The gas fields extend from the booming Eagle Ford play of South Texas deep into the ranch and coal country stretching inland from this violent border city. This is Zetas country, among the most fearsome of Mexico’s criminal badlands.
U.S. and Mexican energy companies long have been besieged by the gangsters here – their workers assaulted, extorted or murdered – despite a heavy military and federal police presence. Now, with feuding Zetas factions bloodying one another and fending off outside rivals, what has been a bad situation threatens to get much worse.
Northern Mexico’s gas production has suffered for years as gangland threats or attacks have kept workers from servicing the wellheads, pipelines and drilling rigs in the Burgos Basin, the territory between the Rio Grande and the city of Monterrey, which now provides up to 20 percent of Mexico’s natural gas.
“Petroleos Mexicanos has problems with security … principally in Burgos,” Guillermo Dominguez, a senior member of the National Hydrocarbons Commission, told the Mexico City newspaper Reforma.
And now the surging Zetas bloodletting pits the gang’s top bosses – Heriberto Lazcano and Miguel Angel Treviño – against Ivan Velazquez, a former underling known as “El Taliban.” From his base in the western state of Zacatecas, Velazquez reportedly has allied with the remnants of other gangs to launch a challenge for control of Coahuila state, which holds most of the shale gas reserves.
Challenge to control
Banners recently hung by both Zetas factions have accused one another of treason and other transgressions that will be avenged with death. Fighting has rattled Nuevo Laredo, the Zetas stronghold that also is the busiest land port for U.S.-Mexico trade, killing scores this month alone.
Still more banners appeared in Nuevo Laredo Tuesday, reputedly written by beleaguered civilians, promising all the gangster factions further bloody vengeance.
“Zetas are pretty much in control, but they have been challenged,” said a U.S. official in Mexico who monitors the situation, speaking on condition of anonymity. “You have all these groups fighting one another, shifting alliances and internal fights … It’s a wilderness of mirrors.”
The Zetas’ spats with rivals already have turned Coahuila’s other large cities – Torreon in the west, Monclova in the center and Saltillo in the east – into fierce gangland battlegrounds. State officials are blaming the Sept. 17 escape of 131 prisoners from a Piedras Negras prison on the Zetas seeking to replenish their ranks for new battles.
The insecurity in Mexico’s gas fields contrasts sharply with the drilling and production frenzy seizing the ranchlands just north of the border. Oil field pickups and semi-trailer fuel tankers choke Highway 83, the once-desolate ranch-country highway that cuts northwest from Laredo though the lower reaches of the Eagle Ford.
Some 6,000 drilling permits have been issued for Eagle Ford shale in Texas, and 550 wells are producing there. By comparison, Pemex so far has drilled five exploratory shale gas wells, but hopes to drill 170 more in the next four years. The company plans to spend $200 million on exploration in the short term.
Those first exploratory wells have been drilled to the west of Nuevo Laredo and below the border at Piedras Negras, ranch and coal country that remains relatively violence free for now. But that tranquility may owe more to the now-threatened dominance of the Zetas bosses than to rule of law.
“They are in control,” said a U.S. official. “They are pretty much just doing their thing.”
At least eight Pemex and contract employees vanished in May 2010 near a gas facility near Falcon Lake, territory under the Zetas’ firm control. Last March, two men working for a Mexican company doing contract work for Houston-based Halliburton disappeared outside Piedras Negras.
Halliburton spokeswoman Tara Mullee-Agard said employees get regular security briefings, but the company declined to comment on the contractors’ disappearance.
“Many companies that were active in the areas have stopped until Pemex or the government can provide security,” said an employee of one Reynosa-based company. “In places where there have been incidents we don’t operate anymore. When darkness falls, we stop wherever we are.
- Zetas crimping gas industry in northern Mexico (mysanantonio.com)
- Banners claim an alliance has been formed against the Zetas (mysanantonio.com)
- Mexico: State Officials Killed in Nuevo Laredo (hispanicallyspeakingnews.com)
- Piedras Negras “megafuga” just the latest massive prison break (mysanantonio.com)
- 132 inmates escape from Mexican prison near U.S. border (theprovince.com)
By Dudley Althaus Updated 08:45 p.m., Sunday, May 13, 2012
MEXICO CITY – Officials blamed the Zetas gang for the slaughter of 49 people whose headless, handless bodies were recovered early Sunday near a highway that leads from the industrial city of Monterrey to the South Texas border.
