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Default The Rising Toll Owing to Rampaging Mexican Drug Lords

The Rising Toll Owing to Rampaging Mexican Drug Lords
Barnard R. Thompson - January 5, 2009

On January 1, 2009, at 00:01 a.m., in Tijuana, Baja California, one of Mexico's first babies of the New Year was born – the wonder of life and joy of a new child.

Less than an hour later, at 00:40 a.m., also in Tijuana, Mexico's first drug related murder of 2009, life snuffed out by bestial narco criminals or their hatchet men, was reported.

And before dawn three men were shot dead in Chihuahua, two in what has become the most dangerous of Mexican cities, Ciudad Juárez. As well, four people were gunned down in Jalisco, although those killings may have been the result of a drunken brawl rather than the work of organized crime.

According to the Mexican Attorney General's office, in its last official report dated December 9, there had been 5,376 known homicides tied to drug traffickers in 2008. Extrapolating those figures to the entire year (or based on their own counts) most Mexican media sources are thus reporting the 2008 death toll by organized crime at 5,700 people, or slightly less. In comparison, the 2007 known total was 2,773 deaths, making the 2008 figure more than twice the number of those killed the previous year.

Driving death counts even higher has been a growing penchant for group killings, in some cases in gunfights that included collateral victims. Sadly too, in 2008 this war cost the lives of 429 law enforcement officers, and some 70 members of Mexico's armed forces.

Moreover, in 2008 the true terrorist colors of the traffickers and their henchmen came into focus with some 180 of those executed having been beheaded. Plus there have been other messages, some in writing or broadcast. All, the direct and the indirect, meant not just to help one cartel to gain ground over another, but to drive away law enforcement and terrorize a nation into submission as well.

In 2008, the border town of Ciudad Juárez – across from El Paso, Texas, with a population of maybe 1.5 million – was the most violent city in Mexico. There were 1,653 organized crime related killings in 2008, compared to 318 in 2007, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP), the French news service. The January 2 piece also points out that Ciudad Juárez is a battleground in the turf war between the Juárez Cartel, of the Carrillo Fuentes brothers, and the Sinaloa Cartel of Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán.

The death toll for the entire state of Chihuahua was 2,006 people, according to data published in El Universal (January 1, 2009).

There were 1,167 killings recorded in Sinaloa, with some 950 having been part of the "narco-war" in the state.

The official number of homicides in Baja California, in 2008, was 1,224 – however not all were associated with organized crime. The count for Tijuana alone was 844, with more than 95 percent linked to organized crime according to the Baja California Attorney General. Some media reports however put the Tijuana organized crime related death totals between 661 and 689 people, rather than the 800-plus.

The upside, and hopefully there is a positive side, includes efforts and gains by the generally uncorrupted Mexican military in conflicts with drug traffickers and other criminals, including the perpetrators of violence and barbarities. In yearend reports the Mexican Ministry of National Defense (SEDENA, which speaks for the Army and Air Force), and the Navy, summarized some of their 2008 actions and results.

The SEDENA, in what is called "a permanent campaign against narco-trafficking," detained more than 9,200 suspected drug traffickers, including about 120 non-Mexicans. Among those captured were important leaders of various Mexican drug cartels and "The Zetas," in the beginning at least military trained enforcers and hit men who have since moved closer to the mainstream in cartel hierarchies and operations.

The Mexican Army, in 2008, seized 1,424,478 kilograms [3,140,436 pounds] of marijuana; burned 14,863 hectares [36,727 acres] of marijuana fields and 1,791 hectares [4,426 acres] of opium poppies; confiscated nearly 4 tons of cocaine and 13,200 firearms; and it rendered 609 clandestine landing strips unusable.

Apart from joint operations, the Mexican Navy captured almost 40 percent of the cocaine seized by federal authorities in 2008. One high profile seizure was 6 tons of cocaine found aboard a semisubmersible vessel detained off the coast of Oaxaca, a shipment that originated in Colombia. On just two fishing boats that were routinely stopped sailors found 7 tons of cocaine.

Among those detained by the Navy were some 200 Mexicans and a dozen foreign nationals. During 41,000 naval operations in coastal waters and at sea (compared to 14,600 in 2007), of which 17,000 targeted organized crime, seizures included 80 firearms, over 6,000 cartridges, six hand grenades, some 40 vehicles, and more than 40 watercraft.
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