Saturday, April 10, 2010

So Far From God, Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, we briefly wondered about the ramifications of Ciudad Juarez "falling" to the narcotraffickers in what is increasingly looking like a civil war.

Well, interestingly, we may have a finalist for control of Juarez: the Sinaloa cartel of a kingpin by the name of "El Chapo". From the AP:

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico (AP) -- After a two-year battle that has killed more than 5,000 people, Mexico's most powerful kingpin now controls the coveted trafficking routes through Ciudad Juarez. That conclusion by U.S. intelligence adds to evidence that Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's Sinaloa cartel is winning Mexico's drug war.

The assessment was made based on information from confidential informants with direct ties to Mexican drug gangs and other intelligence, said a U.S. federal agent who sometimes works undercover, insisting on anonymity because of his role in ongoing drug investigations.

The agent told The Associated Press those sources have led U.S. authorities to believe that the Sinaloa cartel has edged out the rival Juarez gang for control over trafficking routes through Ciudad Juarez, ground zero in the drug war.

Other officials corroborated pieces of the assessment. Andrea Simmons, an FBI spokeswoman in El Paso, confirmed that the majority of drug loads arriving from Juarez now belong to Guzman. And Mexican Federal Police Chief Facundo Rosas told the AP that while authorities are still working to confirm the U.S. assessment, "These are valid theories."

"If you control the city (Ciudad Juarez), you control the drugs," the federal agent said. "And it appears to be Chapo."

The twin border cities of Ciudad Juarez and El Paso, Texas, are a primary crossing point for drugs smuggled into the United States. Control of drug routes in Chihuahua, the state along New Mexico and West Texas where Juarez is located, is vital to Guzman's efforts to grow his massive drug cartel's operations.

Already, the Sinaloa cartel is the world's largest, and Guzman last year made Forbes magazine's list of the world's top billionaires.

His cartel moved in on the city in 2008 in an attempt to wrest it from the Juarez cartel led by Vicente Carrillo Fuentes. The fighting prompted Mexican President Felipe Calderon to send thousands of army troops to the city, but the fighting has killed more than 5,000 people, making Juarez one of the world's deadliest cities.

Please read the rest of the AP article, which goes on to talk about how residual violence may continue in battles over retail sales within Juarez.

What exactly, you may wonder, did El Chapo win?

Control of one key smuggling route hinges on control of Ciudad Juarez, across the border from El Paso. The map of Texas, below, shows major smuggling routes from the border area along the US Interstate Highway System; El Paso, Texas, and her sister city, Juarez, are to the extreme left of the map.

Though drugs are certainly a major factor, more is involved. Smugglers traffic whatever commodity is profitable. Worldwide, the same trafficking routes that move drugs also move weapons and people. Some of the people want to move, even illegally, to a place where they think they can make a better life. Sometimes they are illegal aliens in a foreign country, such as the United States. Sometimes, though, it is far more sinister, as the people are forced to work, essentially as slaves, in destination countries, having been tricked into leaving their homelands. A growing problem on the world scene is the trafficking of women for forced prostitution.

Don't think for a moment that those routes into the US only move drugs. They move weapons as needed, illegal immigrants, sex slaves -- even terrorists' nukes!

With the increasing militarization of the counternarcotics struggle down south of the border, how is it that a drug cartel has simultaneously defeated its competitors and is gaining ground against local, state and federal Mexican police, and even against the Mexican Army?

As the violence has escalated to incredible levels, pundits are blaming the United States as the source of firearms. The drugs come north, and the money and the guns flow south, the story goes. A 2008 report by the Council on Foreign Relations states:

Some analysts also stress that the United States should be doing more to curb arms trafficking from the United States into Mexico. The gun laws in border states have a loophole allowing individuals to purchase weapons without a background check. As a result, the weapons trade along the border is very lucrative (Portfolio).

The very last words in the report link to an article that paints an interesting picture, stating "that almost every gun fired in Mexico’s drug war comes from the U.S." - complete with a picture of a semiautomatic handgun that looks like something out of an Al Capone movie:

So, are we to understand that with handguns like the one pictured, and perhaps with some hunting rifles and shotguns, the drug cartels are outgunning the Mexican Army?

Or can we believe the reports that the Mexican frontier is a war zone, with the cartels using automatic weapons, grenades, grenade launchers, and even heavier antitank weapons and crew-served heavy machineguns?

From the LA Times, March, 2009:

ZIHUATANEJO, MEXICO, AND MEXICO CITY — It was a brazen assault, not just because it targeted the city's police station, but for the choice of weapon: grenades.

The Feb. 21 attack on police headquarters in coastal Zihuatanejo, which injured four people, fit a disturbing trend of Mexico's drug wars. Traffickers have escalated their arms race, acquiring military-grade weapons, including hand grenades, grenade launchers, armor-piercing munitions and antitank rockets with firepower far beyond the assault rifles and pistols that have dominated their arsenals.

