US denounces impunity with which drug dealers operate in Mexico

Newly declassified reports from 2010 and 2011 accuse Calderón of downplaying the violence and highlights the lack of cooperation between authorities

"Bordar la Paz" or "Sewing Peace,"  an exhibit in Guadalajara in memory of narco victims in Mexico, gathers hundreds of handkerchiefs etched with the names of the dead.
"Bordar la Paz" or "Sewing Peace," an exhibit in Guadalajara in memory of narco victims in Mexico, gathers hundreds of handkerchiefs etched with the names of the dead.HECTOR GUERRERO (AFP)

The Mexican authorities have tried to downplay crimes related to drug trafficking and its responsibility in solving them, according to a 2011 internal report from the U.S. State Department that the National Security Archive, a non-governmental body, declassified this week. The U.S. government said that the 2010 massacre of 72 Central American migrants in San Fernando, Tamaulipas is a case emblematic of the "total impunity" with which cartels operate in various areas of the country.

"The violence that has extended throughout Tamaulipas [northwest Mexico] reflects the complexity of the conflict (...) The battles continue and the security in northern Mexico remains volatile." The regional governments [in the north] understate the violence because they know the risks involved," one report said. Documents published this week in the Mexican magazine, Proceso, said some authorities have tried to shirk their responsibility to pursue the perpetrators." [The regional government] promises that it will collaborate with the army but was quick to add that the cartels are 'a federal problem' and that Tamaulipas does not have the resources to detain them."

The reports said Felipe Calderón's administration hid information about the systematic killings of Central American migrants. "Though not publicized by authorities, the number of bodies found in mass graves in the San Fernando area (...) has reached 196 and is expected to rise as Mexican Army (SEDENA) and Marine (SEMAR) forces continue to search the area," one report noted. It continues on to say that, since the San Fernando massacre, business leaders and merchants have started to speak up about the violence -"something that rarely occurred." Despite the violence, "officials have also repeatedly stated that they can guarantee security for any investing businesses, though without explaining how they plan to do so."

One of the documents underlines the inability of the federal government to process many of the detained criminals. "Although there have been various arrests, there is little information about the judicial proceedings for arrested traffickers." It points to the arrest of 16 San Fernando police officers accused of providing protection to the Zeta cartel. The Mexican government has not revealed the charges levied against them, the report noted. Another document from 2010 predicted that Matamoros, where there were 13 assassinations this week, would become a "conflict zone." "The border city," the papers said, "is the center of operations for the Golfo cartel and a valued target for the Zetas."

Migration authorities and local police often turn a blind eye or collude in these activities."

Serious suspicions point to an ongoing collaboration -sometimes out in the open- between government officials and drug traffickers. "Migration authorities and local police often turn a blind eye or collude in these activities." And, organized crime leaders do as they please. In 2011 the National Council for Human Rights in Mexico denounced the kidnappers of migrant workers who charged their victims 2,500 dollars for their freedom. The organization said the cartels made 25 million dollars in ransom money alonein the six months their investigation lasted.

In 2010 the U.S. attributed the Mexican government's inability to solve these crimes and stop the violence to "widespread corruption." The reports mentioned that three of Tamaulipas' governors had been under investigation for alleged ties to organized crime. Despite the calls from activists and government watchdogs like Artículo 19, the San Fernando investigations remain secret, the papers said. In September, Mexico's Federal Institute for Access to Information refused to reveal the details. 

"The cartels operate freely in Durango, Tamaulipas, Coahuila y Nuevo León. They block roads, take control of towns and intimidate soldiers and federal forces in their territories." Such was the case that brought about the killing of 10 youths, seven of whom were underage. They were returning to their town, Los Naranjos, after picking up federal aid packages for school. A man dressed in soldier's garb made them stop and then an armed commando shot them dead.

According to the U.S. government the negligence of the authorities is such that paying taxes to drug lords has become commonplace in the most dangerous areas of the country. "Eight out of 10 businesses in Tijuana, Reynosa and Ciudad Juárez pay extortion fees to criminals. More than 6,000 businesses closed between 2008 and 2010 just in Juárez.

A March 2010 document describes a scene of total chaos. Shootings. Setting police cars on fire. Indiscriminate attacks on plazas, or disputed turfs in narco slang. Decapitated bodies. And near total silence from the local and state authorities who have been subdued by fear or corruption.

Translation: Dyane Jean François

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