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Viewing cable 09MEXICO193, THE BATTLE JOINED: NARCO VIOLENCE TRENDS IN 2008

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Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
09MEXICO193 2009-01-23 23:11 2010-12-02 21:09 SECRET//NOFORN Embassy Mexico
R 232312Z JAN 09 ZDS
FM AMEMBASSY MEXICO
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 4721
INFO ALL US CONSULATES IN MEXICO COLLECTIVE
DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC
DEPT OF HOMELAND SECURITY
NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
HQ USNORTHCOM
CIA WASHINGTON DC
CDR USSOUTHCOM MIAMI FL
DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC
NSC WASHINGTON DC
S E C R E T MEXICO 000193 

NOFORN 
E.O. 12958: DNG: CO 01/22/2019 
TAGS: PREL PGOV PHUM PINR SNAR KCRM MX
SUBJECT: THE BATTLE JOINED: NARCO VIOLENCE TRENDS IN 2008 

REF: A. CIUDAD JUAREZ 22 
B. MEXICO 3586 
C. MEXICO 2371 
D. MEXICO 3498 
E. MEXICO 3779 
F. MEXICO 1766 

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

------- 
Summary 
------- 

1. (C) 2008 set a new record for organized crime-related 
homicides with more than 6000 killings. Violence in Mexico 
suddenly provided fodder for U.S. and international media 
with commentators suggesting worse to come. While the death 
toll is already at disturbing levels, and there are no signs 
violence will taper off anytime soon, we will continue to 
evaluate information or evidence that would suggest the 
cartels have decided to up the ante significantly by 
undertaking mass-casualty attacks on civilians, 
systematically attacking GOM officials or institutions or 
targeting USG personnel. Internecine struggles among the 
cartels and GOM counter narcotic successes have increased the 
costs of doing business and account for most of the up-tick 
last year. Frustrated traffickers, seeking to diversify 
profit-making activities through kidnappings and extortion, 
account for more. End Summary. 

---------------------------------- 
Drug-Related Homicides on the Rise 
---------------------------------- 

2. (C) Few killings in Mexico are thoroughly investigated, 
and determining which are truly related to organized crime 
remains an inexact science, but Mexico's Attorney General's 
office's year-end estimate stands at 6262. Other GOM 
authorities put the toll from organized crime slightly 
higher. SEDENA reports that drug-related killings 
represented roughly 17% of all homicides last year, while the 
National System of Public Security (SNSP -- part of the 
Public Security Secretariat (SSP)) estimates a total of 
approximately 10,700 intentional homicides. 

(S/NF) Table I: Organized Crime-Related Killings, By Year* 
--------------------------------------------- ---------- 
2005 1855 
2006 2489 
2007 3038 
2008 6380 
---------------------------------------- 
*Source: SEDENA 

(S/NF) Table II: 2008 OC-Related Killings, By Month* 
--------------------------------------------- ----- 
Jan 282 
Feb 283 
Mar 417 
Apr 320 
May 496 
Jun 531 
Jul 540 
Aug 587 
Sep 526 
Oct 847 
Nov 843 
Dec 708 
--------------------------------------------- ------ 
*Source: SEDENA 

-------------------------------------------- 
Spike in Violence Concentrated at the Border 
-------------------------------------------- 

3. (C) Violence continued to be concentrated in a few key 
states, and in 2008 there was a spike in drug-related 
killings in the northern border territories. An estimated 41 
percent of these homicides took place in Chihuahua and Baja 
California states and largely in two urban areas, Ciudad 
Juarez and Tijuana. (see MEXICO 3586). Sinaloa continued to 
rank among the most violent states with approximately 1048 
(or 18%) of these killings. The surge in violence along the 
border stems largely from the intensified struggle among 
cartels over a few lucrative land crossings to the U.S. In 
particular, the January 2008 arrest of cartel leader Alfredo 
Beltran Leyva sparked a serious rift among the Gulf, Juarez 
and Sinaloa (Pacific) cartels, which is being played out 
viciously in Ciudad Juarez. (See MEXICO 1766) In Tijuana, 
rival factions of the weakened Arellano Felix Organization, 
one of which is backed by the Sinaloa cartel, are battling 
for control. 

-------------------------- 
Changes In Cartel Behavior 
-------------------------- 

4. (SBU) Beyond its broadened scope, the nature of cartel 
violence changed in 2008: organized violence was 
characterized by significantly increased brutality, a callous 
disregard for the potential for collateral damage and more 
frequent targeting of soldiers and police. Mexico's drug 
trafficking organizations (DTOs) have also more frequently 
orchestrated violence to send intimidating messages to 
security forces, the Mexican public and the body politic. 

