arrest, the new SIEDO director has removed all printers from the offices and banned the use of removable file-storing media. Calderon ordered his administration to expand anti-corruption investigations outside the federal law enforcement community and into the federal judicial system and state and local governments. As this occurs, more arrests can be expected and more infiltration operations will likely be disrupted, but Mexico is a long way from solving its corruption problem. (click to view map)

Nov. 17

  • A fragmentation grenade thrown by two men detonated at the offices of a newspaper in Culiacan, Sinaloa state, causing light damage but no injuries.

Nov. 18

  • Three police officers were shot to death by a group of armed men who ambushed them along a highway in Tejupilco, Mexico state.
  • A joint force composed of some 500 Mexican navy, army and federal police forces arrived in Tijuana, Baja California state, to assume public safety duties while local police forces are investigated for links to organized crime and undergo anti-corruption training courses.
  • The mayor of Ocampo, Durango state, was unharmed when several armed men opened fire on him and his companions. Two city officials were wounded in the attack.

Nov. 19

  • An Interpol official in France announced that a special team would be sent to Mexico to investigate allegations that the agency's director in that country was cooperating with drug traffickers.
  • Armed men in Culiacan, Sinaloa state, ambushed a convoy of police assigned to a special counternarcotics unit, killing five officers and wounding two.
  • Five people were reported killed in Chihuahua state, including the high-ranking supervisor of prison guards, who was shot to death while driving in Ciudad Juarez.
  • Police in Playas de Rosarito, Baja California state, found six bags containing the body parts of at least five people. The bodies had been cut into small pieces and authorities were not sure how many victims were involved.
  • Four bodies were found under a bridge near Navolato, Sinaloa state, with gunshot wounds.
  • An unsigned banner appeared in Lazaro Cardenas, Michoacan state, accusing military officials there of cooperating with drug traffickers.

Nov. 20

  • A firefight between police and suspected drug gang members north of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state, led to a high-speed pursuit and several other firefights as the suspects attempted to evade capture. Authorities did not report any arrests or injuries.
  • Police in Nogales, Sonora state, reported finding two tunnels running under the U.S. border that they believe were used by drug traffickers.

Nov. 21

  • Customs officials at the Mexico City airport seized some 540 pounds of pseudoephedrine from a package that had been shipped from Calcutta, India.
  • A Cessna 182 carrying 38 packets of marijuana crashed in Topia, Durango state, killing at least one passenger. It is unclear where the flight had originated and where it was heading.
  • The bodies of three people, including a police officer, were found in Villagran, Guanajuato state.

Nov. 23

  • The unidentified bodies of three men and one woman were found in Durango, Durango state, with signs of torture.
  • Police in Tijuana, Baja California, reported discovering at least nine bodies during a 24-hour period. Two of the bodies had been beheaded.

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