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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.

Source

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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