5. (SBU) Incidents, such as the August beheadings of 12 in 
Yucatan, the execution style killing of 24 on the outskirts 
of Mexico City in September, late fall killings of soldiers 
in Monterrey and Guerrero in late December contributed to 
growing public unease here and garnered media attention 
abroad. Several first-time-ever incidents involving grenades 
and improvised explosive devices (such as the notorious 
Independence Day grenade attack in Morelia, the shooting and 
undetonated grenade attack on the US Consulate in Monterrey, 
the use of improvised explosive devices in downtown Mexico 
City and Sinaloa, and a grenade attack on police cadets in 
Jalisco) demonstrate that not only have the cartels 
successfully expanded their arsenals, but at least some 
elements have developed a tolerance for inflicting civilian 
casualties. 

6. (SBU) Cartels have also expanded their use of violence to 
intimidate. Beheadings and the prominent placement of 
dismembered bodies in public places, relatively rare two 
years ago are now common throughout the country. The late 
night grenade/shooting attack on our consulate in Monterrey 
was obviously designed to send a message, although no 
individual or group has ever claimed responsibility. More 
explicit was the January assault on the Monterrey offices of 
Televisa, accompanied by a message telling the broadcaster to 
do a better job reporting on corrupt public officials. 
Attacks such as these remain sporadic so far, and we have 
insufficient indications whether they mark a new trend or 
not. 

7. (SBU) Despite these sporadic attacks, Mexico's drug war 
continues to primarily impact security forces and those 
linked directly or indirectly to the drug trade. The 
civilian population in some urban areas along the border 
remains bunkered down with some of those who have the money 
either sending their children to school in the U.S. or 
relocating entirely to minimize risk. In much of the rest of 
the country, though, the civilian population not involved in 
the drug trade remains essentially insulated from the 
violence, though not from its effects. 

--------------------------------------------- -------- 
Police Killings Increase Along With Overall Death Toll 
--------------------------------------------- -------- 
8. (SBU) SEDENA estimates that at least 522 civilian law 
enforcement and military personnel were murdered last year, 
compared to 315 in 2007. 

(S/NF) Table III: Drug-Related Military/Police Homicides: 
2007* 2008** 
(% of total) 

AFI 22 (6.9) 5 (1.0) 
PFP 12 (3.8) 37 (19.7) 
State 
Police 62 (19.8) 110 (21.1) 
Ministerial 
Police 63 (20.0) 14 (2.7) 
Municipal 
Police 120 (38.0) 305 (58.4) 
Military 27 (8.6) 51 (9.8) 
Other 9 (2.9) Unavailable 
--------------------------------------------- ------------- 
Total 315 522 
CENAPI (Mexico's Center for Information, Analysis and 
Planning) statistics 
**SEDENA statistics 

9. (C) Increased confrontations between security forces and 
criminals is one explanation for the increasing killing of 
security forces personnel. GOM authorities argue that 
killings are no longer just score-settling among bad cops, 
but increasingly the consequence of the government's 
aggressive fight against the cartels. Some analysts we have 
spoken to agree. However, they also note that with few 
exceptions the majority of deaths are not the result of 
direct confrontations. They argue that the crackdown on 
police corruption has put compromised police officials in the 
position of either being prosecuted or breaking their 
established agreements/arrangements with the cartels. Hence, 
some of those who presumably choose the latter course are 
being punished brutally. (See MEXICO 2371, 3498) 

10. (SBU) It is worth noting that police victims (at all 
levels of government) represented eight percent of all 2008 
killings believed to be drug-related, a figure slightly lower 
than the percentage in 2007. The vast majority of victims 
continue to be state and municipal law enforcement officers. 
Senior level, federal police killings were still rare 
occurrences in 2008. The most high-profile death remains the 
May killing of Edgar Millan Gomez, the country's 
highest-ranking federal police officer. 

-------------------------------------- 
Targeting of Soldiers An Ominous Sign 
-------------------------------------- 
11. (S/NF) There have been notable incidents of horrific 
violence against soldiers, including a string of slayings of 
enlisted men in Monterrey in October and the systematic 
decapitation of seven troops in Guerrero (see MEXICO 3779). 
The theory that those killed in Guerrero were rogue soldiers 
involved in drug trafficking has been discounted, suggesting 
the cartels have begun to target soldiers to exact revenge 
for successes registered by the military and attempt to 
undermine the institution's resolve. The Monterrey and 
Guerrero killings immediately followed successful military 
operations in the respective regions resulting in seizures 
and arrests. Whether such tactics will have a chilling 
effect remains to be seen. Sources tell us that while some 
soldiers are more fearful, many others are keen to strike 
back at the cartels with greater resolve. SEDENA and SEMAR 
have instructed regional commanders to implement force 
protection counter-measures to reduce the risk of future 
incidents. 

