Mexico Launches 8th Offensive In Its Drive Against Drug Cartels

Mexico Launches 8th Offensive In Its Drive Against Drug Cartels
December 1st, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: Mexico Launches 8th Offensive In Its Drive Against Drug Cartels

Mexico Launches 8th Offensive In Its Drive Against Drug Cartels
Washington Post
December 1, 2007
Pg. 9
By Manuel Roig-Franzia, Washington Post Foreign Service
CIUDAD DEL CARMEN, Mexico, Nov. 30 -- A 727 jetliner loaded with federal police toting assault rifles touched down in this oil-producing city Friday, opening a new front in Mexico's campaign against drug cartels.
The 100 officers who streamed onto the tarmac joined 150 already on the ground setting up roadblocks and making plans for nighttime raids. Traffic stalled on bridges leading on and off the island that makes up much of the city as officers rifled through trucks, peered under car hoods and frisked drivers.
The deployment in Ciudad del Carmen is the eighth in a series of lightning strikes by federal police and the Mexican army aimed at neutralizing drug cartels blamed for 4,000 killings in the past 18 months. The high-profile offensives have been set in motion over the past year by Mexican President Felipe Calderon, who reaches his first anniversary in office Saturday.
Calderon is hoping the U.S. Congress will approve a $500 million aid package to help Mexico battle drug cartels. Mexican analysts say deployments such as the one taking place in this Gulf of Mexico city in southeastern Mexico are intended to send a strong message to Capitol Hill.
"It obviously helps," Jorge Chabat, a Mexico City-based drug expert, said in a telephone interview Friday. "It presents an image of Calderon and Mexico doing their part to confront the cartels."
The deployment here raised the number of federal police officers now erecting roadblocks and conducting raids in Mexican cities to 12,000; the Mexican army has dispatched more than 20,000 soldiers in drug raids in the past year, often working side by side with federal police.
The raids, criticized by human rights groups concerned about use of the military in a policing function, are endorsed by Mexican officials who say the operations are weakening cartels. Since last December, more than 14,000 suspects have been arrested in raids in cities such as Acapulco, Monterrey and Tijuana, Patricio Patino Arias, Mexico's deputy secretary of public security, said in an interview Friday.
Even though the raids have resulted in numerous arrests, Patino Arias said, his officers' efforts are frequently undercut by corrupt law enforcement officials. Unscrupulous local officers, as well as members of his own federal police force, sometimes leak information about deployments long before they take place.
"Everyone in the world knows we're coming," Patino Arias said as the Learjet ferrying him to Ciudad del Carmen began to descend. "It's one of our biggest problems."
Just the day before the Ciudad del Carmen deployment, Patino Arias said, two federal investigative agents were assassinated. Investigators suspect the killers collaborated with someone who had worked with the slain agents.
"They had to have had inside information," Patino Arias said. In another case, German Soto Lopez, head of Ciudad del Carmen's public safety department and the top law enforcement officer in the city, was assassinated in April. A month later, his predecessor, Humberto Peralta, was the target of an assassination attempt.
The strikes against top law enforcement officers underscored Ciudad del Carmen's evolution from mellow coastal city to flash point in Mexico's drug crisis. Patino Arias calls the area surrounding Ciudad del Carmen "the Logistical Triangle," a name inspired by Mexico's infamous Golden Triangle, a cartel stronghold in the states of Chihuahua, Sinaloa and Durango. This is because Ciudad del Carmen is a favored logistical base of operations for drug gangs, with its proximity to Guatemala as well as the Mexican states of Chiapas and Tabasco. In the past year, Patino Arias said, drug cartels have ramped up their operations in Campeche, the state where Ciudad del Carmen is located, and neighboring areas to take advantage of the easy flow of cocaine across the Mexican-Guatemalan border. The area is crisscrossed by rivers and mountains that provide escape routes.
In April, police captured one of Mexico's most feared drug suspects here: Nabor Vargas Garcia, better known as El Debora. Vargas Garcia is said to be one of the founders of Los Zetas, a group of former Mexican army officers who serve as hit men for the Gulf cartel.
Vargas Garcia was nabbed in a shootout that left two drug suspects dead and two police officers injured. Mexican police declared they had netted a pez gordo -- "big fish."
Police also found a cache of high-caliber weapons, a fact that on Friday was on the mind of Adrian Ruiz Saldana, a Mexican army veteran who is now a top federal police officer.
The federal police force that arrived here Friday was under Ruiz's command, and each man carried a G3 assault rifle with a 20-bullet clip. The drug traffickers they're after often have AK-47s and other powerful weapons.
Ruiz Saldana glanced at the ground and scraped his heavy black boot against the tarmac. "We're at a disadvantage," he said.

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