Tortured bodies found in Mexico
Mexican police have found at least 12 bodies dumped on a road in the western Michoacan state, which has become a flashpoint in Mexico's war on drugs.
Officials say the victims were tortured before being shot. They were then left near the town of La Huacana.
Michoacan has been hit by a wave of drug-related killings in recent weeks after the government's crackdown on drug cartels.
Last week, gunmen killed five people in attacks on the federal police.
They are believed to be revenge attacks after last Friday's arrest of suspected drug boss Arnoldo Rueda - a senior member of the La Familia Michoacana drug cartel.
Mexico rejects any drug gang deal
The Mexican government says it will never negotiate with drug gangs, after man purporting to be a leader of a violent cartel suggested a deal.
The man, who said he headed La Familia cartel, called a TV station in the state of Michoacan, to offer a pact.
Violence has flared over the past week, especially in Michoacan where 12 police officers were killed in an ambush.
Since 2006, President Felipe Calderon has sent more than 45,000 troops across Mexico to tackle the drug gangs.
"The federal government does not ever dialogue with, nor reach deals, nor negotiate with organised crime," said Interior Minister Fernando Gomez Mont.
"We will not give in to blackmail."
Mr Gomez Mont's comments came after a man called a local TV programme in Michoacan saying he was Servando "La Tuta" Gomez, a leader of La Familia, a drug cartel based in the state.
"What we want is peace and tranquillity. We want to achieve a national pact," he said.
Michoacan has seen a wave of attacks over the past week that left at least 18 federal agents and two soldiers dead. In the worst incident, 12 officers were tortured, killed and their bodies dumped by the side of the road.
The caller, in a rambling statement, said La Familia was only responding to attacks by the police and that investigators were coming to Michoacan to "fabricate charges" and "arrest innocent people".
He said: "We want the president, Mr Felipe Calderon, to know that we are not his enemies, that we value him, that we are conscientious people."
Officials have not commented on whether the caller appeared genuine. But Mr Gomez Mont insisted that the crackdown on the cartels would continue.
New escalation in Mexico drug war
Ten Mexican police officers have been detained in connection with the torture and murder of 12 federal agents during a major escalation in the drug war.
The arrests come as more than 5,000 troops and federal police are deployed in the western state of Michoacan.
The troop surge, one of the biggest in the anti-drugs campaign, comes after a local drug gang launched co-ordinated attacks in 10 cities last week.
The state governor has protested against the "military occupation".
The federal authorities say they are investigating links between the municipal police and drug traffickers in the murder of the agents, whose bodies were found bound and gagged and shot through the head next to a major highway.
In a statement, prosecutors said the detentions would enable them to strengthen evidence that the officers "undertook criminal acts" in support of the Michoacan drugs gang and to "determine their responsibility for the murder of federal agents".
Earlier this year 10 mayors in the state were arrested by the federal authorities on suspicion they were working with the drug gangs.
Troops with automatic weapons and ski masks to shield their identity have set up roadblocks across Michoacan, President Felipe Calderon's home state, in a major show of force.
Nineteen police were arrested in one small town, 10 of whom are still being held in custody while alleged links with drug gangs are investigated.
The federal government believes that local police and officials have long been in the pay of the drug gangs.
The Michoacan gang, known as the "Family", announced itself as a terrifying new force three years ago when its hitmen tossed the severed heads of five victims onto a dancefloor in a city nightclub.
Despite the roadblocks, analysts say federal agents remain highly vulnerable in a region where drug gangs can easily get intelligence about their movements.
Mexican drug cartels branching out across globe
Juan Carlos Llorca, The Associated Press
July 22, 2009
GUATEMALA CITY – Guatemalan drug boss Juan José "Juancho" León was summoned by Mexican traffickers for what he was told was business. Instead, dozens of attackers ambushed his entourage with grenades and assault rifles, killing León and 10 others in a brazen demonstration of power.
Mexican drug traffickers are branching out as never before – spreading their tentacles into 47 nations, including the U.S., Guatemala and even Colombia, long the heart of the drug trade in Latin America.
The expansion comes amid a military crackdown in Mexico and poses a new challenge for efforts to stop the flow of drugs into the U.S.
An investigation that included dozens of interviews with officials and experts in seven countries found that the Mexican mobs increasingly buy directly from the cocaine-producing Andes and have begun using distant countries to obtain the raw material for methamphetamine.
"The belief is that the Mexicans are trying to get closer to the source of supply and take over the transport," said Jere Miles, chief of the unit that tracks money laundering for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Mexican traffickers have turned up in many Colombian cities and are working to get cash in the hands of peasants to boost coca production, said the Colombian police director, Gen. Oscar Naranjo.
In neighboring Peru, the world's No. 2 cocaine-producing country after Colombia, Mexican traffickers are bribing customs officials at airports and seaports and laundering money by investing in real estate. At least four major Mexican cartels now buy cocaine directly in Peru, said Sonia Medina, chief public prosecutor for drugs and money laundering.
