Thursday, January 17, 2019

1247 Murders in Cd. Juárez in 2018
Yes, the Drug-related Violence Continues to Grow in Juaritos
About 50 Murders So Far in 2019

The grisly count:  

2013:  485 murders
2014:  430 murders
2015:  322 murders
2016:  546 murders
2017:  772 murders
2018:  1247 murders

What is Going On?

As the Chapo trial goes on in New York, we are learning much about drug trafficking at the highest levels in Mexico.  Last week we learned Mexican President Peña Nieto (2012-2018) took a $100 million bribe from Chapo to protect his activities from the law.  It has been common knowledge in Juárez that the President was protecting Chapo (Sinaloa Cartel), at the expense of the Juárez, or La Linea, cartel.  It is inconceivable that Chapo could have all but displaced the Juárez cartel--at that time perhaps the strongest drug cartel in the world--as early as 2012 without this kind of in-your-face protection from the highest levels of the federal government.  The fallout from this protection racket, however, led to many deaths.

Who is Getting Killed?  The Anatomy of  Escalating Murder in Juárez

Much of the violence in Juárez since 2007 is due to the arrival of the Sinaloa Cartel in Juárez in 2001 or so to compete with the La Linea Cartel for the highly lucrative "plaza" (territory, or city) that is an ideal platform for shipping drugs to El Paso.  Seventy percent of the cocaine going into the US goes through Juarez, according to estimates.  This competition has led to two sets of homicides.  First, those generated by efforts of one cartel to disrupt the infrastructure needed by the rival cartel.  At any given time each cartel employs a lot of people involved in the business:  transportation specialists, body shops to make false compartments in vehicles, warehousing specialists, security forces, money launderers, drivers to cross into El Paso, etc.  Occasionally one or more of these specialists will be targeted for murder as a means of interrupting the rival cartel's flow of commerce into the US. or discourage defection to the other cartel or to settle scores with a dishonest employee.  The security force used to impose discipline on the Juárez cartel is known as La Linea.  When Chapo began to compete openly for control of the plaza in 2007 the enforcement squad he created was known as the Gente Nueva, recruited from the ranks of disgruntled members of La Linea.  Some of the people killed in Juárez stem from gunfire directed by La Linea or Gente Nueva at each other or at personnel working for the other side.

The second category of homicide was created by the decision of the Juarez cartel in 2008 to add a prison gang, the Barrio Azteca, (formed in the US in 1986) as part of its security network.  As many as 5000 Azteca gang members live in Juárez, perhaps half as many in El Paso.  In response to this the Sinaloa cartel began employing two prison gangs, the Mexicles--composed of men deported from prisons in the US--and the Artistas Asesinos (or Doblados) another prison gang.  Another key decision, perhaps needed to assure a high degree to motivation, was to allow these gangs to take over the increasingly lucrative retail drug sales force in Cd. Juárez.  As drug sales in Juárez skyrocketed upwards during the past 15 years or so, turf battles have led to many deaths as one gang kills someone affiliated with a rival gang in areas thought to be within their turf.  By 2009 there were an estimated 6000 places (known as picaderos) one could go in Cd. Juarez to obtain heroin and an estimated 60 safe houses now serve to accommodate people of higher incomes who want to maintain greater anonymity.

In June of 2017 a rift within Barrio Azteca led to a faction of that gang (la vieja guardia) switching sides and joining in with the Mexicles of the Sinaloa cartel.  The fallout from that rift caused a spike in homicides and a major romantic tragedy last August. (see entries on Aug. 4 and 7 here)

These two layers of violence--cartel violence and street-gang violence in the retail sales sector of Juarez--account for most the the homicides in our city to the South.

When one president replaces another in Mexico a period of instability within the drug cartel world ensues, as each president has a major say in the establishment of the rules of the game.  During the PRI dynasty, which lasted until 2000, the rules were simple.  Drug cartels operated as franchise operations handed out at the highest levels of government.  Since then many drug operators have calculated, correctly, that they will face few consequences for violating the turf rules imposed by a president.  The national government appears to have lost its capacity to regulate competition among wannabe drug lords.  It is still unclear how AMLO, who was sworn in last month as President, will deal with this issue.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

California Teacher's Strike
The Numbers:  How Does California Compare With New Mexico?

