Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Mexican army and a drug cartel

In early November, the Mexican government sent the army in to take over one of Mexico's largest ports. It seems the local drug cartel indirectly ran the place and corrupted the local government. And they had begun mining and shipping iron ore as well as chemicals needed for meth production, marijuana, and cocaine.

Can the army and navy be protected from corruption? Will these actions extend the capacity and legitimacy of the government and the regime?

Mexican army has taken control of major port in effort to combat drug cartel
Lazaro Cardenas, Mexico — This strategic port has been a major moneymaker for the powerful Knights Templar drug gang, which extorts millions from the city’s businesses and smuggles in meth-making chemicals from Asia.

But President Enrique Peña Nieto’s decision this month to deploy troops to Lazaro Cardenas marks a new attempt to sever the cartel’s economic lifeline by putting a stop to its criminal activities here.

By replacing hundreds of local police and customs officials, many suspected of collaborating with drug cartels, and installing soldiers in top port positions and at highway checkpoints, the government hopes to improve the international image of a port that in recent years has become a key transit point for Asian goods heading to the United States…

Over the past decade, cargo business to Lazaro Cardenas, the deepest port in Mexico, has more than doubled… Japanese cars, Chinese clothes and toys, and giant steel beams are shipped in and run by train through Mexico, north to Texas. Ships laden with Mexican oil and minerals motor out to Asia.

But amid that trade, mafias have earned soaring profits from extortion and illicit business, in particular from moving precursor chemicals for methamphetamine, much of which makes its way to the United States.

The Knights Templar, a ­pseudo-religious group… [has] enormous control over Lazaro Cardenas,” said a security official in Michoacán… “They are less involved in drug trafficking than they are in charging for each container that enters.”…

But locals worry that the changes may be more cosmetic than substantive, and that the Knights Templar’s ties to local business and government might be too deep to uproot…

Mexican drug cartels now exporting ore
Mexican drug cartels looking to diversify their businesses long ago moved into oil theft, pirated goods, extortion and kidnapping, consuming an ever larger swath of the country's economy. This month, federal officials confirmed the cartels have even entered the country's lucrative mining industry, exporting iron ore to Chinese mills…

Three Michoacan state detectives were wounded in an ambush earlier this week when they were traveling to investigate a mine taken over by criminals…

The Knights Templar cartel and its predecessor, the La Familia drug gang, have been stealing or extorting shipments of iron ore, or illegally extracting the mineral themselves and selling it through Pacific coast ports…

"This is the terrible thing about this process of (the cartel's) taking control of and reconfiguring the state," said Guillermo Valdes Castellanos, the former head of the country's top domestic intelligence agency. "They managed to impose a Mafia-style control of organized crime, and the different social groups like port authorities, transnational companies and local landowners, had to get in line."…

Government figures show the amount of iron ore being exported to China quadrupled between 2008 and the first half of 2013, rising to 4.6 million tons per year, precisely during the period the La Familia cartel and later the Knights Templar cemented their control over Michoacan.

In 2008, Lazaro Cardenas handled only 1.5 percent of Mexico's iron ore exports to China; by mid-2013, the seaport was shipping out nearly half…

The iron ore, meanwhile, has both swelled the cartels' bankrolls, giving them more money to buy guns and bribe officials, and fed the hunger of Asian steel mills.

And it may be a two-way trade: Precursor chemicals the cartel uses to make methamphetamines often arrive from China at both the Lazaro Cardenas and Manzanillo ports.

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