Despite his boast to have "ended" the drug war and pledge to explore cannabis legalization, Mexico's new populist president is seeking to create a special anti-drug "National Guard" drawing from the military and police forces. This plan is moving rapidly ahead—and the military is still being sent against campesino cannabis growers and small traffickers.
Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, infamous kingpin of Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel, was unanimously found guilty on all 10 counts against him by a federal jury in Brooklyn, New York, on Feb. 12. He was convicted of overseeing an international criminal conspiracy to import tons of cocaine, heroin, methamphetamine and marijuana into the United States over a 20-year period, and laundering the billions of dollars in proceeds.
The latest grim manifestation of the unrelenting prison crisis in Latin America comes from the northern Mexican state of Nuevo León, where authorities confirmed Oct. 10 that 16 inmates were killed, and 25 wounded, in an uprising at the Penal de Cadereyta facility. Prison riots in Mexico are often related to struggles between rival narco-gangs, but this one started as an inmate protest over abysmal conditions at the overcrowded state lock-up. Prisoners took guards hostage to press such basic demands as adequate food and water. One prisoner was killed in fighting with guards before the state police were sent in. The inmates erected barricades of matresses and set them on fire, prompting police to respond with lethal force.
Yet another Mexican journalist was slain Aug. 22, as the cartels continue to exact vengeance on any who would dare to report on their reign of terror and corruption across much of the country. Cándido "Papuche" Ríos, who covered the nota roja (crime and police beat) for local newspaper Diario de Acayucan, was gunned down by unknown assailants along with two other men in the town of Hueyapan de Ocampo, Veracruz state. One of the other two men, with whom Ríos was talking outside a gas station, was a former municipal official.
Mexico's northeastern border state of Tamaulipas—just across from Texas' Gulf Coast—has for years been engulfed in an under-reported war, as the Gulf Cartel and its rogue offspring the Zetas battle for dominance over the narco-trafficking "plaza" (zone of control). The current flare-up in the border town of Reynosa may signal a turning point. Street gun-battles have become so common in the town that authorities have instituted a color-coded alert system to warn citizens. The town has been on "red alert" repeatedly over the past days, and there are signs that the long struggle is entering an endgame.
More than 250 human skulls were unearthed from a mass grave outside Mexico's port city of Veracruz, state prosecutor Jorge Winckler announced March 14. Winckler said the remains are of cartel victims, slain some years earlier. While details on how this latest find came to light were not forthcoming, the survivors' group Colectivo Solecito has been carrying out its own search for "narco-graves" in Veracruz state, hoping to discover the remains of disappeared loved ones. Last year, the collective discovered some 30 clandestine graves, but this would be the biggest such gruesome discovery yet.
The Trump administration has seriously turned up the heat on Venezuela, slapping sanctions on the country's vice president as a drug "kingpin." The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) on Feb. 13 officially named Tareck Zaidan El Aissami as a "Specially Designated Narcotics Trafficker" under terms of the Foreign Narcotics Kingpin Designation Act (Kingpin Act) of 1999. The order charges that El Aissami received pay-offs from a trafficking network linked to Mexico's Zetas narco-gang. Under the order, US nationals and corporations are barred from doing business with El Aissami, and all his assets within the country are frozen.
Amid rapidly deteriorating relations between the US and Mexico, reports are emerging that President Donald Trump openly threatened military intervention in a phone call with his counterpart Enrique Peña Nieto. According to a partial transcript of the conversation obtained by the Associated Press, Trump told Peña Nieto: "You have a bunch of bad hombres down there. You aren't doing enough to stop them. I think your military is scared. Our military isn't, so I just might send them down to take care of it." ("Bad hombres" is a term Trump also used in his final debate during the presidential campaign to refer to Mexican narco-gangs.)