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.”
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)
Javier Soto plays his accordion as he searches for tourists in a vacant downtown market in Nuevo Laredo on January 26, 2006. (AP/Gregory Bull)
You don’t notice it at first. Not with the people seemingly moving as normal on the sidewalks and the happy recorded music blaring across the plaza in front of city hall to announce the annual cowboy parade. No, at first Nuevo Laredo looks like a regular border town, until the military armored car goes by a block away and rotates the heavy machine gun toward the plaza. Are the soldiers just curious? Or do they see something they want to shoot? Who will be hit if they do open fire? Then other images come into focus, like the blocks of closed shops, with for sale signs only on the most recently closed because the owners of the older, more dilapidated shops, have given up even that hope.
U.S. tourists who used to be so important to business don’t come because it is too dangerous. A saleswoman in a nearly empty jewelry shop said, “We have learned to live in a war. But it’s like no one is on our side.” She would only give her first name: Amalia. She was scared to be interviewed because the cartel could be watching. It has lookouts everywhere, she said. So when she spoke about something as dangerous as whether she felt safe she looked down at the floor. People said the police used to work for the cartel, but in June the mayor disbanded the police on the grounds that they were hopelessly corrupted by the Zeta cartel. Last month state officials said one quarter of the state police–2,500 officers–had been fired for failing or refusing to take evaluation tests.
The army came into Nuevo Laredo, and the federal police, to replace city officers. But residents said there aren’t many of them and they only do patrols and don’t investigate crimes. “If someone kills my mother or robs my store maybe there will be a report taken, but it will stop there,” Amalia said.
The war is between the federal police and the army on one side and the Zetas on the other. But the armed men that control this town are the Zetas, people told CPJ. The army fights them, with civilians running for cover, but the Zetas, using death threats often carried out, get what they want from the people, residents told me.
Wars are strange. I’ve covered many. A wartime city can look pretty normal at first. The city of Nablus, on the West Bank, while under the guns of the Israeli army, could bustle with apparent unconcern. Israelis in West Jerusalem, while threatened by Palestinian suicide bombers, took crowded buses to work and ate at sidewalk cafes. People in Sarajevo during the bloody siege took pride in pretending not to notice, even when the death toll was very high. And Nuevo Laredo was having a cowboy parade, even if people lived looking at the floor, like Amalia. That’s the kind of war it is, with two armed sides fighting and the civilians hiding and dying along with them, according to reporters in town.
It’s a world under a Zeta dome, residents said. The cartel ships narcotics north across the border–Texas is across four bridges over the Rio Grande, three in the city and one nearby. This city is at the northern end of one of the most important highways in Mexico and the southern end of one of the main U.S. entry points to Mexico. According to the Laredo Development Foundation, a business group on the Texas side, the crossing here is the busiest anywhere along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last year, there was an average of about 8,000 trucks going north or south each day on the four bridges, according to the Texas Center for Border Economic and Enterprise development. The drugs go north, the guns and cash come south to the Zetas.
A Mexican Federal Police officer displays a newspaper with the headline ‘Ex-Police!’ over pictures from a recent murder in Nuevo Laredo, January 25, 2006. (AP/Gregory Bull)
The Zetas are the only group that sells drugs in this city of about 360,000. And the only one that openly robs, extorts, and kidnaps. All to great profit, journalists said, since the victims are so afraid and the operations belong to the Zetas alone. Kidnappings and extortion are a big part of the reason the stores are closed, residents said, because businesses can’t afford to make the payoffs anymore.
It seems that all information about the war against them belongs to the Zetas also. Journalists said they cannot report a thing that might upset the Zetas without the serious risk of being killed. And, they say, since the Zetas don’t want anything reported, nothing about them is reported. Not in the papers, or on TV or radio.
So, for the most part, there are no stories about what most affects the people in Nuevo Laredo. There are no stories about the war or the Zetas or the army or the police. There are also no stories about the Zetas’ businesses of retail drug sales in town or their kidnapping and extortion of residents, according to journalists.
