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The big reason Mexican cartel violence is on the rise, according to the Pentagon’s top intelligence officer

(TASK & PURPOSE) — By Christopher Woody

2017 ended as Mexico’s most violent year in recent memory, with 25,339 homicide cases — more than during the peak year of inter-cartel fighting in 2011.

Crime and violence have steadily increased in Mexico over the past three years, and the bloodshed over the past decade has come despite, and often because of, the Mexican military’s and federal police’s presence in the streets.

Speaking before the Senate Intelligence Committee on Feb. 23, Army Gen. Robert Ashley, the head of the Defense Intelligence Agency, described a key trend that has contributed to the violence.

Asked what threats U.S. officials saw in Mexico and how the situation there had changed over the past decade, Ashley told the committee what has “transpired over the last couple of years is you had five principal cartels; we alluded to the number of captures [of cartel leaders] that had taken place, over 100. Those five cartels have kind of devolved into 20, and [as] part of that outgrowth, you’ve seen an increase in the level of violence.”

The dynamic Ashley described — the removal of criminal leaders leading to fragmentation of their groups and further violence — has been recognized as a failing of the “kingpin strategy” pursued, with strong U.S. backing, by Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto and his predecessor, Felipe Calderon, who deployed troops to confront domestic insecurity in 2007.

‘What’s happening, it’s like ants’

The kingpin strategy targets high-profile criminal leaders, with the idea that their capture or death will weaken their organization.

Ashley noted that under Peña Nieto, Mexico has brought down more than 100 high-profile cartel figures — among them Sinaloa cartel chief Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman (twice), Knights Templar founder Servando “La Tuta” Gomez (captured because his girlfriend brought him a cake), and Hector Beltran Leyva and Alfredo Beltran Guzman, both of whom lead of the Beltran Leyva Organization, an erstwhile Sinaloa cartel ally.

But the hoped-for security gains haven’t materialized.

“What actually happens is that if you take out the head of organization and it creates power vacuums and leads to … both internal schisms and encroachment … and creation of new spaces for other actors that can come, until we see a multiplication effect, or a proliferation, of smaller, regional groups,” David Shirk, a professor at the University of San Diego and director of the school’s Justice in Mexico program, told Business Insider in late 2016.[READ MORE]

In Mexico, vigilantes arise in violent regions

(ABC) — Fed up with police corruption and drug gang violence, a number of communities in the southern Mexico state of Guerrero and neighboring areas have formed citizen police groups.

Effectively vigilante outfits with no allegiance — and often outright hostility — to elected authorities, they are grassroots attempts by locals to rein in lawlessness in some of the areas most wracked by killings, kidnappings, extortion and other malfeasance.

Such forces have multiplied in recent years as Guerrero has become more violent. The state saw 2,318 homicides last year as criminal gangs battled for territory or killed to intimidate victims.

For these citizen cops, being on duty can mean manning an impromptu roadblock to search vehicles for contraband, monitoring bars for nefarious activities or watching over rudimentary police stations complete with jail cells.

Patrolling on foot or in the back of a pickup truck, they are often armed with just rifles — a far cry from the high-caliber weapons used by Mexico’s drug cartels, police and military.

Mexican cartels pushing more heroin after U.S. states relax marijuana laws

(USA TODAY) — CHIHUAHUA, Mexico — As more U.S. states legalize the use of marijuana, Mexico’s violent drug cartels are turning to the basic law of supply and demand.

That means small farmers, or campesinos, in this border state’s rugged Sierra Madre who long planted marijuana to be smuggled into the United States are switching to opium poppies, which bring a higher price. The opium gum harvested is processed into heroin to feed the ravaging U.S. opioid crisis.

“Marijuana isn’t as valuable, so they switched to a more profitable product,” said Javier Ávila, a Jesuit priest in this region rife with drug cartel activities.

