Briefing: How Mexico is waging war on drug cartels
Who are the most powerful cartels, what are the risks of using the military to confront them, and how much progress has Mexico made so far?
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Ten years ago, the Juarez and Tijuana cartels dominated drug trafficking in Mexico, says Stephen Meiners, a Latin America analyst at the global intelligence company Stratfor. But the influence of the Tijuana Cartel, dominated by the Arellano Felix family, has diminished considerably, particularly due to intercartel fighting, which accounts for most of the violence in Tijuana today. In April 2009, the Mexican attorney general's office declared the collapse of the cartel with the arrest of Isaac Godoy Castro, or "El Dany."Skip to next paragraph
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The Beltran Leyva Organization has become one of the most powerful drug traffickers in Mexico since splitting from the Sinaloa Federation in 2008. It controls routes in the states of Durango, Guerrero, Jalisco, Michoacán, Morelos, Sonora, and Sinaloa. The group has ordered executions of high-ranking officials, according to Stratfor, including the acting federal police director, Edgar Millan Gomez, in Mexico City last year.
La Familia, a Michoacán-based organization, is an emerging group. Their activities are still largely contained to the state, but officials note a trademark of ferocious retaliation. Last month, they shot into police stations across Michoacán in revenge for arrests of their members. They first organized as a vigilante group opposed to drug gangs and kidnappers. But with the vacuum left by the splintering of the dominant players, they have quickly become immersed in the trade. They are considered the nation's biggest traffickers of methamphetamine.
What are the risks of using soldiers in the fight instead of police?
The Calderón administration has deployed 45,000 troops across the country. Upon taking office, the president said that using the military was a temporary solution while police and judicial reform to root out corruption was carried out. But many fear that by putting soldiers in contact with traffickers, they are being exposed to the same corruptive forces that have entangled so many law enforcement officials.
The reputation of the military, which has ranked as one of Mexico's most sterling institutions, is also being battered, with the national human rights commission condemning alleged abuse. Investigating abuse claims in July, Human Rights Watch urged the United States to withhold some funding from the US drug-aid package called the Merida Initiative, concerned over alleged human rights violations – including torture, rape, and arbitrary detentions – not being properly tried in civilian courts.
What progress has President Calderón made dismantling cartels?
Since Mr. Calderón took office in December 2006, more than 11,000 have been killed in cartel-connected deaths, according to running tallies in the local press. The attorney general's office says that 9 of 10 victims are members of organized-crime groups. Most violence has occurred in the state of Chihuahua. The government says violence is the unwelcome result of its clampdown: Groups have splintered, creating more turf wars.
Others are not convinced.