Another Bloody Milestone
The organized crime-related death toll for Mexico during 2009 surpassed 6,000 on Oct. 21, marking another unwanted milestone in the cartel war. More than a third of the total deaths in 2009 have occurred in a single city: Juarez, Chihuahua state. Indeed, the year has been the most violent since the Calderon administration took office in December 2006, surpassing the 2008 death toll of 5,700 earlier in the month.
While 6,000-plus deaths in Mexico in less than 10 months is unprecedented, it is neither shocking nor unexpected. The overall level of violence has increased since the end of 2008, due mainly to the ongoing conflict between cartels and between cartels and federal forces in Juarez and elsewhere in Chihuahua state, Guerrero, Michoacan, Baja California and Sinaloa states.
And there is no indication that the violence will taper off anytime soon. In fact, an even greater increase in violence is far more likely given the recent resurgence of Arturo "El Jefe de Jefes" Beltran Leyva and the Beltran Leyva Organization in southwestern Mexico, along with rumors of an impending conflict in Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon states between the Sinaloa cartel and Los Zetas.
LFM and Project Coronado
On Oct. 22, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) announced the results of Project Coronado, a 44-month multi-agency effort to disrupt the U.S. methamphetamine distribution networks of the La Familia Michoacana (LFM) organization. Project Coronado involved operations in 19 states, from Massachusetts to California, and resulted in the arrests of more than 1,200 individuals, including 303 LFM operatives and associates in the last two days of the operation.
While Project Coronado has no doubt impacted LFM's cash flow and ability to distribute its product in the United States, the effects of the operation should not be overstated. Conducted over almost four years, Project Coronado allowed LFM to gradually adapt to the pressure and adjust its operations in and around the United States. Indeed, the operation could account for the resurgence of LFM activity that we have seen inside Mexico since the beginning of the year, as the organization has likely been regrouping. It is also difficult to determine at this point how many of those arrested were core LFM members and how many were merely associated dealers.
Firefights in Tamaulipas
Several firefights have erupted over the past few weeks between suspected drug traffickers and members of the Mexican military in the border state of Tamaulipas, particularly in the border cities of Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa. The gun battles have closed down entire areas of the cities and paralyzed cross-border traffic. The most recent firefight in Nuevo Laredo occurred on Oct. 21 only four blocks away from the U.S. Consulate, prompting security officials to close the building.
These incidents are fairly common in parts of Mexico where there are higher concentrations of Mexican military personnel and members of drug trafficking organizations (DTOs). What has been most noteworthy is the coordinated response by fellow drug traffickers to the opening salvos. In many of the more recent incidents, drug traffickers exchanging fire with soldiers or police have been reinforced by other members of their groups, who arrive on the scene ready to fight after the shooting has begun. There have also been reports of non-military vehicles blocking access to parts of town where the fighting is taking place, which appear to be attempts to prevent the responding law enforcement and military personnel from accessing the areas. This tactic is not new, but it is typically used when high-value members of DTOs are targeted (such as Los Zetas' response to the capture of Jaime "El Hummer" Gonzalez Duran in November 2008.
While details of these coordinated actions have been difficult to come by (including the identities of those involved), the tactics employed by the DTOs suggest either that the organizations are on edge or there is a greater concentration of high-ranking members in the region. STRATFOR sources have reported that the Oct. 21 firefight in Nuevo Laredo involved a high-ranking and unnamed DTO member. Considering the rumors of an impending conflict between the Sinaloa cartel and Los Zetas, this could be indicator of events to come.
Indeed, should this be the case, the security situation along the South Texas-Mexico border could degrade very quickly, and the situation certainly bears watching.
A bus driver was found shot to death on the side of a highway outside of Acapulco, Guerrero state.
At least a dozen people were injured as separate groups of miners clashed over a labor dispute in Zimapan, Hildalgo state.
Some 600 members of the Federal Police returned to Mexico City permanently from Joint Operation Sinaloa in Sinaloa state.
Members of the Mexican military seized more than a ton of marijuana from a truck in Apatzingan, Michoacan state.
A firefight in Reynosa, Tamaulipas state, between members of the Mexican military and suspected drug traffickers left three people wounded.
Two gunmen were killed and two investigators of the Guanajuato State Attorney General's office were wounded in a firefight in Guanajuato, Guanajuato state.
An unknown number of municipal police officers in Playa Rosarito, Baja California state, were arrested for facilitating the escape of a man arrested for arms possession.
Four people were executed in two separate incidents in Tlaltizapan, Morelos state, by suspected drug traffickers.
More than 300 members and associates of LFM were arrested in the United States in the final operation of the U.S. DEA's Project Coronado, a multi-agency operation targeting LFM's methamphetamine distribution network.
Eduardo Ravelo, a high-ranking leader of the prison gang Barrio Azteca, was listed as one of the FBI's top 10 most-wanted fugitives.
Eztel Maldonado, a leader of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) and a member of the Chihuahua State Electoral Commission, was shot to death outside his home in Chihuahua, Chihuahua state.
A firefight between a group of armed men and members of the Mexican military took place in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state, reportedly leaving two civilians and a soldier wounded.
An armed group of men dressed in Mexican military uniforms reportedly kidnapped four individuals in Tijuana, Baja California state.
A shipment of 10 tons of cocaine was seized off the Pacific coast of Guatemala by members of the Guatemalan military with the aid of U.S. counternarcotics agents.
Carlos Adrian Martinez Muniz, second in command of Los Zetas in Apodaca, Nuevo Leon state, was arrested by members of the Mexican military after the vehicle he was traveling in was stopped by a military patrol.
The U.S. Treasury Department froze the U.S. assets of Edgardo Leyva, a high-ranking money launderer for the Arellano Felix Organization.
Members of the Mexican military discovered and dismantled a large synthetic drug laboratory in Chinicuila, Michoacan state.
Three suspected Cuban nationals stabbed a Cuban-American to death in what is thought to have been a drug-related murder in Cancun, Quintana Roo state.
Four suspected members of Los Zetas were taken into custody by members of the Mexican military after the car they were traveling in was stopped by a military patrol in Aguascalientes, Aguascalientes state.
Eight bodies were discovered in at least four shallow graves in Chilapa, Guerrero state.
Jose Alfredo Silly Pena, an inspector in the intelligence branch of the Federal Police, was gunned down in Galena, Chihuahua state. Pena was head of an investigation into several murders in the Le Baron community in Chihuahua state.
A group of armed men executed Rodolfo Molina Quijada, the presumed leader of a group of gunmen, in Onavas, Sonora state.
Jose Clemente Felix Diaz, PRI leader in Topia, Durango state, was attacked by a group of gunmen and later died of his injuries after he was transported to a local hospital.
Two people were found dead after being shot multiple times in Coahuayana, Michoacan state.