Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Mexican drug link probed in ambush murder of Texas lawman


The death of a Bexar County sheriff's sergeant who died in a hail of gunfire as he sat in his patrol car is being investigated for a possible connection to Mexico's drug cartels, county officials said on Tuesday.

Sergeant Kenneth Vann was "targeted because he represented the government," Sheriff Amadeo Ortiz told Reuters.

Vann, 48, was in uniform, sitting in his marked patrol car at a corner on San Antonio's southeast side early Saturday when a small white car pulled up beside him, and somebody in the car fired an estimated 28 shots from an automatic weapon, possibly an AK-47 rifle, Ortiz said. No suspects are in custody.

"I think that they picked on a police officer because he was a symbol of authority," Ortiz said on Tuesday.

He said there is no evidence Vann's movements had been tracked that morning, indicating the 24-year law enforcement veteran was not likely targeted personally. Ortiz called it an attack "on a random law enforcement officer."

"The general public, I don't think, should have that much to fear," Ortiz said.

He said the FBI, along with the Texas Department of Public Safety and other law enforcement agencies are helping with the investigation.

Deputy Lou Antou said investigators are sorting through surveillance videos from two gas stations at the corner where the shooting took place.

Additional links:
Slain Sergeant's Widow Speaks Out

Reward For Info On Sergeant's Death Raised To $127,000

Kidnapping in Tijuana: The New Normal

Tijuana is facing a new trend in kidnapping. Unlike the wave of indiscriminate abductions for ransom that hit this Mexican city in 2008, this time the kidnappings seem more of a way of doing business.

Written by Nathan Jones
In Sight

At dawn on May 16, a group of armed men burst into the Tijuana apartment of a woman and her 17-year-old son and abducted them both using “extreme violence,” according to media reports. Three days later a body was found, bearing signs of strangulation and wrapped in a blanket, which police said might be that of the mother.

This story dredged up painful memories for the citizens of Tijuana, which suffered a wave of kidnappings and general violence in 2008 that nearly brought the city to its knees. But the recent incident was not all that it initially appeared, and may represent a new trend in abductions in the city. The case was quickly taken over by the anti-kidnapping unit of the Baja California State Attorney General’s office. According to their conversations with InSight, press releases, and reports in the newspaper El Mexicano, this kidnapping was not a simple extortion tactic, but a settling of drug debts. And not just any drug debts but drug debts related to local trafficking.

This local drug trafficking, or “narcomenudeo” as it is known in Mexico, has been on the rise across the country over the last decade. In the 1990s, Mexican criminal syndicates were simply a transport service moving drugs to the lucrative U.S. market. As one Tijuana businessman put it, “Mexico used to be DHL.”

But as the U.S. “hardened” the border over the last two decades, spurred by post-September 11 fears, moving drugs into the country became more difficult. As a consequence, drug trafficking organizations embarked upon the task of building up domestic demand. Now, Mexico is a drug consuming nation, with a valuable domestic market, as the rise of rehabilitation services for drug addicts attests.

Most of this trafficking is controlled by small groups who work closely with police. But large drug trafficking organizations like the Sinaloa Cartel have also worked to increase sales of “cristal,” or methamphetamine, in the Tijuana area. This served both as a profitable activity and as a strategy to gain market-share in Tijuana, against rivals the Arellano Felix Organization (also known as the Tijuana Cartel) in the early 2000s.

Methamphetamine can be produced in domestic labs, and has become a new scourge in Mexico. The drug is cheap and highly addictive. It has helped to create a drug consumption market in Mexico which has its own “dispute resolution mechanisms,” namely kidnapping to settle drug debts.

Kidnapping in Tijuana 2008-2010

The new spate of kidnappings does not compare to the events of Tijuana’s darkest years. In April 2008, the Arellano Felix family, long-time drug kingpins in Tijuana, began to lose their grip on power. One of their lieutenants, Teodoro Garcia Simental, alias “El Teo,” split the organization in two, starting a violent civil war. One of the issues at stake was kidnapping. The leader of the opposing faction and inheritor of the organization, Fernando Sanchez Arellano, alias “El Ingeniero,” had ordered Garcia and his men to minimize kidnapping because it was “heating up the plaza,” i.e., attracting the attention of the authorities, and making drug trafficking through the area more difficult.

The Garcia group refused, as kidnapping was a valuable revenue source, and the stage for the worst violence Tijuana had ever experienced was set. Once the leash was off the Garcia faction, kidnapping became rampant, following a business model pioneered by Garcia’s older brother Marco Antonio Garcia Simental, alias “El Cris” (arrested in 2004).

During the cartel’s civil war, which lasted close to two years, kidnapping extended into the lower middle classes. Victims were taken almost at random. It was not just the wealthy who were abducted, but the owners of small businesses and their family members. Victims were often raped, and sometimes killed. The kidnappings were not particularly sophisticated. They employed “mugrosos,” teenagers who would do the dirty work of the criminal syndicate, who worked in safe-houses where victims were held for short and sometimes long periods of time. Communications were handled through hard-to-trace “pay as you go” cell phones.

The typical kidnap victim in this period was a professional or a member of the lower middle class. An array of people uninvolved in drug trafficking were snatched, including doctors, engineers, and small-business owners. Sometimes the kidnappers did not know the identities of their victims until they had taken them captive, a marked departure from more sophisticated groups in both Mexico and Colombia, which gathered intelligence before taking high profile kidnap victims. The indiscriminate nature of the crime was deeply disturbing to the citizens of Tijuana, who feared they would be next.

Kidnapping is notoriously under-reported because of victims’ fear of organized criminal groups. Official statistics do show a spike in kidnappings in this period, but it is likely the real number was many times greater. In response to this wave of abductions, the Baja California State Police set up a specialized anti-kidnap unit.

Kidnapping in Tijuana Post-2010

The situation in Tijuana did not improve until early 2010, when the combined efforts of the Mexican military, Tijuana civil society, and the municipal police force resulted in the capture of Garcia in La Paz Baja California Sur in January, and his top lieutenant Raydel Lopez Uriarte, alias “El Muletas,” or “crutches” (so named for the injuries he would inflict on his victims), about a month later.

Since then Tijuana has breathed a sigh of relief, despite what appears to be the onset of a new kind of kidnapping: abductions to settle drug scores. The function of these kidnappings, which are called "levantones" in Mexico, is not to extract money from the victims as a revenue stream, but to enforce drug business-related obligations.

This is a more decentralized form of kidnapping, carried out among retail drug sellers. Its victims usually have links to the drug trade, however indirect, and society appears to be more able to tolerate this kind of kidnapping than the indiscriminate abductions of the Tijuana Cartel civil war epoch.

Officials from the Baja California Anti-Kidnapping Unit have also pointed out that surviving Garcia cells may still be kidnapping for ransom, and that it will take time to get rid of them all.

The chart above illustrates the trends. Kidnappings spiked in the period of the Tijuana Cartel's internal battles, between 2008 and 2010. They have since dropped significantly, but continue to remain higher than in the years before the civil war (February 2011 being one noticeable spike).

This suggests that kidnappings in Tijuana have reached a “new normal,” one which can best be explained by the rise of retail drug sales and the use of kidnapping as a means of enforcing drug debts. This new trend suggests that drug violence and drug related kidnappings will continue to rise with the domestic drug market.

