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The Deadly War in Mexico

Ivan Vivar
POSC 475
Dr. Whitaker
12 May 2013

The deadly war in Mexico

            May 4, 2011 nine bodies were discovered hanging from an overpass in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas.  The Zeta cartel is believed to have been the ones behind the hangings.  The horrors was a result of strives within the cartel.  The state of Tamaulipas is one of the most valuable territories in the drug trafficking business because it borders the state of Texas.  The closer you are to the United States the less distance you have to travel to smuggle your product.  This is one of the reasons that have escalated the violence in the state of Mexico and its rising death count.

            In 2006 Felipe Calderon ordered Operation Michoacán.  This was considered as the first federal offensive action against the drug cartels in Mexico.  In Michoacán that year500 deaths were claimed because of drug violence.  President Calderon ordered 4,000 troops into his home state.  At the time it had been a key point on the road to the United States.  The troops were sent to “conduct raids, make arrests and establish control points on major highways and secondary roads “(Mexico).

            After six years the number of troops dedicated to the offensive has increased, and so has the death toll.  In total 86,000 casualties have occurred.  The strategy to combat the cartels has been to try and remove the top leaders of all the cartels.  Yet “for every drug capo taken down, several lieutenants have surged forward to keep the business going” (Armstrong, 1).  A Medellin strategy worked to quell the violence in Colombia is not effective here.  This has been one of the most difficult challenges in Mexico’s drug war.

            Unlike in Colombia during the 1980’s where the nation was plagued by one singular mans command, Pablo Escobar.  Mexico today faces organized crime that has a hierarchy system in place ready to replace any removed leaders.   Also making the war more difficult is that unlike in Colombia with one single cartel wreaking havoc; in Mexico there are several cartels behind the violence.  There has been a high amount of drug trafficking in Mexico even in the 90’s but at that point there was only one organization.  The fall of that organization lead to several smaller cartels vying for power. 

            This splitting within Cartels has been become almost a norm.  The highest profiled example is of the Gulf cartel.  In early 2000 the Gulf cartel hired former military soldiers of the Airmobile Special Forces Group and Amphibian Group of Special Forces.  They were released from the federal government because of corruption charges.  This new addition to the Gulf Cartel allowed them to dominate the business.  After the arrest of Gulf leader Osiel Cardenas in 2007 the Zetas decided to elevate the status within the organization and become partners.  In February 2010 the Zetas decided they had enough footing to become their own independent entity (Timeline).  After its conflict with the Juarez Cartel, the Sinaloa Cartel had made significant gains with its power.  Out of increase in strength two smaller ally cartels formed: The Colima Sonora, and Milenio Cartel.    

            Another example of a split within a cartel that lead to smaller operating factions is with the Familia Michoacana.  In December 2010 La Familia lost an important leader in Nazario “El Chayo” Gonzales who died during a gun fight with Mexican police.  His death resulted in the cartel separating into the Knights Templar Cartel and another faction who kept the name La Familia, headed by Jose de Jesus Mendez Vargas.  Mendez Vargas was eventually arrested by Mexican authorities in 2011, which resulted in the end of the La Familia cartel.  The splitting of larger cartels into smaller factions is a problem because of the competition it creates.  If there is an oligarchy then business is not highly contested or violent because all sides are equal in strength.  The equality in strength makes it difficult to make any serious gains without suffering real losses.  If the drug trade market is wide open and competition unequal it creates an environment where aggressive nature can result in significant gains if you command control of other smaller cartels.

            As mentioned earlier the closer you are to the United States the easier it is to sell your product, thus a higher amount of violence is located higher north in Mexico.  This is highlighted with the conflict between the Juarez Cartel v. The Sinaloa Cartel.  In 2010 after two years of battle, the conflict had disposed of 5,000 people.  El “Chapo” Guzman, the Sinaloa Cartels leader escaped from federal prison through a laundry truck and has been instrumental in the rise of the Sinaloa cartel.  His assault on Ciudad Juarez in 2008 has lead to “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.”  In 2009 the city held a claim that “is the world’s most dangerous city – worse than Baghdad – according to a 2009 study by the Citizen Council for Public Security and Justice, a Mexican non-profit organization” (In).  The assault on the Juarez cartel has been even more brutal with the Mexican military also going after them.  An expert on the Juarez conflict Tony Payan says “I don’t think by any means the Juarez cartel is done, but it’s a shadow of its former self.” (Caldwell).  Violence still occurs within the city as Guzman kills off loyalist to Carrillo, the former Juarez Cartel leader it is described as, “The killings, they are mostly small retail people, think they are Aztecas, falling like flies all over the city” (Caldwell).

