Day 77 in the Gulf: Weather KO’s Gulf cleanup effort – Feds are ineffective and ill prepared

McAuley’s World Comments In Bold Blue

PASS CHRISTIAN, Miss. – Across a wide stretch of the Gulf of Mexico, the cleanup of the region’s worst-ever oil spill has been essentially landlocked for more than a week, leaving skimmers stuck close to shore.

Last week, the faraway Hurricane Alex idled the skimming fleet off Alabama, Florida and Mississippi with choppy seas and stiff winds. Now they’re stymied by a succession of smaller storms that could last well into this week.

“We’re just lying in wait to see if we can send some people out there to do some skimming,” said Courtnee Ferguson, a spokeswoman for the Joint Information Command in Mobile, Ala.

Officials have plans for the worst-case scenario: a hurricane barreling up the Gulf toward the spill site. But the less-dramatic weather conditions have been met with a more makeshift response.

Skimming operations across the Gulf have scooped up about 23.5 million gallons of oil-fouled water so far, but officials say it’s impossible to know how much crude could have been skimmed in good weather because of the fluctuating number of vessels and other variables.

[23 million gallons out of 170 million gallons of oil spilled to date – less than 1 gallon out of every 7 gallons “spilled” has been “skimmed” so far. If this were basebal, that would be a .143 batting average – not nearly good enough for a bench warmer in the minor leagues].

Jerry Biggs, a commercial fisherman in Pass Christian, Miss., who has had to shut down because of the spill, is now hiring out his 13 boats and 40-man crew to BP for cleanup. He said the skimming operation is severely hampered by the weather.

“We don’t even have the equipment to do the job right,” Biggs said. “The (equipment) we’re trying to do this with is inoperable in over 1 foot of seas.”

For many involved in the cleanup effort, nagging storms have whipped up choppy seas and gusty winds that make offshore work both unsafe and ineffective, stranding crews on dry land.

“We have to send our guys out every day and look at the weather and ask, ‘Can we do this?'” said Courtnee Ferguson, a spokeswoman for the Joint Information Command in Mobile, Ala., which oversees operations in Alabama, Florida and Mississippi.

In the absence of offshore skimming, efforts in the three Gulf states east of Louisiana have turned largely on containment boom, about 550 miles of which has been deployed along the entire Gulf, and shoreline efforts to clean tar balls and other oily debris from beaches.

[Florida has approximately 700 miles of shoreline along the Gulf]

“We’re operating 24 hours a day on the beaches, and anything that washes ashore we’re able to get,” Ferguson said.

It may be days before those beach crews are aided by skimming vessels, though, according to weather forecasters.

Heavy rain and scattered thunderstorms are predicted throughout the region into Wednesday, National Weather Service meteorolgist Tim Destri said Monday. The National Hurricane Center is also watching a low pressure system in the Caribbean Sea that has a low chance of becoming a tropical depression in the next two days.

If it does develop, it would more likely head toward northern Mexico or southern Texas, Destri said. But it’s too early to predict its path with certainty.

The storms have not affected drilling work on a relief well that BP says is the best chance for finally plugging the leak. The company expects drilling to be finished by mid-August.

Biggs, clearly angry over the situation, said the hurricane season will just further hurt the cleanup effort, saying one big storm will push the oil everywhere.

Mexican President Calderon Loses While Drug Cartels Advance In Mexico’s Election

CIUDAD VICTORIA, Mexico – President Felipe Calderon’s allies held back a resurgence by Mexico’s old ruling party, according to results Monday from state elections marred by drug gang violence so severe a large majority of citizens stayed home in two of the most dangerous border states.

Desperate alliances between Calderon’s conservative party and Mexico’s leftists seized three stronghold states from the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which had run them for more than 80 years. [The “leftists” are rumored to be in collaboration with the “Cartels”]

The [opposition] party known as the PRI still won nine of the governorships in Sunday’s election, showing it remains Mexico’s most important force a dozen years after losing national power, and it seemed to remain on track to recapture the presidency in 2012.