Laws allowing marijuana in states like Colorado, Washington and California are causing shifts in the Mexican underworld that have also led to increased violence as the cartels move away from its cash cow of marijuana to traffic more heroin and methamphetamines.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection statistics show that marijuana seizures fell by more than half since 2012, while heroin and methamphetamine seizures have held steady or markedly increased.


Journalists are fleeing for their lives in Mexico. There are few havens

(LA TIMES) — By Kate Linthicum

During sleepless nights in an immigrant detention center in Texas just north of the border, Emilio Gutierrez Soto has had a lot of time to think. Shivering on a flimsy mattress under thin sheets, 54-year-old Gutierrez finds himself circling back to the same question: Was it worth it?

Was it worth writing those articles critical of the Mexican military? Was it worth having to flee Mexico after receiving threats against his life?

Many miles away, in a teeming Mexican metropolis, Julio Omar Gomez is not confined behind bars, but might as well be.

Since last spring, Gomez, 37, has been living under state protection in a cramped, anonymous apartment many miles from home. He typically only leaves for appointments with his psychologist, who is treating him for anxiety and post-traumatic stress.

Gomez, too, wonders whether his journalism was worth it. Was exposing government corruption in his home state of Baja California Sur worth the three attacks on his life? Was it worth having to send his children into hiding?

Last year, reporters and photographers turned up dead in Mexico at a rate of about one per month, making it the most dangerous country in the world for journalists after war-torn Syria. They were some of the country’s most fearless investigators and sharp-tongued critics, shot down while shopping, while reclining in a hammock, while driving children to school. In January, 77-year-old opinion columnist Carlos Dominguez was waiting at a traffic light with his grandchildren when three men stabbed him 21 times.


From Cancun to Los Cabos, tourists scared off Mexico’s beaches

(CHRON) — In the spring break capital of Cancun, Mexico, hotel occupancy has tumbled 10 percent this year. As bad as that is, over in Los Cabos, on the tip of the Baja California peninsula, it’s worse.

The airport serving Cabo San Lucas and its lesser-known sister city, San Jose del Cabo, is looking emptier these days. And hotel guests have canceled 35,000 nights of bookings over the next year – collectively a decade’s worth of visits for a single traveler.

At a time when the weaker peso should be luring American travelers in droves, many are staying away, spooked by a wave of violence that’s come dangerously close to tourist hot spots. Gunmen opened fire at a Cancun nightclub in November, and a cooler with two human heads was found on Cabo San Lucas’s main hotel strip in June.

But the biggest blow came on Aug. 22, when the U.S. State Department issued a travel warning advising tourists to steer clear altogether.

“Group tourism automatically went down the moment the warning hit,” said Carlos Gosselin, head of the hotel association for Cancun and Puerto Morelos. Many insurance companies likely won’t even consider offering coverage in areas under advisory, hurting conventions and events in the area, he said.

Mexico is reinforcing security in popular tourist spots to get the State Department to revise its views, and companies including Hilton Worldwide and Marriott International are spending millions to make guests feel safer. Their motivation is clear: Barclays estimates that a drop in tourism could wipe out as much as 0.5 percentage point from Mexico’s gross domestic product growth this year.

“Lower tourism activity will definitely have an impact on growth,” said Marco Oviedo, head of Latin America economic research at Barclays. “External tourism is one of the most important sources of income in the current account.”

Mexico gets about $20 billion a year from tourism. With murders quadrupling in Los Cabos and doubling in Cancun this year, a chunk of that revenue may be at stake. Quintana Roo, the state where Cancun is located, is the destination of a third of all the nation’s international tourists.

In Los Cabos, local and federal authorities are teaming up with hotels, time-share companies and the airport operator to step up the area’s security.

The group is spending $50 million to increase surveillance cameras to cover the 20-mile main stretch that includes hotels, restaurants and public beaches. A new military facility, paid for in part by the private sector, will be built near a highway to respond to any activity spotted on the cameras. It is set to open in the second quarter of 2018.