A message left with the bodies outside the oil refining town of Cadereyta – supposedly signed by the Zetas – claimed credit for the latest in a series of recent atrocities by rival criminal gangs waging a brutal terror campaign against one another. The message’s content was not disclosed.
Though the lack of heads or fingerprints obviously will complicate identification of the victims, authorities rushed to assure a beleaguered public that ordinary citizens aren’t being targeted.
The corpses of the 43 men and six women were dumped about 2 a.m. The victims were killed elsewhere as many as two days ago, Domene said.
Monterrey and its suburbs, home to some 4 million people, have become a crucial front of the gangland violence that has killed more than 50,000 people since President Felipe Calderon deployed federal forces against Mexico’s powerful gangs upon taking office in December 2006.
The escalating bloodshed has besieged Cadereyta and nearby towns in recent months as the Zetas battle their former paymasters from the Gulf Cartel for regional dominance. Both narcotics trafficking gangs are anchored in the Mexican cities bordering south Texas.
Thriving drug trade
In addition to its own local narcotics market, metropolitan Monterrey is an important warehousing center for cocaine, marijuana and other illegal drugs bound for U.S. consumers. Petroleum pipelines running between Cadereyta and the border have also been among those most tapped by thieves, supplying Mexico’s vibrant black market for gasoline and other petroleum products. Small towns, ranches and isolated clusters of weekend houses between Monterrey and the border long have been favored haunts for gangsters.
Fighting in the Monterrey area and along the border recently has worsened with the participation of gunmen loyal to Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the crime boss based in the Pacific Coast state of Sinaloa. Considered Mexico’s most powerful gangster, Guzman reportedly has allied with the Gulf Cartel and returned to the region – especially to Nuevo Laredo – to take on the Zetas.
Sunday’s slaughter followed the murder last week of 18 people near the western city of Guadalajara – at least some of them apparent innocents kidnapped from once-bucolic towns where thousands of U.S. and Canadian retirees live. Officials also have blamed the Zetas for those killings, which supposedly were committed in response to the Guzman gang’s killing in the past month of dozens of alleged Zetas in Nuevo Laredo.
In response, Calderon’s government has extended cooperative security agreements with both Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas states – which border Texas from upriver of Laredo to the Gulf of Mexico – to guarantee the continued presence of federal troops and police.
“We are not going to yield, we will never yield,” Nuevo Leon Gov. Rodrigo Medina said in signing the agreement Thursday in Monterrey. “We will continue investing and taking the necessary actions so that Nuevo Leon has solid institutions and safe cities.”
Zetas inmates aided by guards murdered 44 other prisoners allegedly belonging to the Gulf Cartel in the state prison in Apodaca, another Monterrey suburb in mid-February. More than 30 of the Zetas prisoners then slipped over the jail walls. The prison’s new warden, named just three weeks ago, resigned Sunday citing “personal reasons.”
Intended to terrorize rivals and the general population, the public display of butchered corpses has replaced the traditional gangland practice of burying victims in clandestine mass graves. Hundreds of bodies were collected from such graves last year in both northeastern Mexico and the western state of Durango.
But in September killers allied with Guzman dumped 35 bodies of accused Zetas on an highway interchange near an upscale suburban mall in the port of Veracruz. Zetas and their allies responded in November by leaving 26 corpses, supposedly belonging to members of Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel, in downtown Guadalajara. The Zetas also claimed the massacre of several dozen people in Sinaloa this spring.
“I have no doubt that this is a media measure taken by organized crime to get the attention of the public and the rival group,” Javier del Real, the retired army general who was recently appointed head of Nuevo Leon’s state police, said of the Cadereyta incident at Sunday’s news conference. “They achieved that result.”
Nine bodies were spotted at about 1:00 a.m. hanging from an overpass at a major intersection, a source in the Tamaulipas state Attorney General’s Office said.
The five men and four women had their eyes covered and bore signs of torture, a municipal official said.
Accompanying the bodies was a message from the Los Zetas gang identifying the victims as employees of the rival Gulf drug cartel killed for “heating up the territory” by carrying out violent acts that attracted more attention from the security forces.
The message from the Zetas accused the victims of involvement in an April 24 grenade attack on municipal police headquarters in Nuevo Laredo, just across the border from Laredo, Texas.
Just hours later, the dismembered remains of 14 people were found wrapped in plastic bags inside a van abandoned in front of the Mexican customs service office in the city.
