Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Coming soon to a nation near you

NY Times:With Beheadings and Attacks, Drug Gangs Terrorize Mexico

In recent months the violence has included a total of two dozen beheadings, a raid on a local police station by men with grenades and a bazooka, and daytime kidnappings of top law enforcement officials. At least 123 law enforcement officials, among them 2 judges and 3 prosecutors, have been gunned down or tortured to death. Five police officers were among those beheaded.

In all, the violence has claimed more than 1,700 civilian lives this year, and federal officials say the killings are on course to top the estimated 1,800 underworld killings last year. Those death tolls compare with 1,304 in 2004 and 1,080 in 2001, these officials say.

The five men beheaded in Uruapan, in Michoacán, were street-level methamphetamine dealers, addicted themselves to the synthetic drug. They were linked loosely to the Valencia family, which once controlled most of the drug trade in the state and is a part of the Sinaloa group, the police say. The killers came from a gang called The Family, believed to be allied with the Gulf Cartel.

A day before, the killers had kidnapped the five men from a mechanic’s shop they had been using as a front for selling “ice,” as crystal methamphetamine is called on the street. They sawed their victims’ heads off with a bowie knife while they were still alive shortly before going to the bar, law enforcement officials said.

“You don’t do something like that unless you want to send a big message,” said one United States law enforcement official here, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The beheadings, in fact, have become a signature form of intimidation aimed at both criminal rivals and federal and local authorities. In the tourist town of Acapulco, killers from one drug gang decapitated the commander of a special strike force, Mario Núñez Magaña, in April, along with one of his agents, Jesús Alberto Ibarra Velázquez.

They jammed the heads in a fence in front of the municipal police station. “So you will learn to respect,” said a red note next to them.

“This year has been one to forget, a black year,” said Jorge Valdez, a spokesman for the Acapulco police. “It’s the most violent year in the last 50 years, and the acts are barbaric, bloody, with no trace of humanity.”

The violence is by no means limited to Acapulco. In mid-July, about 15 gunmen attacked a small-town police station in Tabasco State at dawn with grenades, a bazooka and machine guns in an attempt to liberate two of their gang members, who were arrested after a bar fight the night before.

Two police officers died in the assault. The authorities said the attackers were dressed in the commando outfits of federal agents and belonged to the Zetas, former soldiers who work for the Gulf Cartel.

One reason for the wave of law enforcement killings is that the Mexican police do a poor job of protecting their own. Arrests have been made in only a handful of the assassinations of police officers this year. The overwhelming majority remain unsolved because witnesses fear testifying against drug traffickers. Even seasoned investigators are afraid to dig too deep into the murders.

“There is an atmosphere that affects us, of distrust, of terror inside the police force,” said Jesús Alemán del Carmen, the head of the state police in Guerrero, where 22 law enforcement officials have been brutally assassinated this year.

One of the officers killed was Gonzalo Domínguez Díaz, the state police commander in Pátzcuaro, Michoacán. In February, he received a death threat from a local businessman who law enforcement officials say has links to the Valencia crime family.

The threat came just minutes after Commander Domínguez arrested two men on weapons possession charges. He arrived home that night pale and shaken, said his widow, Fanny Carranza Domínguez. His anxiety grew over time, after prosecutors released the men he had arrested, for a lack of evidence, his wife said.

In early May, he told his wife that he had heard on the street that gunmen were looking for him. “He said, ‘I know that if I arrest them I am risking my life,’ ” she recalled. “ ‘I bring them to the capital, and they let them go.’ ”

On May 8, a car cut off Commander Domínguez’s police car as he was driving home alone about 6:30 p.m. Within minutes, he was shot point blank in the head with a 12-gauge shotgun and twice in the chest with an AK-47. He never unholstered his sidearm. So far, prosecutors have made no progress in solving his murder. He was 47, the father of three.

“I think the commanders that haven’t been killed are in the game, and the ones that have been killed, it is because they attacked crime,” Mrs. Carranza Domínguez said.

“The prosecutor seems asleep here,” she added. “He doesn’t do anything but collect his salary and go home.”

Commander Domínguez was one of 16 state and federal police commanders assassinated this year across Mexico, along with 2 judges handling drug cases and 2 federal prosecutors. Local police chiefs have also been targets. Eight have been murdered, most of them in Michoacán.

Most were ambushed in their cars or outside their homes by men with machine guns. A few were kidnapped by men posing as federal agents. In these cases, the bodies were found later, shot full of holes, often showing signs of torture.
Nearly every day, new victims are found in states along the major drug shipment routes, especially Quintana Roo, Michoacán, Guerrero, Tamaulipas and Baja California. Most are bound, gagged and shot to death, their bodies dumped on lonely roads.

In the towns hardest hit by the gangland warfare, the fear is palpable. For two years now, Nuevo Laredo has been the main battleground for a fight between gunmen loyal to Joaquín (Chapo) Guzmán of Sinaloa and the remnants of the Gulf Cartel, whose leader, Osiel Cárdenas, is in prison awaiting trial.

“I wouldn’t be human if I said I wasn’t afraid,” acknowledged Elizabeth Hernández Arredone, a state prosecutor in Nuevo Laredo who has taped to her door a photograph of a female judge who recently disappeared.

The effects are everywhere. Many local journalists have stopped covering drug violence for fear they may become targets themselves. Tourists used to spill across the border from Laredo, Tex., to swig tequila, buy trinkets and run wild. Not anymore.

I think we need the troops on the Southern Border more than we need them in Iraq. If the Mexican people choose not to deal with the narcoterrorists in their midst that is their choice and we should respect that (but should do something to deal with the drug problem here to help as much as we can), but we should make sure consequences of their bad choices do not spill over into the United States. Especially if the Mexican state collapses as some are forecasting

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