            Further exacerbating the problem is the inefficiency of the political institutions within Mexico.  Fortunately the situation is not as bad as it could get, “Mexico is far from being a ‘failed state,” (Armstrong, 1).  There is still a severe problem of corruption within all levels of the government; at the local level is where corruption is the most devastating.  Ironically enough the federal police that replaced the local police of Ciudad Juarez were also found corrupt (Corruption).  From an NPR report there is “strong evidence of collusion between elements of the Mexican army and the Sinaloa cartel in the violent border city of Juarez” (Burnett).  Bribes from the Sinaloas to top government officials “help their leader, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, elude capture, expand his empire and keep his operatives out of jail” (Burnett).  At the same time bribes from the Sinaloas are used so that the government can crack down on their rival Cartels.  In 2009 the death of the Beltran-Levya brothers Arturo, and Gonzales by federal law enforcement devastatingly weakened their organization much to Guzman’s favor.  Also “Jose Gomez Llanos is on the U.S. Treasury’s list of foreign narcotics kingpins. He is suspected of being a money launderer for Guzman. He is currently the top federal prosecutor in the state of Tamaulipas” (Burnett).

            Also making the situation more difficult for Mexican authority is that the market for drugs is always high.  In some regard the United State has to take a share of the responsibility for the gravity of the problem.  The United States has the highest percentage of drug use in the world.  The demand is always high and thus the Cartels will continue to fight to be the largest seller.  The gun violence involved in the Cartel warfare also is a dividing issue.  In Mexico purchasing gun is like attending the DMV, there is tedious of paperwork that needs to be completed. In Mexico the culture of gun buying is more restrictive on gun rights, mainly as a reaction towards student revolts.  Annual market volume estimates are that 20,000 weapons worth $20 million are smuggled into Mexico from fire-arm shows and shops along the U.S. border (Globalization, 133).  President Calderon has even gone as far to speak at the U.N. to express his concerns: “Trafficking of small arms and light weapons causes around three thousand deaths every day globally. Mexico exhorts to the members of the Security Council to look for formulas to restrain this illicit trade” (Globalization, 134).

            As the violence continues to destroy the lives of many families, its effects go beyond heartache.  The drug war is embedded within the Mexican society and it now has become normal.  In some regards Mexico has become desensitized to the violence within their state.  The violence and gore is starting to lose its shock effect with the public.  Slowly the violence is becoming accepted and regular that it’s losing national attention.  The media is in a bind threatened by the cartel themselves it doesn’t allow the proper coverage to remind citizens how severe the issue is.

            Furthermore the local media will refuse to report on major violent confrontations, or scale back on full details.  This leaves unconventional forms of media to report the real issues, like bloggers.  Professor Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera had this to say “Because Tamaulipas is the most silenced state, that is why the network of Twitter users that report on violence has been the most sophisticated one in the country, and the number of hashtags is the most sophisticated and active one in the country” (Calderon).  Herbierto Deandar, a newspaper publisher from Reynosa, Chihuahua says “I think as publishers we censor ourselves to be cautions and not to even mention certain issues we do for it security and to protect ourselves and staff” (Calderon).  The Cartel wants to continue the media violence because they want to cut down the forms of communications.  If they cut off the communication then their territory is kept under wraps.

            Also the Mexican government wants to keep media silenced because the government has to protect the state from bad publicity.  Bad publicity could ruin international trade; these horrific violent accounts can make Mexico appear like a bad business partner.  The concept of the violence ruining economic affairs is certainly not farfetched.  There are several clear signs, like in the example of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon.  There were hopes of Monterrey being the link towards the United States that would bring commercial economic wealth.  It was a city that was deeply involved with the North American Free Trade Agreement as a partner of business.  Alberto Islas, a security analyst from Mexico, fears that violence will force the most influential politically, and economically to move away from Monterrey (Drug).  In 2011 about 450 people died in the Monterrey area from cartel violence, including former Mayors (Drug). 

            In November 2012, the body of former mayor Tiquicheo, Nuevo Leon Maria Santos Gorrostieta was found dead with signs of torture present.  She had previously survived two assassination attempts; her late husband (also a former mayor of the town) was murdered on the second attempt.  Mayor Gorrostieta was very outspoken and publically condemned the cartels in her local paper. Her municipality is around 150 miles from the U.S. border, and sits in the middle of a path where the Zetas and Gulf cartel fight to control.  Another mayor Mauricio Fernandez a wealthy businessman himself, personally invested $65 million in safety equipment into his municipality of San Pedro Garza (Drug), in order to restore some sense of confidence.  There is a lack of confidence from the citizens; they do not believe the state can guarantee their safety now.  That idea itself is a brand new concept, the city of Michoacán has for a long time been a region of prosperity and stability.  Citizens are now even unsure of whether to trust police or not (Drug).

