Washington Post: 20 Percent of Mexico Controlled by Cartels
By THE PULSE NEWS MEXICO STAFF
About 20 percent of Mexico’s nearly 2 million square kilometers of territory are currently under the direct control of armed drug cartels and other criminal groups, according to a report released by the Washington Post on Thursday, Oct. 29.
“In a classified study produced in 2018 but not previously reported, CIA analysts concluded that drug-trafficking groups had gained effective control over about 20 percent of Mexico, according to several current and former U.S. officials,” Washington Post reporter Mary Beth Sheridan wrote in an extensive news report titled “Violent Criminal Groups are Eroding Mexico’s Authority and Claiming More Territory.”
But despite 14 years of military operations and $3 billion in U.S. anti-narcotics aid, Sheridan said, criminal organizations are continuing to transform the Mexican landscape, constantly gaining larger territorial strongholds.
Despite 14 years of military operations and $3 billion in U.S. anti-narcotics aid, Sheridan said, criminal organizations are continuing to transform the Mexican landscape, constantly gaining larger territorial strongholds.
Sheridan said that the arrest in Los Angeles earlier this month of Mexico’s former defense secretary, Salvador Cienfuegos, on charges of complicity with drug cartels in the transportation of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine, is just the tip of the iceberg as to how deep government involvement with the criminal groups has run.
“The crisis confronting Mexico goes far beyond the occasional headline-grabbing bust,” she said.
Since the CIA report was written, Sheridan said that mounting violence and feuds between competing cartels have reflected an “increasingly complex struggle by crime groups in Mexico to control territory.”
“Homicides in the last two years have surged to their highest levels in six decades; 2020 is on track to set another record. Mexico’s murder rate is more than four times that of the United States,” she said.
“More than 77,000 people have disappeared, authorities reported this year, a far larger total than previous governments acknowledged. It is the greatest such crisis in Latin America since the ‘dirty wars’ of the 1970s and 1980s.”
More than 77,000 people have disappeared, authorities reported this year, a far larger total than previous governments acknowledged. It is the greatest such crisis in Latin America since the ‘dirty wars’ of the 1970s and 1980s.
Sheridan went on to explain that “organized crime here once meant a handful of cartels shipping narcotics up the highways to the United States.”
But “in a fundamental shift,” she said, “the criminals of today are reaching ever deeper into the country, infiltrating communities, police forces and town halls. A dizzying range of armed groups — perhaps more than 200 — have diversified into a broadening array of activities. They’re not only moving drugs, but kidnapping Mexicans, trafficking migrants and shaking down businesses from lime growers to mining companies.”
Sheridan said that local residents in the central Mexican state of Zacatecas, from where she posted her story, told her that the state government is no longer in control of the region.
“Hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes to escape violence, (and) the Mexican Congress is poised to pass the country’s first law to help the internally displaced,” Sheridan said, noting that the U.S. State Department is urging Americans to avoid travel to half of Mexico’s states, tagging five of them as Level 4 for danger, the same level as Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq.
“The Mexican government denies it has lost control of any part of the country.” she said.
“But in a little-noticed passage in its security plan last year, it likened crime groups to insurgents, with ‘a level of organization, firepower and territorial control comparable to what armed political groups have had in other places.’”
Sheridan pointed out that Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has created a 100,000-member National Guard with the goal to reclaim areas with little state presence, but warned that “it’s not clear that will make a significant difference.”
“Years of Mexican and U.S. strategy — arresting drug kingpins, training Mexican police, overhauling the justice system — have failed to curb the violence,” she said.
“To describe the crisis, politicians have reached for the language of armed conflict. When nine dual U.S.-Mexican citizens were massacred in Sonora last year, President Trump called for the United States to help Mexico “wage war on the drug cartels.”
In Mexico, you have very, very violent groups which somehow collaborate with the system, because they need the system to actually survive and thrive.
Notwithstanding, Sheridan said that Cienfuegos’ arrest for allegedly pocketing bribes from the Nayarit-based H-2 Cartel “illustrates the complexity of the situation.”
“We don’t have in Mexico today an insurgent group that says, ‘We will topple the state’,” Romain Le Cour, cofounder of Noria Research, which studies violence and political systems, is quoted as saying in Sheridan’s report.
“In Mexico, you have very, very violent groups which somehow collaborate with the system, because they need the system to actually survive and thrive.”
Sheridan noted that the Mexican criminal groups’ struggle for territorial control “looks different in different parts of Mexico.”
“In the northwestern state of Sinaloa, the former turf of Joaquín ‘El Chapo’ Guzmán, a single cartel has prevailed for years. Even with the drug lord in a U.S. prison, the group’s grip is tight: When the military tried to arrest Guzmán’s son Ovidio last year, scores of gunmen besieged the state capital and authorities let him go,” she said.