From the perspective of the average Tijuana citizen this is a tremendous improvement -- those not involved with the drug trade can consider themselves relatively safe. But for how long? The proliferation of any organized criminal activity is often a prelude for activities such as kidnapping. As illustrated in the Tijuana case, it takes just a small detonator.

To see chart, please enter here

Mexican teacher praised for protecting kids

By Associated Press

A kindergarten teacher in northern Mexico was honored Monday for her courage after a video showed her calmly instructing children to duck and cover as gunfire rattled outside their school.

A certificate presented by the governor of the northern state of Nuevo Leon said teacher Martha Rivera Alanis showed "outstanding civic courage" in her steady performance during the Friday gunfight in the northern industrial hub of Monterrey.

Rivera Alanis proudly held up the framed certificate outside the office of Gov. Rodrigo Medina de la Cruz and said she wasn't concerned with fame — only the safety of her 5- and 6-year-old students.

"Of course, I was afraid, but I tell you, my kids get me through it," she said following the private ceremony.

Rivera Alanis herself used her cell phone to tape the video, in which she is heard coaxing the 15 children to lie flat on the floor.

"No, my love, nothing is going to happen, just put your little face on the floor," Rivera Alanis is heard telling one worried little girl.

Then, loud bursts of gunfire break out on the video, what local paramedics later confirmed was the sound of gunmen killing five people at a taxi stand about a block from the school.

Monterrey has been plagued by a wave of drug-related violence, in which gangs linked to drug cartels have staged gunfights, blocked streets and opened fire on civilians.

In the video, the teacher tries to take the kids' minds off the gunfire, leading them in a song popularized by the children's show "Barney & Friends." The song talks about the sky raining candy — not the bullets that were piercing the air that day.

"If the rain drops were chocolate, I would love to be there, opening my mouth to taste them," the class sang as they hugged the floor at the Alfonso Reyes school.

"My only thought was to take their minds off that noise," she told reporters Monday. "So I thought of that song."

Rivera Alanis, 33, said she posted the video to her Twitter account, and someone who found it there posted it to the website YouTube.

A mother of two children, Rivera Alanis said her young students had set an example for the rest of the city.

"I'm going to carry on, of course it is possible," she said. "If my 5- and 6-year-olds can do it, it is up to the rest of us to carry on."

Rivera Alanis' school and those in several Mexican cities that have been hit by drug violence have held emergency drills in the past to instruct teachers and students what to do in case of gunfire. Such violence has killed more than 35,000 people across Mexico over the past four years.

"We do drills constantly, because the area where we are is a high-risk zone," she said, adding that the kids "behaved in the way we had practiced."

Mass Arrest in Mexico Exposes Familia's Internal Divide

By Steven Dudley

With Mexican security forces' arrest of 36 alleged members of the Familia Michoacana drug trafficking organization, and the deaths of another 15, the rift between two leaders of the group has spilled into public view.

The confrontation with authorities took place along the Jalisco-Michaocan state border. A large group of forces belonging to Jose de Jesus Mendez, alias "El Chango," had gathered there for an assault on the Knights Templar, the newly minted gang of Servando Gomez, alias "La Tuta," the authorities said.

This came after a May 24 attack on a government helicopter in Apatzingan, where authorities say Gomez's group has its stronghold. Another helicopter crashed in the area on May 28, which authorities attributed to mechanical difficulties.

The two groups are fighting for control of a lucrative methamphetamine corridor. Methamphetamine precursor chemicals are accumulated in these two states to produce large quantities of the drug, which is shipped to the United States. At its height, Mexican authorities estimated that the Familia Michoacana was making between $600 million and $900 million a year exporting methamphetamine and marijuana to the United States.

The money allowed them to expand in Guerrero, Mexico State, Guanajuato, and Jalisco. But expansion has also had its costs, as clashing ambitions and splits inevitably arose in what is an impossibly fluid situation. At the heart of the fight is a division of loyalties that may accelerate into a full-fledged war.

The battle dates back to December 2010, when authorities killed Nazario Moreno, alias “El Chayo,” the presumed leader of the Familia, in the state of Michoacan where the group has its base and from which it takes its name.

Prior to his death, Moreno reportedly sent word to Mendez that he and his men were corralled and needed reinforcements. Mendez allegedly refused, and when Moreno died, the split within the Familia emerged.

On one side was Mendez, who fled to Jalisco and made a pact with members of a newly-formed organization calling itself La Resistencia. This group was itself a former subset of a large criminal enterprise that was run by Ignacio Coronel, who was allegedly killed in July 2010 by Mexican military forces, as well as a smattering of other criminal groups including the Familia’s former rivals, the Milenio Cartel.

On the other side was Gomez, who, along with Enrique Plancarte Solis, alias “La Chiva” or “El Tio,” formed the Knights Templar after the death of Moreno. At the time of their appearance, the Knights seemed to simply be an attempt by the Familia to rebrand itself. But it has since become clear that the divide is real and is having bloody consequences.

Mexican authorities told InSight that they have found numerous bodies, presumably soldiers for Mendez’s organization, with notes warning against further “treason.” But this fight has also spilled into neighboring Jalisco where La Resistencia (and Mendez) has battled a new organization calling itself the Jalisco Cartel - New Generation (Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion - CJNG), also made up of former members of Coronel’s operations.

For the moment, especially after the massive blow to Mendez’s organization, it appears that the Knights Templar have the advantage. But these are Pyrrhic victories for all parties involved. The government said in its press release, for instance, that while the recent deaths and the arrests severely “weakened” Mendez’s organization, he may seek new alliances to continue his battle with Gomez’s Knights Templar.

What will happen next is not clear. None of these underworld alliances are firm, and they seem to last for shorter and shorter periods of time. Each group seeks to solve the problem in front of it without measuring the consequences or implementing any long-term strategy. Perhaps this is the greatest success of the Mexican policy so far: a divide and conquer strategy that keeps these groups off balance and drives them to attack one another.

Mexico Investigates Grenade Attack on Saltillo Newspaper

Mexico's Justice Department has opened an investigation into a Sunday night grenade attack on the Vanguardia newspaper, in the northern city of Saltillo.

Written by Patrick Corcoran
In Sight

The explosion did not cause any injuries, but damaged the newspaper’s building and some cars parked in front. The Vaguardia attack seems to be an attempt to scare the newspaper’s editorial staff, something that has become increasingly common in the region.

Saltillo, which lies about half an hour west of Monterrey in the border state of Coahuila, was the site of the murder of Valentin Valdes, a reporter for the local daily Zocalo, in January 2010. Over the past two years, there have been seven attacks on media outlets in Coahuila; over the past five years, the figure comes to 22.

Coahuila is considered to be territory of the Zetas drug gang, who were suspected of the murder of Valdes. The once-peaceful state, which has a number of small border crossings as well as key transit routes to Monterrey and larger border towns like Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa, has turned more violent in recent years as the Zetas have battled it out with the Sinaloa and Gulf Cartels.

4,000 Zeta and Gulf members Battling for Monterrey, reports State Security Spokesman

Cafe Iguana

MONTERREY, MEXICO— From Saturday's Globe and Mail

When gang members opened fire on the Café Iguana in downtown Monterrey last Sunday night, a squad of eight policemen rushed to the scene.

The police arrived to find four people dead and five wounded. Just as they began surveying the scene another group of gang members pulled up in a truck and began loading the dead bodies in the back. Rather than confront them, the officers watched as the men stashed three bodies in the truck and briefly searched for the fourth, which had fallen behind some parked cars. They eventually left it behind and sped off.