 Teachers are on strike in the second-largest school district in the nation, the LA Unified School District (LAUSD), asking for higher pay, smaller class sizes, more money for counselors, nurses, and librarians, and a reduction in the time-consuming testing that has so irritated teachers in New Mexico.

Demographically, the LAUSD is not very different from Gadsden Independent School District:  73% Latino, 32% English Language Learners.  Gadsden is 97% Hispanic with 37% English Language Learners.  The Las Cruces School District is 76% Hispanic.  I was unable to find the proportion of students in the LCPSD who are English Language Learners, but I would guess it to be between 23 and 29 percent.  The New Mexico total is about 15%.

Average Teacher Salary in the LA School District:  $75.000
Average Teacher Salary in Albuquerque:  about $53,000
Average Teacher Salary in Las Cruces:  about $50,000
Average Teacher Salary in Anthony NM:  About $49,000

Cost of Living Adjustment:  Someone earning $75000 in Los Angeles would have about the same purchasing power as someone in Las Cruces earning $47,000.  So Albuquerque teachers would be slightly better off in purchasing power than those in LA.

Performance:  
California school performance is similar to New Mexico.  California is tied with Alabama for 46th among states in 4rth grade math.  New Mexico ranks 49th tied with Nevada for 42 in 8th grade math; tied with North Carolina for 37 in 8th grade reading; tied with Arizona for 43 in 4rth grade reading. 

However:  Los Angeles School performance is lower than Albuquerque:

LA 4rth Grade Math Scores Vs. Albuquerque 4th Grade Math Scores:
Albuquerque  4th grade:  231 basic score (New Mexico=231)
Los Angeles   4th grade:  224 basic score (California-232)
Albuquerque 8th grade:   271 basic score (New Mexico =271)
Los Angeles 8th grade:    263 basic score (California=275)
Spending per pupil:  California spends $11495 per pupil, ranking 22 in the Nation.  New Mexico  spends $9693, ranking 37.  In real terms the two are probably about the same, probably a near wash when cost of living differences are factored in.  NY State spends twice as much as California per pupil.

It appears teachers in California want more resources for teaching:  more time with each student, professional health care, better library facilities, and more time for teachers to teach.  Plus a salary increase.  Given that the California school system student performance is almost as bad as NM, I would guess LA teachers argue they could raise student scores if they can concentrate more on doing their jobs in class without extraneous hassles of sick kids, inadequate tools, and more time.

Can you imagine teachers in Las Cruces actually going out on strike and arguing they cannot help pull NM out of 50th in education without better resources for their students?

Monday, January 14, 2019

Fixing an Expensive, Under-performing Education System in NM

As usual there is a flurry of discussion about fixing education as a new administration begins.  Some voices incorrectly equate spending with improvement.  Some want to do away with symbolic nuisances like the PARCC tests.  Some want to focus on a narrow sliver of the whole, such as early childhood education.  Eventually all the voices get converted into votes on real bills and we tend to prejudge future performance on what got passed and seldom check later to seeif things improve as promised.

Aware of public concern, the last three governors generated reassuring talking points about improving the poor quality of public education in New Mexico.  But they didn't do much about it.  Governor Johnson promoted taxpayer-funded school vouchers for private education and we ended up with a batch of charter schools.  Two decades later they perform no better, as a whole, than public schools.  Governor Richardson raised teacher salaries 50% and was named Education Governor of the Year by the NEA.  But when he left office student performance had not improved.  Governor Martinez withdrew the carrot Richardson offered in hiking teacher salaries--for the stick of shaming poorly performing schools by revealing their "grades."  Student performance did not improve.  New Mexico still competes with Mississippi and Alabama as the lowest performing school system in the country.   Performance in math and English rank NM at 48.  We are surrounded by states that outperform NM in schooling--Arizona, Utah, Colorado, Oklahoma, and Texas--in each of which dollar expenditures per pupil are significantly lower than ours.  Wanna check?  (1) Surrounding states score higher:  https://www.nationsreportcard.gov/profiles/stateprofile?chort=1&sub=MAT&sj=&sfj=NP&st=MN&year=2017R3   (2) Spending per student:  http://www.governing.com/gov-data/education-data/state-education-spending-per-pupil-data.html

