Monday, July 29, 2013

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Why Arrest of Zetas Leader Does Not Mean End to Mexico's Drug War

Posted: 07/16/2013 8:34 pm
Why Arrest of Zetas Leader Does Not Mean End to Mexico's Drug War
By Michael Deibert
The Huffington Post
(Read the original article here

In the violence that has claimed more than 60,000 lives in Mexico since 2006, the criminal organization know as Los Zetas have been the perpetrators of some sickening crimes.

Originally made up of largely of deserters from a special forces unit of the Mexican army and since buffeted by rogue elements of the Guatemalan military and common thugs, Los Zetas (named after a Mexican radio code for high-ranking officers) were originally recruited in the 1990s by the Gulf Cartel, based in Matamoros, Mexico, just across the Rio Grande from Brownsville, Texas.

With its roots stretching all the way back to Prohibition, the Gulf Cartel at the time was battling the Sinaloa Cartel from Mexico's Pacific Coast for control of its slice of the country's border with the United States. The battle ended with a Gulf Cartel victory, but shortly thereafter the alliance splintered when Gulf gunmen killed a deputy of one of the leaders of Los Zetas, a smuggler born in Mexico but raised largely in Texas named Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales, aka Z-40.

What followed was a war between the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas for control of the states of
Tamaulipas and Nuevo León that, in its savagery, surpassed nearly anything the country had seen before.

In these states Mexico's Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) -- which ruled the country for 71 years until 2000 and to which Mexico's current president, Enrique Peña Nieto, belongs -- was often viewed as little more than a Gulf Cartel vassal, and a series of governors were later indicted for links to organized crime. Los Zetas, for their part, expanded their influence to the nearby states of Coahuila, Hidalgo and Veracruz. The two cartels appeared to try and outdo one another, with gruesome public displays and videotaped executions becoming commonplace. Ironically, the Gulf Cartel was forced to form an alliance of convenience with its former enemies in the Sinaloa Cartel to fend off their one-time employees.

Los Zetas' actions often seemed demonic in their ferocity. The organization committed a series of massacres in the San Fernando Valley region of Tamaulipas between August 2010 and April 2010 that left over 260 people dead, many of them immigrants en route to the United States from Mexico and elsewhere in the Americas, or otherwise-uninvolved civilians. In August 2011, Zetas hitmen set fire to a casino in the city of Monterrey in a dispute of extortion money, killing 53 people.

Through it all, cartel bosses and henchmen were falling like flies. The Gulf Cartel's former boss of bosses, Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, was extradited to the United States in 2007. His brother Antonio Ezequiel Cárdenas Guillén, better known by his nickname Tony Tormenta (Tony the Storm) was killed by the Mexican military in Matamoros in November 2010. Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sánchez aka El Coss, a former Matamoros municipal police officer with whom Tony Tormenta had shared co-governing duties, was arrested in Tamaulipas in September 2012, as was anther Cárdenas brother, Mario Alberto. The Gulf Cartel had fallen into a vicious bout of infighting.

As for Los Zetas, their original founder, Arturo Guzmán Decena, was long dead, slain in 2002, and his subsequent replacement, Heriberto Lazcano, aka El Verdugo (The Executioner), was killed by the Mexican Navy in October 2012. Displaying the esprit de corps for which they were known, Los Zetas stole both corpses rather than allow them to remain in government hands. Leadership of the group fell to Miguel Treviño -- Z-40 -- a man who seemed determined to compensate for his lack of military background by being the most brutal leader of all. When Treviño was arrested in Tamaulipas on Monday, many there and beyond breathed a sigh of relief.

But there is little reason to think that Treviño's arrest will mean an immediate decrease in violence in Mexico, violence that is inextricably linked to U.S. policy both on narcotics and firearms.

The violence that has torn Mexico apart for the last several years is often misunderstood, even down to the fact that it was President Vicente Fox, in office from 2000 to 2006, and not his successor Felipe Calderón, who began the war against Mexico's narcos, declaring upon taking office that he was "going to give the mother of all battles against organized crime in Mexico." But Calderón, in office until last year and like Fox a member of the Partido Acción Nacional (PAN), expanded and deepened the policy with the enthusiastic support of both the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

The amount of money the cartels make from the ravenous appetite for drugs in the United States -- and the perfect market conditions created for criminals by their very illegality -- beggars belief. The Mexican newspaper La Reforma recently reported that Los Zetas were making $350 million a year from importing cocaine to the U.S. alone, but that they were having to spend all of that money trying to fight off the Gulf Cartel. The very lowest figures given for the revenues derived by the Mexican cartels exporting drugs to the United States are in the neighborhood of $6.6 billion a year, with some estimates suggesting five times that.

Easy access to firearms in U.S. states that border Mexico has also helped fuel the violence there.
In 2009, a 26 year-old Houston man, was sentenced to eight years for purchasing or helping to purchase more than 100 military-style firearms which ended up in the hands of Mexico's cartels, including one that was used during a February 2007 assault on the attorney general's office in Acapulco, an attack that left seven people dead. His case was not unique. A pair of poorly thought-out policies under both Bush and Obama -- Operation Wide Receiver and Operation Fast and Furious, respectively -- allowed weapons to flow into cartel hands under the (often erroneous) supposition that the U.S. government could then track them. One such weapon was used when U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry was shot to death in a December 2010 gunbattle in Arizona.

