March 1st, 2012
08:16 AM ET

RIP tees: In Murder City, a market for wearable memorials

Markets are telling. The best indicators of a region’s demands are the items it keeps in plentiful supply.

In New Orleans, residents demand ways to honor their slain loved ones. With a murder rate that has been tops in the nation for years, perhaps it’s no surprise that a number of custom T-shirt companies specialize in wearable memorials.

The city’s Times-Picayune newspaper wrote in 2004 that RIP tees were becoming as common as flowers at funerals, but filmmaker John Richie found more recently that, for many T-shirt shops, the shirts are a mainstay of their revenue.

Check out the's story on the violence plaguing New Orleans

Lawrence Elzy, owner of Exclusive Tees in the 7th Ward, told Richie during a documentary shoot that there are roughly 20 shops like his in a 3-square-mile area.

“If I’m too busy, my customer will go to another shop, and if they’re too busy, their customer will come here. There’s not a shortage,” he said.

When Elzy first opened, he wanted to focus on birthdays, family reunions, “things more of the living,” but he quickly realized it wasn’t a sound business plan.

“You can survive without doing Rest In Peace shirts, but your business will never grow - because of New Orleans.”


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Filed under: Crime • Drug violence • Drugs • Economy • Justice • Louisiana • U.S.
Texas 'navy' to patrol the Rio Grande
Texas will deploy a fleet of six gunboats on the Rio Grande.
February 29th, 2012
02:11 PM ET

Texas 'navy' to patrol the Rio Grande

Texas is getting its own navy.

Next month, the state's Department of Public Safety will deploy the first of a fleet of six gunboats on the Rio Grande, the river that forms the border between the state and Mexico, CNN affiliate WFAA-TV reports.

The 34-foot-long boats, each powered by three, 300-horsepower outboard engines, will have bulletproof plating and six machine guns apiece, not unlike the river patrol boats the U.S. Navy used during the Vietnam War.

The vessels will be able to operate in as little as 2 feet of water, according to the report, and will work with U.S. Customs and Border Protection to combat drug smuggling coming across the Rio Grande.

"They're finding out when those people are coming across, and one of the things they need to be able to do is interdict them on the water," Texas state Rep. Paul Workman told CNN affiliate KVUE-TV when the first of the boats, the JD Davis, was christened in December.

"If you're trying to suppress organized smuggling activity, there's no substitute for putting people on the ground," Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven C. McCraw said at the December ceremony. "The way they're operating right now, you need them on the water as well."

"It sends a message: Don't mess with Texas," Jose Rodriguez, a regional commander of the Texas Department of Safety, told WFAA.

The six boats will be named after Texas state troopers killed in the line of duty. The first was named after Jerry Don Davis, who was shot and killed in 1980. Another, to be commissioned Thursday in Austin, will be named in honor of  trooper David Irvine Rucker, who was killed in 1981, according to The Brownsville Herald.

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Filed under: Crime • Drug violence • Drugs • Texas
Cartel leader accused in deadly casino attack arrested
Mexican Army soldiers stand with Carlos Oliva Castillo.
October 13th, 2011
01:08 PM ET

Cartel leader accused in deadly casino attack arrested

A top Zetas drug cartel leader - who allegedly ordered the attack and arson at a casino that killed 52 - has been captured, Mexican defense officials said Thursday.

Carlos Oliva Castillo, alias "La rana," or frog, was arrested Wednesday at a safehouse without a single shot being fired, the country's Ministry of Defense said.

Possibly the No. 3 man in the criminal organization, Oliva Castillo allegedly oversaw criminal operations for the cartel in three Mexican states. He was captured in Saltillo, Mexico.

Though he was arrested without incident, the cartel tried to distract troops by attacking security forces in different parts of the city, the defense ministry said.

The Zetas' rescue ploy failed.

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Filed under: Drug violence • Mexico
September 27th, 2011
12:25 PM ET

'Zeta Killers' say they target Mexican drug cartel

A video purporting to be from a vigilante group whose goal is the eradication of the Zetas cartel from the state of Veracruz, Mexico, has surfaced on the Internet, but its credibility remains unproven.