But in the Pacific coastal state of Guerrero, she said, there are at least 40 armed groups vying for territory.
Sheridan continued: “It’s not that drug cartels are new to Zacatecas. For years, they hauled marijuana and cocaine along the roads to the U.S. border. ‘Now the fight isn’t over the control of a route,’ said Ismael Camberos, who until recently served as head of the state security forces. ‘It’s control of a territory, to do all sorts of illicit activities.'”
Sheridan said that criminal groups have threatened more than half of Zacatecas’ mayors, according to Governor Alejandro Tello.
“But the problem isn’t just armed groups intimidating authorities. In many communities, the cartels have captured the government from the inside,” she said.
“There’s perhaps no better example than Nayarit. The Pacific coast state is a magnet for Americans, from the elegant five-star resorts of Punta Mita to the surfer-hip village of Sayulita. But away from the spectacular beaches, the Sinaloa and H-2 cartels battled for years.”
Sheridan said that the former state attorney general, Edgar Veytia — who pleaded guilty last year to narcotics charges in New York — managed to instill a semblance of order by choosing to support one crime group over another and letting that group have full range of drug trafficking in Nayarit.
But the problem isn’t just armed groups intimidating authorities. In many communities, the cartels have captured the government from the inside.
Although the practice of kickbacks from drug dealers for government officials in Mexico dates back decades, Sheridan said that as local governments have become more autonomous, crime groups have become more politically active, “through threats or bribery.”
“The country’s precarious justice system has proved incapable of checking such graft,” she said, adding that such impunity has only served to urge criminal groups on and the arrests of their leaders only served to create new, smaller cartels.
“Under the U.S.-backed kingpin strategy, Mexican forces killed or captured the leaders of several powerful groups: the Zetas, Beltrán Leyva, Juárez and Arellano Félix cartels. But far from putting them out of business, the approach caused them to splinter,” she said.
“The Mexican government now recognizes 19 ‘high-impact’ crime groups, including two with national reach: Jalisco New Generation and the Sinaloa federation. The International Crisis Group has identified 198 cartels, gangs and regional bands, many of them subcontractors to bigger players.”
Because the smaller groups lack the infrastructure to export drugs, they now target their fellow Mexicans with kidnappings, extortion, fuel theft and other crimes, she said.
“The big cartels have also expanded into such predatory activities, to pay their increasingly well-armed paramilitary wings,” Sheridan said.
“They don’t just want territorial control to move drugs, but to extract resources from the population,” she said, quoting Ricardo Márquez, a former top Mexican security official.
Sheridon concluded that “there are various reasons Mexico has failed to stem the violence,” including that fact that the country’s cartels are “far more sophisticated than authorities initially realized — more akin to multinational corporations than crime gangs” and the misguided belief that local authorities would have the resources and wherewithal to confront splintered cartels once their leaders were eliminated.
Only 1.3 percent of crimes in Mexico are reported and solved, according to the civic group Zero Impunity.
“Mexico has been unable to transform a justice system created to serve authoritarian governments during decades of one-party rule. Police are poorly trained and equipped. There’s a lack of prosecutors, forensic specialists and accountability mechanisms,” Sheridan said.
“The result? Only 1.3 percent of crimes in Mexico are reported and solved, according to the civic group Zero Impunity.”
She said that Guillermo Valdés Castellanos, a former head of Mexico’s national intelligence agency, CISEN, estimated that it could take at least a generation to dissolve the ties between criminals and officials in Mexico, and would “require a tripling of the budget for security and justice.”
“While Mexico has increased its spending in those areas, the amount still totals only around 1 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product, much less than most industrialized countries. “Politicians don’t care,” Valdés Castellanos is reported to have said.
“They don’t understand it’s a problem, and that to solve it, you have to redo the institutions.”
Since 2007, Sheridan said, the U.S. government has provided $3 billion in aid to Mexico through the Mérida Initiative, focusing mainly on institution-building, police training police and an overhaul of the Mexican legal system.
Meanwhile, she said, “López Obrador has emphasized social programs to address the poverty at the root of crime … (and) has relied heavily on the armed forces to respond to violence, along with a new, military-trained national guard.”
“There have been some successes,” Sheridan said.
“The López Obrador government has drastically reduced theft from oil pipelines, and car theft has plunged by nearly 40 percent. The Finance (Secretariat) has frozen around $525 million in suspicious bank accounts this year, twice as much as in all of 2019.”
However, she said, “homicides, already at historic highs, have continued to rise this year, despite the country’s coronavirus outbreak. Extortion is also up. U.S. agents say Mexico’s narcotics business is booming.”
“The massive flow of drugs to the United States is just one consequence of Mexico’s loss of control over parts of its territory,” Sheridan said.
“Another is displacement.”
…Oct. 30, 2020