Mexico News Review 2
Posted by the Generals on October 30, 2011, 7:00 pm
Security & Strategic Review August 2011 (ISSN 1741-4202) |
MEXICO: Local police are the government’s weakest link
The recent deployment of 1,500 troops to reinforce the police in Monterrey (see page 7) and the earlier despatch of 226 federal police officers to the Tierra Caliente area of Veracruz are just the most recent and more salient instances of one of Mexico’s most stubborn public security problems: the reluctance of local authorities to upgrade the capabilities and reliability of state and municipal police forces, many of which have been deeply penetrated by the drug cartels.
In a recent report to congress, Federal Public Security Minister Genaro García Luna revealed that his ministry had not yet been able to recruit or train future investigative police officers, a key provision in the statutes of the federal police of May 2010, and the reforms to the national public security law. Of the country’s more than 2,000 municipalities, only 68 had made some progress towards implementing the new requirements of the police career and none had fulfilled all the variables aimed at strengthening their police forces.
Not even a third of the municipalities had carried out the mandatory vetting of their police officers, ‘which means that they cannot count on the necessary capabilities to confront crime more efficiently.’
On 9 August the executive secretary of the national public security system (SNSP), Juan Miguel Alcántara, tried to convey a rosier picture by announcing that 84% of the 375 highest-ranking police officers had been vetted by his agency, and that the proportion would soon rise to 91%. He said that only 33 of the top officers had not yet submitted to vetting. Delays, says the SNSP, had been most noticeable among the commanding officers of state preventive police forces.
He did acknowledge, however, that of the 220 municipalities deemed eligible for federal funding for the upgrading of their police forces, only 22% are about to receive a second tranche of funds, while funding for 74% had been suspended because of non-fulfilment of requirements, and the remainder had either refused the funds, requested a postponement or had approval pending. This year the SNSP had earmarked US$348m to strengthen this group of at-risk municipalities. To put this into perspective, there are 2,022 municipal police forces, of which 52% have at most 20 officers.
García Luna told congress that only 15% of the forces, other than the federal police, had submitted their personnel to the vetting now required. A month earlier the SNSP had put the figure slightly lower, reporting that only 51,906 police officers had been vetted, slightly over 13% of the total.
According to García Luna, between December 2006 and June 2011, the federal police arrested 68,163 persons caught in the commission of criminal offences. Of these, 2,408 were identified as ‘belonging to one or another of the drug-trafficking cartels’, and of this batch 169 were in the cartels’ command structures. In the same period, the authorities arrested 50,121 undocumented persons (presumably illegal migrants).
The Mexican media pounced on another portion of García Luna’s report to run headlines proclaiming that more law-enforcement officers had been killed than drug traffickers captured (just fewer than 20% more). Municipal police officers account for 45% of all law-enforcement personnel killed since December 2006; state officers for account for another 33%.
Local police under strain
The strain on local police forces is telling. Two incidents, in different parts of the country, reported on 10 August are witness to this. In Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, 57 officers of the municipal police force, and four of their commanders, handed in their resignations in fear for their lives. This depleted the local force by about a third.
Further south, Guerrero saw the arrival of 226 federal police officers called in by the state government after six police officers of the Altamirano municipal force, including commanders, suddenly abandoned their posts. The state’s public security secretary, Ramón Almonte Borja, said that this came after a string of desertions of officers suspected of links with organised crime. Before the arrival of the federal agents, the army moved in to disarm the municipal forces of Altamirano and Coyuca de Catalán, and all officers were ordered to submit to toxicology tests.
The federal contingent will accompany the state’s preventive police on a sweep through nine municipalities in Guerrero’s Tierra Caliente region, where local people have been fleeing an upsurge of violently enforced extortions.
Evidence of the extent to which local police forces have been penetrated was provided by José Antonio Acosta Hernández (‘el Diego’), purportedly the operations’ chief of La Línea, otherwise known as the Juárez cartel, who was arrested on 29 July. He told investigators that he had ‘links’ with members of the Juárez municipal police and with officers of the state’s ministerial police (the force attached to the public prosecution service). He said he was kept informed of the location of police checkpoints and the movements of the various police forces and the military.
His testimony mirrors that of members of the now divided La Familia Michoacana, collected in a report issue in late June by the federal public security ministry. The report says that the cartel’s cells enjoyed ‘the support of the state police’ of Michoacán, which not only provided ‘institutional protection’ but went as far as to allow the use of police uniforms, vehicles and radio frequencies, and even the use of patrol cars to block streets in order to facilitate the flight of cartel gunmen.
The fears felt by even courageous police officers are far from unfounded. Plaudits were heard from around the world when 20-year-old Marisol Valles became police chief in the municipality of Práxedis Guerrero, Chihuahua, after the authorities were long unable to find anyone who dared take up the post. Less than six months later, facing credible death threats, she resigned and sought asylum in the US. Her post was formally taken over, ad interim, by the mayor. In late June, a senior officer in the same locality, 40-year-old Rosario Rosales, was seized –together with her husband and son- by hooded men, gagged and repeatedly stabbed.
Also in late June the director of public security in Santa Catarina, Nuevo León, Germán Pérez, was shot dead in his office by a group of hooded gunmen who burst into the police headquarters.
On 15 July in Guasave, Sinaloa, gunmen ambushed and shot dead the 11 bodyguards of the state’s public security secretary, Francisco Manuel Córdova, as well as a passerby. Córdova is believed to have been their target, but he had chosen to travel by helicopter rather than overland with his convoy.
Security & Strategic Review August 2011 (ISSN 1741-4202)
MEXICO: String of coups against drug cartels
Since early July second-tier leaders of three cartels (Los Zetas, La Línea/Juárez and Cida) and the top leader of an emerging organisation (‘La Mano con Ojos’) have been arrested. The arresting agency has not been the marines, responsible for some of the most spectacular coups against the drug gangs, but the federal police in the first three cases, and the México state police in the fourth one.