Five masked men dressed in black appear on the video, sitting behind a long table. The spokesman explains that they are a group called the "Mata Zetas," or Zeta Killers. They describe themselves as an "extermination" force that works as the armed front "of the people and for the people."

The speaker says that the group's only goal is to kill members of the Zetas, a ruthless cartel whose area of influence includes the eastern state of Veracruz. Members of the Mata Zetas are prohibited from committing crimes such as extortion or kidnappings, according to the video.

The video was released via YouTube days after 35 bodies were found in two trucks during rush hour in the city of Boca del Rio.

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Filed under: Drug violence • Mexico
September 20th, 2011
02:46 PM ET

Widow sues for information on Falcon Lake killing

Almost a year has passed since Tiffany Hartley's husband was shot and killed while on a personal watercraft on Falcon Lake, which sits on the border and is shared between Texas and Mexico.

Now she has sued the State Department, Justice Department and FBI in an attempt to get answers about what happened that day and why no one has been brought to justice in the killing of David Hartley.

It is believed that he was shot by members of the Zetas drug cartel, but no one has been arrested or even named as a suspect in his death.

With the help of Judicial Watch, an organization dedicated to investigating corruption, Tiffany Hartley filed the three freedom of information act lawsuits Friday.

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Filed under: Drug violence • Mexico • Texas
September 2nd, 2011
01:06 PM ET

Mexican fight against cartels will continue

Mexico will accelerate the purge of corrupt elements within its federal attorney general's office, President Felipe Calderon said Friday, as he reaffirmed his conviction to fight the country's drug cartels with all the nation's might.

The attorney general's office, or PGR, was already undergoing an unprecedented shake-up with the July announcement that more than 400 police officers and investigators had been dismissed or where in the process of being dismissed.

Calderon made the announcement during his annual state of the nation speech, as an example of the seriousness with which his administration is tackling corruption.

A recent survey by the Pew Research Center found that only 45% of Mexicans believe that the government is making progress in its fight against the drug cartels. A full 29% say that the government is losing ground. At the same time, more outspoken critics of Calderon's strategy against the cartels have come forward, including poet Javier Sicilia, who led massive marches against the drug war.

But Calderon said he is sticking with his offensive.

"The only way to beat this cancer is for this strategy to persevere," the president said.

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Filed under: Drug violence • Mexico
August 30th, 2011
10:18 AM ET

Deadly casino fire 'got out of control'

The suspects arrested in connection with a Mexico casino fire told investigators that civilians were not their target, but that the blaze "got out of control," killing 52 people and injuring others, including some of the alleged perpetrators, officials said Tuesday.

The governor and attorney general of Nuevo Leon state, which shares a border with Texas, revealed new details in the investigation into last week's fire before presenting the five suspects arrested so far to the media.

"The people were not the target, it was the casino," Nuevo Leon Attorney General Adrian de la Garza said. "It was a chaotic situation that got out of control."

The alleged arsonists shouted at patrons to leave the casino as they set it on fire, he said.

The five suspects are members of the Los Zetas drug cartel and carried out the attack because the owners of the casino had not complied with their extortion demands, officials said.

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Filed under: Drug violence • Mexico
Eight more U.S. counties named to White House drug-trafficking list
The White House says High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas help coordinate police efforts to combat drug use and production.
June 20th, 2011
12:50 PM ET

Eight more U.S. counties named to White House drug-trafficking list

New York's, Washington's and Atlanta's federally designated drug-trafficking zones just got a little bigger.

They're called High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas, to be exact, and they're designed to regionally coordinate law enforcement efforts to tackle issues such as drug production, distribution, chronic use and money laundering. Local, state and federal agencies operating in HIDTAs receive extra equipment, technology and other resources to combat drug trafficking.

Approximately 16% of the nation's counties - encompassing a whopping 60% of the population - fall within one of the 28 HIDTAs, according to the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy.

You can now add the following to the list: Orange County, New York; Mendocino County, California; Porter County, Indiana; Harford County, Maryland; Lexington and Richland counties, South Carolina; and Putnam and Mercer counties, West Virginia.