The victims’ severed heads were left in coolers near Nuevo Laredo city hall.
The killers did not leave any message.
Los Zetas, a group founded by deserters from a U.S.-trained special forces unit, started out as the armed wing of the Gulf cartel, but the two criminal organizations later had a falling out and the Zetas went into the drug business on their own account, gaining control of several lucrative territories.
Media reports say the Sinaloa and Gulf cartels have formed an alliance to fight Los Zetas, but this has not been confirmed by Mexican officials.
Fourteen dismembered bodies found April 17 in a vehicle parked near city hall were accompanied by a message bearing the purported signature of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, fugitive boss of the Sinaloa cartel.
The note said the Sinaloa outfit had come to Nuevo Laredo to cleanse the city of the Zetas.
Conflict among rival cartels and between criminals and the security forces has claimed more than 50,000 lives in Mexico since December 2006, when newly inaugurated President Felipe Calderon militarized the struggle against organized crime. EFE
MEXICO CITY — Drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman purportedly has come gunning for the vicious Zetas gang on the South Texas border, leaving 14 of their butchered bodies and a message vowing to rid Nuevo Laredo of its criminal scourge as a calling card.
“We have begun to clear Nuevo Laredo of Zetas because we want a free city and so you can live in peace,” proclaims a banner, under which were posed the bodies, as well as the gunmen presumably in Guzman’s employ. “We are narcotics traffickers and we don’t mess with honest working or business people.”
Guzman’s first attempt to seize Nuevo Laredo, bordering Laredo, in 2005 sparked a gangland war with the Zetas and their then-paymasters in the Gulf Cartel. The battles, complete with rocket attacks and massacres, killed more than 300 that year and gave birth to the hyper-violence still tormenting the borderlands and Mexico’s interior.
The Zetas and the Gulf Cartel won that earlier contest. Now Guzman, one of the most wanted men in the hemisphere, looks to be back.
This time he’s presenting himself as a White Knight, succeeding where Mexico’s military and federal police so far have failed in defeating the Zetas and restoring order.
“I’m going to teach these scum to work Sinaloa style,” the banner purportedly signed by Guzman sneers, “without kidnapping, without payoffs, without extortion.”
“As for you, 40,” the banner says, addressing Zetas boss Miguel Treviño by his code name Z-40. “I tell you that you don’t scare me.”
The message also warns Nuevo Laredo’s citizens that anyone who continues paying extortion money to the Zetas would be considered “a traitor.”
“Don’t forget that I’m your true father,” the banner advises in its sign off.
Photos of the mangled corpses first appeared Wednesday on Blog del Narco, a website that often posts up to date crime news in Mexico, and came a day after the 14 bodies were discovered stuffed into a minivan parked near Nuevo Laredo’s city hall. A note left with the bodies declared the victims “traitors.”
“Chapo is going to step up to the plate and become the protector of the poor people against the Zetas,” predicted Mike Vigil, retired chief of international operations for the Drug Enforcement Administration. “Obviously it is a vested interest because it behooves him and the other cartels to get rid of the Zetas that are causing a lot of problems for them.”
Vigil is a consultant in Mexico and in regular contact with senior government officials there.
While the banner and the threat it contains appear genuine, its authenticity couldn’t be verified. But officials in Laredo are watching closely.
“There is continued concern but we have dedicated all the resources necessary to ensure we don’t have a spillover on the Laredo side,” said Laredo Mayor Raul Salinas, a retired FBI agent. “Obviously any time we have a situation like this — and other cities on the border would react the same way — we monitor very carefully what happens on the other side of the river.”
Listed by Forbes magazine as one of the world’s wealthiest men, Guzman also is arguably Mexico’s most powerful crime boss. Though widely considered an old-school narcotics trafficker who generally has left civilians in peace, Guzman has been blamed for a number of atrocities in recent years.
The Sinaloan’s four-year struggle for Ciudad Juarez, bordering El Paso, has been blamed for the nearly 10,000 murders tallied there since. Some have credited Juarez’s nearly 40 percent decline in murders in recent months to Guzman’s reported victory in that battle.
Mexico’s other gangs, including Guzman’s have pushed back with the same brutality, dramatically escalating the bloodshed.
“The Zetas are trying to take over the country and they are a tremendous force to be reckoned with,” Vigil said. “It is a situation of fighting fire with fire and I think that you are going to see much more of that as the cartels engage them.”