In other areas in Mexico where organized crime has its hands around the throat of the press, reporters can often rely on something, perhaps something not accurate, but something from the police or local government or the army. They can usually get some statement with a detail or obfuscation. An official statement allows them to publish at least what the government says. And usually, the criminals don’t complain too much about that. (Often they control the police or the government body issuing the statement in the first place.) But in Nuevo Laredo, reporters said, they normally don’t even get a government press release, not even a return phone call. So having no official statement, and fearful of offending the Zetas if they say something wrong, they say nothing.
At 10:41 on a recent Saturday morning, Jaime Orozco came up to the short step at the door of a restaurant in downtown Nuevo Laredo and stopped his wheelchair. A friend helped him over and he rolled to a table where reporters gather and ordered eggs a la Mexicana, with chopped onions and tomatoes. Asked about the pressures on journalists in the city to hide the truth, he said, “Anyone who dares publish or broadcast the truth about the cartel or the fight against the cartel is a condemned person.” As if the judgment of a man who was paralyzed in a grenade and assault-rifle attack against the city’s main newspaper five years ago needed further emphasis, two other reporters, in unison, ran their fingers across their throats. As a measure of the fear among people here, none of the 12 journalists and six of the seven others I spoke with wanted me to use their names, except Orozco. Even in the jewelry store, when Amalia gave me a name, I doubted it was true.
The motive for the attack on Orozco’s newspaper, El Mañana, was never clear, he said. That left the matter all the more sinister and the impact greater because one ever knew how to guard against another attack. He said, “If you don’t know what you can’t do then you don’t do anything.”
Jaime Orozco is carried away on a stretcher after the attack on El Mañana on February 6, 2006. (AP/Sandra Jasso – El Mañana)
Orozco was shot in February of 2006. Two months later, Dolores García Escamilla, who was a radio reporter covering the crime beat, was murdered in the parking lot of her station as she left work. Reporters in Nuevo Laredo said none of the attacks have been solved. Orozco said that the city’s press was cowed before the attacks but that afterwards even less crime news was covered. Nowadays, those journalists who remain on the crime beat confine themselves to reporting bar fights, stabbings, car accidents or other minor incidents that produce good pictures, but nothing that threatens to go beyond the street.
When Garcia Escamilla was murdered, the Gulf cartel was in charge of Nuevo Laredo and the Zetas were their loyal gunmen. But the Zetas pulled away, first by running their own smuggling and crime networks, according to a senior U.S. official, and then trying to take over all of this state, Tamaulipas, as well as large areas in the rest of Mexico. By early 2010 there were large, sometimes daily gunfights in Tamaulipas, often in the main cities. But the press almost always was forced by the two cartels to not report the battles, reporters have told me. There’s a lull now, or maybe the fight’s over. Nuevo Laredo is under Zeta control, and the Zetas always had a reputation for more violence and less tolerance for the press than the Gulf cartel, according to reporters here. That meant that as bad as it had been, things got much worse, journalists said. Now there’s no room for movement or mistakes.
In this vacuum, ordinary people began to provide their own kind of news, beginning about two years ago, according to reporters. It started as telephone trees where friends and family members warned one another about rumors of gunfights near schools. Usually, reporters said, the rumors were wrong and people panicked and rushed to take their children out of school because of false alarms. But because there were often real gunfights in the city between the army and the Zetas that were never reported in the press, people were ready for the worst. The “news” soon transferred to social media like Twitter and Facebook, but did not improve in reliability, according to the reporters. However, they said, people learned not to react so quickly. Then, a little over a year ago, according to journalists, a website appeared to which residents began posting their warnings. It is Nuevo Laredo en Vivo (Nuevo Laredo Live). At some point — when is a matter of discussion, but probably in the last few months — its content evolved from the usual warnings to also being the place where residents would anonymously post complaints about criminal activity. That’s when everything changed, because, journalists told me, it became a threat to the Zeta cartel. For instance, people were afraid to reveal themselves by telling the authorities about suspected Zeta safe houses–where they might be holding kidnapping victims– or places where Zeta gunmen were living or where Zetas were selling drugs, but an anonymous post on the Nuevo Laredo Live website seemed safe. In a city where the police had all been fired, and where the press could not do its job, the website became the way citizens could report the Zetas to the Army and the federal police, which, however ineptly, may be trying to replace the local police.
