A weekend of narco-war convulsed Mexico’s second-largest city and a famed beach resort town showing that a powerful and aggressive drug cartel has risen to take the place of the weakened Sinaloa, Knights Templar, Gulf and Cali cartels of old.
Law enforcement in Jalisco state searched on Sunday for three soldiers who have been captured by gunmen presumed belonging to the Jalisco New Generation Cartel. The gang also shot down a Mexican army helicopter on Friday, killing three soldiers and injuring 12 more.
The helicopter was shot down as soldiers, marines, and police began an operation that attempted to take down the Jalisco cartel, capture its leaders and improve security in the state.
“A new and military powerful cartel is appearing, and opening up a new front in the war against drugs in Guadalajara and Jalisco,” said Raul Benitez, an analyst at the National Autonomous University of Mexico.
The flare-up of violence in the resort town of Puerto Vallarta is the latest setback for the government of President Enrique Peña Nieto. The government has been trying to show that Mexico is a modern, emerging economy, but its so far been unable to control many areas where criminal gangs continue to exert control.
“Guadalajara is not a little town in the middle of nowhere, and this shows the cartel has the logistics and power to paralyze a city,” said Jorge Chabat, an analyst at the CIDE think tank in Mexico City.
The downing of the helicopter came after cartel gunmen seized buses and cars and set them on fire to block major highways and roads in 39 places across the state, including the capital Guadalajara. The moves showed military style precision and tactics, which point to both a well funded and well organized group.
Cartel gunmen set fire to 11 bank branches and five gasoline stations across the state. The cartel also blocked roads in three neighboring states. Seven people died in the day’s violence.
The latest violence shows that while the Mexican government has had relative success in capturing drug bosses, rival organizations like the once small Jalisco cartel grow unchecked.
By confronting the government so directly the cartel will now be a priority for Mexican authorities but the story will continue to be repeated over and over again: Bust one cartel, two others step up into its place.
The war on drugs, both in Mexico and the United States creates massive financial gains for drug smugglers. The steeper the penalties, the greater the financial reward. This leads to a never-ending cycle of violence which will always and forever remain.
The way to combat this cycle of violence and stop the wasted resources is to change drug policy – for all drugs. By taxing, regulating and dealing with addiction as a public health issue the incentive to traffic disappears and the gangs are permanently weakened.
Failure to remove the prohibition on drugs costs lives. If we’re really concerned about saving lives we need to radically re-think the fools errand that is the war of drugs.