Still, the outcome represented no clear gain: the PRI already controlled nine of the states going in. [The gains were made, it seems, by the Cartels as the Cartels appeared to have backed and funded candidates in all three major parties]

PAN election workers allege theft of ballot boxes in Durango, Durnago, Mexico

Calderon’s National Action Party, meanwhile, was hurt by a weak economy and revulsion at a wave of drug violence. It won not a single state on its own, and preliminary counts showed it lost the only two of the 12 that it had governed on its own. [PAN, Calderon’s Party, lost the two Mexican States in had previously held and won in only 3 of the 12 Mexican States, and in those States, Caleron’s Party had to form an alliance with the Leftists, Leftists who are in collusion with the Drug Cartels] 

Despite Calderon’s pleas for Mexicans to vote, the elections displayed the intimidating power of drug cartels: only a third of voters showed up in the country’s most violent state, Chihuahua. Drug gangs hung four bodies from bridges in the state capital on election day. Less than 40 percent voted in Tamaulipas, where gubernatorial candidate Rodolfo Torre was killed five days earlier.

Calderon’s party and the main leftist party won only where they formed alliances against the PRI — in Sinaloa, Puebla and Oaxaca. In all of those states, they won only by borrowing popular candidates from other parties. [In Sinaloa, home to the Sinaloa Cartel, the PAN Candidate is alleged to be in the direct employ of the Cartel. The Cartels operate openly in the Oaxaca and Puebla States]

The PRI’s defeat in Oaxaca, a heavily indigenous state where the party was in power for eight decades, was highly symbolic. A five-month uprising erupted in 2006 over allegations that outgoing Gov. Ulises Ruiz stole his election victory. Critics accused Ruiz of strong-arm politics that exemplified the coercion and corruption that the PRI used to govern Mexico for seven decades.

Federal Police Officer Guards Polling Station, Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, Mexico

Gabino Cue, a member of the small Convergence Party who lost the earlier race to Ruiz, won with 50 percent of the vote, compared to 41 percent for PRI candidate Eviel Perez, with 86 percent of the vote counted early Monday.

In Sinaloa and Puebla, National Action united with the left to back candidates who recently bolted from the PRI.

Calderon’s party and its leftist allies wrested the PRI bastion of Sinaloa, a violent northern state that is the birthplace of the powerful drug cartel of the same name.

The PRI gubernatorial candidate, Jesus Vizcarra, had long faced allegations of ties to the cartel led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, Mexico’s most-wanted drug lord.

The newspaper Reforma recently published a photograph of Vizcarra attending a party many years ago with El Chapo’s second-in-command, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada. Vizcarra, the mayor of state capital Culiacan and a distant relative of slain drug trafficker Ines Calderon, dodged questions about whether Zambada is the godfather of one of his children, saying only that he had never committed a crime.

The PRI easily won in Tamaulipas, a drug-riven northern state where the party’s gubernatorial candidate, Rodolfo Torre, was assassinated a week before the election. Officials said only 38 percent of registered voters cast ballots, a drop from the 50 percent that voted in the last state elections.

Torre’s brother, Egidio, was picked to run in his place. He voted at an elementary school in Ciudad Victoria wearing a bulletproof vest and escorted by federal police in two trucks.

The PRI held up Torre’s assassination as evidence Calderon has failed to bring security despite the presence of tens of thousands of troops and federal police in drug trafficking hot spots.

National Action leaders, in turn, insinuated the PRI protects drug traffickers in Tamaulipas, the birthplace of the Gulf cartel, and in Sinaloa.

Fear discouraged many people from voting in a state where extortion and abductions are rampant and armed men openly drive on highways with the acronym of the Gulf cartel stamped on their SUVs.

