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Drug War in Mexico: U.S. and Mexico work together to make things worse

Updated: Nov 28, 2020

The bloodiest chapter of the war on drugs in North America took place during a historic level of coordination between the U.S. and Mexico

By Luis Miranda

I lived in Juarez until the age of 15. I remember when I was in elementary school being able to ride my bike to the nearby park, play with all the kids on my street, going out to stores and the mall with my parents. Around the time I turned 10 all that changed. This would have been 2006, when the drug war in Mexico exploded and entered its most violent period. All that access to my city and my neighbors was lost. We no longer went out, we no longer felt comfortable in our own city. Whenever I did go out into the city, there were government tanks and trucks with machine guns mounted on the bed.

Someone was murdered in front of my home in the late 2000’s. At that point, the news of murders every day numbed us. It was normal, we even felt lucky because we happened to not be home. The Juarez/El Paso drug corridor is proof of the failure of the war on drugs policies at a binational level. As I learn of the corruption and scandals of the Calderon administration that have surfaced in late 2019, I realized just how much these policies are designed primarily to perpetuate violence and crime among poor communities without impunity.

Between 2007 and 2014, some of the bloodiest years in the drug war, more than 164,000 people were victims of homicide. Nearly 20,000 died in 2014 alone. This is the result of disastrous strategies first adopted by the Calderon administration through the Merida Initiative they signed onto with the US government in 2008. To date, the U.S. has given $1.6 billion in equipment and training to Mexico to fuel the drug war.

(Not all homicides are cartel related. The Mexican government does not investigate a large amount of homicides. For these and other reasons, homicide in Mexico cannot be divided along motivation.)

On December 10, 2019, the Associated Press reported that Mexico Security chief during Felipe Calderon’s presidency Genaro Garcia Luna was charged in federal court in Brooklyn with three counts of cocaine trafficking conspiracy and false statement charge. This is the same man Felipe Calderon, and through the Merida Initiative, The US government, entrusted and confided in to handle and oversee the bloodiest chapter the war on drugs in Mexico ever saw. This is a damning revelation of how little power both governments have over the cartels, and indicates the governments have blame in orchestrating a war only to then play favorites with cartel organizations.

Former cartel member Garcia Zambada testified that he had personally given Luna at least $6 million in hidden payments on behalf of cartel boss Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada. Overall, several cooperating witnesses have confirmed Genaro Garcia Luna took tens of millions in bribes to allow the Sinaloa Cartel to safely ship multi-ton quantities of cocaine and other drugs into the United States. Again, this is the man who was instrumental in coordinating the war on drugs for Felipe Calderon. As U.S. Attorney Richard P. Donoghue said, he protected the cartel “while he controlled Mexico’s police force and was responsible for ensuring public safety in Mexico.”

According to court papers, the cartel “obtained, among other things, safe passage for its drug shipments, sensitive law enforcement information about investigations into the cartel and information about rival drug cartels.”

When this information was revealed, Calderon denied any knowledge of this happening. It’s of note to add that throughout his presidency, Calderon was always fiercely criticized for not going after the Sinaloa Cartels like he did with their rivals.

So why the Sinaloa Cartel?

With Amado Carillo’s death in 1997 a power struggle within the Juarez Cartel quickly ensued. After some infighting, Carillo’s brothers Vicente and Rodolfo, and their nephew Vicente Carrillo Leyva, established a firm command.

In 2002, they allied with Juan Jose Esparragoza Moreno, alias “El Azul,” a former member of the Mexican Federal Judicial Police; Ismael Zambada, alias “El Mayo”; the Beltran Leyva brothers; and Joaquin Guzman Loera, alias “El Chapo.” Authorities called them the “Federation,” but the partnership would not last. After Rodolfo killed two of Guzman’s associates for not paying him to use the Juarez corridor, Guzman gathered his allies and told them simply that Rodolfo, alias “El Niño de Oro,” had to die. Faced with a choice, Guzman’s partners chose him. Rodolfo was killed with his wife as they walked out of a movie theatre in September 2004. Guzman’s brother, Arturo, was killed just a few months later. The war was on, and Mexico still has not recovered. ( cartel profile)

Guzman’s falling out with the Juarez cartel lines up with buying out the federal government. The timeline of the bribery matches the narrative that “good guys”, namely Calderon’s administration, backed by US dollars and support, picked a favorite to protect and help take over the Juarez drug corridor, the citizenry of Juarez caught in the middle be damned. The fall of Guzman and the arrest of Genaro Garcia Luna raise more questions than they answer. Mexico saw unprecedented levels of homicides both in 2018 and 2019, so what has the drug war changed? As someone who lives right at the center of this conflict, I have not seen any change in the last 14 years, things seem to be getting worse as Cartels become harder to control, adopting a more decentralized model.


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