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Filed under: Barack Obama • California • Crime • Drug violence • Drugs • Indiana • Maryland • New York • Politics • South Carolina • U.S. • West Virginia
Gotta Watch: Mexico's drug war
Mexican police investigate a violent incident in Juarez, Mexico.
June 14th, 2011
11:22 AM ET

Gotta Watch: Mexico's drug war

U.S. lawmakers are now calling for tougher firearms regulations after a report showed that more than 70% of Mexico's drug cartel weapons come from the United States. Violence associated with drug cartels has been a growing problem in Mexico, resulting in thousands of deaths. One of the more prominent ones was that of Mexican police chief, Martin Castro. His head was delivered to his colleagues in an ice box with a message from a powerful drug cartel in the region.  In today's Gotta Watch, we feature some of our more compelling stories highlighting the continued violence stemming from drug cartels in Mexico.

Mexico's 'bravest woman' - When 20-year-old Marisol Valles Garcia became police chief in one the deadliest parts of the world, she was dubbed the “bravest woman in all of Mexico.” Her predecessor had been beheaded, and it was a job no one was willing to take. Now, she’s left the only place she knows – a place where beheadings, shootings and gangland killings have become commonplace.


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Filed under: Crime • Drug violence • Drugs • Gotta Watch • Juarez • Marijuana • Mexico • Security • TV-Anderson Cooper 360 • World
Mexico Navy: 12 Zetas gang members killed in Falcon Lake shootout
Officials search Falcon Lake, Texas, for the body of American David Hartley in 2010.
May 9th, 2011
03:23 PM ET

Mexico Navy: 12 Zetas gang members killed in Falcon Lake shootout

[Updated at 3:23 p.m.] Twelve suspected members of the Zetas drug gang and a member of Mexico's Navy were killed in a shootout on an island in a lake that straddles the U.S.-Mexico border, authorities said Monday.

The Mexican Navy said the shootout occurred Sunday on Falcon Lake, located between Texas and the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, after troops patrolling the area spotted a camping area on an island.

The suspected drug traffickers used the island for storing marijuana to be transported by boat to the United States, the Navy said in a statement.


Filed under: Crime • Drug violence • Mexico
Mexican authorities deny reports that border state's female police chief fled
Marisol Valles Garcia made headlines last year when she became police chief of one of Mexico's most violent municipalities.
March 4th, 2011
04:36 PM ET

Mexican authorities deny reports that border state's female police chief fled

[Updated at 4:03 p.m. ET] A spokesman for the attorney general of Chihuahua State denied reports Friday that Marisol Valles Garcia - the 20-year-old woman who made headlines when she became the police chief of Praxedis, Mexico - has left the country for the United States.

Spokesman Arturo Sandoval was referring to comments in El Diario newspaper attributed to Jorge Gonzalez Nicolas, the attorney general for the northern district of Chihuahua.

"He did not give a press conference," Sandoval told CNN. "We negate reports that Nicolas said she fled to the United States."


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Filed under: Drug violence • Mexico
On the Radar: Defiance in Libya and Wisconsin, 53 killed in Juarez
A Tripoli prison's gate was open Monday. Security guards deserted the jail after reports that protesters took over Libyan cities.
February 21st, 2011
12:18 PM ET

On the Radar: Defiance in Libya and Wisconsin, 53 killed in Juarez


Though observers wonder if Libyan protests could mean the end for leader Moammar Gadhafi's reign, his son has warned on state television that there could be "a fierce civil war" if demonstrations continue. Continue they did, as the central government lost control of the coastal city of Banghazi, and protests continued in Tripoli.

Though CNN has not yet been granted access to report on the ground, there were several reports of violence Monday. Protesters set a government building in Tripoli ablaze the day after ransacking the state TV headquarters, according to media accounts. In the capital, hundreds of pro-government protesters gathered to listen to a speaker in Green Square, an eyewitness said. Another group of protesters who tried to make their way to the square dispersed when confronted by security forces with tear gas.


Crowds topped 50,000 people this weekend as demonstrators continue to express their frustration with the state's budget bill. Gov. Scott Walker, however, is not retreating. The bill is vital and complaints that it is union-busting are a "red herring," he said.

