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Mexico: 49 bodies dumped on Mexico highway

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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.

“This is not an attack against the civilian population,” Jorge Domene, public security spokesman for the state of Nuevo Leon, said at a news conference. “That’s important to point out.”

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.”

New tactic

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.”

dudley.althaus@chron.com

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Is ‘El Chapo’ back in border city of Nuevo Laredo?

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By Dudley Althaus and Dane Schiller
Wednesday, April 18, 2012

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.”

dudley.althaus@chron.com

dane.schiller@chron.com

Read more: MySA.com

Mexico Turns Up the Heat on Drug Lord Guzman

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MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Mexico’s ruling conservative party had been in power just 50 days when drug lord Joaquin Guzman slipped out of a dark prison and into Mexican folklore.

Eleven years later, President Felipe Calderon‘s government is furiously trying to flush out the man nicknamed El Chapo – “Shorty” – to rescue its bloody war on drug cartels.

Guzman’s flight from a maximum security prison in a laundry cart on January 19, 2001, was a major embarrassment to Calderon’s predecessor Vicente Fox, who had just begun a new era as the first National Action Party (PAN) official to lead Mexico.

Now, Guzman is the greatest symbol of the cartels’ defiance of Calderon, whose war unleashed a wave of gang violence that is eroding support for the PAN ahead of presidential elections on July 1. Calderon is barred by law from seeking a second term.

In the last few months, authorities have arrested dozens of Guzman’s henchmen, seized tons of his contraband and razed the biggest single marijuana plantation ever found in Mexico, subsequently chalked up as another setback for El Chapo.

Over Christmas, three senior Guzman associates fell into Mexico’s hands, including one named as his chief of operations in Durango, a state where he has been rumored to hide out.

“He’s certainly aware people very close to him have been captured over the past two weeks, so he must be seriously concerned,” said Vanda Felbab-Brown, a Brookings Institution expert on the drug trade. “The noose seems to be tightening.”

Since his nighttime escape, Guzman’s legend has grown daily, as the wily capo evaded capture, eliminated rivals and sold billions of dollars worth of drugs across the border.

Meanwhile, the PAN, who won office under Fox pledging to restore law and order in a country tired of the corruption that marred the 71-year reign of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), has become more and more bogged down in the drug war.

Calderon staked his reputation on rooting out the cartels, but the army-led struggle has cost over 46,000 lives in five years, spooking tourists and investors alike.

As Calderon fought to contain the violence, he had to watch Guzman feted for success when the kingpin placed 41st in a Forbes list of the world’s most powerful people in 2009.

Immortalized in song both in Spanish and English, Guzman seemed so untouchable that rumors began spreading the Mexican government had made a deal with him to keep the peace.

That talk has now faded, and Attorney General Marisela Morales said in October Guzman would be captured “very soon.”

North of the border, things have also turned sour for the fugitive trafficker, who made headlines as the world’s most wanted man after the death of Osama bin Laden.

In last few weeks, U.S. authorities in Arizona announced details of raids in which they arrested over 200 people linked to the Sinaloa cartel, named for the northwestern Pacific state where Guzman was born, probably in 1957.

DRUG LORD PROTECTOR

Surveys show the public backs the crackdown on the cartels. But it also believes Calderon is losing the drug war.

Alberto Vera, director of research at pollster Parametria, said only something of the magnitude of Guzman’s capture would persuade voters Calderon was winning. That could boost support for his party by two or three points if it happened not long before the election, he added.

“Catching him would do Calderon credit,” said Luis Pavan, 40, a Mexico City insurance agent. “Fighting the gangs is one of the few good things the government has done.”

Weakened by the mounting death toll, Calderon’s PAN lags the opposition PRI by about 20 points, recent polls show.

Capturing Guzman could also benefit U.S. President Barack Obama, who faces a tough re-election battle against Republicans that accuse him of being weak on border security.

Arturo R. Garino, mayor of Nogales – an Arizona border city lying right on Guzman’s main smuggling routes – said the kingpin’s arrest would be a boost to both governments. “Cutting the head off the snake would help our economy too,” he said.

Intelligence officials declined to say if efforts to catch Guzman had increased, but his biographer Malcolm Beith said there was little doubt they had, as recent operations on El Chapo’s turf were being conducted by crack military units. “It’s been special forces and marines to the best of my knowledge. These guys are called in for special raids because they’re less likely to have been infiltrated,” he said.

Officials who have tracked Guzman say it is one thing to locate him and quite another to capture him.

Like late Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar, Guzman has a reputation as a protector of his heartland in Sinaloa, a rugged region that the state still struggles to penetrate, where news of approaching of strangers quickly reaches him and his followers.

“Chapo has allegedly paid for schools, hospitals, and other public projects,” said Beith. “Second, he’s just about the only source of employment in parts of Sinaloa. And he has provided security of a sort. He’s been known to apprehend small-time crooks or thugs when they got out of hand. Lastly, the name Chapo pretty much puts the fear of God into people.”

With locals watching his back, Guzman has always had just enough warning to get away at the last minute. The exception was when soldiers captured him in Guatemala in June 1993.

New surveillance technology has raised the stakes though.

Mexico has admitted allowing U.S. spy planes to track the cartels, reviving memories of the chase for Escobar, who was gunned down on a Medellin rooftop in December 1993.

The U.S. Army’s spy unit Centra Spike played a crucial part in that takedown – using planes to triangulate Escobar’s phone calls – and U.S. surveillance drones stationed just across the Arizona border are likely being used to help catch Guzman.

Adding to his problems are attacks from the rival Zetas gang, which has engaged in a spate of tit-for-tat killings with the Sinaloa cartel that have spread onto his territory.

If Guzman is caught, it could unleash a bloody scramble for power before the election, said Jose Luis Pineyro, a security expert at Mexico’s Autonomous Metropolitan University.

“He is said to have influence in five continents,” he said. “It would have repercussions outside Mexico and America.”

Reuters

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