In the last three years, 40 Mexicans have been arrested in Peru on drug-trafficking charges, said Col. Leonardo Morales of Peru's anti-narcotics police.
Other Latin American countries have started playing a role as trans-shipment points for the chemicals used to make methamphetamine, a highly addictive street drug.
Mexico supplies 80 percent to 90 percent of the methamphetamine sold in the U.S., according to the DEA. The drug is made from pseudoephedrine and ephedrine, commonly found in cold and flu medicines and typically obtained in bulk from India and China.
In 2007, Mexico banned the import and domestic use of both chemicals. So the problem spread abroad. Last year, the United Nations identified, for the first time, the manufacture of methamphetamine and other illicit synthetic stimulants in 10 nations, including Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Guatemala and Honduras.
In Malaysia, three Mexicans were arrested last year and charged with trafficking 63 pounds of meth.
Guatemala is struggling to combat the Mexican crime invasion with loaned helicopters from the U.S. and organized crime investigators from the U.N.
In late November, 17 people were killed in an apparent battle between Mexican and Guatemalan gangs, reportedly over a stolen drug shipment, said Guatemalan Police Director Marlene Blanco.
Four months later, police discovered a training camp for the Zetas, one of Mexico's fiercest gangs, a few miles south of the Mexican border in Ixtcan.
Since Juancho León's murder in March 2008, 33 Zetas have been captured and are behind bars, said Giulio Antonio Talamont, the country's prisons chief.
'Key Mexico drug trafficker' held
Mexican authorities say they have arrested a key figure in one of the country's most violent drugs cartels.
Miguel Beraza, known as "the truck", was arrested during a church service in Michoacan, in western Mexico.
Officials said Beraza was in charge of the cartel's shipments of the synthetic drug crystal methamphetamine across the border into the US.
They said he was responsible for moving half a tonne of the drug each month, often hiding the shipment inside fruit.
Ramon Pequeno, head of the country's anti-drug unit, said that Beraza was the "top operator" bringing crystal methamphetamine across the border.
The police said that 40 others were brought in for questioning following the arrest, which was a joint operation between Mexican and US authorities.
"Together with our Mexican counterparts, we will continue attacking the La Familia Cartel," said Michele Leonhart of the US Drug Enforcement Administration.
"[It] not only controls the methamphetamine supply in several US cities, but also has been the source of unprecedented violence in Michoacan," she added.
Police also seized $13,000, two rifles, several grenades and 130 mobile phones during the operation.
Mexico cartels go from drugs to full-scale mafias
By: MARK STEVENSON
CIUDAD HIDALGO, MEXICO — Shopkeepers in this pine-covered mountain region easily recite the list of "protection" fees they pay to La Familia drug cartel to stay in business: 100 pesos a month for a stall in a street market, 30,000 pesos for an auto dealership or construction-supply firm.
First offense for nonpayment: a severe beating. Those who keep ignoring the fees — or try to charge their own — may pay with their lives.
"Every day you can see the people they have beaten up being taken to the IMSS," said auto mechanic Jesus Hernandez, motioning to the government-run hospital a few doors from his repair shop.
Mexican drug cartels have morphed into full-scale mafias, running extortion and protection rackets and trafficking everything from people to pirated DVDs. As once-lucrative cocaine profits have fallen and U.S. and Mexican authorities crack down on all drug trafficking to the U.S., gangs are branching into new ventures — some easier and more profitable than drugs.
The expansion has major implications as President Felipe Calderon continues his 2½-year-old drug war, which has killed more than 11,000 people and turned formerly tranquil rural towns such as Ciudad Hidalgo into major battlefronts.
Organized crime is seeping into Mexican society in ways not seen before, making it ever more difficult to combat. Besides controlling businesses, cartels provide jobs and social services where government has failed.
"Today, the traffickers have big companies, education, careers," said Congresswoman Yudit del Rincon of Sinaloa state, which has long been controlled by the cartel of the same name. "They're businessman of the year, they even head up social causes and charitable foundations."
Local officials say they do not have the manpower to investigate cartel rackets and refer such cases to the state, which hands them over to overloaded federal agents because organized crime is a federal offense. A federal police report released in April notes that often no one confronts the cartels, "not the police, because in many cases there is probably corruption, and not the public, because they live in terror."
After media reports questioned whether Mexico was becoming a failed state, Calderon insisted to The Associated Press in February that his country is in the hands of Mexican authorities.
"Even me, as president, I can visit any single point of the territory," he said. He has since sent 5,500 extra military and police officers to fight drug lords in Michoacan — his home state.
But in Ciudad Hidalgo and neighboring Zitacuaro, mayors have been jailed and charged with working for La Familia cartel, which controls swaths of central and western Mexico. Cadillac Escalades and Lincoln Navigators with low tires and chrome rims patrol the streets of Zitacuaro, even as trucks of army troops roll past.
In the Michoacan mountain town of Arteaga, La Familia boss Servando Gomez Martinez is revered for giving townspeople money for food, clothing and even medical care.