We can improve schools.  Gadsden School District--low income parents, with 37% English Language Learners--moved within five years from the bottom of the 89 NM school districts up to the top third.  A new superintendent implemented a "no excuses" policy at all levels, and it worked.  Other districts improved, and other states have moved up the ranks.   If a governor were willing to keep track of progress and advocate "no excuses" she could make a difference.

Higher education is also overpriced and under-performing.  Washington Monthly, a respected magazine that ranks colleges, calculated in 2018 that out of 14 research institutions in the surrounding states (not counting UT Austin) UNM ranked only eighth in research dollars, and NMSU twelfth. Worse, in the category of "social mobility" (efforts to recruit and retain low-income populations) UNM ranked eleventh and NMSU thirteenth.  UTEP ranks fifth.  NMSU's math and engineering departments used to rank regularly in the top thirty, nationwide.  Today they have slipped out of sight in national rankings. At UNM Archaeology and Latin American Studies were in the top ten.  No more.  Money?  In sheer dollars per full time student (FTE) NM ranks a robust ninth among states.  In each of the surrounding states higher education spending per FTE is significantly lower than in New Mexico.  Arizona and Colorado, with better universities, spend one-third and one half, respectively, of what New Mexico spends per FTE!
(1)  Washington Monthly Rankings: https://washingtonmonthly.com/2018college-guide?ranking=2018-rankings-national-universities.
(2)  https://nsf.gov/statistics/state-indicators/indicator/state-support-for-higher-education-per-fte-student

As Secretary of Higher Education during Governor Martinez' first term I worked with college presidents to create a new funding formula that would reward graduating more students, more STEM degrees, and more low-income students.  We were grossly overproducing criminal justice majors, social workers, and teachers while grossly under-producing graduates in STEM-related fields.  Hispanics and Natives were lagging.  They comprise 60% of our population so we can't afford not to do a better job if we want a trained workforce.  The legislature, however, responding to vested interests, funded the formula only at 3%.  The rest of the higher education budget was simply doled out proportionately to each institution's appropriation the year before.  Five years later, in 2018 formula funding was up to 4%--not nearly enough to change the behavior of managers, a fact consistent with falling rankings.  And with independent boards governing each institution, no system exists to promote statewide goals.  All too often regents with arbitrary agendas bicker endlessly on minor issues, seldom challenging top management priorities.  A statewide board, setting statewide goals, would help.  Politically difficult?  Yes, pero si se puede.

In 1960 New Mexico ranked 17th among states in the proportion of residents with a high school degree.  By 2015 it had dropped to 44.  In 1990 New Mexico ranked 22 in the proportion of residents with at least a Bachelor's degree.  In 2010 it ranked 37, and in 2015 it ranked 42.  UNM was once competitive in research with Arizona State, Utah, Texas A&M, and Colorado State:  no more, and UTEP is catching up fast.  While there are pockets of excellence here and there, the overall story is one of decline.  Some students are already voting with their feet.
 (1) High School:  for 1990-2000-2010 see http://proximityone.com/edattain.htm; for 2015 see NCHEMS, http://www.higheredinfo.org/dbrowser/?level=nation&mode=graph&state=0&submeasure=237.  
(2)  Bacchelor's Degree or Above:  for 1990-2000-2010 see :  http//proximityone.com/edattain.htm