Tom Morello, formerly Rage Against the Machine's guitarist, has called Walker "the Mubarak of the Midwest," likening the governor to the recently toppled Egyptian leader. Morello will perform solo for protesters Monday. The budget repair bill was proposed by Walker to address a $137 million shortfall through June 30. It increases state workers' contributions to their pensions and health insurance benefits, requires collective bargaining units to conduct annual votes to maintain certification and eliminates the right of unions to have dues deducted from worker paychecks. Fourteen Democratic state senators essentially boycotted the Legislature and went to Illinois to prevent a quorum from passing the bill. Walker has said powerful public employee unions are behind the blocking of the bill.


It was one of the bloodiest 72 hours in recent memory, authorities said after 53 people, including four policeman, were killed in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. It began Thursday when 14 people were killed. Twenty more were killed Friday - a state police investigator en route home, among them. Saturday brought 19 killings, including a patrolman killed by a driver whom he'd just given a citation. He was shot 10 times in broad daylight. The violence was not exclusive to Ciudad Juarez, either. Mexico's Public Security Secretariat reported that 13 taxi drivers were killed in Acapulco in a rash of violence that began Friday.

Suspected drug traffickers are believed to be behind the violence in addition to setting cars ablaze and destroying street lights and security cameras. Among the casualties, a human head was discovered on a street and another body was found near a charred vehicle.

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Filed under: Crime • Drug violence • Human rights • Libya • Mexico • On the Radar • Politics • Protest • U.S. • Wisconsin • World
Saturday shooting on Falcon Lake attributed to 'pure stupidity'
Falcon Lake was a popular water sports destination until it became associated with piracy and drug-trafficking related violence.
January 22nd, 2011
08:16 PM ET

Saturday shooting on Falcon Lake attributed to 'pure stupidity'

Foul play is not suspected in the Saturday shooting of a fisherman on Falcon Lake, a waterway straddling the U.S.-Mexico border known for piracy and drug trafficking-related violence, the Zapata County Sheriff in Texas said.

Falcon Lake made national headlines last year as the place where American David Hartley was last seen. His wife claims he was shot in the head while they were riding their Sea-Doo watercraft and his body has not been found.

On Saturday, however, "pure stupidity" was to blame for a fisherman being shot on the lake, not criminal activity, Zapata County Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez said.

A fisherman on the U.S. side of the lake heard shots coming from land, Gonzalez said. Under the impression that the shots were the result of someone target practicing, the fisherman decided to get closer, Gonzalez said.

"A guy was target practicing on land. The fisherman was shot in the arm from gunfire coming from the U.S. side. It was just pure stupidity," he said.

The fisherman was airlifted to safety, Gonzalez said. No one has been arrested in the incident.

10 questions for the U.S. drug czar
CNN's Rafael Romo talks with Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the White House’s National Office of Drug Control Policy.
January 20th, 2011
08:57 PM ET

10 questions for the U.S. drug czar

Gil Kerlikowske, Director of the White House’s National Office of Drug Control Policy, concluded Thursday a three-day visit to Colombia to assess the progress the South American country has made in its fight against drug trafficking and Marxist guerrillas. Under an agreement known as “Plan Colombia,” the United States has provided the country with more than seven billion dollars in aid in the last ten years.

CNN’s Rafael Romo sat down with Kerlikowske in the capital city of Bogota to talk about the United States’ role in tackling drug trafficking in Latin America.

Romo: Has Plan Colombia been worth it?

Kerlikowske: I think that the reduction in violence is very significant and is well noted by the citizens. I mean, [Colombia] is now a very viable country.

Q: Michael Shifter from the Inter-American Dialogue says that Plan Colombia has failed in reducing the production of drugs. Is that the case?

A: Cocaine consumption is down dramatically in the United States.  We have less of an appetite for cocaine. We use cocaine at far lower levels, particularly over the last four years. What we have seen is an increase in cocaine consumption in Europe.

Q: Are you really satisfied that the Colombian government is doing the best they can with the funding provided from the United States and that they’re not just telling you what you want to hear?

A: All my meetings with government officials here is clear that they’re doing everything possible to improve.

Q: What did Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos tell you about the future of the binational relationship?

A: He knows all of the issues.  He recognizes the importance of the relationship. I think he also clearly understands the changing nature of drug trafficking, which is so much more international, less focused on a particular country.