Read more: MySA.com
- Mexico authorities say bodies of 14 men dumped in Nuevo Laredo (latimesblogs.latimes.com)
- Wave of violence in Nuevo Laredo prompts warning (mysanantonio.com)
- Mexico City- “The Phantom” is alive, after further investigation! (pikapvs.wordpress.com)
- A cartel evolution (mysanantonio.com)
- Trial exposed Zetas’ U.S. ties (mysanantonio.com)
- Suspect on Zetas’ hit list is arrested (mysanantonio.com)
Written by Geoffrey Ramsey
United States drug enforcement agents have broken up a ring involving former and current US military personnel attempting to work for Mexico’s brutal Zetas drug cartel, illustrating the group’s alarming potential to penetrate the US military.
On March 24, First Lt. Kevin Corley (pictured, at left) and arrived with a three-man team at a warehouse in the border city of Laredo, Texas, armed with two semiautomatic rifles, a combat knife and a .300-caliber bolt-action rifle equipped with a scope. The men believed they had been hired by the Zetas to carry out a contracted killing and raid of a rival drug trafficking group’s storehouse, and had been called to receive the final details of the assignment. What they didn’t know, however, was that they were targets of an elaborate sting operation organized by the US Drug Enforcement Administration.
For the past six months, Corley had been speaking with DEA agents posing as Zetas representatives, and had promised both to carry out “wet work” (a military euphemism for assassinations) for the cartel as well as equip and train Zetas members in military tactics. According to a federal indictment (.pdf), Corley claimed that his status as an active duty soldier made it easy for him to pilfer weaponry from his post in Colorado, and demonstrated this by providing the agents with bulletproof vests, training manuals and other stolen military equipment.
However, after receiving phony instructions from the undercover operatives in the warehouse, the four men found themselves surrounded by federal law enforcement officers. Although agents killed one of the suspects while attempting to make an arrest, the remaining three were taken into custody. Two other accomplices based in South Carolina were arrested in conjunction with the sting operation.
While the fact that six US citizens were so completely willing to work for the Zetas is disturbing, the most worrisome aspect of this case is the fact that all four members of the would-be “kill team” (with the exception of the individual killed by federal agents, who was a cousin of Corley’s) were either current or former members of the US military.
This is a troubling reminder that US military personnel are not immune to the kinds of incentives that lure their military counterparts in Mexico into joining the Zetas. The Zetas’ links to the Mexican military have been a trademark of the group since their early days working as the enforcement wing of the Gulf Cartel. Their original 31 founders were all ex-members of the Mexican special forces, and today the group is thought to have deeply penetrated the military in the states of Hidalgo, Chihuahua and Tabasco, as well as other parts of the country. As the drug gang’s trafficking networks have grown, they have expanded their recruitment pool to include members of security forces in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador and Nicaragua.
Until now, however, there had been no hard proof evidence that the cartel was capable of hiring US-trained military professionals to carry out its work. These arrests show that there is a very real possibility of such a trend, no doubt sounding alarm bells for US drug enforcement agents already concerned about the prospect of “spillover violence” in the American southwest.
The case is especially relevant in light of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s recent warnings that the US military is facing “significant criminal threat” from gangs within its ranks. In the 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment released in October, the FBI names some 50 criminal organizations that count both current and ex-soldiers among their members. The list includes the Zetas, as well as a handful of transnational street gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), Barrio 18 and Barrio Azteca. Although they represent only a tiny fraction of veterans and servicemen, the FBI cautions that many gang members enlist in order to “receive weapons and combat training that they may transfer back to their gang.” The report also notes an uptick in gang-related graffiti in military bases overseas.
This phenomenon is a threat not only to the US, but to other countries in the hemisphere as well. If enough members of transnational criminal organizations acquire military expertise in the US, there is a chance that they will share these skills with affiliate cells in other countries in the region, potentially giving them a leg up against local officials. As InSight Crime has pointed out, many gangs already have the organizational infrastructure in place to do so. Both of El Salvador’s largest “maras” (street gangs) got their start in US prisons, and still maintain a strong presence in major cities like Los Angeles and Washington, DC.
