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Violence Escalates as Drug Cartels Adopt Military Methods against Law Enforcement

SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico, July 26, 2006 | Go to article overview

Violence Escalates as Drug Cartels Adopt Military Methods against Law Enforcement


The militarization of the drug war has increased the intensity of violent incidents involving narcotrafficking organizations in Mexico. In recent years, the Mexican government has increased its reliance on the armed forces to destroy marijuana plantations and help law-enforcement officers arrest drug traffickers.

The military involvement in the drug war has sparked heated debate in Mexico because of the potential that soldiers could violate the rights of ordinary citizens (see SourceMex, 2000-08-09).

The drug cartels have responded by forming their own military style units to conduct their own enforcement operations and even to take on the Mexican armed forces.

The drug cartels have engaged in few direct battles with the army but are increasingly using military style force to kill public-safety officials and police chiefs whom they see as obstacles to their operations. In a brazen assault in April, a group of 22 armed men launched an attack with grenades and assault weapons on Baja California state's public-safety director Manuel Diaz Lerma. Diaz Lerma survived the attack because his unit was well armored and his bodyguards were well trained to deal with such an eventuality.

Diaz Lerma's attackers were said to have been associated with the Tijuana cartel, which is considered to be responsible for the murders of 19 police officers over an 18-month period. Four high-ranking law-enforcement officials have been killed in Baja California since 1994.

The attacks on law-enforcement officers have been just as brutal in Tamaulipas state. In Nuevo Laredo, two police chiefs were killed in 2005 during the span of a week (see SourceMex, 2005-06-22).

"It's a disturbing manifestation of the latest drug war frenzy," David Shirk, director of the California-based Trans-Border Institute told the Los Angeles Times. "The militarization of the drug war in many ways on the side of law enforcement has corresponded with the militarization of tactics and personnel on the criminal side," said David Shirk, director of the Trans-Border Institute at the University of San Diego.

Mexican army deserters Zetas run Gulf cartel operations

The Gulf cartel, led by Osiel Cardenas Guillen, has been most aggressive about adding "military" [why quotes?]muscle to its enforcement activities. A group of army deserters known as the Zetas, many of whom once served in elite military units, have used sophisticated weaponry to carry out many of the violent killings associated with the cartel (see SourceMex, 2005-08-10).

The Zetas, in turn, have recruited as many as 30 former Guatemalan counterinsurgency forces, known as the Kaibiles, said Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, Mexico's deputy attorney general for organized crime. The Kaibilies are said to have been working with the Zetas for at least a year (see SourceMex, 2005-10-19).

While police and public officials continue to be the target for the drug-cartel enforcers, much of the violence is directed at individuals associated with rival drug trafficking operations. The Gulf cartel has been engaged in a bloody turf war over Nuevo Laredo with the Sinaloa cartel, led by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman (see SourceMex, 2005-12-14).

The turf battles between the Gulf and Sinaloa cartels have moved to southern Mexico, especially Guerrero state. The Gulf and Sinaloa cartels are fighting over Acapulco, which has become a lucrative transshipment point for South American cocaine. In mid-June, Peruvian authorities seized a large shipment of cocaine en route to the Mexican Pacific Coast, reportedly destined for the Sinaloa cartel.

The Tijuana cartel also obtains a large share of its cocaine from Peru, but reportedly brings the drug in through other points on the Pacific coast, avoiding a confrontation with the Sinaloa and Gulf cartels in Guerrero.

The Sinaloa cartel is said to have hired members of the violent Central American street gang Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, to conduct some of its revenge killings (see SourceMex, 2005-08-10 and 2005-10-19).

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Violence Escalates as Drug Cartels Adopt Military Methods against Law Enforcement
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