Most of these weapons are being smuggled from Central American countries or by sea, eluding U.S. and Mexican monitors who are focused on the smuggling of semiauto- matic and conventional weapons purchased from dealers in the U.S. border states of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California.

The proliferation of heavier armaments points to a menacing new stage in the Mexican government's 2-year-old war against drug organizations, which are evolving into a more militarized force prepared to take on Mexican army troops, deployed by the thousands, as well as to attack each other.

These groups appear to be taking advantage of a robust global black market and porous borders, especially between Mexico and Guatemala. Some of the weapons are left over from the wars that the United States helped fight in Central America, U.S. officials said.

"There is an arms race between the cartels," said Alberto Islas, a security consultant who advises the Mexican government.

"One group gets rocket-propelled grenades, the other has to have them."

Having such heavily-armed groups battling the central government is steering Mexico in the direction of a counterinsurgency, and perhaps even a civil war. From Drug cartels tighten grip; Mexico becoming 'narco-state', February, 2010:

Some analysts are warning that Mexico is on the verge of becoming a "narco-state" like 1990s-era Colombia.

"We are approaching that red zone," said Edgardo Buscaglia, an expert on organized crime at the Autonomous Technological University of Mexico. "There are pockets of ungovernability in the country, and they will expand."

For the past decade, he said, parts of Mexico have been sliding toward the lawlessness that Colombia experienced, in which traffickers in league with left-wing rebels controlled small towns and large parts of the interior through drug-funded bribery and gun-barrel intimidation.

In the latest sign of the cartels' grip, on Wednesday the National Action Party of President Felipe Calderón announced it was calling off primary elections in the northern state of Tamaulipas because drug traffickers had infiltrated politics.

And in Chihuahua, the government is redeploying troops from the embattled city of Juarez to the countryside because of fears that the cartels are cementing their control in smaller border towns.

Even Calderón, who a year ago angrily rebutted suggestions that Mexico was becoming a "failed state," is now describing his crackdown as a fight for territory and "the very authority of the state."

Above, I mentioned El Chapo as a finalist for control of Juarez. If El Chapo is a finalist, where has the Mexican government placed in the rankings? Is the Mexican government a finalist, or has it already lost out in the semifinals? After all, some elections are being called off, and President Calderón is stating that it is actually a fight for the authority of the Mexican government in Mexican territory.

Who rules what in Mexico? That is a key question.

From The Myth of 90 Percent: Only a Small Fraction of Guns in Mexico Come From U.S., April, 2009:

EXCLUSIVE: You've heard this shocking "fact" before -- on TV and radio, in newspapers, on the Internet and from the highest politicians in the land: 90 percent of the weapons used to commit crimes in Mexico come from the United States.

-- Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said it to reporters on a flight to Mexico City.

-- CBS newsman Bob Schieffer referred to it while interviewing President Obama.

-- California Sen. Dianne Feinstein said at a Senate hearing: "It is unacceptable to have 90 percent of the guns that are picked up in Mexico and used to shoot judges, police officers and mayors ... come from the United States."

-- William Hoover, assistant director for field operations at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, testified in the House of Representatives that "there is more than enough evidence to indicate that over 90 percent of the firearms that have either been recovered in, or interdicted in transport to Mexico, originated from various sources within the United States."

There's just one problem with the 90 percent "statistic" and it's a big one:

It's just not true.

And, why are our own government officials and so many in our media telling us that guns from the United States are the problem? As if closing down some gun shows and some federally-licensed gun dealers in the US along the Mexican border would stop the flow of heavy machineguns, automatic weapons and grenade launchers....

Stay tuned for Part 3!


  1. why are our own government officials and so many in our media telling us that guns from the United States are the problem? ...excellent question!

  2. I'd heard the "90%" figure and thought it based on at least some facts.....apparently NONE.

  3. According to the Fox News article quoted in the story:

    "In 2007-2008, according to ATF Special Agent William Newell, Mexico submitted 11,000 guns to the ATF for tracing. Close to 6,000 were successfully traced -- and of those, 90 percent -- 5,114 to be exact, according to testimony in Congress by William Hoover -- were found to have come from the U.S."

    In other words, Mexican authorities confiscated a bunch of firearms. Of them, 11,000 were submitted to ATF. Of this 11,000, 6,000 were traceable. Of the 6,000, 90% came from the US.

    Nearly half the weapons submitted were untraceable.

    Who knows how many were not submitted to the ATF for tracing?

    Of the ones submitted for tracing and found to be traceable, 90% were traced to the US.

    Why would Mexico submit a Russian-made grenade launcher to ATF for tracing? Why would they submit an Israeli-made machinegun to the ATF for tracing? Mexican authorities know where this stuff is coming from. They know when to ask for tracing, and when not to. Of the firearms submitted, half were either untraceable or were traced to somewhere other than here.

    So, technically, yes it is based on fact. It is just that the fact has been terribly distorted.