Over 60% of our state tax dollars go to education.  Citizens, media, and legislators need urgently to place comprehensive education reform high on the agenda for incoming Governor Lujan Grisham.  Given the power of vested interests, improving education will require strong advocates, not just reassuring sound bites.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Mexico is Going to Build a Ladder:  A Beautiful Ladder 
And the Gringos are Going to Pay for It

Rumor has it newly-elected Mexican President Lopez Obrador (AMLO) is negotiating an unprecedented deal between (a) drug cartel lords, (b) US businesses in the roofing, hotel, construction, and meatpacking industries, and (c) several organizations representing millions of drug-addicted Americans, to cooperate in the building of a giant ladder, expandable through the wonders of technology to the highest heights, so that business can continue normally in spite of the presence of a Trump wall between the US and Mexico.

Insiders who insist on anonymity say the deal consists of the following elements:

1.  Mexican experts calculate the project will cost about $5 billion.  Corporate America, particularly those operating in the Phoenix-Las Vegas corridor, are said to be taking up collections for the Ladder so they can continue to Make America Great Again with low wages and a motivated workforce.  An anonymous source said pledges are already nearing the $3 Billion level after only three weeks of effort since the Trump Government Shutdown began.  The pledge drive is said to be spearheaded by corporate executives at Tysons Chickens and is especially popular in the Phoenix area.

2.  President Lopez Obrador expects that the Ladder of Gringo Greatness (LOGG) will face significant pushback from the Trump Base, except for those among his followers who rely on deliveries of Mexican drugs.  In order to lessen this potential pushback, AMLO is said to be in negotiations with the most reliable drug cartel lords in Mexico to agree to a shutdown in the delivery of drugs to America.  No more just-in-time deliveries through the normal ports of entry and tunnels.  He believes this will create a health crisis in the US, as addicts seek medical attention for withdrawal symptoms, puting pressure on the Trump-weakened health care system--enough, he believes, to influence the votes of the most obsequious Trump supporters in Congress.

3.  It is believed that the major organizations representing addicted Americans are so concerned about a possible shutdown in shipments that they will join in with corporate America to help fund the campaign with millions of small donations.

A female hotel chambermaid, "Fantasia," contacted by a Fake News network, said of the rumored project:  "Everyone wins.  Trump can have his wall.  The government can reopen again, Corporate America can still have cheap labor, commerce will flourish, and Mexicans can still get the jobs."

Monday, November 19, 2018

"Unfortunately, they Weren't Gringos" (Lo Malo de No Ser Gringos)
(Headline in La Polaka this morning about a Family Executed on Sunday in Valle de Zaragoza)

La Polaka reports a man, Luis Molina Rivas, 44, and two sons, living in Valle de Zaragoza, were executed in their home off the Parral highway on Sunday.  Witnesses say at least 20 gunmen participated in the execution.  Even so, some family members managed to escape.

In reporting this murder La Polaka comments ironically that state authorities will add this to the list of thousands of unsolved murders in the state.  "By contrast, Governor Javier Corral promised a speedy punishment for the US tourist murdered in Copper Canyon two weeks ago."
The Patrick Braxton-Andrews Story:  The Cloud of Mystery Lifts

Patrick Braxton-Andrew Overlooking Copper Canyon Three Days Before his Death Below
From Diario de Juárez.  See also report in Borderland Beat:  Townspeople in Urique, perhaps not surprisingly, are more forthcoming than state police authorities about the fate of Patrick Braxton-Andrew.  Details are still sketchy, with some contradictions, but the story appears to be coming into focus.  According to townfolk Patrick wandered into a hotel in Urique, possibly on Saturday night, October 27, where Noriel Portillo Gil and members of his organization were having a party.  He hung out with them for a while.  His Spanish was fluent, unlike most tourists, and he was taking pictures on his phone.  He was asking a lot of questions. The gang began to suspect he might be a DEA agent.  It is also possible he entered the hotel on Sunday morning, instead of Saturday night, but this doesn't seem to track with reports Portillo was having a party.  In any event he spent Saturday night at his own hotel, just a short walk away and left his hotel on Sunday morning, leaving his personal belongings behind, apparently heading to Guapalayna, about six km downriver.  He never returned.

