Cablegate: Anti-Drug Ops Extended to Eight States

DE RUEHME #1068/01 0611309
R 021309Z MAR 07

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 04 MEXICO 001068



E.O. 12958: DECL: 02/28/2017

Classified By: Political Minister Counselor Charles V. Barclay, Reasons
: 1.4(b/d).


1. (C) In the first three months of his presidency,
President Calderon has initiated "surge operations" involving
the mass deployment of federal police and troops in anti-drug
operations in a total of 8 of Mexico's 32 states. When
measured strictly by the quantity of drugs seized and the
number of drug traffickers arrested, the operations' results
have been modest, leading some critics to dismiss them as an
exercise in political grandstanding. Nevertheless, even if
the immediate results of the operations have been modest,
they have sent several strong, symbolic messages. First, his
willingness to stake his prestige on these operations in only
the second week of his presidency conveyed to the Mexican
public that he would lend the war on crime more than just lip
service, a welcome change after the torpor of the latter Fox
years. Indeed, his aggressive tactics against public
insecurity may well explain his relatively high public
approval ratings, and the political capital he has gained
through these operations may prove valuable as he seeks more
fundamental law enforcement reforms. Moreover, his
willingness to use the full authority and resources of the
presidency against drug cartels has sent tremors through
Mexico's underworld, clearly catching the cartels off guard.
Although the operations seem to have been effective in
curbing drug-related killings in the states where there is a
continuing military presence, organized crime-style killings
have spiked in at least three formerly peaceful states not
targeted by the GOM, suggesting the surge operations are
causing criminal syndicates to shift their operations
elsewhere. At this point we will be looking to see whether
the GOM uses the momentum it has gained from these surge
operations to attack the very pillars of the illegal drug
industry, making it economically unsustainable. End Summary.

Operation Conjunta Michoacan

2. (SBU) The anti-drug offensive began on December 8,
exactly one week after Calderon's inauguration, when the GOM
sent 6,784 troops and federal police to his troubled home
state of Michoacan. Their mission was to eradicate drug
plantations, intercept drug cargos and wanted criminals,
execute arrest warrants, and dismantle points of drug
retailing. On January 3, Defense Secretary Guillermo Galvan
summarized the results to date as follows: 5,023 fields of
marijuana destroyed; 80 arrests; the seizure of 127 firearms,
32,000 rounds of ammunition, 41 grenades, and US$4,000 in
cash. Over half of the troops sent to Michoacan were devoted
to eradicating marijuana plants, but the number of arrests
and the fact that none of those detained was a prominent
trafficker compelled authorities to explain that tracking
down and arresting drug bosses had not been a priority in
Operation Michoacan. However, Public Security Secretary
Genaro Garcia Luna said the presence of troops in the state
has reduced drug-related killings by 72 percent.

Operation Tijuana

3. (SBU) One month later, the GOM deployed a force of 3,926
officers to the border city Tijuana -- home to the cartel of
the Felix Arellano clan. One of its first acts was to disarm
the entire 2,000-strong local police force and send their
weapons for ballistic tests to determine whether they had
been used in any crimes. (Note: The federal authorities
believe that drug gangs reign free in Tijuana due to
widespread collusion with local police. End Note.) In the
first two-and-a-half weeks of Operation Tijuana, drug gang
killings fell to less than half of last year's average. No
arrests of leading cartel figures were reported.

Operation Sierra Madre

4. (U) That same day, January 9, a force of more than 9,000
officers began to arrive in the area known as the "Golden
Triangle," which straddles the states of Chihuahua, Durango
and Sinaloa. The undeclared objective of this effort was the
capture of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who has been deemed
responsible for much of the inter-gang warfare since his
jailbreak in 2001. Guzman's Sinaloa cartel has violently
disputed control of northern markets with the Gulf cartel,
headed by the recently extradited Osiel Cardenas.

Operation Conjunta Guerrero

5. (SBU) On January 10, a contingent of 7,600 troops and
police began to take up positions in Acapulco and other parts
of the state of Guerrero for the forth major anti-drug
operation. Both the Guerrero and Sierra Madre operations
were officially announced January 19. On January 22 the GOM
summed up the results in terms that make comparison to the
January 3 report difficult. It said that more than 1,500
hectares of drug crops had been destroyed, more than 32 tons
of marijuana and 2.2 tons of cocaine seized, and "dozens" of
arrests made.

6. (SBU) The media received the GOM's January 22 report with
much skepticism, and highlighted that since the launch of the
Michoacan operation only one prominent drug trafficker had
been captured: Pedro Diaz Prada, boss of the eponymous
cartel, which is chiefly devoted to producing and
distributing marijuana, and is considerably smaller than any
of the 5 dominant cartels. He was arrested on January 16 in
the southern state of Oaxaca -- where no major anti-drug
operation was under way.

Anti-drug operation expands to Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas
--------------------------------------------- -----------

7. (U) Since December, Calderon has ordered a total of about
27,000 troops and paramilitary police into the six states of
Michoacan, Guerrero, Durango, Sinaloa, Baja California and
Chihuahua, where the turf wars between drug gangs claimed
over 2,000 lives last year. As of February 18, security
officials claimed to have eradicated virtually as much opium
poppy as marijuana in the six states: 3,873 hectares of
marijuana and 3,324 hectares of opium poppies since the
offensives started on December 8.

