Sinaloa Cartel

Mexico rolls back 'drug war' cooperation with US

President Barack Obama said April 30 he will wait until he meets with his Mexican counterpart Enrique Peña Nieto this week to discuss Mexico's decision to curtail access of US security agencies. "I'm not going to yet judge how this will alter the relationship between the United States and Mexico until I've heard directly from them to see what exactly are they trying to accomplish," Obama said in Washington. Mexico confirmed days earlier that it has ended direct access by US law enforcement agents to their Mexican counterparts; now all communication is to be routed through the federal interior ministry, Gobernación.

Sinaloa Cartel kingpin nabbed in Colombia

Colombian National Police on April 17 announced the arrest in Cali of Cesar Demar Vernaza AKA "El Empresario"—accused boss of Ecuadoran narco-gang Los Templados and purported top South American operative of Mexico's Sinaloa Cartel. In February, he had escaped from a maximum-security prison in Guayaquil, known as "La Roca" or "The Rock," where he was serving a 25-year sentence for homicide. He allegedly came to Cali to establish contact with regional narco bosses and rebuild his operations along Colombia's Pacific coast. Arrested with him was an associate named only as "La Bestia" (the Beast) who was also among the 16 convicts sprung from La Roca in the February jailbreak. La Bestia attempted to resist arrest, taking the residents in his building hostage and threatening to blow up a gas tank. Authorities negotiated him down and he ultimately surrendered. (Colombia Reports, April 17)

Honduras: top prosecutor suspended amid violence

Citing frustration with mounting criminal violence, the National Congress of Honduras on April 16 moved to suspend prosecutor general Luis Alberto Rubí  and his assistant, replacing them with a temporary oversight committee. The five-member commission, made up of leaders of the country's political parties, will have 60 days to analyze why the prosecutor's office, the Fiscalía General de la República, has made little headway on numerous criminal cases, and draft a plan to reform the institution. With a homicide rate of 90 per 100,000 residents, Honduras is often called the world's most violent country. Prosecutors solve only about 20% of homicide cases, on average. The National Congress estimates 20,644 homicides have gone uninvestigated in the 28 months of the current administration. (InfoSurHoy, La Prensa, Tegucigalpa, April 18; AP, NYT, April 17; La Prensa, April 16)

Wave of barroom balaceras across Mexico

Seven were killed March 29 when a masked gunman in a bullet-proof vest and black uniform opened fire with an AK-47 in a bar in in the commercial center of Chihuahua City in northern Mexico. Three of the dead were women who worked at the bar, called Mogavi. The city has seen a wave of violence as the Juárez Cartel and Sinaloa Cartel battle for control of the strategic corridor leading to the border town of Ciudad Juárez, immediately up the highway to the north. In a similar incident that night, gunmen opened fire in a bar in Ciudad Altamirano, Guerrero state, killing four civilians and three off-duty federal agents. The previous night, an armed commando raided a nightclub called La Habana in Oaxaca City, in Mexico's south, menacing staff and patrons with AK-47s, shooting up the bar's facade, and abducting one man identified only by his nickname, "El Chiquilín."

Mexico: Chapo goon popped —but still not Chapo

The Mexican military announced Feb. 10 the capture of Jonathan Salas Avilés AKA "El Fantasma" (The Ghost), accused of being the security chief for fugitive Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Joaquin Guzmán AKA "El Chapo" (Shorty), in Culiacán. Salas apparently surrendured after being surrounded by three helicopters and at least eight navy vehicles. In the typical confusion, the governor of Sinaloa last year mistakenly announced that Salas had been killed in a clash with Mexican Marines. (BBC News, El Universal, Sexenio, Feb. 10; Justice in Mexico, March 5, 2012) The arrest of a figure close to El Chapo while the kingpin himself remains at large has been reported again and again and again and again and again—leading to conspiracy theories that Chapo is being protected by the Mexican state, at the price of the occasional sacrifice of a lieutenant to save face.

Peace of the graveyard in Ciudad Juárez?

Drug-related violent deaths reached 12,394 in Mexico last year, according to a count released by the daily Milenio on Jan. 2. The account said this was an increase of 110 over 2011, but 264 less than in 2010, the most violent year of the Felipe Calderón presidency. (However, by the government's own figures, the total for 2012 was 12,903, and 15,273 for 2010.)  For a fifth consecutive year, Chihuahua was the most violent state in the country, accounting for 18% of total deaths. Yet a Dec. 30 report on El Paso Inc notes the official number of murders in the violence-torn border city of Juárez dropped to about 800, down from a peak of 3,622 in 2010 that won the sobriquet "Murder City." The government of course takes credit, pointing to the jailing of gang leaders and social programs for at-risk youth. A Jan. 11 report on National Public Radio admits that may be part of the explanation, but says "word on the street" is that the long, bloody turf war is winding down because one side won: the interloping Sinaloa Cartel defeated the local and now heavily factionalized Juárez Cartel.

Mexico: bloody Christmas in Michoacán, Sinaloa

At least 13 people, including seven police officers, were killed and eight others wounded in three shootouts involving police and "armed commandos" on the border of Jalisco and Michoacán states in west-central Mexico Dec. 23. The first incident came when Michoacán state police responded to a report of a traffic accident in Briseñas  municipality and were ambushed. Similar gunfights shortly followed in the nearby municipalities of Quitúpan and Ayotlán. The following day, bullets flew in the central plaza of Yurécuaro, Michoacán, in what authorities called a shootout between the Knights Templar and Jalisco Nueva Generación cartel, leaving an unarmed bystander dead. Also on Christmas Eve, a group of armed men stormed the town of El Platanar de Los Ontiveros in the mountains of northwestern Sinaloa state, killing nine with assault weapons and dumping their bodies on a sports field. Authorities called that one a fight between the Sinaloa Cartel and the Zetas. (AP, Dec. 26; AFP, Dec. 25; EFE, Dec. 24; Milenio, Dec. 23)

Army troops sent to patrol Mexico City suburb

As Mexico has aggressively militarized its "drug war" over the past years, the nation's capital has been an exception, with authorities reluctant to send soliders to patrol the seat of federal power—until now. Over 1,000 army troops have been mobilized to the streets of Nezahualcóyotl, a suburb of Mexico City, just south of the Federal District line in México state, which has seen a dramatic increase of violence in the past weeks. The México state Prosecutor General says 119 assassinations have been registered so far this year, mostly in Nezahualcóyotl. The decision to send in army troops—under a program dubbed "Operation Neza"—was apparently sparked by the Sept. 16 stabbing death of México state lawmaker Jaime Serrano Cedillo of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Although subsequent reports have indicated he was killed by his wife in a domestic dispute, Serrano was the second PRI politician killed in as many days last week. On Sept. 15, Eduardo Castro Luque, newly elected to the Sonora state legislature, was shot full of nine bullets in front of his home in Ciudad Obregón. The twin slayings came when the country was on high alert for Independence Day celebrations, with extra troops deployed to conflicted states to head off terror attacks on the festivities. The PRI, a once-entrenched political machine, returns to power after 12 years in opposition, when president-elect Enrique Peña Nieto takes office in December. (LAT, AP, Sept. 21; WSJEl País, Spain, Sept. 20; EFE, AP, La Jornada, Sept. 15)

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