Some of the largest banks operating in the U.S. -- including Bank of America and HSBC -- have shown little appetite for monitoring hundreds of billions of dollars of drug profits laundered through their channels.

And finally, like Treviño, a number of the grandees of the Mexican drug world responsible for so much violence have roots in the United States. Martín Omar Estrada Luna, alias El Kilo, who had been in command of the Los Zetas cell in San Fernando during the massacres there, grew up largely in central Washington State in the farm town of Tieton. More famously, Edgar Valdez Villarreal, a former high-school football star from Laredo, Texas know as La Barbie, went on to became one of the chief lieutenants of the the Beltrán-Leyva Cartel. Both men have since been arrested

Thus, the violence afflicting Mexico is not only Mexico's violence. It is our violence, as well. Try as it might, the United States cannot, and by proxy cannot ask Mexico, to shoot and jail its way out of this problem.

Waiting in the wings in Mexico, Miguel Treviño's brother, Omar Treviño Morales, is believed to be poised to step into the leadership of Los Zetas. A former Gulf Cartel lieutenant, Mario Ramírez Treviño aka El Pelón, is believed to have assumed command of what is left of that organization. The Gulf Cartel's connections among the state police in Tamaulipas remain strong.

And so the battle for Mexico goes on.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Letter to Miami-Dade County Commission on plans to close nearly all public libraries

13 July 2013

Greetings, Commissioner Sally A. Heyman. My name is Michael Deibert, and I am a journalist and author who currently resides in your district - Distirct 4 - in Miami Beach. I am the author of three books, In the Shadow of Saint Death: The Rise and Fall of the Gulf Cartel (Lyons Press, 2014), The Democratic Republic of Congo: Between Hope and Despair (Zed Books, 2013) and Notes from the Last Testament: The Struggle for Haiti (Seven Stories Press, 2005), and my writing has appeared in the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, the Guardian, the Miami Herald, Le Monde diplomatique, Folha de Sao Paulo and the World Policy Journal, among other venues.

I have just become aware via an article in the Miami Herald of the county's plans to close nearly all of its public libraries, potentially shuttering 42 locations and laying off 260 employees. It is hard for me to envision, after the millions of dollars that the county was willing to advance towards the new Marlins Stadium, a more short-sighted or destructive move than for the Commission to deprive the citizens of Miami-Dade of one of the few free sources of information and education left in the city today.

The library remains among our most precious democratic institutions. When I first moved to Miami in 1997 I was quite poor indeed, and access to the books at the Miami-Dade Public Library branch on Washington Avenue in South Beach was an essential part of my being able to make through those difficult months, with the free access to books providing me with important spiritual and intellectual sustenance. I honestly don't know what I would have done without it. As the American author Kurt Vonnegut once wrote "the America I loved still exists, if not in the White House or the Supreme Court or the Senate or the House of Representatives or the media. The America I love still exists at the front desks of our public libraries."

I couldn't agree with that sentiment more. I know that many of my fellow Miamians involved in the arts and simply ordinary citizens are just as outraged as I am at the thought of depriving our city of this essential facet of our democracy. I am urging them to contact you, as well, and I urge you to reconsider a move that would be so disempowering and wantonly harmful to the city that we all call home.

I have cc'd Miami-Dade County Commission Chairwoman Rebeca Sosa and Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos A. Giménez on this email, as well.

Best regards from Miami Beach,



Note: Commissioner Sally Heyman was the only person to respond to this email. Her response was as follows.

---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: District4
Date: Thu, Jul 25, 2013 at 10:37 AM
Subject: RE: Hello Commissioner Heyman regarding potential library closures in Miami-Dade County

Sent on behalf of Commissioner Sally Heyman:

Thank you for your email RE: shutting fire stations and libraries. 

I voted NO to keeping mileage "flat," as it meant limiting negotiations regarding the budget, AND cuts in services as we started the budget discussions.  UNACCEPTABLE!

OUR FIRE STATIONS are essential to public safety, both person and property.  Restoring FIRE SERVICES to the current level in the budget does NOT mean raising taxes; it means we need to reduce costs, frills, duplicity and waste in our budget.   

I am also committed to keeping more of our libraries open, for the value it has to our communities.   Closing 22 of our 49 libraries is way too many, especially for our children and seniors.

Please continue to reach out to our MAYOR and County Commissioners; especially those that voted to accept this terrible proposal: Commissioners Barreiro, Bell, Bovo, Diaz, Suarez, Sosa, Soto, Zapata.  They all need to hear we need to keep valued services in place.... That does not mean raising taxes.

Thank you,

Commissioner Sally Heyman

Brief note on the capture of Miguel Angel Treviño Morales

Among the most difficult passages to write in my new Mexico book have been those on the atrocities Los Zetas have committed during their long war against their rivals, the Mexican state and ordinary Mexicans. The Sinaloa Cartel and Mario "El Pelón" Ramírez Treviño and what's left of the Gulf Cartel will undoubtedly view the capture of Los Zetas leader Miguel Angel Treviño Morales in Tamaulipas as an opportunity for expansion and reconquest, but this does mark an important moment in Mexico's long national nightmare.