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.
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.
After an electoral season marred by narco-violence and assassination of candidates of all parties, the results from Mexico's June 7 vote are in. The coalition led by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which ruled Mexico as a one-party state for 80 years, maintains its slim majority in the lower-house Chamber of Deputies, although it lost some seats. Gubernatorial races were also held in several states, including some hit especially hard by the cartel violence. The PRI gained the governorship of Guerrero, but lost control of Michoacán to the left opposition. In one upset, the PRI lost northern Nuevo León state to an independent, Jaime "El Bronco" Rodríguez Calderón—the first independent candidate to win a governorship in Mexico. The gadfly rancher survived two assassination attempts by the Zetas when he was mayor of García, a Monterrey suburb. His son was killed in an attempted abduction, and his young daughter kidnapped, although returned unharmed. El Bronco beat the PRI and other estabished parties with a populist campaign and invective against entrenched corruption. With the state's establishment press bitterly opposed to him, he made deft use of social media to mobilize support. (Reuters, BBC News, Televisa, CNN México, June 8)
Mexican authorities on March 4 announced the capture of Omar Treviño AKA "Z-42"—leader of Los Zetas, the ultra-violent narco-paramilitary network that has long terrorized the country. Z-42 was detained without a shot being fired by federal police and soldiers in San Pedro Garza García, an upscale suburb of northern industrial hub Monterrey, officials said. US DEA chief Michele Leonhart congratulated Mexico, saying the bust "strikes at the heart of the leadership structure of the Zetas." The US State Department had a $5 million price on Treviño's head, while Mexican authorities offered $2 million.
Mexican naval forces on July 13 captured Miguel Angel Treviño Morales, head of the Zetas cartel, who was apprehended with two lieutenants in a pick-up truck in the municipality of Anáhuac, Nuevo León. Early reports that placed the arrest in Treviño's home turf of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, were apparently incorrect. Officials said he had eight guns and $2 million in cash. Treviño and his henchmen reportedly surrendered without firing a shot as a military helicopter began tailing their vehicle from their air. They are now said to be under interrogation by the Special Sub-prosecutor for Investigation of Organized Crime (SEIDO).
Six people were strangled to death and one decapitated in the Mexican tourist resort of Cancún April 14—the latest mass killing to strike the city in the last few weeks. Police found the bodies of the five men and two women in a shack in the outskirts of the Yucatan Peninsula city, which has largely escaped the drug-related violence that has rocked Acapulco, a faded tourist destination on the Pacific coast. Quintana Roo authorities said the vicitms were small-scale drug dealers. In a separate incident that day, police found the body of another man in Cancún who had been gagged, bound and wrapped in sheets. (AP, April 15) The slayings come one month after seven were killed when gunmen burst into Cancún's La Sirenita (Little Mermaid) bar, targeting members of the city's taxi-drivers who were holding a meeting there. Several Cancún taxi drivers had been arrested recently for selling drugs or participating in drug-related killings, authorities said. (AP, Univision, March 15)
A new report highlighting Mexico's human rights crisis finds that security forces have taken part in many kidnappings and disappearances over the six-year term of President Felipe Calderón, with the government failing to investigate most cases. Despite some controversy over the numbers, an estimated 70,000 are believed to have met violent deaths under Calderón's militarized crackdown on the cartels. But the new report, released by Human Rights Watch Feb. 20, finds that on top of this figure, possibly more than 20,000 disappeared during Calderón's term. Many were abducted by narco gangs, but all state security forces—the military, federal and local police—are also accused in "the most severe crisis of enforced disappearances in Latin America in decades."
The Mexican military announced Feb. 10 the capture of Jonathan Salas Avilés AKA "El Fantasma" (The Ghost), accused of being the security chief for fugitive Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Joaquin Guzmán AKA "El Chapo" (Shorty), in Culiacán. Salas apparently surrendured after being surrounded by three helicopters and at least eight navy vehicles. In the typical confusion, the governor of Sinaloa last year mistakenly announced that Salas had been killed in a clash with Mexican Marines. (BBC News, El Universal, Sexenio, Feb. 10; Justice in Mexico, March 5, 2012) The arrest of a figure close to El Chapo while the kingpin himself remains at large has been reported again and again and again and again and again—leading to conspiracy theories that Chapo is being protected by the Mexican state, at the price of the occasional sacrifice of a lieutenant to save face.