Drug gangs in Mexico continue to defy the army’s efforts to reduce violence. Mexico today is seeing death tolls higher than in the world’s conventional warzones. In a new report, US analysis group STRATFOR says the Los Zetas cartel has become the most powerful.
Founded by deserters from army special forces, Los Zetas also includes former police officers. It has gained supremacy through brutality. The latest regional report from Stratfor refers to coercion by “silver or lead” – meaning bribery or bullets.
Los Zetas control much of eastern Mexico. The Sinaloa Federation controls much of western Mexico – allied against Zetas with others elsewhere. More often than shooting, it works through pay-offs – corruption. Mexican government estimates for last year alone equate to 17,000 deaths from drug-related violence in Mexico, based on 1,400 killed per month. The figure since 2006 is more than 45,000.
This is politically unacceptable for Mexican President Felipe Calderon and his ruling National Action Party. When he took office five years ago, he deployed troops to fight the cartels. Some 45,000 troops are actively involved in domestic counter-cartel operations. Calderon’s term ends this year.
With brutality breeding brutality, Calderon must contend with not only criminal threats but also possible charges against himself of human rights violations.
He has what Stratfor likens to a three-front war on his hands in Mexico: cartels against rival cartels, the military against cartels, and cartels against civilians. Ranks and leaders are replenished by a high rate of desertion from the army. The cartels also attract ex-military personnel.
Hackers under the name ‘Anonymous’ dared last year to threaten the cartels by publishing the identities of cartel members and supporters. After deadly warnings, they abandoned these plans. It is hard to establish whether any hacker deaths were directly linked to the Anonymous threat.
Ordinary Mexicans feel powerless. Demonstrations asking for an end to the bloodshed are held sporadically. Some activists and analysts say that the official death toll figures are being under-reported.