The officers involved are now under investigation, but only one has been arrested. The others have vanished.

This isn’t the first time Monterrey police have been accused of co-operating with drug cartels. Police corruption is so rampant in this city of four million that government officials believe at least half of the force is on the payroll of the gangs. Low pay, scant resources and an inability to cope with the heavily armed gangs have made the police an easy target for recruitment.

“Our police do not have anything to lose,” said Jorge Domene Zambrano, executive director of the Office of Public Security for the state of Nuevo Leon, which includes Monterrey. “That’s why they are very easy to be kept by the bad guys.”

But rather than trying to clean up the police department, the government is trying a more radical approach. It is scrapping all 51 municipal police forces across the state, including 11 in the Monterrey area.

In their place, the government plans to create a new state service called Fuerza Civil. It will have 14,000 officers, roughly double the current number of local police. To help ward off corruption, these officers will receive twice the current salary and get benefits such as private health care, scholarships for their children and the ability to live in guarded neighbourhoods. They’ll also be better armed and better organized to take on the cartels.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Document Reports Hunt for Capos

The Gulf and Sinaloa cartels will put a price on the heads of seven collaborators of Nazario Moreno "El Chayo" leader of "La Familia Michoacana" or "Los Templarios", whom the federal government has presumed as dead since December 8 2010.

A federal intelligence document indicates that of the seven targets, two are behind bars and is related to Cipriano Mendoza, "El Remy" and Antonio Arcos Martínez, "El Toñón," and this last one was captured hours before "El Chayo " allegedly lost his life during a chase.

Others implicated have not been arrested nor is there news of their death.

According to the document, organizations of Tamaulipas and Sinaloa deployed cells of gunmen in Michoacán from late 2010, to finish them, along with officials who allegedly protect this criminal group, although their names are not listed.

The document states that their main targets were, at the beginning, "El Toñón" and Alberto Guizar Reyes "El Bato," trusted close partners of "El Chayo".

According to the report, four of the seven members of the security protection circle of Moreno, formed part of a list of 25 prisoners that were rescued by "Los Zetas" in a criminal assault on the operation of Apatzingan on the January 5, 2004.

The authorities have confirmed that this rescue was ordered by Carlos Rosales "El Tísico" former operator of the Gulf Cartel in Michoacan and Guerrero. He was the boss of Nazario until 2004 and close friend of Osiel Cardenas. Rosales is currently incarcerated.

The personal body guards of "Chayo" listed in the document that were rescued from the prison 7 years are Alberto Guizar "El Bato," Cipriano Mendoza "El Remy," Eleuterio Guzmán "La Botella" and Juan Carlos García Martínez .

The documents also signals to two individuals only identified as "El Calabazo" and Armando "El Mandos."

Among the alleged targets of the Sinaloa and the Gulf cartel are "El Toñón" who was arrested in Morelia on December 6 2010, a few hours before his boss "El Chayo" was shot in the Sierra Apatzingán by members of the Federal Police and the military.

The Governor of Sinaloa is Accused of Meeting with El Chapo

At least eight banners with slogans against the Governor of Sinaloa, Mario López Valdez, were hanged on bridges early Monday in several different cities.

The messages made reference to an alleged meeting López Valdez had with narco-trafficker Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, in which he allegedly asked the politician to clean up the northern part of Sinaloa so he could move about in the region as well as provide him with information.

In the banners they also accuse the General of the Ninth Military Zone of supporting the police in Sinaloa, who are at the orders of "El Chapo" Guzman.

Three of the banners were located in the capital of Sinaloa, one of them on the bridge Soriana Zapata, located on the Boulevard Emiliano Zapata in the neighborhood of Lomas del Bulevar, another at a pedestrian bridge over Club de Leones, and one in Puente Negro Bridge on Niños Héroes Boulevard.

Police also found banners hanging from the bridges over the road Millán and 16 de Septiembre at the intersection of International Mexico Highway 15, in the City of Guasave.

One more was found in Sinaloa de Leyva and two more in front of a school in El Fuerte, where classes were suspended for fear of violence.

Shootout in Acapulco: Five Killed

A violent Sunday afternoon was lived in the port of Acapulco, Guerrero, where a confrontation between elements of the municipal police and a group of sicarios.

The sicarios were traveling in at least five vehicles at which time they attacked the officers through the streets of the community of Las Margaritas, in the region of Plaza Sandero. The loud sounds of gunfire caused panic among the people that were in the area who ran for cover from the hail of bullets. This incident was certainly a terrifying moments for everyone near the shootout.

The result of the confrontation left three gunmen and two policemen dead.

In the incident police managed to secure AK-47 and AR-15 rifles, ammunition, magazines, radio equipment, hoods, and several vehicles.

Violence in the famous port continues to increase, there were a total of 16 executions on Sunday alone in separate incidents.

Juárez Mayor: 'We are not Most Dangerous City'

By Marisela Ortega Lozano
El Paso Times

Five people were gunned down in Juárez on Friday, the day before the mayor declared that Juárez is no longer the most dangerous city in Mexico.

Chihuahua state prosecutors said two men in their late 30s were ambushed while riding in a gray 2000 Pontiac Grand AM without license plates at Aeronáutica Street and Panamerican Highway.

In the northern part of the city, across from New Mexico, a man was shot to death Friday afternoon in the grocery store he owned, officials said. José Gómez Marín, 36, was attacked in his store at La Conquista and Hipocampo streets in Anapra.

In another incident, a man in his mid-30s was shot to death in the middle of a street late Friday, authorities said. The victim was found at General Máximo Castillo and Caridad Bravo Adams streets.

Also Friday night, a man in his mid-20s was found dead at Libertad and Ignacio Ronquillo streets near downtown, officials said.

As of Friday, 843 people had been killed in the city this year.

Juárez Mayor Héctor Murguía declared Saturday in a written statement: "We are not the most violent and dangerous city in the country anymore, but we are holding the fourth place. It doesn't mean setting all the bells ringing, though."

He did not say what other areas of Mexico have become more dangerous.

La Familia was Planning an Attack Against the Knights Templar

The federal police reported that the 36 captured members of La Familia Michoacana, along with the 11 dead of their gunmen last week, had plans for a major attack against the organization of the Knights Templar.
Key points:
"In December 2010 the control of La Familia Michoacana was left in the hands of Enrique Plancarte Solís, alias La Chiva, and José de Jesus Mendez Vargas, alias El Chango Mendez.

"Then by early 2011, started a conflict between La Chiva and El Chango Mendez.

"Then after the dispute Enrique Plancarte and Servando Gómez Martínez, alias La Tuta, formed the group Knights Templar to fight La Familia Michoacana.

"The activities of La Familia Michoacana were very low profile, while the Knights Templar were announcing to society that they were a new vigilante group.

"Authorities believe that in response to the blow by the Federal Police, they are not ruling out the possibility that El Chango Mendez might seek support from other criminal group to counter attack the Knights Templar.

Two Men Found Decapitated

Last Sunday in the afternoon at around 1700 hours the State and municipal Police were dispatched to La Pasadita in Tuxtepec, Oaxaca, on a report that a few feet from the river Papaloapan were the remains of two men that appeared to be executed.

When the police arrived they discovered the bodies of two men who had been decapitated and also had signs of being tortured. Alongside the bodies was a narco banner with message.

Full text:
"This is what is going to happen to all who steal motorcycles and cars, and to all scum in general."