Despite these concerns, the US military is a long way from seeing the kind of criminal penetration that plagues the Mexican army. That all six members of the “Zetas” plot had been under surveillance for months and eventually apprehended is a testament to the success that US law enforcement has had in foiling such criminal endeavors. Even still, with the Zetas growing more and more sophisticated, the risk of infiltration grows greater, and the US military may need to step up its internal monitoring to prevent this.
- Soldier, ex-soldier accused of hired murder plot (foxnews.com)
- A cartel evolution (mysanantonio.com)
- Wave of violence in Nuevo Laredo prompts warning (mysanantonio.com)
- Trial exposed Zetas’ U.S. ties (mysanantonio.com)
- Police arrest 13 suspected Zetas cartel members in Guadalajara (pikapvs.wordpress.com)
Written by Patrick Corcoran
Theft from Mexico‘s state oil company Pemex appears to have shifted from a small-scale criminal nuisance into big business, with actors such as the Zetas and Sinaloa Cartel increasingly getting involved.
The oil company, which provides the Mexican government with roughly a third of its operating budget, has long been plagued by robberies. In the past, these were typically carried out by small-scale gangs or Pemex distributors, and would involve intentionally mislabeling gasoline products, or selling off gas siphoned from pipelines at below-market prices.
During the Calderon administration, however, both the type of robberies and the perpetrators have changed, as Proceso reports, based on an internal Pemex document. Today, crude oil is being stolen on a wide scale, and the groups behind the theft are not small-scale gangs or businessmen gaming the system, but rather criminal networks like the Zetas. Furthermore, instead of reselling the oil at Pemex stations, the criminal groups are exploiting their international reach to sell it on to US refineries.
The geography of illegal siphons discovered in recent years demonstrates the growing role of organized crime groups — initially the Zetas, and increasingly, it would appear, the Sinaloa Cartel. According to Proceso, the two states where the largest number of illegal siphons were discovered in the first half of 2010 were Veracruz and Nuevo Leon, both of them notorious havens of Zeta activity. Sinaloa was third, followed by Puebla and then·Tamaulipas, which is also a Zeta stronghold.
But according to a recent report from Excelsior, Sinaloa became the state worst-hit by pipeline theft in 2011, leapfrogging the two Zetas-held states that were ahead of it in 2010.
The Zetas are known for their diverse revenue sources, involved in activities like extortion, pirate merchandise, kidnapping, car theft, and other rackets, in addition to oil theft. It is no surprise that Zetas-dominated states have seen a spike in stolen hydrocarbons.
In contrast, the Sinaloa Cartel has a reputation for sticking to drug trafficking. In 2010, for instance, a captured high-ranking member of the Sinaloa Cartel told authorities that the cartel boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman had prohibited his subordinates from supplementing their wages by kidnapping. Other groups also operate in the Sinaloa state, such as the Beltran Leyva Organization, but the scale of the thefts suggests that the Sinaloa Cartel, as the foremost network in the region, is involved. If this is the case, it would seem to represent a significant shift in the group’s modus operandi.
Pemex has discovered 5,000 illegal siphons since Calderon took office in late 2006, with more than 1,300 of those found last year. Some 3 million barrels of hydrocarbons were stolen in 2011, an increase of 52 percent from the previous year. This caused losses of roughly $475 million to the company, which had revenues in 2010 of nearly $80 billion.
In response, Mexican authorities have ramped up investigations into the robberies; just 161 were opened in 2007, but more than 1,000 were opened last year. Most of those arrested for stealing oil have been linked to the Familia Michoacana and the Zetas, though the small-time operations have not entirely disappeared from the game.
In addition to the vast sums to be made, stealing oil and gas is an attractive business for a number of other reasons. Neither Pemex nor the Mexican government have the resources to patrol the thousands of miles of pipelines, meaning that the product can be stolen with relatively low risk. Furthermore, as InSight Crime has pointed out, the large bureaucracy in Pemex also generates a large number of targets for corruption. In many cases, people within the company have taken part in the robberies. And as Excelsior notes, while it may sound sophisticated, robbing oil or gas from a pipeline is a low-tech business.
As InSight Crime has reported, oil and gas theft are a serious issue for Latin American oil companies in countries including Colombia, Venezuela, and Bolivia. Hydrocarbon theft became a big source of funds for paramilitary group the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), with $10 million disappearing from 2001 to 2003 from AUC territory.
- Pemex Ready to Drill in GOM’s Deep Waters (mb50.wordpress.com)
- Official: Gang leader behind massacre in port city (seattletimes.nwsource.com)