Dozens of poll workers quit in fear over the past week. One man, an orange farmer, said his brother-in-law was kidnapped early Sunday before he was to preside over a voting station in a village outside Ciudad Victoria.

“We still don’t know if he was kidnapped because of the elections or because they will ask for money,” said the farmer, who asked not be quoted by name out of fear for his own safety. “Here the government is part of the problem.”

Mexican Drug Cartel Kills Ten Students – Age 8 to 21 – At Road Side Check Point

PUEBLO NUEVO, Mexico, March 30 (UPI) — Ten students, ages 8 to 21, were shot to death while traveling in the Mexican state of Durango to receive government scholarships, officials said.

Officials said gunmen at a checkpoint — the type used by drug traffickers who control parts of Durango — opened fire and threw grenades at the victims’ pickup truck after they apparently failed to stop Sunday, the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday.

The dead included three girls, ages 8, 11 and 13, officials said. The rest of the victims were in their teens except for the oldest among the travelers, who was 21. Four of the dead were siblings.

The students were traveling to receive scholarships as part of the federal “Opportunities” program that supports low-income students, Ruben Lopez, a spokesman for the Durango state prosecutor’s office, told the Times in a telephone interview.

Daniel Delgado, mayor of Pueblo Nuevo, a town near the crime scene, said he felt powerless to challenge the gangs.

“We need more military presence … more police who are trained and equipped to fight the kind of criminals we are facing,” he said in an interview with a Mexican television station.

Mexican Drug Cartel Preaches Religion – Peddles Methamphetamine

APATZINGAN, Mexico — Busloads of teenagers descend on this sweltering agricultural town 500 kilometres west of Mexico City every few months to participate in self-improvement seminars. The seminars supposedly impart values, build self-esteem and condemn vices such as drug use, according to Father Andres Larios, a Catholic priest working with young people in Apatzingan.

Unbeknownst to the participants, a quasi-religious drug cartel known as La Familia Michoacana promotes the seminars and underwrites the expenses.

The seminars highlight the acts of charity and piety attributed to La Familia, a cartel notorious for running extortion rackets, corrupting politicians and police forces throughout the western state of Michoacan and manufacturing tons of methamphetamines in clandestine laboratories.

Its leaders reputedly pave roads and pay hospital bills in impoverished pueblos, talk up law and order and even preach a homespun version of the gospel from a text authored by a cartel capo that goes by the handle El Mas Loco, or The Craziest One.

“These people carry a Bible in the right hand . . . and a gun in the left hand,” Larios says.

Displays of religiosity are nothing new for Mexico’s narcotics kingpins; it’s alleged they have donated big to the Catholic Church – a charged denied by church officials – and adore Jesus Malverde, a Robin Hood-like figure they claim as their patron saint.

But by developing its own pseudo religion and base of social support in long-neglected corners of Mexico, La Familia has emerged as an enigmatic foe – and the most prominent target of late – in the Mexican government’s crackdown on drug cartels.

So far this year, La Familia has withstood the arrests of more than 100 leaders, the destitution of at least 10 mayors in Michoacan with alleged cartel ties and the closure of more than 40 methamphetamine labs. The Mexican government was forced to call in reinforcements in mid-July after the cartel launched co-ordinated counterattacks on Federal Police installations in retaliation for the arrest of a senior leader.

A column by Ciro Gomez Leyva prompted uncomfortable questions about the effectiveness of the government crackdown, which has claimed more than 11,000 lives since President Felipe Calderon took office in December 2006.

A cartel leader identified as Servando Gomez – also known as the La Tuta – subsequently told a Michoacan television station: “La Familia was created to take care of and safeguard the interests of our community and our people. We don’t want anyone to disrespect them.”

He ended his unsolicited comments with the words, “God bless everyone.”

His comments reflected the supposed religiosity of La Familia, but also rallied the cartel’s base in Michoacan.