One of the bodies also had a knife through the stomach area. Both men were not identified.

AK-47 favorite gun of cartels

By Dan Freedman, Hearst Newspapers

WASHINGTON — Convicted gun smuggler John Phillip Hernandez of Houston was likely not the kind of customer that Bushmaster Firearms International had in mind when he purchased 14 of the company's .223 caliber AR-15s at Houston area gun shops in 2006 and 2007.

Bushmaster describes the AR-15 rifle, a civilian version of the U.S. military's standard-issue M-16, as intended "for law enforcement, security and private consumer use." But the weapons that Hernandez and his associates purchased ended up in the hands of Mexican drug cartel pistoleros, including the Bushmaster .223 that was later used to kill four police officers and three secretaries in Acapulco

A Hearst Newspapers survey of 1,600 guns purchased mostly in Texas and Arizona — which were either shipped to Mexico or intercepted en route — shows the Bushmaster .223 AR-15 ranks second among firearms apparently used in drug warfare.

The survey — drawn from guns identified by manufacturer or importer in U.S. court documents from 44 cases involving 165 defendants in Texas, Arizona and three other states — shows the purveyors of guns to Mexican drug traffickers followed a time-honored maxim of product salesmanship: Bigger is definitely better.

In the world of assault-type weaponry, power is measured by bullet caliber, velocity and range, as well rapidity of fire and ammunition magazine capacity.

"The gun traffickers supplying Mexican drug organizations have become more selective and sophisticated in the weapons they acquire,"' said Kristen Rand, legislative director of the Washington-based Violence Policy Center, which extensively studied the issue. "Their goal is the bulk purchase of maximum firepower."

The Bushmaster .223 comes with a 30-round magazine, enabling the shooter to fire all 30 rounds, one for each pull of the trigger, in a minute or less. John Allen Muhammad, the D.C. sniper, and his youthful accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo, used a Bushmaster .223 in nine of 10 sniper-style murders that terrorized the Washington area in 2002.

A spokeswoman for Bushmaster did not respond to repeated calls for comment.

The No. 1 gun in the Hearst survey was the AK-47 imported from Romania by Century International Arms of Delray Beach, Fla. Century Arms, as it's commonly known, legally circumvents a federal law stipulating that imported rifles must be suitable for "sporting purposes." Once inside the U.S., Century Arms converts the rifles into military-style AK-47s capable of holding 30-round magazines.

Among Mexican traffickers, it has earned itself the nickname "cuerno de chivo" or "goat horn" because of its distinctive banana-shaped magazine.

Worried that weapons purchases for drug cartels might fuel more calls for tougher U.S. gun control laws, gun-rights advocates insist that existing laws are sufficient to control such trafficking.

"The brand names are inconsequential — what matters is that our laws aren't being enforced," said Andrew Arulanandam, director of public affairs for the National Rifle Association. "We have adequate laws on the books. If someone is breaking the law, go after them. If not, they should be left alone. That's the NRA position."

Since the federal law banning assault weapons expired in 2004, so-called "straw purchasers" have flooded U.S. gun stores in the Southwest, mostly in Texas and Arizona, sweeping up these and other weapons. Court documents show such purchasers buying as many as 20 AK-47s at a time, paying as much as $11,000 in cash.

The weapons are sold legally but the purchasers must sign a U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives document saying they are buying the guns for themselves. Straw purchases for others are a violation of federal firearms law.

Typically, the purchaser turns the guns over to a broker who takes them across the border to Mexico, where such weapons cannot be bought legally. The weapons are sold to the cartels, often for three or four times the original price.

Top ATF officials have said in congressional testimony that 90 percent of the guns submitted for tracing by Mexican authorities are from the United States. Gun-rights advocates doubt the accuracy of that claim.

In any case, "the trace itself doesn't tell you anything,"' said Lawrence Keane, general counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the Newtown, Conn.-based firearms industry trade group. "It doesn't say anything about conduct of retailer, manufacturer or purchaser."

The group decries the name "assault weapon" and refers to high-powered guns as "modern sporting rifles." An NSSF survey last year found that 44 percent of owners of these weapons are active-duty or former military or law-enforcement personnel, and the typical owner is 35, married and has some college education.

Once in the hands of cartel capos, however, the modern sporting rifle becomes very much an assault weapon.

Violence in Mexico has claimed nearly 40,000 lives since President Felipe Calderon began a military offensive aimed at overpowering drug cartels.

The Hearst survey of court cases found these weapons among the top 10:

— The Belgian-made FN Herstal Five-SeveN: Some versions of this pistol hold 10 rounds; others have a 20-round capacity. It fires 5.7X28mm cartridges, referred to as "mata policias" (cop killers) in Mexico because they can penetrate bulletproof vests.

— FN Herstal PS90 rifle: It also fires the 5.7X28mm round. Its compactness makes it easy to conceal and some versions can hold a 30-round magazine, made of lightweight polymer.

— Colt Super .38 pistol: Colt, based in West Hartford, Conn., is the corporate legacy of Samuel Colt, who popularized the revolver in the years before the Civil War. The "El Presidente" model is popular in Mexico because it is one of the few guns legally available there, according to the Violence Policy Center. It is cheaper at gun outlets in the U.S.

— Beretta 9mm. An Italian-made 9mm pistol that is a best-seller among U.S. law enforcement agencies. It's a more powerful version of the Beretta popularized in James Bond novels and films.

— Century Arms Draco 7.62X39mm pistol: Another Romanian import. A Draco, purchased in Joshua, Texas, near Forth Worth, was used in the attack and shooting death of Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jaime Zapata in Mexico in February. It is not clear if Century Arms imported the Draco in that case. It fires the same round as the AK-47 but is significantly shorter and easier to conceal.

Military-style weaponry has enabled the drug trafficking organizations to match and sometimes overwhelm the firepower of Mexican law enforcement.

In May 2008, Mexican federal police raided a suspected trafficker house in Culiacan, a long-standing drug hotbed in the Mexican state of Sinaloa. Cartel gunmen armed with AK-47s purchased in Arizona overwhelmed the police, killing eight.

The Hearst survey parallel the findings of a Violence Policy Center report from 2009 documenting 21 gun-trafficking court cases involving 1,700 weapons funneled to Mexico, as well as a federal law enforcement report this year, based on 2,921 guns recovered in Mexico and traced to original U.S. purchases between December 2006 and November 2010.

The federal report also concluded that of 2,921 traced guns, 1,470, or 50 percent, were from Texas. A total of 852, 29 percent, were from Arizona. California, by contrast, accounted for 90 guns, three percent of the total. California gun-control activists credited that state's low total to strict state firearms laws that severely limit sales of military-style weaponry.


Saturday, May 28, 2011

Military helicopter goes down in Michoacan

Mexican Air Force MD530 series helicopter

Sedena, Mexico's Defense Ministry issued a press release reporting the crash of an Air Force MD530 helicopter in Michoacan Saturday morning. Two officers on board were slightly injured.

The helicopter, a light attack/reconnaissance model, was on patrol in the municipality of Apatzingan in suppoort of federal forces in the area when it went down due to mechanical causes. Sedena denied that the helicopter had been hit by gunfire.

Apatzingan is a stronghold of the La Familia Michoacana cartel but the fracture of the cartel into two rival groups has led to heavy fighting in this and surrounding municipalities and in the areas of the state that borders Guerrero and Jalisco.