Mexican cops seize luxury ranch tied to border narco-governor

(BREITBART) — by Ildefonso Ortiz and Brandon Darby

Agents with the Tamaulipas Attorney General’s Office raided a luxury ranch tied to a former cartel-linked governor who is the target of an ongoing embezzlement and money laundering investigation.

Authorities raided a luxurious ranch tracing back to former Tamaulipas Governor Eugenio Hernandez. The agents also searched for two yet-unnamed individuals who are targets of the ongoing investigation against the former politician. The pair were not found during the raid.

State authorities arrested Hernandez last week in the state capital of Ciudad Victoria on warrants charging him with one count of embezzlement and one count of money laundering. The case against Hernandez is linked to the purchase of a large piece of state-owned coastal property that, according to authorities, he purchased for one percent of the property’s fair market value.

Since carrying out the arrest, authorities seized the large tract of property and raided a luxury ranch registered to one of the shell companies used by Hernandez. The property boasts a pool, tennis court, various buildings, and warehouses, as well as a rodeo arena.

The former politician is currently listed as a fugitive by the U.S. Department of Justice on multiple money laundering charges. Hernandez is wanted by U.S. Homeland Security Investigations and by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration as well.

Despite his fugitive status in the U.S., Mexican authorities did not move against Hernandez–who lived with complete impunity–until Tamaulipas state authorities arrested him. The action by state authorities follows last year’s landslide election win by current governor Francisco Cabeza de Vaca, who is from the National Action Party (PAN). Under Cabeza de Vaca’s term, investigators discovered that former PRI Governor Egidio Torre provided state cops as bodyguards to Hernandez and another fugitive cartel-linked governor, Tomas Yarrington.


India to completely seal its borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh

(GREATER KASHMIR) — India’s Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh today said that government wants to completely seal Indian borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh, adding that technology will also be used to curb infiltration where fencing is not possible.

Addressing Border Security Force agents near Nowshera, Singh said that government is working to completely seal the borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh.

“We wish to completely seal our borders with Pakistan and Bangladesh,” he said.

Singh also shared his views on some vulnerable points of border and said that some areas on border are uncovered where fencing is not possible and we have to find technological solutions of such stretches.

Singh also termed Border Security Force as first wall of Defense and said that after army, BSF is India’s power and BSF men work in all conditions.


Israel’s southern wall proves 100 percent effective in preventing infiltrations

(ALGEMEINER) — Not a single infiltration from the Sinai Peninsula into Israel was recorded over the past 12 months, Israel’s Population and Immigration Authority reported on Sunday.

Officials credit this surprising statistic to the fence Israel built along its border with Egypt several years ago.

In 2016, only 18 people managed to cross into Israel from Egypt illegally, while in 2015 the number of such infiltrators stood at 220.

Meanwhile, authorities said over the past 12 months, Israel deported 2,431 people who crossed into its territory illegally, including 2,245 Eritreans and 186 Sudanese.

According to Population and Immigration Authority data, some 38,000 African migrants live in Israel illegally.


Israel company to build US-Mexico border wall prototype

(YNET NEWS) — An Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) subsidiary is on the shortlist to construct the new border wall between the United States and Mexico, an enormous project and long-touted campaign promise by President Donald Trump.

Elta North America, the aforementioned IAI subsidiary, was announced Saturday as one of only four companies to construct a prototype for a “smart border” wall, after winning a US Customs tender. More than 200 companies from around the world presented bids for the tender.

Each one of the quartet of companies will receive funding of $300,000-$500,000 to finance the production of said prototype in the coming fall.

Trump wishes to create a wall running the entire 3,200 kilometers separating the two countries, in order to prevent passage of migrants from Mexico into the US, who he says take jobs out of American hands.

After Trump cited Israel’s wall built along its southern border with Egypt as a success story in stopping illegal migrants from entering the country, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced his support for the US border wall project. Netanyahu’s reply got him into some hot water with both Mexico and members of his own coalition, who pleaded with him to stay out of the controversial issue.