On 4 July federal police officers arrested Jesús Enrique Rejón (‘el Mamito’), a former member of the army’s élite Grupo Aeromóvil de Fuerzas Especiales (Gafe) who, after deserting in 1999, became one of the founding members of Los Zetas, initially an ‘enforcement team’ for the Gulf cartel and since 2010 a cartel in its own right. Rejón was believed to be the number three in the Zetas hierarchy. Among the charges against him is participation in the attack on two US Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents last February, one of whom, Jaime Zapata, died.
On 29 July, acting on information received from the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), federal police officers arrested José Antonio Acosta Hernández (‘el Diego’), presented as the ‘operations’ chief of the La Línea/ Juárez organisation, commanding a 45-strong ‘hit team’ and reporting directly to the cartel’s boss, Vicente Carrillo Fuentes (‘el Viceroy’). He is accused of having ordered at least 1,500 killings, including those of Chihuahua’s deputy chief prosecutor, Sandra Ivonne Salas García, and three employees of the US consulate in Ciudad Juárez. ‘El Diego’ has told investigators about the cooperation he received from law enforcement agencies (see pages 8-9).
On 2 August in Acapulco, Guerrero, federal police officers arrested Moisés Montero Álvarez (‘el Koreano’), a former member of the state’s ministerial police presented as the leader of the Cártel Independiente de Acapulco (Cida). This is one of the splinters of the cartel led by Édgar Valdez Villarreal (‘la Barbie’), itself a breakaway faction of the Beltrán Leyva organisation, until his arrest in August 2010.
Most of the recent killing in Acapulco is attributable to the turf war between the Cida and another splinter of the same cartel, known as La Barredora and led by Eder Jair Sosa Carvajal (‘el Cremas’) and Cristián Hernández Tarín (‘el Cris’). El Koreano’s apparent successor as leader of the Cida is Carlos Antonio Barragán Hernández (‘el Melón’).
Mano con Ojos
On 11 August officers of México state’s police arrested Óscar Osvaldo García Montoya (‘el Compayito’), considered the top leader of a gang of gunmen known as La Mano con Ojos (‘The Hand with Eyes’) which was associated in the past with the Beltrán Leyva organisation and its offshoot led by Édgar Valdez Villarreal. He served in the Mexican navy and, according to the police, was trained by Guatemalan special forces soldiers know as Kaibiles. State procurator Alfredo Castillo has said that García Montoya admitted to having participated directly in 300 killings and having ordered another 600.
La Mano con Ojos operates chiefly in Mexico City and the surrounding districts of México state. It has been cited as a case in which members of street gangs have been recruited and turned to emulating the cartels’ methods.
Security & Strategic Review August 2011 (ISSN 1741-4202)
MEXICO-US: Plumbing the extent of US involvement
On 6 August the New York Times published a lengthy report about what it described as an expansion of the US role in Mexico’s anti-cartel drive. It said that ‘fewer than two dozen’ US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agents, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) officials and retired military personnel from the US Northern Command had been stationed in Mexico, and cited DEA sources as saying that a plan was being considered to embed private security contractors (drawn from among retired DEA agents and Special Forces personnel) in a 50-strong, specially vetted Mexican unit. In all cases, it was emphasised that the US role is not operational but of providing technical assistance, and that control remained vested in the Mexicans.
This article moved the permanent commission of Mexico’s federal congress to summon top government officials to explain what was going on. Officialdom turned up on 17 August en force to brief the bicameral national security committee: Interior Minister Francisco Blake, Foreign Affairs Minister Patricia Espinosa, state intelligence chief, Guillermo Valdés and national security council spokesman, Alejandro Poiré. As relayed by participants in the closed-door session, they confirmed that they were aware that agents of the DEA, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Bureau for Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and CIA were active in Mexico, but that they were not involved in operations or in intelligence gathering. They also said that none of these agents had been employed by the private sector, that no US contract personnel was in the country and that there were no plans to bring in contract personnel.
René Arce, chairman of the congressional national security committee, said that some of the information in the newspaper article was inaccurate, particularly the number of US agents in Mexico. The committee members said the officials had refused to disclose the actual number, but said that they knew how many there were.
Precisely what the officials meant when they said the US agents were not involved in intelligence-gathering is unclear: the Mexican authorities themselves had said they acted on information received from the DEA to capture, on 29 July, the ‘operations chief’ of the Juárez cartel (see page 10). Also, the statement that no US agents were employed by the private sector and that there were no US contractors operating in Mexico may be strictly true, but the newspaper Excélsior was able to interview a former member of the US military employed by Xe Services (formerly Blackwater) who had been approached to provide ‘security’ to private firms in Sinaloa, and who said other ‘cowboy’ security firms had been providing ‘mercenaries’.
The permanent commission of congress again summoned high officials (the foreign affairs minister and the chief federal prosecutor) to report on the truth of claims that DEA agents operating in Mexico had offered immunity to two Sinaloa/Pacífico cartel bosses, Joaquín Guzmán Loera (‘el Chapo’) and Ismael Zambada García (‘el Mayo’) in exchange for information of other cartels. This claim was made in an Illinois court proceeding by the latter’s son, Vicente Zambada Niebla (‘el Vicentillo’), who had been arrested inn March 2009 and extradited to the US in February 2010. The arrangement, he said, had been in force since 2004.
If confirmed, this would strengthen the often repeated claim that the Sinaloa/Pacífico cartel had not been persecuted by the Mexican government to the same extent as other drug-trafficking organisations — an accusation the Mexican authorities have just as repeatedly denied.
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