Sedena has launched an investigation into the crash of the helicopter, which went down in an urban area of Apatzingan. No injuries to civilians were reported.

Since December, 2008, four other military helicopters have crashed in Michoacan. Twenty Air Force and Army troops have been killed in those crashes.

U.S., Mexico Press Effort to Freeze Kingpins’ Cash

By William Booth and Mary Beth Sheridan
The Washington Post

An aggressive U.S.-led effort to pursue money-laundering cases against Mexican cartels is inflicting only fleeting damage on the trafficking organizations, which have grown sensationally rich on drug profits from American consumers.

For the first time, U.S. Treasury agents have begun to share with their Mexican counterparts financial data on drug kingpins that are gleaned from wiretaps, informants and cyberspace probes. The United States has now designated more than 300 people and 180 companies as “significant narcotics traffickers,” which freezes their U.S. assets and bans Americans from doing business with them.

But while President Obama has boasted of “putting unprecedented pressure on cartels and their finances,” the U.S.-Mexican effort has produced little in the way of arrests or seizures. During the past 11 years, only $16 million tied to suspected Mexican traffickers has been blocked in the United States, or one dollar for every $20,000 estimated by the Congressional Research Service to flow southward from the United States to organized-crime groups in Mexico each year.
Mexican officials complain that the financial intelligence the United States shares with them is of little use, and that the information included in kingpin designations is unsupported by evidence that would allow Mexican courts to go after launderers.

Under U.S. law, a designation can be based on “reasonable belief’’ — a low legal standard that could include, for example, a declaration from an anti-narcotics agent based on a tip from an informant.

Until recently, the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control alerted Mexican authorities that it was about to put someone on the kingpin list only a day or two in advance — a diplomatic nicety but meaningless in terms of helping the Mexicans make cases.

U.S. Treasury officials concede that the dollars frozen are few but say the kingpin lists serve to “name and shame” businesses and associates who help launder cash for the cartels. Mexican authorities call this naive. “When they name someone to the list, the people associated with this business quickly go underground,” a senior Mexican official said.

The U.S. government has also had its frustrations. Mexican laws make it far harder to freeze assets than U.S. regulations do. And while Mexico has passed laws limiting deposits and withdrawals in U.S. dollars from Mexican banks, efforts to reform Mexico’s money-laundering laws have stalled in Congress.

Working together
In recent months, the two countries have made what U.S. officials describe as unprecedented efforts to work together.

In October, the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control added alleged senior trafficker Alejandro Flores Cacho to its roster of drug kingpins and prohibited Americans from dealing with a dozen of his alleged investments, including a sports club, a cattle ranch, an aviation school, a transport firm and an upscale cantina called the Numero Uno in Mexico City.

U.S. Treasury officials say Flores Cacho is the transportation chief for Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, founder of the Sinaloa drug cartel and one of the richest men in Mexico.

The two countries worked the case together for months, and the Mexicans were informed weeks in advance that Flores Cacho would be placed on the list, which allowed them to simultaneously freeze some of his assets.

“We viewed this as very significant because Flores Cacho remains one of the most active and senior narco-traffickers, and his access to not only air cargo companies but overland trucking companies meant he was very well positioned to move money, drugs and weapons,” said Adam Szubin, director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Texas DPS lists Mexico Drug War Spillover Crimes, local officials dispute some cases

by:Jared Taylor
The Monitor

Officers responded to a van along the Expressway 83 frontage road on a weekday morning.

Only when they arrived did they realize the Ford van had not been deserted. Luis Alfredo Coronado, 36, had been shot in the neck. He was unresponsive and later died at an area hospital.

Few leads have surfaced in Coronado’s suspected murder, but investigators have said they suspect he had ties to criminal activity. They found more than 17 pounds of pot from the van.

The case is Palmview’s first homicide in nearly three years.

Investigators have identified “people of interest” that have fled to Mexico since the April 19 suspected murder, identified by the Texas Department of Public Safety as one of 23 such murder cases classified as spillover violence that involved organized criminals based in Mexico.

“Would it be a spillover of border violence?” asked Palmview Police Chief Chris Barrera. “I would say it was.”

DPS Director Steve McCraw testified May 11 on Capitol Hill that his agency has identified 22 murders, 24 assaults, 15 shootings and five kidnappings since January 2010 that are “directly related to the Mexican cartels.”

After a public information request by The Monitor, the agency provided a list of the incidents that details each of the spillover crimes identified by state investigators.

The assessment includes murders from the Brownsville to El Paso and as far north as Dallas. All of the kidnappings, shootings and assaults classified by DPS as spillover occurred in counties that border the Rio Grande.

The DPS assessment came as a surprise to some law enforcement leaders in Hidalgo County, whose cases were included on the list but said the incidents are not spillover from Mexico. Rather, they are crimes not atypical to communities along the Texas-Mexico border.

“The border is not under control,” said Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe Treviño, who disputes the four homicides included in the DPS spillover list that were investigated by his deputies. “But it is a lot more safe and secure than it ever has been before.”


Mexico's presidential election campaigning against crime

By The Economist

Each governed by a presidential hopeful, Mexico City and Mexico State seem safer than the rest of the country. What lessons do they offer?

THE spring getaway in Mexico sees long lines of cars escaping the fug of Mexico City for the breezy Pacific coast. But recently traffic has been going the other way. Mexico is in its fifth year of a ramped-up war against organised crime, which has caused violence to flare in states that find themselves on the drug route to the United States. Many of those who can afford it are moving to the capital, where the murder rate last year was half the national average and much lower than that in some big American cities, including Washington.

The policing of Mexico City will come under particular scrutiny as next year’s presidential election nears. That is because governance of the sprawling capital is split between Marcelo Ebrard, the mayor of the Federal District, which encompasses the heart of the city, and Enrique Peña Nieto, the governor of the surrounding Mexico State, which mops up just over half of the capital’s 20m residents. Mr Peña is the front-runner for the presidential nomination of the formerly ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, whereas Mr Ebrard is vying to carry the flag of the left-of-centre Party of the Democratic Revolution. (His main rival for the nomination, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, is himself a former mayor of the capital.)

Mr Ebrard argues that mob recruitment can be stifled by getting young people into school and jobs. Mr Peña wants to hit gangsters’ finances by shrinking the informal economy. But voters may take more note of their records in office than of their campaign promises. Miguel Mancera, the chief prosecutor in the Federal District, boasts that the murder rate there is now lower than in several states that were previously considered much safer than the metropolis. Alfredo Castillo, his opposite number in Mexico State, points out that the homicide rate there is lower still.

The reality is not as rosy as it sounds. The Federal District has indeed moved down the murder league, but only because other places have deteriorated faster. In fact it saw 25% more murders last year than in 2006, when Mr Ebrard came to power. In Mexico State, a statistical revision a year into Mr Peña’s governorship in 2007 saw the murder rate fall by a startling 59%. Thousands of non-criminal deaths had been misclassified, the chief-prosecutor at the time says. Officials stand by the new numbers, but others are not so sure. Mexico State’s criminal statistics are “not very orderly, reliable or even available,” says Juan Francisco Torres Landa of Mexico United Against Crime, a pressure group.

Nine out of ten crimes go unreported in both territories, which means even accurate data on recorded crime would be of limited value. Surveys by ICESI, a research organisation, suggest that whereas the Federal District still has a higher incidence of crime than Mexico State, the latter has been hit harder by drug mobs. Residents there now worry about security almost as much as those in the Federal District; criminals are more likely to carry weapons than in any other state.