The project is estimated to become one of the world’s largest security infrastructure undertakings, with its cost to run anywhere from 15 to 25 billion dollars.

The American government has so far earmarked 3 billion dollars for the project in its 2018 budget, of which a billion will go to the smart border systems included in the tender, which are supposed to include advanced radars for both person and vehicle identification. Radars of this type are already manufactured by Elta and sold to the Israeli Ministry of Defense, as well as to other international clients.

Elta North America works out of Maryland and manufactures radar systems and components for branches of the American military, as well as radar components that the Israeli Ministry of Defense purchases using funding it receives from the US for Israel’s security. The security package does stipulate, however, that Israel must purchase equipment intended to fortify its security from that has been manufactured in the US—a fact that allows Israel to purchase Elta’s products, despite the company being a subsidiary of the Israel Aerospace Industries.

Elta employs 50 people and is expected to double its manpower in the coming years. It also operates in cyber and has opened a training and instruction center for cyber professionals working for both governmental and private organizations.

Elta’s Israeli headquarters are located in Ashdod, where it manufactures radar systems for Arrow missiles, the Iron Dome system, espionage and fighter jets.

The company is also in the running to supply additional long-range radars to South Korea, which has already purchased the “Green Pine” radar used in the Arrow missiles from Elta. South Korea is interested in purchasing radar systems to beef up its deterrent array in light of rising tensions in the Korean peninsula.

Elta isn’t the first Israeli company to be considered a participant in Trump’s ambitious project. Late last year, Magal Security Systems—which builds high-tech fences and walls—was also considered a shoo-in for the project.


‘They don’t even try’: Hungary’s new border fence called ‘spectacular success’

(WORLD TRIBUNE) — by WorldTribune Staff, May 2, 2017

Skeptics who believe a border wall will not stop illegals from entering the United States may want to look at what’s happening in Hungary.

On the day its border fence was completed, the influx of illegals entering Hungary went down from 6,353 one day to 870 the next. For the remainder of that month, illegal border crossings were steadily below 40 per day, officials said.
Border patrols prevent dozens of crossings every day and catch migrants who make it into Hungary within the first few miles of the border, according to authorities. /Reuters

“They don’t even try,” a local border guard told The Daily Caller News Foundation. “We haven’t had a Syrian in six months.”

Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s pledge to stop illegals from flowing into the country appears to be a spectacular success.

Hungary’s 96-mile long, 14-foot tall double-line fence includes several layers of razor-wire capable of delivering electric shocks. The barrier features cameras, heat sensors and loudspeakers ready to tell migrants they’re about to break Hungarian law if they as much as touch the fence, the April 30 Daily Caller report said.

Nearly every police officer in Hungary is part of a rotation to monitor the border fence at all times. Temporary military bases house the police while they do their rotation.

Additionally, Hungary will train and pay more than 1,000 volunteers to deploy as “border hunters”.

Illegals who are caught are arrested and dropped off on the Serbian side of the fence. They don’t get a chance to apply for asylum unless they do so at a “transit zone” where they are held in housing containers while their cases get processed, the Daily Caller report said.

In September 2015, thousands of migrants streamed across the border every day as they made their way north to Austria, Germany and Scandinavia.

“It was an invasion,” Laszlo Toroczkai, the mayor of Asotthalom, told the Daily Caller. “Illegal immigration is a crime in a normal country. It’s not a normal thing to break into a country.”

“By the mid-year it was well beyond 100,000 people who came across,” said Zoltan Kovacs, a spokesman for the Hungarian government. “You should at least have the ability to handle what’s going on.”

Kovacs added: “You might not like it, it’s not a nice thing, but … the only way to stop illegal border crossings is [to] first build a fence, man it, equip it, and also, in parallel, build up your capabilities in terms of legal confines, legal circumstances to be able to handle what is coming.”