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23 Slain in Mexican Border City

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MONTERREY, Mexico – Twenty-three people were found murdered Friday in the Mexican border city of Nuevo Laredo, including 14 whose dismembered remains were left in a van, authorities said.

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

Latin American Herald Tribune – 23 Slain in Mexican Border City.

Oil Theft is Big Business for Mexican Gangs

imageWritten 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.

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Mexico’s Drug Lords: Too Big to Fail?

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Written by  Alejandro Hope*

On the anniversary of the death of one of Mexico‘s most-wanted drug lords, analyst Alejandro Hope looks at the government’s strategy of taking down high-value targets, which many criticize as destabilizing the underworld and triggering more violence.

The following is InSight Crime’s translation of an article from Plato o Plomo, a blog by Alejandro Hope:

Friday marks the one-year anniversary of the death of Nazario Moreno, alias “El Chayo,” leader of the Familia Michoacana. With his demise, a spectacular cycle of captures and killings of cartel leaders was brought to a close. They fell one after another; in addition to Chayo, Arturo Beltran Leyva, Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel and Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen, alias “Tony Tormenta” all lost their lives in the space of 12 months. And this doesn’t include the captures of various lieutenants who were key players in the country’s criminal organizations (like “La Barbie,” El Grande, El Indio, etc.).

Many of us thought that such “decapitations” would continue, that it would be only a matter of months until a leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, the Zetas, or the Caballeros Templarios [Knights Templar] was detained or killed. But no; it has been 12 months and nothing has happened. Well, not exactly nothing. Some small-scale leaders have fallen (like Jose de Jesus Mendez, alias “El Chango,” who headed what remains of the Familia; Moises Montero, alias “El Koreano,” from the Independent Cartel of Acapulco; or Oscar Osvaldo Garcia Montoya, alias “El Compayito,” of the Mano con Ojos), along with a handful of second-tier figures (like the Sinaloa Cartel’s Noe Salgueiro; Jose Antonio Acosta, alias “El Diego” of the Juarez Cartel; Jesus Enrique Rejon, alias “El Mamito” from the Zetas, etc.). But when it comes to top capos, not a single one has been taken down in the last year.

Unless somebody gives me additional information, I will accept the most straightforward explanation for this: we simply haven’t found them. From media campaigns to the statements of the most important government officials, everything indicates that the federal government continues to believe that it is a good idea to decapitate criminal organizations. I have no doubt that, when the occasion presents itself, they will go after the remaining capos.

But is this the correct strategy? Is it worth it to destabilize the criminal underworld with the capture or killing of a high-profile figure? Several months ago, there was a debate over the issue, staged on Nexos and other forums, between Eduardo Guerrero and the current interior minister, Alejandro Poire. The dispute centered around one main question: does the decapitation of criminal organizations cause violence to increase in the short term?

The answer turned out to be yes, sometimes. The data presented by Poire and Guerrero showed that the takedown of a capo produced additional violence in some cases, but not others. In some cases, the absence of a boss does not necessarily lead to disorder. There may have been a brief spike in violence in the northwest of the country in the wake of the 1989 caputre of Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo, “El Padrino,” the boss of bosses of the Pacific Cartel (possibly even contributing to the death of Cardinal Posadas in 1993), but probably not after the arrest of the Gulf Cartel’s Juan Garcia Abrego in 1996.

In Colombia, first the arrest and then the death of Pablo Escobar saw an indisputable reduction in the number of homicides, but the arrest of the Cali Cartel’s Rodriguez Orejuela brothers likely had the opposite effect. The same goes for Italy and the United States; there are captures of criminal leaders which result in wars and others which bring peace.

For the sake of the argument, we will suppose that, on the whole, the decapitation of a criminal band tends to generate violence in the short term, due to succession conflicts, the unraveling of some groups, or through power vacuums that are exploited by rival groups. Is this reason enough not to abandon such a strategy? I believe not, for two fundamental reasons:

If criminals perceive that reaching a certain level of prominence makes them untouchable because their removal will have destabilizing effects, they will seek to make it that threshold. This dynamic could generate even more violence in the long term than high-value takedowns; it would be the equivalent in the criminal underworld of the “too big to fail” argument.

Cartel leaders are horrible people who deserve punishment. They are responsible for the torture, degradation and death of thousands of human beings. It seems morally inconceivable to me not to bring them to justice. Yes, without a doubt, the likely consequences should factor into this moral calculus, but it still seems to me a non-negotiable duty of the state to pursue those who corrupt, intimidate, kidnap, extort, torture and kill. Criminal justice does not simply exist to shape behavior; it also serves as an expression of societal values.

For these reasons (and others) a security policy must have an element which includes the decapitation of criminal groups. The discussion is not whether we should go after drug lords, and kill them if they resist, but over the criteria which should determine their pursuit. In my judgement, a policy of decapitation must have the following elements:

  • The priority level of a high value target should be determined not by the relative prominence or size of the organization, but by the intensity of the violence it causes. The more violent the criminal group (marked, for instance, by carrying out massacres), the more resources should be devoted to the capture of its main leaders. This decision should be completely explicit, but it should not keep officials from going after a cartel leader who is not deemed of high value if the opportunity presents itself.
  • Whenever possible, authorities should try to make sure that their targets are captured alive. In plain terms, a narco brought to justice is worth more than a mangled corpse. This is also particularly important considering the favorite Mexican pass-time of building conspiracy theories.
  • Likewise, whenever possible, each high-profile capture should be paired with the arrest of a number of lieutenants and foot soldiers, as a way to a.) maximize the impact and b.) lessen the risk of violence due to succession conflicts and fragmentation.
  • After the capture of a drug lord, officials should strengthen the presence of federal troops and other security forces in the organization’s area of influence, as a way of preventing an immediate backlash.
  • In some cases, their near-immediate extradition to the United States may be necessary. There are individuals who cannot be easily and safely held in a Mexican prison.

In summary, I am in favor of the government’s strategy of targeting cartel leaders, and will rejoice the day in which they capture “Lazcano,” “Treviño,” “Mayo Zambada,” “La Tuta,” or Chapo Guzman. I only hope that their downfall is accompanied by measures which prevent destabilizing effects, and maximize effects which dissuade violence. Decapitation is a powerful strategy, but it must be use prudently and strategically.

Translated and reprinted with permission from Alejandro Hope*, of Plata o Plomo, a blog on the politics and economics of drugs and crime published by Animal Politico. Read Spanish original here.

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