This is a source for analysis, interviews, and commentary on security in Latin America. Herein you will find rumors, the results of off the record interviews, and information you'll not find in international or United States news media.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

What if Mexico's Military Doesn't Win?

For over 500 days, Mexican President Felipe Calderon has used his military to combat organized crime across the country, specifically in Tijuana, Juarez and the states of Michoacan, Sinaloa, and Tamaulipas. But the body count suggests his measures have incurred more trouble than solution.

For the past 16 months, Mexico has registered 3,600 deaths - 225 a month, or an average of 7.5 a day - related to organize crime, according to Mexican daily La Cronica. In some pockets of Mexico, such as Culiacan, where violence has spiked in recent weeks, some quietly wonder what will happen if the military cannot control what is clearly the country’s top national security threat.

Mexico’s National Security Council met in Culiacan, Sinaloa on 13 May to discuss measures needed to diminish violence in the region. The high-level emergency meeting, including the Mexican Attorney General, head of the Mexican intelligence agency, the Secretary of Public Security, the Secretary of National Defense, and the Secretary of the Navy among others. It was organized after two weeks of extended violence in Culiacan that saw a number of policemen killed as well as members of organized crime, most notably the son of alleged leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, “El Chapo” Guzman.

According to some observers, the violence in Sinaloa may be in part due to a recent division within the Sinaloa Federation between “El Chapo” Guzman and the Beltran Leyva brothers. But what is beyond conjecture are the hardened positions taken each by the state’s police and military forces, and members of organized crime that operate in Sinaloa, a strategic state in the Mexican smuggling underworld.

During a two week span from 28 April to 12 May, a number of incidents escalated violence to the point where it has spilled over into Mexico City, causing at least one assassination that has put the whole country on edge.

On 30 April, a shootout in Culiacan left three gunmen and two local police dead. Another 13 were arrested and police seized some US$370,000 along with an unspeficied number of high-caliber rifles. The next day, Edgar Millan, head of the 27,000 strong Federal Preventive Police (PFP), held a press conference to assure the public that Calderon’s government would continue fighting.

He then boarded a plan to escort the 13 captured gunmen back to Mexico City where they were likely subjected to long hours of interrogation.

The following day, 2 May, four PFP agents were killed while patrolling a small town 15 miles outside of Culiacan. Two municipal policemen were killed along with along with two more gunmen and one unidentified male who was shot in the head. The bad guys had struck back.

By 4 May, notices started appearing around Culiacan. They came in the form of macabre messages written on coarse cloth cuts dangled from public places. Some messages were from the cops, telling the criminals to watch out. Others were from the criminals in response. And some were from one of the Beltran Leyva brothers, who claimed to be the boss in Sinaloa, a curious development. The various messages, none signed except those from Beltran Leyva, continued showing up every morning on 3, 4, and 5 May. By 6 May, local police lines were jammed with dozens of anonymous calls, most fictitious, about this or that cop who had been killed.

The next day gunmen again attacked the police, but only four were wounded. That was when the governor of Sinaloa, Jesus Aguilar Padilla, asked for a National Security Council meeting to be convened in Culiacan. But before they could meet, howver, a crowning moment of violence occurred in the early evening hours of 8 May.

Most believe it had nothing to do with the police.

Coming out of a local store, Edgar Guzman, the 22 year-old son of “El Chapo” Guzman, was attacked by an onslaught of gun fire and a discharge from at least one bazooka. He was instantly killed. The son of the Sinaloa Federation’s chief financial officer was also killed in an onslaught that left over 500 shell casings littered about the parking lot.

Now, Mexican authorities fear, there is confirmation that the Beltran Leyva brothers, formerly in association with “El Chapo” Guzman, have split from the Sinaloa Federation, marking the moment with the death of Edgar.

And to drive home the point of their strength and gut for violence, the brothers orchestrated the assassination of Edgar Milla, the head of the PFP, who was killed in Mexico City only hours after the death of the son of the alleged leader of the Sinaloa Federation. In under two days, the Beltran Leyva brothers exploded onto the Mexican organized crime scene as yet another group the Mexican government will have to dismantled before peace can be won.

It is reminiscent of when a DEA agent involved in the hunt for Pablo Escobar, the head of Colombia's infamous Medellin Cartel, lamented that killing Pablo only made way for the rise of the Cali Cartel. Now, as the Mexican army squeezes the life out of the Tijuana and Juarez Cartels, could it be that it has made room in the country’s black market for the rise of the Beltran Leyva brothers? If this is the case, then the question, “what if the military can’t stop them?,” is perhaps more appropriate than we thought.

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