The War Next Door - México Drug Death Toll Surpasses 1,000 in 2010
by Charles Lemos, Fri Feb 05, 2010 at 03:34:30 AM EST
The spiraling drug-related violence in México has now claimed 1,015 lives in the first 34 days of 2010. It's the fastest that dubious milestone has been achieved. In 2009, the 1000th death did not occur until February 24th, the 54th day of the year. It took 113 days to top that marker in 2008, 134 days in 2007, 181 days in 2006, and 254 in 2005. At the present rate, one Mexican is being killed every 48 minutes in drug-related violence.
Though the drug-related violence is often depicted as an internecine affair over control of a $10 billion dollar market in the United States, the number of innocent civilians caught in the crossfire is increasing rapidly and in horrific fashion. Last weekend, masked gunmen stormed a party in a working class neighborhood of cinderblock homes and killed 16 teenagers who had gathered to watch a boxing match on television. Some of the victims were shot as they tried to flee and their bodies were found near neighboring homes. The victims' ages ranged from 15 to 20.
Authorities now believe that the attack was carried out by mistake after arresting a suspect who served as the lookout during the attack. The main Juárez-based drug cartel had targeted the party because it had received reports that members of a rival trafficking group were in attendance. The orders were to kill everyone in attendance.
The violence continued on Monday when in another attack also in Ciudad Juárez, armed men burst into a bar around dawn and killed four men and a woman. Elsewhere, gunmen killed 10 people and wounded 15 in a bar in Torreón, a city in the northern state of Coahuila. The death toll continues to rise even as México has scored some victories over the drug cartels with the death of Arturo Beltrán Leyva, the so-called Boss of Bosses, who was killed in a shoot-out along with six bodyguards that also claimed the life of a Mexican marine in mid-December and with the mid-January capture of Teodoro "El Teo" García Simental who gained notoriety for dissolving the bodies of his enemies in lye.
But vacuums at the top of drug cartels leave openings for ever-ambitious and evermore ruthless lieutenants to fill. The surge in violence we seeing is part of the climbing (killing) your way to the top in a drug cartel. El más macho gana. Still this should not be read that México is winning the war of drugs, that war cannot be won given human nature, the size of the market and the depths of poverty that exist on both sides of the Río Grande.
The war next door is far different from the war in Colombia. To begin with, Colombian cartels largely avoided fighting each other. In their heyday of the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Medellín and Cali cartels carved out distinctive supply routes and markets rather than openly battle to monopolize the trade. They were more comfortable with their duopoly. Colombia did see a surge in drug cartel on drug cartel violence after the Colombian government managed to kill Pablo Escobar and capture the other drug kingpins. The two main cartels splintered into several smaller ones though eventually by the end of the 1990s the FARC emerged as the main drug trafficking organization in Colombia.
México has six major cartels: Sinaloa, Golfo, La Familia, Los Zetas, Tijuana and Juárez. In addition to these six, there are a host of smaller ones. And unlike in Colombia where the two cartels were each centered in different parts of the country, in México the cartels overlap in territory. And unlike the situation in Colombia where shipment took various routes (land, air and sea), drug shipments from México are almost exclusively by land thus setting the stage for control of the safest and most reliable routes. Thus most of the deaths are in the border areas.
This year so far about sixty percent of the drug-related fatalities have been in just four Mexican states: 24.3 percent in Chihuahua, 22.5 percent in Sinaloa on México's Pacific coast, 11.5 percent in Baja California Norte across from San Diego and 8.2 percent in Durango.
All told since Felipe Calderón became President in December 2006 more than 17,000 people have been killed in México's drug wars. By the end of this year that number could easily come close to 30,000 if the present rate of one murder every 48 minutes continues.