Wednesday, April 30, 2008

'Fragmentation' damage continues in Baja Norte Mexico



The Metro areas of Baja Norte are coming apart as gangs fragment
After the slayings of at least 13 people in Tijuana, Baja California officials vow to combat a surge in violence
By Sandra Dibble

TIJUANA – As hundreds of soldiers and police officers stood in formation outside City Hall yesterday, top federal, state and municipal officials urged intensified measures to bring criminals to heel in a city rattled by violence.

Three days after a gunbattle between rival gangs killed at least 13 people, the officials called for measures including increased federal operations, and demanded that radio and TV stations refrain from playing ballads called narcocorridos that they say lionize drug lords.

Military vehicles were placed at the end of each block surrounding federal offices in Tijuana yesterday where evidence from Saturday's shootouts was being held. The federal attorney general's office is investigating the violence.
“We are going to win this battle, and purge our state of criminals,” said Baja California Gov. José Guadalupe Osuna Millán.

A top federal public security official, Facundo Rosas Rosas, announced that federal police forces assigned to the state are being increased to 650 officers, a rise of nearly 60 percent.

The head of military forces in the state, Gen. Sergio Aponte Polito, announced stepped up coordination and support.

Yesterday's meeting was in response to the state's struggles with a surge in violent crime, even as President Felipe Calderón's government has increased enforcement on Mexico's northern border, and civilian and military forces have made numerous arrests and seizures in Baja California.

Analysts and law enforcement officials have linked the violence to the weakening of once-powerful cartels. Law enforcement efforts have “hit the economic base of organized crime, and are leading to an imbalance,” Aponte said. He said that imbalance is causing leaders of criminal groups “to carry out kidnapping and robberies of ATM machines, trying to obtain economic resources so they can pay the members of their criminal cells.”
A soldier inspected an ambulance at Tijuana's General Hospital yesterday.
Saturday's violence is being attributed to confrontations between criminal groups, but law enforcement authorities are not openly discussing the reasons.

One law enforcement official with knowledge of organized crime groups in the region confirmed widespread reports yesterday that the bloodshed was the result of fighting within the Arellano Félix cartel.

The violence grew out of an effort by the cartel hierarchy to better control the operation of an increasingly powerful crew leader named Teodoro “El Teo” García Simental, said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because his agency had not authorized him to speak.

The shooting was either an ambush or a meeting between García's group and another cartel faction that degenerated into an armed free-for-all, the official said. When the battle was over, officials found dozens of weapons, 1,500 spent shell casings and several wounded people in addition to the dead.

Officials yesterday spoke of recent successes as well as challenges. Federal police agents rescued four kidnap victims early yesterday, three men and a woman, Rosas announced, offering few details. The military trumpeted its discovery of a house where they seized weapons, ammunition and three late-model pickups – one with blood and bullet holes – that had been linked to Saturday's shootouts.

Also yesterday, members of the Association of Downtown Tourist Business Owners took out a half-page ad in the daily newspaper, El Mexicano, thanking Osuna and Rommel Moreno Manjarrez, the attorney general, for the liberation last Saturday of a kidnapped association member.

Yet just a few blocks from yesterday's ceremony, Tijuana's General Hospital remained under military guard and nonemergency appointments were canceled for the second day as doctors treated eight suspects wounded in Saturday's confrontation. Dozens of soldiers and police protected the installations of the federal attorney general's office, charged with investigating the shootouts.

Yesterday's meeting comes during a particularly turbulent period for Tijuana, Baja California's largest city. This month, three federal police agents from Mexico City were found tortured and killed. Nearly two weeks ago, physicians demanded stronger government action following a rash of kidnapping and extortion attempts against members of their profession. Last week, Aponte published a letter in local newspapers accusing specific police officers of cooperating with organized crime.

Experts said Calderón's actions have had an effect on criminal groups. Jorge Chabat, a political analyst from the Mexico City-based research group, CIDE, said that Calderón's government has taken unprecedented action against the cartels, targeting not just the leaders, but also mid-level operators.

“There's going to be continued violence for a while as the cartels are reorganized during this process of fragmentation,” Chabat said. But in the long run, the smaller, weaker groups will be less violent, and easier to control, even as they continue smuggling drugs to the United States, he said.
At yesterday's meeting, Osuna joined Aponte and other officials in pushing for continued background checks of police forces in the state, advocating stronger prevention programs in schools and criticizing narcocorridos.

Osuna called for “a great social alliance for the peace and security of our state.” Roberto Quijano, president of the business group Coparmex, said no single measure can solve the state's law enforcement problems. “We feel that it's very important for those responsible for security to sit together at a single table,” he said. “This is a start.”
This was not the first time that law enforcement forces pledged unity against organized crime. But in the past, political differences were obstacles to cooperation, said Tonatiuh Guillén, president of the Colegio de la Frontera Norte, a Tijuana research group.

But last year's near-sweep of Calderón's National Action Party, or PAN, in Baja California's gubernatorial and mayoral elections has improved communication. The key to change will be the restructuring of law enforcement agencies, Guillén said, not just the removal of corrupt officers.

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