The state unfolds across Western Mexico and is known for outward migration, a hard-luck countryside and a decades-old drug trade in the mountainous regions that hug an isolated stretch of coastline stretching from Zihuatanejo toward Manzanillo.

Victims of Cartel La Familia Michoacana

Out-of-state-cartels long dominated the Michoacan drug trade, but that ended in late 2006 with the emergence of La Familia, which announced its formation by tossing six heads into a seedy nightclub. La Familia also purchased newspaper ads that promised to “impose order in the state” and “fight the out-of-control-violence” that it blamed on Los Zetas, the armed wing of the rival Gulf Cartel and former La Familia partners.

Larios says that La Familia further showed its nativism by imposing a locals-only hiring policy and buying cash crops – mainly marijuana – from poor farmers. The magazine Proceso reported that La Familia pays its employees salaries of $2,000 per month – a fortune in a country with a minimum wage of just $5 per day.

The cartel slips even more money to politicians and local police departments. La Familia is suspected of corrupting many of Michoacan’s 113 municipal governments and local police forces; an arrest warrant has been issued for the state governor’s brother, Julio Cesar Godoy – who was just elected to Congress – for supposed links to the cartel.

La Familia plies its members with more than just money, however.

“The peculiar thing about them is the name: La Familia,” said security expert Javier Oliva of the National Autonomous University of Mexico.

Some cartels hire drug addicts, Oliva says, and sometimes pay underlings with merchandise.

In comparison, La Familia has recruited out of a drug rehabilitation program it operated, according to the Public Security Secretariat. The cartel forbids employee drug consumption and subjects personnel to “training” that involves reading the cartel’s bible, a text that borrows from the Old Testament, pop-psychology books and Mexican truisms.

Drug Rehab Patients Executed By Mexican Cartel

“It’s better to die fighting head-on than on your knees,” reads one passage that invokes Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata.

“I ask God for strength and he gives me difficulties that strengthen me,” reads another.

Larios insists that La Familia leaders belong to an unknown evangelical sect, although some attend Catholic events such as baptisms and quinceaneras.

The Federal Police have started targeting such celebrations in their pursuit of La Familia leaders, but Larios says the execution of an August raid during mass in an Apatzingan parish revealed shortcomings in the ongoing federal campaign against the cartel – along with a lack of intelligence and popular support in the region.

When coming to arrest Miguel Angel Beraza, also known as La Troca – a La Familia leader accused of running tractor-trailer loads of methamphetamines to the United States – the Federal Police didn’t know the way.

“They had to hire taxi drivers and follow them to the church.”

Grissly Slayings Announce Mexican Cartel Violence In U.S.

Shipment of Cartel Drugs

Five men dead in an apartment.

In a county that might see five homicides in an entire year, the call over the sheriff’s radio revealed little about what awaited law enforcement at a sprawling apartment complex.

A type of crime, and criminal, once foreign to this landscape of blooming dogwoods had arrived in Shelby County. Sheriff Chris Curry felt it even before he laid eyes on the grisly scene. He called the state. The FBI. The DEA. Anyone he could think of.

“I don’t know what I’ve got,” he warned them. “But I’m gonna need help.”

The five dead men lay scattered about the living room of one apartment in a complex of hundreds.

Some of the men showed signs of torture: Burns seared into their earlobes revealed where modified jumper cables had been clamped as an improvised electrocution device. Adhesive from duct tape used to bind the victims still clung to wrists and faces, from mouths to noses.

As a final touch, throats were slashed open, post-mortem.

SEE: Mexican Drug Cartel Violence: Mexican Marines arrest presumed leader of Beltran Leyva Cartel – Sergio Villarreal Barragan taken into custody

It didn’t take long for Curry and federal agents to piece together clues: A murder scene, clean save for the crimson-turned-brown stains

Cartel Victims Executed At Drug Rehab Facility

 now spotting the carpet. Just a couple of mattresses tossed on the floor. It was a typical stash house.