8. (U) On January 29 and February 18, respectively, Nuevo
Leon and Tamaulipas became the seventh and eighth states
targeted by Calderon's counter-narcotics offensive, with a
deployment of 3,300 troops and federal police in and around
the cities of Monterrey, Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa, and
Matamoros. Defense Secretary Guillermo Galvan said the joint
operation would focus on key points along the main
trafficking routes.

Recent successes

9. (U) The GOM was able to claim three recent successes, two
of which took place in the states targeted for massive troop
deployments. On February 6, in Monterrey the authorities
announced the arrest of 4 members of a "financial cell" of
the Juarez cartel and the seizure of US$162,000 in cash. The
cash seizure was directly related to a tip provided to GOM
authorities by the DEA. That same day at Mexico City's
international airport, police seized a shipment of about one
ton of cocaine from a commercial aircraft that had arrived
from Venezuela. This seizure was also the result of
intelligence provided by DEA. Another ton of cocaine was
intercepted by army troops as it was being trucked through
Sonora towards the U.S. border.

Cartels strike back

10. (U) While in the earlier operations there were only a
few clashes between the government forces and the gunmen,
since late January the gangs have been striking back. On
January 27, one police officer was killed and two were
injured in an ambush in Nuevo Leon. That same day in Yucatan
(outside the main areas of operations), a police and fire
station was attacked with grenades. On January 29 in
Monterrey an officer of the Agencia Estatal de
Investigaciones (AEI), the state investigative police, was
gunned down in the street, becoming the fifth police fatality
of the month.

11. (U) Far more serious were two back-to-back attacks
staged on February 6 in Acapulco by a team of gunmen
disguised as soldiers: they killed 4 police officers and 3
civilian employees of the police. The chief prosecutor of
Guerrero state, Eduardo Murueta, complained publicly that the
attackers were able to successfully pass themselves off as
members of the military because the federal government's
mistrust of state authorities had led to a complete lack of
coordination between the military and local law enforcement.
That same day in Sinaloa gunmen murdered the coordinator of
the state judicial police's elite Unidad Modelo, Jorge Valdes

12. (C) Although the intensity of the inter-gang turf wars
has diminished since December, they have not ceased, even in
the areas where the army has been deployed. On February 12 in
Ciudad Juarez five bodies were found, bearing the "signature"
of drug gang executions. Moreover, the murder of a prominent
member of the PRD on January 15 in Durango, the attempted
assassination of a PRI federal deputy, Horacio Garza, on
February 19 in Tamaulipas, and the killing of four members of
a dance band in Michoacan on February 18, show that the
security situation is not improving despite the GOM's
large-scale offensives.

GOM response to recent attacks

13. (SBU) The security cabinet met twice on February 20 to
evaluate the counter-narcotics operations underway, as well
as to consider new strategies in light of the recent attack
against Horacio Garza. Defense Secretary Guillermo Galvan
claimed that the army had already hit the drug gangs hard and
this was why they were retaliating so fiercely. He also
warned that more such attacks were likely. Separately,
Attorney General Medina Mora emphasized that the war would
take "years" to win and said that more money and resources
would be needed. He also said that the GOM did not plan
additional joint operations in other states, in the interests
of focusing on the operations currently underway. (Note: In
a February 16 meeting with visiting Secretary of Homeland
Security Chertoff, Medina Mora said the GOM understood that
surge operations and extraditions were not enough to defeat
the cartels. He said that his staff would be seeking to
understand the cartels from a "microeconomic" perspective, to
understand how they source and ship contraband and how they
buy off low level officials, in order to arm a strategy aimed
at making the cartels economically unsustainable. End note.)

The "cucarracha" effect

14. (U) Although the operations seem to have been effective
in curbing drug-related killings in the states where there is
a continuing military presence, organized crime-style
killings have spiked in at least three states not targeted by
the GOM and that were formerly immune to the menace. (Note:
The local press has been calling this the "cucarracha"
("cockroach") effect, suggesting that the fumigation of pests
in one area, only moves them to another area.) Recent news
reports suggest that the operations may be pushing the drug
trade into areas which had previously been unaffected by
drug-related violence, including Aguascalientes, Oaxaca, and
the Yucatan. On February 19, the Governor of Aguascalientes,
Luis Armando Reynoso Fermat, said that drug gangs had been
building up their operations in the state. Last week, four
state policemen were gunned down by a gang in Aguascalientes.
With few major drug traffickers arrested, the cartels may be
shifting their operations to states not targeted by federal

Public opinion

15. (U) According to a poll conducted by Consulta Mitofsky
(published on February 14) the public tends to disagree with
the widespread view that the results of the mass deployments
are meager. Only 23.2 percent of the respondents said they
had been a failure, with another 13 percent saying they were
unable to assess the outcome. Overall, 47.1 percent indicated
their approval of the operations, and no fewer than 83.9
percent said it had been right to entrust a key role in them
to the military. About 75 percent of those surveyed said they
would like to see their own cities targeted by operations
similar to those launched since December.


16. (C) Some critics have dismissed the surge operations as
political grandstanding, suggesting that they have yielded
little in terms of concrete results. However, we believe the
message Calderon is sending is important, even if it is
partly symbolic. There is little question that he has caught
the cartels off guard, many of which have had to modify their
operations. Moreover, by demonstrating his willingness to
stake his prestige on aggressive counternarcotics tactics --
something the public has long wanted -- he may be winning the
political capital he will need to advance the fundamental
anticrime reforms he has long advocated. At this point, the
real test will be whether Calderon can sustain and
institutionalize the enforcement pressure he has brought to
bear, both by carrying out small-scale intelligence
operations and systematic efforts to attack the economic
viability of the cartels.

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