According to state police his body was buried by his killers in a shallow grave, but given the exceptional attention authorities were giving to the search--at one point there were about 100 persons reportedly looking for any sign of him for days after his disappearance--they decided to remove the body to a more remote site.  They carried his body to the edge of a ravine next to a dirt road that connects Guapalayna with La Laja, 3 km from the highway.  They threw his body into the ravine.  Somehow police appear to have learned where they would find the body--possibly from some of the local police detained by prosecutors in Chihuahua.  The Chihuahua state prosecutor indicated last week some local police have been compromised by Chueco's gang.  It took rescuers several hours to remove the body from the bottom of the ravine.  The body was not seriously decomposed, according to reports, due to the relatively cold weather.

If the killers thought he was a DEA agent, it would have been wiser to leave him alone. The last DEA agent killed in Mexico was Kiki Camarena, in 1985, who was tortured and killed by leaders of the Guadalajara cartel.  After a massive manhunt one of them, Rafael Caro Quintero was caught in hiding in Costa Rica, and served 28 years in prison for his role in Camarena's murder.  He was released from jail in 2013, after claiming a technical flaw in the original trial, but after pressure from the US government an arrest warrant was issued that same year.  The US has a $20 million bounty on his head and he is still in hiding.  Already Mr. Noriel Portillo is learning what it is like to live in constant fear of apprehension, not for killing a DEA agent, but for killing an innocent tourist who should have been left alone.  He will be found, and if he is captured alive, he will see a lot of jail time.

Noriel is said to be assigned to operate with his accomplices in the Urique area for the Los Salazares gang.  The Salazares in turn, oversee cartel operations in Urique, Uruachi, Bocoyna, and Chinipas.  The control of these and other areas is logistically important for the Sinaloa cartel.

Noriel, aka El Chueco, first arrived in the vicinity of Urique in 2015, where he forcibly recruited young men from the Raramuri tribe in El Manzano, near Uruachi. In 2016 Noriel's gang began breaking into houses and stealing money, automobiles, cattle, tools, and clothing.  At one point townspeople fled from their homes for two days in fear of their lives.  When he is caught villagers will not feel sorry for him.  Cartel leaders in Sinaloa cannot be happy either  about the trouble he has stirred up in Copper Canyon.

Sunday, November 18, 2018


Body of US Tourist Found Near Urique
State Prosecutor's Office Has Detained Local Police and Provided More Details
Search for El Chueco Continues

From Diario (click here for various reports on this story):  The decomposing body of Patrick Braxton-Andrews was found buried about 6 km from Urique at a place called Guapalayna.  The information about the whereabouts of the body apparently came from local police officers who disclosed the location.  A search was initiated in the area, using K-9 dogs, and the body was found in a shallow grave.  At least six local police officers were taken to Chihuahua for questioning, and at least some of them appear to be under arrest.

What Happened?  On Sunday morning, October 28, Patrick left his hotel in Urique to explore the surrounding area.  It is believed that he entered a hotel, Barranca de Urique, near a sand bar on the river known as La Playita.  Noriel Portillo Gil, aka El Chueco, known as a local agent of the Sinaloa cartel, and other members of his organization, were apparently in the hotel in the midst of a party when he arrived.  Thus far little else is known except that there is evidence he was killed there.  His body was taken to Guapalayna and buried there.  No motive for his murder has been established.

On November 8 state police confiscated the weapons of all 13 local police officers, along with 13 cell phones and five walkie talkies, and six were taken to the state capital in Chihuahua for questioning.  Blood samples were taken from a cabin near Mesa de Arturo, a small hamlet near Urique, to be compared with samples of DNA from Patrick Braxton-Andrews.  The results are expected this week.

