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 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.
- The Sinaloa Cartel and Drugs trafficking! some history (pikapvs.wordpress.com)
- Gunmen Ambush Ambulance, Slay Driver And Patients (huffingtonpost.com)
- Violence Tops Results of Mexico’s 5-Year Drug War (foxnews.com)
- Joaquin Guzman, alias ‘El Chapo,’ of the Sinaloa Cartel! (pikapvs.wordpress.com)
- Mexico: Gunmen Attack Ambulance, 4 Dead (time.com)
- Gunmen kill four in Mexico ambulance attack (independent.co.uk)
- Mexico’s top two gangs engaged in turf war (windsorstar.com)