But the cut throats? Some sort of ghastly warning.

Curry would soon find this was a retaliation hit over drug money with ties to Mexico’s notorious Gulf Cartel.

Curry also found out firsthand what federal drug enforcement agents have long understood. The drug war, with the savagery it brings, knows no bounds. It had landed in his back yard, in the foothills of the Appalachians, in Alabama’s wealthiest county, around the corner from The Home Depot.

One thousand, twenty-four miles from the Mexico border.

Forget for a moment the phrase itself – “War on Drugs” – much-derided since President Richard Nixon coined it. Wars eventually end, after all. And many Americans wonder today, nearly four decades later, will this one ever be won?

The Mutilated Corpes Cartel Victims

In Mexico, the fight has become a real war. Some 45,000 Mexican army troops now patrol territories long ruled by narcotraffickers. Places like Tijuana, in the border state of Baja California. Reynosa, across the Rio Grande from Texas. Ciudad Juarez, next door to El Paso. But also the central state of Michoacan and resort cities like Acapulco, an hour south of the place where, months ago, the decapitated bodies of 12 soldiers were discovered with a sign that read:

“For every one of mine that you kill, I will kill 10.”

Some 10,560 people have been killed since 2006, the year Mexican President Felipe Calderon took office and launched his campaign against the organized crime gangs that move cocaine, methamphetamine, marijuana and heroin to a vast U.S. market. Consider that fewer than 4,300 American service members have died in the six-year war in Iraq.

The cartels are fighting each other for power, and the Calderon administration for their very survival. Never before has a Mexican president gone after these narco-networks with such force.

“He has deployed troops. He has deployed national police. He’s trying to vet and create units … that can effectively adjudicate and turn back the years of corruption,” says John Walters, who directed the Office of National Drug Control Policy for seven years under President George W. Bush. “These groups got more powerful, and when there was less visible destruction, it was because they were in control; they were stable. Now, he has destabilized them.”

Walters sees this as an “opportunity to change – for better, or worse – the history of our two countries fundamentally.”

And now the cartels have brought the fight to us: In 230 U.S. cities, the Mexican organizations maintain distribution hubs or supply drugs to local distributors, according to the Justice Department’s National Drug Intelligence Center.

Places like Miami and other longtime transportation points along the California, Arizona and Texas borders. But also Twin Falls, Idaho. Billings, Mont. Wichita, Kan. Phoenix. St. Louis. Milwaukee.

Even Shelby County.

The quintuple homicide occurred just outside the Birmingham city limits and a half-hour’s drive north of Columbiana, the county seat.

“We became a hub without knowing it,” Sheriff Curry says. “We’ve got to wake people up because we’re seeing it all over the place. It is now firmly located throughout this country.”

The talk of the day is “spillover” violence – at once the stuff of sensationalism but also a very real concept.

In Phoenix, the nation’s fifth-largest city, police report close to 1,000 kidnappings over the past three years tied to border smuggling, be it human or drugs or both. The rise parallels a shift in illegal immigrant crossings from California and Texas to the Arizona border, where many of the same gangs transporting people transport drugs. The perpetrators are often after ransom money, for a drug load lost or from a family that paid to have a relative brought over.

The problem has earned the city the unfortunate distinction of “America’s kidnapping capital” in some media accounts, even though the incidents are mostly out of sight and out of mind for law-abiding residents and overall crime, including homicides, was down last year.

In Atlanta, which has grown into a major distribution hub for the Gulf Cartel, trafficker-on-trafficker violence has become more common as the cartels, in the face of Calderon’s crackdown, impose tighter payment schedules and grow less tolerant of extending credit, says Rodney Benson, chief of the Drug Enforcement Administration there.

Benson blames that, in part, for the much-publicized kidnapping last summer in the middle-class Atlanta suburb of Lilburn, not far from Stone Mountain Park. Acting on a tip, agents found a Dominican man chained to a wall in the basement of a house, severely dehydrated and badly beaten. He had been lured from Rhode Island because he apparently owed $300,000 in drug debts.