Interviews with citizens of Urique reveal that El Chueco was known to walk around town carrying an AK-47 and a holstered pistol, with perhaps a dozen armed men, most of them in their early 20's.  Some witnesses indicate they frequently spoke to local police officers

Noriel Portill, aka El Chueco was reported to have been killed in a gunfight in April of 2017, but he was seen later at a party in Urique and witnesses there indicate they saw him frequently in Urique, including on October 28, the day Patrick was murdered.  He was said to have stayed in local hotels without paying his bills.

Terrain Near Urique:  Photo Diario de Juárez

Friday, November 16, 2018

DEATH OF A US TOURIST:  According to the Chihuahua State Prosecutor

Compiled from articles appearing in Diario de Juárez (click here and here) today.

After his family was informed by the Chihuahua State Prosecutor that Patrick Braxton-Andrews had been killed the day he left to go hiking from his hotel in Urique, at the bottom of Copper Canyon, State prosecutor Cesar Augusto Peniche Espejel pointed the finger of responsibility at a man around 30 years of age known as "el Chueco" (crooked, or bow-legged), whose name is Jose Noriel Portillo Gil.

The story that emerges from the state prosecutor's office suggests that the region surrounding Copper Canyon is divided by the Sinaloa cartel (Sinaloa state is South of Chihuahua) into distinct territories, each controlled by an armed operative of the cartel.  Each operative maintains an extensive network of informants and associates.  In some cases, Peniche's office stated, local police have been compromised by the cartel's agents.  The region has been used for many decades as a strategic transit zone for drug shipments on route to various border crossings into the US.  Competition between rival drug cartels over control of the area has sometimes led to periods of violence.

El Chueco is said to have dozens of persons under his control who watch over the region around Urique, including small communities such as Bahuichivo, San Rafeal, Cerocahui, (these can be found on Google Earth), Ciénega de Trejo, and Mesa de Arturo (these cannot).  Blood samples were found in a cabin in Mesa de Arturo which match DNA from Patrick Braxton-Andrews.  El Chueco is said to maintain contact with other cartel operatives in nearby municipalities such as Guazapares and Chinipas.  This entire region is among the most remote regions in Mexico, very rugged terrain, difficult to access, without a lot of roads.

According to authorities El Chueco's organization attacked state police headquarters in Urique last year, leaving two officers wounded.    In September 2017 state police found six bodies buried in a clandestine grave in Urique.  And last year police found a stolen pickup belonging to Andrea Athié Corral, a student who was assassinated and thrown into a ravine next to the highway to Cuauhtémoc.

Whatever happened to Braxton-Andrews that Sunday his death has greatly complicated life for Noriel Portillo, aka El Chueco.  Now that he has been fingered as the man responsible for Braxton-Andrews' death, El Chueco has become a national high-profile target.  It is almost certainly just a matter time before he is apprehended by police or killed.  He will be replaced by the cartel with someone less prone, perhaps, to unnecessary violence. It's bad for tourism and puts the cartel in a bad light.  Chapo would not have approved.
US Tourist Missing in Copper Canyon Was Killed by "Criminal Organization"
Family Posts Notice on Facebook

The family of Patrick Braxton-Andrews has apparently been reliably informed that Patrick was killed on the day he left the hotel in Urique, Sunday, October 28, by a "criminal organization" in the vicinity.  He had spent the night in Urique, at the bottom of the canyon, and left his hotel for a hike and never came back.  He was due in Mexico City on Tuesday, October 30, to meet up with his brother before flying home to North Carolina.  More than 100 persons participated in a massive search for him.  The family is still hoping to locate his body to send it home.

The region around Copper Canyon is an important shipping route for drug traffickers headed to various crossing zones on the US-Mexico border, and there have been many clashes between drug organizations and authorities in that region in recent years.  It is, however, extremely unusual for tourists to be bothered.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Hear Sheriff-elect Kim Stewart Interviewed on KTAL LP
Monday Morning 8 AM on La Politica New Mexico 101.5 FM
Also:  Frances Williams on the Sun Zia Scandal
LUNES EN KTAL:  LA POLITICA NEW MEXICO

Will she wear the traditional cowboy hat?  Is it now the cowgirl hat?  What can we expect from the new Sheriff?  Kim Stewart, interviewed by yours truly on Monday Morning at 8 AM on KTAL LP, 101.5.