"He is a country man just like us, who wears huaraches," a farmer said of one of Mexico's most-wanted drug lords, pointing to his own open-toed leather sandals. He asked that his name not be used for fear of retaliation.
"It's almost like Chicago, when Al Capone ruled everything," said a senior U.S. law enforcement official who was not authorized to be quoted by name. "They control everything from the shoeshine boy to the taxi driver."
Mexican cartels gained their dominance in drug trafficking in the mid-1980s, when U.S. drug agents and the Colombian government cracked down on Colombian cartels and drug routes through the Caribbean. The vast majority of cocaine headed to the U.S. started going through Mexico.
In the meantime, trade in pirated and other smuggled goods in Mexico traditionally was carried out by small gangs centered around extended families or neighborhood rings.
In the last five to 10 years, Mexican cartels created domestic drug markets and carved out local territories, using a quasi-corporate structure, firepower and gangs of hit men to control other illicit trades as well. Federal prosecutors now call them "organized crime syndicates" and say their tactics — such as charging a "turf tax" to do business in their territory — mirror the Italian mafia.
"They adopt a business model as if they were franchises, except they are characterized by violence," according to a federal police briefing report.
In June, soldiers in the northern city of Monterrey caught members of the Zetas cartel producing and distributing pirated DVDs and controlling street vendors with protection fees.
Also in Monterrey, top Gulf cartel lieutenant Sigifrido Najera Talamantes ran kidnapping and extortion rings while trafficking migrants and crude oil stolen from the pipelines of Mexico's state-owned oil company, Pemex, according to the army.
Najera Talamantes, who was arrested in March, allegedly charged migrant smugglers to pass through his territory, took a cut from street vendors and oversaw trafficking in stolen goods, said Army Gen. Luis Arturo Oliver.
In Durango state, residents of Cuencame dug ditches around their town earlier this year to keep out roving bands of drug hit men kidnapping people at will.
"Even with the ditches, they still came in and kidnapped five people," said a Cuencame official who asked his name not be used for fear of retaliation.
In late 2008, almost all the betting parlors in the border state of Tamaulipas closed because of demands for protection money, according to Alfonso Perez, the head of the Mexican association of betting parlors.
In northern states such as Chihuahua and Tamaulipas, cartels also are blamed for businesses closing or burning if they don't pay protection fees.
Last year, mayors of more than a dozen towns throughout the state of Mexico received threatening phone calls demanding that $10,000 to $50,000 be deposited in bank accounts. State investigators say many of the threats mentioned links to the Gulf cartel.
Salvador Vergara, mayor of the resort town of Ixtapan de la Sal, received threats and was shot to death in October. State authorities believe that he didn't pay and refused to allow gangs to operate in his township.
Families in parts of the central state of Zacatecas went without cooking gas for several days in January, after gangs demanded protection fees of the gas-delivery trucks, and drivers refused to make their rounds. Deliveries resumed only after the state government increased security patrols on the local roads.
Extortion threats reported to federal police skyrocketed from about 50 in 2002 to about 50,000 in 2008, according to Public Safety Secretary Genaro Garcia Luna. Because of the spike, the Mexican government this year launched a nationwide anti-extortion program, creating a national database to track protection rackets and promising to protect even business owners too scared to file formal complaint.
While the results of the new complaint system are still meager, the government recently moved to go after cartel finances. In April, Congress approved a law allowing the government to seize properties and money from suspected drug traffickers and other criminals before they are convicted. In the past, suspects had to be convicted before their property could be seized, and trials often last years in Mexico.
Still, the gangs have created elaborate systems to avoid property seizures and to move money quickly through store-front check-cashing and wire-transfer services, according to federal police. And they have become so omnipresent that they take a cut of almost every transaction in some areas.
Javier, the owner of a small video store in Ciudad Hidalgo, got so fed up with La Familia controlling his town, he decided to sell his house and sent his two daughters to live in another state. His business had withered from the competition of street vendors selling pirated DVDs for La Familia.
But when he put his two-story, 1930s-era home up for sale, he got a phone call from the cartel.
"Putting up a 'for sale' sign is like sending them an invitation," said Javier, who asked that his last name not be used for fear of retaliation. "They call and say, 'How much are you selling for? Give me 20 percent.' "
Mexico finds huge marijuana farm in Baja California
BBC News, July 15, 2011
The Mexican army says it has discovered a huge field with mature marijuana in the northern state of Baja California.
Soldiers were patrolling the area, some 300km (190 miles) south of the US border, when they found the plantation.
The field near the town of San Quintin, measuring 1.2sq km (300 acres), was surrounded by a hedge of cacti. It is the largest marijuana plantation ever found in Mexico, officials say.
They say it would have yielded a harvest worth about $160m (£99m)
A Mexican army spokesman told the BBC it was unclear who owned the territory.
An estimated 60 people were working on the plantation, said the local army commander, Gen Alfonso Duarte.
"When they saw the military personnel, they fled," he told reporters.
The Mexican army has led the war on drug gangs launched by President Felipe Calderon in December 2006.