In fact, the website has the feel of belonging to the federal government, and many reporters said they believe it does. There are logos and phone numbers of the army and navy and the federal police all over the site, with pleas to anonymously report suspicions either through text messages, phone calls, or emails. Still, no one I spoke with could point with certainty to who is behind the website. The Mexican Ministry of Defense would not comment on whether the military was involved with the website.
Nuevo Laredo en vivo (CPJ)
But it does seem to be really angering the Zetas. On September 13,the mutilated bodies of a man and a woman hanging from a bridge in Nuevo Laredo were found with a note apparently signed by the cartel that warned against reporting on social media, according to news reports. The victims have not been identified publicly and there is no known connection between them and Nuevo Laredo Live, but that may be beside the point. The Zetas may have been only trying to terrorize, using victims they killed for other reasons.
But then there was the next step. For the first time, CPJ found that someone was murdered directly for posting on social media. On September 25, the decapitated body of a woman was left in the city with what seemed to be another note from the cartel. Gruesomely, her head was left nearby with headphones, close to a computer keyboard. The message read in part, “O.K Nuevo Laredo Live and social media, I am the Girl from Laredo and I am here because of my reports and yours.”
Local journalists told me the victim was María Elizabeth Macías Castro, 39, who they said helped moderate the Nuevo Laredo Live site using the nickname La NenaDLaredo (The Girl from Laredo). They said her family has now fled to Texas. I couldn’t find the family to corroborate her association with the website, nor could I find anyone associated with the site. But as if to substantiate what the journalists said, the site ran a eulogy for her and now has a forum in her name. Several years ago, Macías worked at El Mañana, the paper where Jaime Orozco was paralyzed in an attack, journalists said. And, they said, when she was murdered she was working for another local paper, Primera Hora. At both papers she may have very occasionally written stories, but her main jobs were on the administrative side, they said. Neither paper would comment about her.
There was a fourth murder. An unidentified man was left, decapitated, on November 9 at the same place Macías´ body was left. Journalists said there was another message apparently from the Zetas near the body saying the man had been killed for posting on social networks. Nuevo Laredo Live, however, denied that the victim was a contributor, according to a story in the on-line newspaper Animal Politico. In other words, once again, the Zetas could have used a victim killed for some other reason to scare people away from Nuevo Laredo Live.
Normally homicides are investigated by the state, but the spokesman for the Tamauplipas state Attorney General’s office, Rubén Darío Ríos López, said he had no information on these four cases because they had been taken over by the regional office of the federal attorney general. López said he didn’t know why. A spokesman for the regional attorney general’s office, who would not give his name, said there was never federal involvement in the investigations. So, it seems there is no investigation at all.
The test now is whether the killings have scared away anonymous posts. Will people in Nuevo Laredo once again be without any voice at all? For the moment it doesn’t seem so. Several journalists said they thought the army might be beginning to do better against the Zetas and that tips from Nuevo Laredo Live could be helping. But then since reporters don’t dare investigate even something as basic as whether a tip led to an arrest, they can’t be sure – it’s only an opinion. Today, there are still reports of crimes or suspicious events going up on Nuevo Laredo Live. We’ll never know if there are fewer reports than there would have been without the deaths.
- American hostages (21) in Nuevo Laredo,Tamaulipas- rescued! (pikapvs.wordpress.com)
- Blogger butchered in Nuevo Laredo (mysanantonio.com)
- Nuevo Laredo Zeta boss killed (mysanantonio.com)
- Nuevo Laredo police chief slain by gunmen (mysanantonio.com)
- 5 nabbed in deaths linked to the Zetas (mysanantonio.com)
- Woman decapitated in Mexico for web posting (seattlepi.com)
- Mexican man apparently killed for web comments (sfgate.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)