Also:  What is the latest on the Sun Zia scam?  Frances Williams, who uncovered the massive fraud in the Housing Authority run by Smiley Gallegos a few years ago, will explain where we are at in this effort by some dubious operators to get the state to authorize the use of public lands on behalf of dubious private interests.

Escúchenos en Ciento Uno Punto Cinco el dia Lunes, 12 de noviembre:  una entrevista con la nueva sheriff del condado, Kim Stewart, elegida esta semana, y con Frances Williams, quien hablará sobre el escándalo de Sun Zia, el grupo sospechoso que pretende contar con el apoyo del estado para sus fines lucrativos.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Mexican Legislature Begins Debate of Bill Proposing Legalization of Marijuana

President-elect Lopez Obrador's political party, Morena, presented a bill before the Mexican legislature today to legalize the sale and use of marijuana for recreational purposes.  It looks a lot like the Colorado law.

Article 37 of the proposed law states: the planting, cultivation, harvesting, preparation, production, processing, transportation, distribution, and sale of cannibis is permitted for recreational purposes, as long as a legal license is obtained, and legal requirements observed…

Consumption of marijuana is allowed "in public spaces, except those spaces in which the use of tobacco is prohibited."  The (yet-to-be-established) Mexican Institute of Regulation and Control of Cannabis will determine places where the sale of cannabis is authorized.  The use of cannabis for "adult use" will be limited to specific establishments, which will be allowed to offer cannabis, products made with cannabis, and accessories.

Chapter One of the proposed law permits individuals to cultivate up to 20 plants of cannabis for personal consumption on private property as long as production levels do not exceed 480 grams per year.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Portrait of a Cop-Killer and Top Narco Operative
Authorities Nab El 300, Thought to be Part of the War Against State Police

El 300 in September 2017

Various news agencies have reported the capture of Rene Gerardo Santana Garza, aka "El 300," in Aldama, Chihuahua, by federal agents.  La Polaka claims the arrest was made by the Mexican Navy, other sources vaguely refer to federal authorities as having apprehended him.  Yesterday a clarification was issued to the effect he had been captured almost by accident at the Chihuahua International Airport as a police agent spotted a car he was in that was behaving suspiciously (see story in Borderland Beat).  He is thought to have been the major player in the war against police that has left at least 70 state police dead throughout the state in the past two years.  He was captured in September of 2017 but, inexplicably, released on bond on reduced charges, for about $250 (US).

His career as an Azteca gang leader parallels the gradual decline of the Juarez Cartel after the capture of Vicente Carrillo in the fall of 2014.  (For a summary of this history, published in Diario, click here) Up to that time the Juarez cartel outsourced much of its enforcement needs to a group called La Linea, composed of former state, municipal police officers, and maintained close connections with a prison gang operating on both sides of the border known as Los Aztecas.  During the violent war against the Sinaloa Cartel in Juarez from 2007 through 2010 the Aztecas were armed by La Linea.  Among other activities they fought to maintain territorial turf in the local retail drug market.  In this turf battle their major rivals were the Artistas Asesinos, and the Mexicles, associated with the Sinaloa Cartel.

It was a hard-fought battle for Chapo Guzman, since most of Chihuahua was dominated by the Juarez cartel, but gradually the Sinaloa cartel began to displace the Juarez cartel.  As this happened rifts within these organizations grew stronger.  Santana, for example, is said to have declared war on defectors from the Azteca gang to the Sinaloa cartel--a group calling itself the "vieja guardia"-- last year, unleashing a wave of violence ever since, exploding in April and May of this year.  The massacre of 13 persons at a picadero safe house last Summer (covered here) was related to feuding between these gangs.  This fall the wave of attacks on state police is said to have been supported principally by El 300 and his followers,.  At the present time police have identified eleven major operators between the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels, and El 300 was definitely one of them.