“Money wasn’t paid,” Benson says. “They were going to kill him.”

Greg Borland heads the DEA office in Birmingham. Since the murders last August, he’s seen the fear in his neighbors’ eyes, and faced their questions: How did this happen? Why here? Why now?

“They’re absolutely shocked. To me it’s like: Why? It’s everywhere. Unless you have a 50-foot wall around your town, no one should feel immune from this. The citizen in me says, I can’t believe this is happening in my town.’ But the cop in me says, Well, it’s only a matter of time’ … because there are high-level drug traffickers in the area.

“Maybe,” he says, “it was only by the grace of God that it hadn’t happened already.”

13 Men, executed with hands tied behind their backs, San Ignacio, Sinaloa, Mexico

Those in the know understand that this kind of violence is nothing new. In border communities that have long been trafficking hubs it’s uncommon not to hear of a drug-related crime on the evening news.

What’s new is where that violence is erupting, where distribution cells and hubs and sub-hubs have surfaced. How an apartment in Alabama became the site of a drug hit in many ways tells the story of the narco-trade in America in 2009, and of the challenges we face in combatting a blight that has spread to big cities and small all across the land.

Before Aug. 20, 2008, when the five men were found, the assumption had been that the big drug hauls were passing through Shelby County and on to cities with larger markets.

Alabama had long had its share of street dealers. Homegrown pot passed hands. Then powder cocaine and crack. Soon meth labs cropped up here and there. “Just a local issue,” says Curry.

“There weren’t really any traffickers in our county. But over time it’s escalated into a sophisticated transportation structure that moves marijuana, moves powder cocaine and now moves crystal meth.”

First came the rise of the Mexican cartel, brought about in the late 80s and early 90s after authorities cracked down on Colombian traffickers and choked off routes along the Caribbean and in South Florida. The Colombians aligned with the Mexicans for transportation, then began paying their Mexican subcontractors in cocaine.

As more Colombian traffickers were brought down, the Mexicans took over both transportation and distribution. A decade ago, 60 percent of the cocaine entering the United States came through Mexico. Today that figure is 90 percent.

Texas and other border states become primary distribution hubs. Greg Bowden, who heads the FBI’s violent crime task force in Birmingham, worked four years in the Texas border city of Brownsville. He remembers cases involving Alabama dealers who would fly into Houston, rent a car, pick up loads at a warehouse or mall parking lot and drive back home.

“(Distributors) felt comfortable in Texas. That was their home base, and has been for a long time. Now,” says Bowden, “they’re comfortable here, in Memphis, in Atlanta. They moved their home bases to these little pockets.”

One reason for that shift is the ability these days to “blend in in plain sight,” as the Atlanta DEA chief puts it. The flood of Hispanic immigrants into American communities to work construction and plant jobs helped provide cover for traffickers looking to expand into new markets or build hubs in quiet suburbs with fewer law officers than the big cities.

Shelby has long been Alabama’s fastest-growing county, with its proximity to Birmingham, good schools and a growing corporate corridor along Highway 280. The number of Hispanics grew 126 percent from 2000 to 2007. It was once rare to see a Latino face at the local Wal-Mart or gas station. Now, dozens upon dozens of Hispanic day laborers line Lorna Road in the northern part of the county.

As Bowden says, “You don’t stand out.”

But there is another reason this area, and others, have become what some agents call “sub-hubs.”

With some 4.9 million trucks crossing into the United States from Mexico every year, tractor-trailers have become a transportation mode of choice among traffickers. Drugs head north, but weapons and cash also head back south – like the $400,000 Border Patrol agents found on April 2 near Las Cruces, N.M., stashed in the refrigeration unit of a semi.

