To those Americans among us who are of a certain age, the most traumatic memories the word “Acapulco” carries with it are of feathered hair and bad acting. But this past weekend, the resort town on Mexico’s Pacific coast was the site of another grisly discovery in Mexico’s ongoing war between paramilitary drug gangs — 15 decapitated corpses were found near a shopping center in a group of burning cars.
Since the victims were all of men between 25 and 30 years of age, and a 16th victim was found shot to death in a nearby car, the Guerrero State Public Security Office’s statement that “The killings are believed to be drug related” seems like a press release from Captain Obvious. CNN’s coverage was strangely garbled, with its trademark sidebar summary stating that the bodies were found near a shopping center frequented by tourists, but the text of the article stating that the shopping center was frequented only by local residents, not tourists, but that it’s not too far from tourist areas.
The war between drug gangs in Mexico has killed more than 28,000 people since it started in 2006, including many civilians. The primary conflict is between two main faction. The newcomer is a group led by Los Zetas, a gang made up of deserters from the special forces of the Mexican Army who were trained by the U.S. specifically in paramilitary drug interdiction. After they deserted, Los Zetas started working for the Gulf Cartel, then the biggest drug distribution ring in Mexico.
Having broken with the Gulf Cartel, Los Zetas now heads a loosely-allied group of gangs that includes the Cartels of Juárez and Tijuana and the Beltrán-Leyva family. They oppose a group led by the Gulf Cartel (centered in the state of Tamaulipas, on the Texas border and the Gulf Coast) that incorporates the Sinaloa Cartel (which operates out of Baja California, Sinaloa, Sonora and Chihuahua) and La Familia Michoacana (a Michoacán-based breakaway faction of Los Zetas), which should not be confused with the U.S.-based Nuestra Familia prison gang.
The factions are tentative at best, but the violence is not. The gangs are so well organized and equipped that they reportedly use helicopters and armored vehicles to fight each other, and Los Zetas have been reported to produce press releases that they then try to get covered in the Mexican press using the threat of violence. Much of the Los Zetas press has to do with how incompetent the Army is in fighting them, and with the brave efforts of local law enforcement (who are widely regarded as corrupt and in Los Zetas’ pocket).
An interesting sign of the times (actually from 2009) is the photo that heads this post, of Mexican Army troops operating a checkpoint. I haven’t confirmed this, but I’m pretty sure the troops have their faces covered to prevent later reprisals against them or their families by any drug gangs they run across.