Whereas in 2007 there were many more narco-linked murders in the Federal District than in Mexico State, last year Mr Peña’s territory saw three times as many such killings as Mr Ebrard’s. Comparable neighbourhoods seem to do better in the Federal District: Iztapalapa, probably its grittiest barrio, with 1.8m people, had less than half as many narco-related murders last year as Nezahualcóyotl, a district of similar average income with 1.1m people, which lies the other side of the state line.

Saturation policing helps maintain order in the Federal District. Mexico has more cops per head than the United States. In the capital one person in 100 is a police officer. Even when those guarding public buildings are removed from the total, there are more than twice as many police per person as in Mexico State. There are several army bases, and 11,000 new CCTV cameras keep watch.

It helps, too, that the city has a single police force, whereas in all other states there are also dozens of often-corrupt municipal forces (Mexico State has 125). Pressure from mayors has stalled the federal government’s plan to abolish municipal forces. Mr Castillo envies his counterpart’s ability to summon 5,000 officers to police a football match, for instance. “When they captured La Barbie [Edgar Valdez Villarreal, a narco kingpin arrested in Mexico State last year], they asked him why he hadn’t gone to the Federal District. He said it was attractive but operationally difficult simply because of the presence of all the police,” says Mr Mancera.

“Organised crime does not necessarily involve violence,” cautions Ernesto López Portillo of the Institute for Security and Democracy, an NGO. The Federal District may see relatively few mafia-linked murders, but it hums with illegal business, from the pirate-DVD vendors on every street corner to the enormous Tepito market, where everything from exotic animals to automatic weapons freely changes hands. The city’s airport and banks attract plenty of shady custom. There is “no doubt” that the gangs which run the capital’s illegal markets are linked to the drugs “cartels”, Mr López Portillo says.

Corruption makes this possible. The police and prosecutors of both Mexico City and State are the most open to bribery in the country, according to the Mexican branch of Transparency International, a Berlin-based NGO. This month Mr Castillo’s office arrested 16 municipal policemen on suspicion of working with a local criminal gang called “The Hand with Eyes”. Tip-offs from corrupt officers cost as little as 1,000 pesos ($85), he says. Little wonder, then, that under 10% of residents of Mexico City and State trust their local officers, among the lowest rates in the country. Civic organisations have taken to going in groups to report crimes and setting up advice booths outside prosecutors’ offices.

The records of both Mr Ebrard and Mr Peña on security are greatly flattered by the failures of their counterparts in some other parts of Mexico. It is worrying that despite lying far from the centres of the drugs business they preside over such thoroughly corrupt criminal-justice apparatuses. If Mr Ebrard has a slight edge in keeping a lid on violence, that is mainly because he has a big, unified police force. That is something both men might bear in mind on the way to the presidency.

Terrorist Infiltration of the US: Are We Looking at the Wrong Border?

By: Sylvia Longmire

In January 2005, the FBI was on the lookout for four Chinese men and two Iraqis who were thought to have access to a dirty bomb bound for the US that was being smuggled through Mexico.

In November 2005, Zapata County, Texas Sheriff Sigifredo Gonzalez said it's not a matter of "if," but "when," a terrorist will enter the United States through Mexico with a dirty bomb or some other weapon of mass destruction (WMD).

Around the same time, Adnan Shukrijumah – an important Al Qaeda operations member, according to US intelligence officials - was suspected of hatching a plot to smuggle a dirty bomb - or materials to manufacture one - across the US-Mexico border. Fortunately, there is no indication that Shukrijumah’s purported dirty-bomb plot ever got very far.

According to the CIA report, “Detainee Reporting Pivotal for the War Against Al Qaeda,” “[redacted sentence or sentences] Within months of his arrest, Abu Zubaydah [an operations planner as well as senior facilitator for Al Qaeda operatives captured by the CIA and subjected to harsh interrogation techniques] provided details about Al Qaeda’s organizational structure, key operatives and modus operandi. It also was Abu Zubaydah who first brought Al Qaeda operative “Ja’far Al Tayyar … to the FBI’s attention when Abu Zubaydah named him as one of the most likely individuals to be used by Al Qaeda for operations in the United States or Europe. [Mostly redacted paragraph] … that was key to uncovering Ja’far’s true name.

His “true name” is Adnan G. el Shukrijumah, and on March 26, 2003 the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia issued a Material Witness Warrant for his arrest. The FBI has a $5 million reward for his capture “in connection with possible terrorist threats against the United States.”

At the time of his arrest warrant, the federal government had launched a massive global manhunt to find Shukrijumah, who is believed by counterterrorism officials to be an "imminent threat to US citizens and interests [who is] suspected of planning terrorist activities."

According to declassified CIA reports, Zubaydah and Khalid Sheikh Mohammed – the self-professed mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks - provided detailed intelligence indicating Shukrijumah may be involved in plotting another 9/11-syle attack on US soil. He remains at large.

According to reports, Najibullah Zazi, who was arrested in September 2009 on charges that he planned a suicide bombing of the New York subway system, had met with Shukrijumah in a camp in Pakistan.

While we know that individuals associated with terrorist groups like Hezbollah have entered the United States through Mexico, there is no evidence that any of those individuals were “operational”—meaning they came across the border with plans to blow something up.

While media reports of dirty bombs potentially coming across our southwest border have died down considerably since 2005, that doesn’t mean that concern over such a scenario isn’t there anymore.

But are homeland security officials looking for that threat in the wrong direction?

One has to wonder why any terrorist in his right mind would pick our southwest border as the best option for entering the United States surreptitiously. While there’s much that needs to be done before that border can be called “secure,” there are more agents, police, and electronic devices monitoring the US-Mexico border than any time in history.

It’s also very important to understand how human smuggling networks in Mexico operate. There are groups who specialize in smuggling Special Interest Aliens (individuals from countries associated with terrorism; see, “What Can We Learn from Trends in 'Special Interest Alien' Migration into the US?”) and charge exorbitant fees for the extra trouble. These groups - as well as regular human smuggling organizations - often use the same routes to and across the border that drug traffickers use. The cartels, more formally known as transnational criminal organizations (TCOs), own these “plazas.” And not only do they impose a piso, or a passage fee, on human smugglers, but they know about all activity that occurs along these routes.

Association with terrorist groups is very bad for business, for drug smugglers and human smugglers alike. It’s one thing for the US government to know that it’s only catching a small percentage of illegal drugs entering the country, but allowing even one operational terrorist to sneak across the border is completely unacceptable. And the discovery of such an alliance between smugglers and terrorists would bring the wrath of the US government down on the TCOs and their illicit border activities like never before.

Neither the TCOs nor the Mexican government want this kind of negative impact on their finances, so it’s in both of their best interests to make sure that doesn’t happen.

By the very nature of the terrorism business, terrorists look for the path of least resistance: times when there’s less on-site security; buildings that are easy to get into; highly populated areas with public access; etc. Looking at the process that an operational member of Al Qaeda would have to go through to get into the United States via the southwest border, it’s not as easy as one might think. Enter the highly porous, lightly patrolled and barely scrutinized northern border with Canada.

Of course, comparing the southwest and northern borders is like comparing apples and oranges. There’s no drug war going on in Canada that might spill over into the United States, and there aren’t millions of Canadians trying to cross the border illegally every year. Resource allocation for the northern border is determined based on the threat and necessity, and there just hasn’t been a need to fortify the northern border with a fence or thousands of Border Patrol agents.