            Another effect of this turf war often overlooked is the tragedies that occur to immigrants from further south in Central America.  In 2009 20,000 immigrants were accounted as murdered by Amnesty International (Mexico’s).  They hop on the roofs of trains by the hundreds after paying thousands of dollars to be transported 1,300 miles North (Renderos).  If they make it through the train ride into the United States they are very fortunate.  Yet there are always a large percentage of them, and they suffer from evil acts.  August 2010 72 immigrants from Honduras, and El Salvador were found in a mass grave in Tamaulipas.  Los Zetas are thought to be responsible for the massacre (Renderos).

            As a result of all this violence the solution is unclear.  The Latin American region has long been an area of the world with narratives of serious violence against the state.  It was not too long ago when states like Colombia suffered violence from Pablo Escobar.  Also recent in the mind of Latin America was the significant threat of militia group Shining Path in Peru.  In Peru, Alberto Fujimori was the president at the time and during his term the Shining Path was defeated.  Their model of counter-insurgency was one that has been preached by Robert Thompson (Taylor, 1).  He argues the Narcos and “insurgents can acquire a social base through tapping local grievances, ‘such as land for the landless, exploitation of labour on estates and mines” (Taylor, 37).  Once they acquire a base they can push against state and federal authorities.  One of the things he said necessary in order to remove the insurgency was to “dismantling the rebels’ political structure in town and village, with the bands of armed guerrillas being a secondary target” (Taylor, 39).  There is a shared thought in the world that the military is unable to deal with the type of guerilla warfare that stateless militias enact.  Soldiers are unable to deal with innocent civilians since they are trained to fight enemies in formal combat.  According to Thompson, “the most appropriate location for this unified intelligence organization is as a special branch within the police force, given that the police have a presence over the whole country and are more in touch with ordinary citizens than the army” (Taylor, 39).     

            Alongside having a properly trained executive force, the communities where these insurgents have strong points need to be transformed into strong and resilient areas.  One of the pillars of the Obama administration addresses that concern “Social and economic factors also play an important role. Some examples offered by U.S. officials include how bad zoning can allow the development of neighborhoods that attract illegal activities and how expanding access to daycare could improve children’s lives and keep them away from criminal activity” (Olson, 4).  Other social programs that allowed access to more and better public education is important.  Even more important is ensuring that students can attend college.  There are plenty of great Universities within Mexico, but the ability for families to afford them is nearly impossible.

            Perhaps another idea to improve the situation needs a radical idea like legalizing marijuana.  This is a break from the typical prohibitionist ideas of the past in November 2012 a bill was presented to legalize the production, sale, and use of marijuana. “The prohibitionist paradigm is a complete failure,” said Fernando Belaunzaran, the author of the bill from the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), “All this has done is spur more violence, the business continues. The country that has paid the highest costs is Mexico,” he said in a telephone interview (Torres).  There is promise that a more liberal policy on drugs will result in positive results like in Spain and Portugal who in times of high drug usage liberalized drug laws.  “The positive evaluation of Portugal’s model has taken away the fear in Latin America over reforms,” said Martin Jelsma of the Transnational Institute, which advocates the liberalisation of drug laws in Latin America (Torres).

            The United Mexican States has tremendous potential to be a global power economically.  The cartels and their violence had created havoc within the state and disrupt all that promise.  First the political institutions within the state need to be corrected, corruption is destroying the state.  Politicians have to be held more accountable and the judiciary has to be able to punish criminals effectively. As well the cooperation between all institutions needs to be improved, unless they are working together very little will get done.  It is promising that citizens refuse to forfeit to the scare tactics of the Cartels.  In 2011 thousands of Mexicans marched from Cuernavaca to Mexico City.  Mothers marched in protest against the cartels, many wearing white and walking in silence, held up placards that read “Not a single more death,” “Enough already” and “No more bloodshed”.  As long as the public does not give up the Mexican state will persevere.  All of Mexico will hope new President Pena will resolve this problem with less bloodshed.




Armstrong, Fulton. “End the Drug War” Foreignpolicy.com. 20 March 2012. Web. 13 May, 2013.

Burnett, John and Penaloza, Marissa. “Mexico seems to Favor Sinaloa Drug Cartel.” Npr.org. 19 May, 2010. Web. 13 May, 2013

Caldwell, Alicia and Stevenson, Mark. “U.S. Intelligence  Says Sinaloa Cartel Has won Battle for Ciudad Juarez Drug Routes.” Cns.news.com. 9 April, 2010. Web. 13 May, 2013

“Corrupt police in drug war.´Aljazeera.com. 26 August, 2010. Web. 13 May, 2013.

“In pictures: Mexico’s murder capital.” Aljazeera.com. Web. 13, May, 2013

            “Mexico Troops Sent to Fight Drugs” bbc.co.uk. 12 December, 2006. Web. 13 May 2013

“Timeline: Mexico’s drug war politics.” Aljazeera.com. 09 October 2012. Web. 13 May, 2013







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