---------------------------------------- 
U.S. Personnel and Institutions Targets? 
---------------------------------------- 

12. (C) We have observed a significant up-tick in threats, 
as well as incidents of surveillance, against USG personnel 
and properties over the last three months. All threats are 
treated seriously and precautions taken; fortunately, none 
has come to fruition. 

13. (S/NF) On October 12, unknown persons fired gunshots and 
tossed an un-detonated grenade at the U.S. Consulate in 
Monterrey. The attack occurred after hours, no one was 
injured, and little damage occurred. No message was left and 
we have uncovered no useful intelligence regarding the 
authors or their motives. One unsubstantiated report cited a 
source claiming a senior Gulf cartel leader ordered the 
attack. However, with little hard evidence, no attempt to 
claim credit and no follow on incident to date, the 
possibility remains that this was an isolated, possibly even 
impulsive, attack not likely undertaken at the behest of 
senior cartel leaders. 

14. (C) While the cartels have not yet directly targeted USG 
law enforcement or other personnel, they have shown little 
reticence about going after some of our most reliable 
partners in Mexican law enforcement agencies. Ten close DEA 
law enforcement liaison officers have been killed since 2007, 
seven of whom were members of Special Vetted Units. 
Similarly, within the past two years 51 close FBI contacts 
have been murdered. More than sixty of Mexico's best law 
enforcement officers in whom we have placed our trust and 
with whom we have collaborated on sensitive investigations, 
shared intelligence and in many cases trained and vetted have 
been murdered by the cartels. We do know from sources that 
cartel members have at least contemplated the possibility of 
doing harm to both our personnel and institutions, but we 
frankly don't know enough about how DTO members think and 
operate to know what factors might trigger a decision to 
mount such an attack, but the potential threat is very real. 

15. (C) We assess that the threat to U.S. personnel could 
increase if the violence continues to escalate and more 
high-level government officials and political leaders are 
targeted. Also, a reaction may be triggered if traffickers 
perceive their losses are due to U.S. support to the GOM's 
counter-narcotics efforts. We will continue to monitor 
potential threats to U.S. personnel from organized criminal 
gangs and be alert to information that suggests drug 
traffickers increasingly see the U.S. hand as responsible for 
their losses. 

--------------------- 
A Measure of Success? 
--------------------- 

16. (C) While attributing last year's significant spike in 
violence to its own successes marks an effort by the Calderon 
administration to put the best face possible on a grim 
situation, there is also considerable truth to the assertion. 
President Calderon's counter-narcotics team has scored 
significant successes, particularly in the last 12 months. 
Record numbers of weapons and drugs have been seized, key 
members of drug cartels have been arrested and/or extradited, 
cartel sources inside government institutions have been 
arrested ) including a former Deputy Attorney General and 
the head of Interpol in Mexico. The GOM has disrupted cartel 
operations in meaningful ways; in year-end reports SEDENA and 
SEMAR reported that together they have reduced the maritime 
trafficking of illicit drugs by 65 percent and cut direct air 
transit of illegal drugs from Colombia by 90 percent. 
According to collaborative sensitive reporting, the January 
2008 arrest of Alfredo Beltran Leyva split the Pacific 
Cartel, and accentuated antagonism between that DTO and the 
Gulf organization which caused the spike in violence in 
Chihuahua, Sinaloa, and Baja California (see also MEXICO 
1766). In addition to these rifts, frustrated traffickers 
have turned to kidnappings and extortion to compensate for 
the loss in drug-trafficking revenue, expanding their reach 
and impacting a greater number of bystanders who have no 
involvement in DTO activities. These kinds of impacts bring 
home to ordinary Mexicans the nature of the struggle here. 

------- 
Outlook 
------- 

17. (C) Mexican authorities and law enforcement analysts 
predict that violence will likely get worse before it gets 
better. Recent truce rumors notwithstanding, there is 
currently no indication that the violence will soon abate; 
CENAPI reports 280 killings for the first 20 days of January. 
The cartels have shown themselves to be remarkably 
innovative, vicious, and resilient when aggressively 
confronted. Given their powerful weaponry and deep 
penetration of the country's security institutions, further 
attacks against security forces and government officials seem 
all but inevitable. However, while violence remains at 
unacceptably high levels here, we have no reason to believe 
at this point that it will escalate either quantitatively or 
qualitatively. 
Visit Mexico City's Classified Web Site at 
http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/wha/mexicocity and the North American 
Partnership Blog at http://www.intelink.gov/communities/state/nap / 
BASSETT