Shelby County is a trucking mecca, with highways 65, 20, 59 and 459 running east to Atlanta, north to Nashville, south to New Orleans, west to Dallas. Once reluctant to haul drug shipments too far beyond a border state, drivers are willing to take more chances now, because there are so many trucks on the road, Bowden says.

Since January, 27 people were sentenced in Alabama federal court in just one case for using tractor-trailers to transport cocaine and marijuana from Mexico across the border to Brownsville, then up through Birmingham on I-65 to northern Alabama for distribution. Investigators seized 77 pounds of cocaine during the investigation – more than the DEA seized in the entire state of Alabama in all of 1999. The scheme, according to an indictment, had operated since 2004.

Amid all of this, an operation moved into Shelby County, leading to the call on Aug. 20.

A simple welfare check brought deputies to the Cahaba Lakes Apartments off Highway 280, down the road from upscale Vestavia Hills, whose motto is “A Better Place to Live.”

The victims were Hispanic, all illegal immigrants. Interviews with family members and associates helped investigators piece together a sketchy portrait of what happened.

Agents described it as friendly competition turned deadly among a group of distributors from Atlanta and Birmingham that often sold and shared drug loads when one or the other group was running low. At some point, about a half-million in drug money went missing. One group suspected the other of taking it, and went after the five men at Cahaba Lakes.

The money was never found.

Whether an order came directly from Mexico, or the decision was made down the food chain, investigators don’t know.

The DEA’s Borland notes that making a direct connection between the street level distributors charged in the killing and a specific cartel boss back in Mexico isn’t easy in a business with so many players at various levels.

“We don’t have canceled checks of their dues payments to the cartels. But we know that they were moving large quantities of drugs, which are probably brought in here under the supervision of the Gulf Cartel, because the Gulf Cartel is the dominant one here,” he says.

“That money was supposed to be moving … and it disappeared. So the attempt was to locate where was the money and who took it?” Curry says. “It was a contract hit, ordered to be carried out and paid for.”

Since then, Curry has pushed aside concerns about resources and assigned one deputy to a DEA task force, another to work with the FBI. At the behest of the Department of Homeland Security, he joined in a conference call with police chiefs and sheriffs in border states to discuss what he now calls “a common problem.”

And he answers, as candidly as possible, his citizens’ questions when they ask him about this “new” threat.

“People want to have a comfort zone, and if they have to confront the realities of how rough life really is, that doesn’t sit well,” he says. “It scares them. And they don’t want to be scared. South of our border: gunfights, violence – it is a normal, accepted, expected behavior. That has now moved into our borders.”

Ask just about any DEA agent or expert who keeps a close watch on drug trafficking, and they’ll cringe at the use of the word “war.” They’ll tell you, flat out, that no, it’s not likely ever to be won. Just as there will always be robberies and rapes and homicides, there will always be narcotrafficking.

So they take their victories where they can. And there have been victories.

Heads of cartels have been toppled. Juan Garcia Abrego, former chief of the Gulf Cartel and once on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted list, is serving 11 life terms in a Colorado federal prison after his 1996 arrest in Mexico and extradition to the United States. His successor, Osiel Cardenas, awaits trial in Houston after his 2007 extradition from Mexico.

These handovers have become almost routine under Calderon, who reversed long-standing practice and allowed more Mexicans to be tried in the United States. Last year, he extradited a record 95 wanted criminals, including several high-ranking members of the Tijuana-based Arrellano-Felix cartel.

Arrests were swift in this murder, six suspects now are held without bond in the Shelby County Jail charged with capital murder. One owned a tire shop, another was a barber – more evidence to authorities of how bad guys can blend in.

Still, it is a victory without call for celebration, because Curry wonders when and where it will happen again.

“This is not an isolated incident. It is a standard business practice with this group of people, and it is simply going to be repeated,” he says. “I can’t predict whether it’s going to be repeated here or not, but it’s going to be repeated in communities throughout the United States whenever these disagreements occur.”

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