Unfortunately, that’s the strategy that makes the United States more vulnerable to infiltration by terrorists entering from Canada.

The ease of smuggling drugs south from Canada is one example of the border’s porous nature. A recent Associate Press article told the story of a tiny airport in Sandusky, Michigan, where small airplanes loaded with illegal drugs can more or less come and go as they please. The airport isn’t staffed at night, and the planes come in flying low with their transponders off. All the Border Patrol could do was put up two signs asking people to call and report any suspicious activity.

Cross-border travel by boat is another example. There’s no way that law enforcement agencies can patrol every square mile of the Great Lakes and the Hudson River, much less the miles and miles of lakeshore. Individuals arriving in more remote parts of the Great Lakes from Canada on pleasure boats are merely directed to declare their arrival by using videophones operated by Customs and Border Protection.

Terrorists who want to enter the United States for nefarious reasons don’t need to resort to stealthy means if they have time on their side. Canada has relatively lax immigration requirements; individuals only have to live there for two years (legally) before they’re eligible for permanent residency.

By contrast, the Mexican government requires that individuals live in Mexico for five years before applying for residency, and the process can take years. This means that terrorists can evade a significant amount of scrutiny by spending only two years in Canada and coming across the border as permanent residents, rather than tourists or students.

There’s no doubt that it’s impossible to monitor every square mile of border on either side of the country. The bottom line is that homeland security agencies need to rely on good, solid intelligence to point them in the right direction.

But obtaining credible sources of information – and especially actionable intelligence - inside both extremist groups and TCOs has historically been exceedingly difficult.

But never has it been more necessary. Otherwise, our government is merely putting its figurative finger in the dyke - securing a few spots on the vast northern border, just to leave others open and vulnerable to terrorist infiltration.

Mexican Authorites Arrest 46 Suspected Drug Gang Members

Written by
Kelly Heffernan-Tabor

Mexican authorities on Saturday announced the arrest of 46 suspected drug gang members in police operations across the country, with 36 of those arrested accused of being members of La Familia Michoacana and the remaining 10 part of the Zetas gang.

Mexico's Ministry of Public Security reported that the 36 suspected members of La Familia were arrested in the southern Mexican state Jalisco after police intelligence tracked the gang following a brazen attack on a federal police aircraft.

A land and air operation took place to capture the gang during a meeting they were having in the quiet village of Las Lomas. Upon arrival, police engaged in a shootout that killed 11 suspects and injured two police officers. Following the firefight, 36 members of the drug cartel were arrested.

Mexican authorities say the 36 men had been meeting to coordinate an attack on a rival criminal gang.

A huge haul of arms, some 21,000 rounds of ammunition and nearly 100 rifles and handguns, were seized at the scene.

The La Familia cartel has been weakened since a splintering off of its leadership in December 2010 saw the creation of spin-off drug gang "Los Caballeros Templarios". It is believed that at least 2,000 people have been displaced in southern Michoacan state due to factional fighting within the La Familia cartel.

"There have been over 600 members of La Familia detained by authorities in the last four years. With yesterday's operation, the number is now close to 700 members arrested from this criminal group. This is very relevant but, perhaps the most relevant is that the people who have been displaced by these criminals can now return to their communities," said Commissioner General of the Federal Police Facundo Rosas.

Authorities also on Saturday announced the arrest of 10 members of the notorious Zetas drug gang and the rescue of a kidnap victim in the tourist state of Quintana Roo. Federal Police said they seized a jeep and nearly 50 weapons at the scene.

"In another part of the country an operation took place in the state of Quintana Roo. The Federal Police have freed a 30 year old person who had been held prisoner by the gang since May 21. This operation arrested ten members of the criminal organization known as the Zetas, responsible for such offences as extortion, kidnappings and the sale of drugs," said Rosas.

Quintana Roo state is home to the tourist hotspot of Cancun, which attracts millions of U.S. and European tourists annually with its Caribbean beaches and proximity to Mayan ruins on the Yucatan Peninsula.

The Zetas, known for their brutality and blamed for some of the worst atrocities in Mexico's drug war, have been moving east towards the country's Caribbean resort cities such as Cancun, authorities say.

Monterrey Pre-Schoolers sing through Shootout

A brave pre-school teacher calmed her young students fears by creating a sing along while five men were executed in a shoot out near the school.

According to El Norte, five men were executed by a group of armed men traveling in several pick ups.

The incident took place in pirate taxi hub in La Estanzuela, just south of Monterrey. Initial reports state the place was known to be a point of sale for drugs.

It has been reported one of the deceased has been identified by his wife and declared an innocent victim of the crime, the other four were taxi drivers who also served as "halcones" for organized crime.

Translation of Video:

Yes, sweetie, everyone on the floor. Little ones... what? What, sweetheart? No, nothing's happening love, just put your little faces on the floor... with your... sweeties, put your little faces on the floor. Nothing is the matter, nothing is going to happen to us, just don't get up please. We are going to sing a song! We're going to sing... I know which one! Yes! If rain drops were made of chocolate, I would love to be there... Who wants chocolate!?

Headless Corpses Spark Worries on Mexico's Southern Border

By Tim Johnson
McClatchy Newspapers
A boat waits along the Usumacinta River near Frontera Corozal, Mexico, to take passengers across to Guatemala.

If the border that separates the United States and Mexico is fairly easy to penetrate, then Mexico's other border — the southern one, abutting Guatemala — is virtually a sieve.

For a few pesos, boatmen along this jade-hued jungle river will take people or cargo across, no questions asked. On one recent day, rustlers could be seen driving long-horned cattle from trucks at river's edge onto waiting boats.

That's just garden-variety smuggling. Of greater concern are the tons of illicit narcotics that move north, and the drug cartel gunmen who move easily in either direction, committing crimes on one side only to escape to refuge on the other.

Two weeks ago, assailants thought to be from Los Zetas, a Mexico-based criminal cartel, stormed a ranch in Guatemala's Peten region and killed 27 people, beheading most of them. Guatemala's army raced to cut them off before they could get back across the border, but failed.

The lack of security along Mexico's border with Guatemala is triggering concerns in Central America and as far away as Washington. Authorities now think that three Mexican drug groups have moved into the Peten, where they operate virtually unchallenged. Guatemala's president, Alvaro Colom, is voicing alarm.

"They are invading us," Colom told El Pais, a Madrid daily newspaper, in an interview this week. "And either the countries of Central America join together to fight them or they will defeat us and finish off our democracies."

Worse yet, there's evidence that Los Zetas are using the lack of security on the border to smuggle north deserters from a feared Guatemalan army unit known as the Kaibiles to serve as ground troops and enforcers in Mexico's bloody drug conflict.

U.S. officials think that Mexico is ill-equipped to respond to the situation. Mexico has massed most of its army in the north, near the U.S. border, to counter the narcotics traffickers who've killed thousands there as they battle for lucrative smuggling routes.

"The last thing they want to do is open up another front in the south before they're able to get their arms around the challenges in the northeast," Adm. James Winnefeld Jr., the head of the U.S. Northern Command, the military district that includes Mexico, told the Senate Armed Services Committee last month, referring to Mexico's government.

The Kaibiles began counterinsurgency operations in the 1970s as a civil war gripped Guatemala, and practiced scorched-earth tactics against Mayan villages suspected of harboring insurgents. The Kaibiles slogan is: "If I advance, follow me. If I stop, urge me on. If I retreat, kill me."