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Filed under: Colombia • Drug violence • Drugs
Cocaine production, purity declining
December 10th, 2010
01:07 PM ET

Cocaine production, purity declining

Cocaine is taking a hit, the White House says.

President Obama’s drug czar has announced that several indicators - both stateside and in Colombia, which provides 95 percent of America’s cocaine - show that purity, production and use of the drug is in decline.

Saying Americans were using too many drugs that stoke violence and instability around the world, Gil Kerlikowske further explained, “That is why the Obama Administration is working to restore balance to our drug control efforts by emphasizing demand reduction at the same time we are supporting our international allies in their efforts to curb the supply of these drugs.”

Some figures of note:

- Colombia’s production capacity has dropped from an estimated 700 metric tons in 2001 to 270 tons last year.


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Filed under: Crime • Drug violence • Drugs
December 4th, 2010
10:46 PM ET

Accused teen hit man in Mexico admits to killings

Authorities detained a 14-year-old boy on Thursday evening on suspicion of working as a drug-cartel hit man, a spokeswoman for the Mexican attorney general's office said.

While being taken into custody along with his sister, he answered questions from journalists. Here is a transcript of the news conference. Repeated questions have been omitted: (Read the full story)

Question: How many people have you executed, friend?

Boy: Four

Question: How old are you?

Boy: 14


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Filed under: Drug violence • Drugs • Mexico
November 26th, 2010
09:36 PM ET

Brazil sends military to violence-plagued Rio

Authorities sent in the military to help authorities quell violence that continued Friday in the slums of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil, with criminal gangs torching at least two more buses and five cars before dawn, state media reported.

At the Complexo de Alemao, or German Complex, in northern Rio, some 800 soldiers joined hundreds of police from the Special Operations Battalion, federal police and marines, state-run Agencia Brasil reported Friday.

Police and drug gangs exchanged shots during the night.

Earlier Friday, Defense Minister Nelson Jobim met with the governor of Rio de Janeiro state, Sergio Cabral, and security authorities of the federal and state governments. The Army agreed to make available 10 armored vehicles and the Navy offered three helicopters, according to the news agency.


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Filed under: Brazil • Crime • Drug violence
November 20th, 2010
02:00 PM ET

Mexican official: Accused drug lord to be extradited to U.S.

U.S.-born cartel boss Edgar Valdez Villarreal, alias "La Barbie", will be extradited to the United States from Mexico, according to Isaac Fragoso, a spokesman for the Attorney General's Office in Mexico City, Mexico.
Valdez was arrested in August and is thought to be one of Mexico's most ruthless drug traffickers. No timeline was given as to when the extradition may take place.

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Filed under: Crime • Drug violence • Mexico
November 5th, 2010
10:23 PM ET

Gulf Cartel leader dies in clash with Mexican security forces

[Updated at 10:23 p.m.] Three suspected criminals and two members of the Mexican navy died in a clash that also left dead a top leader of the Gulf drug cartel, said Alejandro Poire, security spokesman for the Mexican government.

[Posted at 9:38 p.m.] Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas Guillan, a leader of the Gulf Cartel, died Friday afternoon during a clash with security forces in the border city of Matamoros, Mexico's state media reported.


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Filed under: Drug violence • Mexico
November 5th, 2010
10:07 PM ET

A look at task force that brings drug tunnels to surface

A 600-yard tunnel used to smuggle drugs between San Diego, California, and Tijuana, Mexico, was discovered this week through the efforts of a little-known law enforcement coalition called the Tunnel Task Force.

Comprised of agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Border Patrol, the Tunnel Task Force has closed 75 tunnels in the past four years, officials said.

“We fill them with concrete,” said Border Patrol Agent Steven Pitts.

Pitts said the tunnels are elaborately constructed, with lighting, ventilation and, in some cases, a rail system to pull large amounts of drugs through the tunnels.

“An active phone was the strangest thing we’ve ever found in a tunnel,” said Pitts.

The task force functions with a high level of cooperation from the Mexican government, whom DEA Special Agent Stephen Tomaski credited with making the busts possible.

Listen to the full story here:

You can also listen to the CNN Radio Reports' podcast on iTunes or subscribe to the podcast.

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Filed under: Drug violence • Mexico • U.S.
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