As most of you know from reading this blog, I wrote about Mexico for a really long time. For years it was my central preoccupation and I sometimes spent hours poring over news reports and blogs detailing all the latest developments. They achieved a sort of numbing sameness after a while — this many dead, that many wounded or kidnapped — and it was not difficult to fall into the worldview that nothing would ever get better south of the border.
News coming from Mexico has changed, and today I got what would seem to be some pretty striking information. The New York Times reports:
Mexican officials said Sunday that they had captured a leader of the Juárez Cartel, Jesús Salas Aguayo, the man in charge of the gang’s operations in Ciudad Juárez during a convulsion of violence that made the city one of the world’s most murderous.
The article goes on to reveal that the leader of the Gulf Cartel, José Tiburcio Hernández Fuentes, was apprehended in Reynosa, a border city across the river from Hidalgo, Texas, on the same day. From the triumphant tone of the authorities in Mexico, these captures mark just the latest victory in a long string of successes that will eventually lead to the end of the drug war. There’s just one problem: the drug war isn’t ending. In fact, it’s not even slowing down. Only the faces are changing.
For years now the focus of the Mexican government has been on the elimination of cartel leadership. The idea behind this is that while pressure on the cartels as a whole is a good thing, the only way to truly cripple the bad guys is to take out the masterminds. To this end we’ve seen some high-profile arrests and killings, and if you were to pay attention only to those headlines and not look at the situation at a whole, you might think things were working out exactly the way Mexico wants them to. After all, violence in cities like Ciudad Juárez is way down from its peak. Clearly the war is all but won.