A U.S. diplomatic cable obtained by WikiLeaks highlighted how few resources are devoted to policing Mexico's southern border. In the cable, made public last December and written 11 months earlier, a U.S. political counselor wrote that 30,000 U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents keep track of the 1,926 mile U.S.-Mexico border.

But on Mexico's southern frontier, he wrote, "only 125 Mexican immigration officials monitor the 577-mile border with Guatemala. Mexican immigration officials repeatedly confirmed that they do not have the manpower or resources to direct efforts effectively along the southern border."

The military presence on the Mexican side is also slight. During the 1990s, when Mexico faced a leftist insurrection in Chiapas, its southernmost state, some 40,000 soldiers were based in that state alone. Today, just 14,000 soldiers patrol in Chiapas and Tabasco, another state, which with Campeche and Quintana Roo makes up the rest of the Mexican side of the border.

The border with Guatemala has eight official crossing points, only three of them with significant traffic, mostly near the Pacific end of the border.

Sinaloa Cartel and Zetas are said to be Behind Battle in Nayarit

The powerful Sinaloa drug cartel and upstart rival Los Zetas were involved in the gun battle than left 29 dead in the western Mexican state of Nayarit, the state Attorney General’s Office said Friday.

“First off, we understand it was a clash between gangs linked to the Sinaloa cartel and the so-called Zetas,” Nayarit Attorney General Oscar Herrera Lopez told a press conference.

Wednesday’s clash, one of the deadliest in recent years in Mexico, took place along Federal Highway 15 on the outskirts of the rural town of Ruiz, which is home to roughly 20,000 people.

The photographs taken at the scene show bodies of people wearing the fatigues, bullet-proof vests, cartridge belts, helmets and boots typical of a military commando.

Authorities found 28 men dead and four others wounded, as well as high-caliber weapons and 14 vehicles – mostly SUVs, two of them armored – at the scene.

One of the wounded men died later at a hospital.

Herrera said all of those slain were from Mexico’s Gulf coast, the main bastion of the Zetas, a group founded by deserters from an elite Mexican special forces unit.

Most of the victims were wearing identical uniforms, suggesting that a convoy of Zetas was ambushed by Sinaloa cartel gunmen, the Nayarit AG’s office said.

Herrera also said a Guatemalan man died and another “is receiving medical care in the hospital.”

Mexican authorities have previously detected Guatemalans – including veterans of the Guatemalan army’s Kaibiles commando unit – in the ranks of the Zetas, which have increased their presence in Guatemala in recent years.

Army soldiers confiscated six rifles, a handgun, two hand grenades, 96 ammunition clips, 2,422 rounds of ammunition of different calibers, 14 vehicles of different models, 16 bullet-proof vests, eight cartridge belts, three Kevlar-style helmets, 27 camouflage uniforms, 23 pairs of military boots and other gear.

Approximately 1,000 bullet casings and some undetonated grenades were discovered at the scene.

Authorities in Mexico have come under criticism for the ease with which large convoys of SUVs carrying criminals are able to circulate on the country’s highways.

Nayarit is regarded as the territory of the Sinaloa cartel, which is led by Mexico’s most-wanted fugitive, Joaquin “El Chapo” (Shorty) Guzman, and is trying to fight off other criminal gangs seeking to infringe on its areas of influence.

That state also is home to a popular tourist zone known as the Riviera Nayarit, which contains dozens of hotels and luxury residences.

Drug-related violence in Mexico has left nearly 40,000 dead since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderon took office and militarized the struggle against the country’s heavily armed, well-funded cartels.

Source: EFE

La Familia versus Los Caballeros

A Federal Police operation against La Familia Michoacán which left 11 dead and 36 detained, has provided insight into La Familia Michoacan and Los Caballeros Templarios.

Per PF General Commissioner Facundo Rosas, the operation was in response to a PF helicopter attack on Tuesday, May 24th, in Tierra Caliente. The operation resulted in the arrest of 36 La Familia members, 11 members killed and two federal police injured. An arsenal of weapons and tactical gear was also seized.

Detained were Gaudiyur Ambriz Altamirano, who is in charge of a group led by José de Jesús Méndez Vargas, aka "El Chango.” César Vargas Valencia, "El Caramelo", and Gerardo Fernández Covarrubias, "El Mofles" were also arrested and identified as group leaders (possibly cell leaders).

The group was discovered in a location in Las Lomas, Jalisco, awaiting instructions from El Chango Mendez, for a plan to attack the group calling themselves ‘Los Caballeros Templarios.’

Since the death of Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, aka “El Chayo,” it was believed that La Familia was crippled and had therefore claimed to have dismantled. According to the detained, as of December 2010 there was actually a rupture within La Familia, and since then a dispute over territory with Los Caballeros.

The breakdown of La Familia occurred when Enrique Plancarte Solis, aka “La Chiva”, and El Chango Mendez, took over leadership after the death of “El Chayo.” El Chango and El Chayo, had long co-headed La Familia Michoacan. La Chiva and El Chango apparently could not see eye to eye.

In December 2010, Enrique Plancarte and Fernando Gomez, aka “La Tuta,” collaborated in forming their own organization “Los Caballeros Templarios,” in opposition to the side of La Familia led by El Chango. Sources report that leaders formerly under the chain of command of El Chango defected to Los Caballeros.

Since the May 24th helicopter shooting in Terra Caliente, several surrounding communities reportedly were evacuated due to ongoing gun battles.

Michoacán has been noted as the state with the most reported Federal Police deaths. La Familia has long declared war on the Federal Police in Michoacán, and has led an ongoing media campaign against their alleged abuse of the people of Michoacán.


US plans to nominate new ambassador to Mexico ‎

By Matt O' Brien
Contra Costa Times

The Obama administration has tapped a career diplomat who grew up in Contra Costa County for one of its most important foreign service posts: ambassador to Mexico.

The White House has not formally nominated Earl Anthony "Tony" Wayne as the next ambassador, but the administration presented his name late last week to the Mexican foreign ministry, a source in the ministry confirmed. A vetting by the host country is routine protocol in diplomatic appointments.

The 60-year-old Wayne grew up in Concord in the 1950s and 1960s, graduated from UC Berkeley in 1972 and has worked for the State Department for decades. He now serves as deputy ambassador to Afghanistan and was ambassador to Argentina during the Bush administration.

His expected assignment to Mexico City comes at a critical time for relations between the United States and its southern neighbor, especially over the drug war that is ravaging the border states of northern Mexico.

The previous ambassador, Carlos Pascual, resigned in March after State Department cables released by the WikiLeaks group revealed Pascual's sharp criticism of the Mexican government. President Felipe Calderon was angered by Pascual's remarks that panned the performance of the Mexican armed forces in their years-long war on drug cartels.

The U.S. ambassadorship to Mexico is periodically marked by drama. President Ronald Reagan chose Hollywood celebrity John Gavin for the high-profile position.

Known for his supporting roles in "Spartacus," "Psycho" and "Imitation of Life," Gavin had no diplomatic experience but spoke fluent Spanish and held on to the job for five years.

President George H.W. Bush chose a seasoned cold warrior, John Negroponte, who helped usher in the North American Free Trade Agreement and later became a key figure in the post-9/11 war on terrorism. President Bill Clinton nominated a Republican governor of Massachusetts, William Weld, in an attempt at bipartisanship, but opposition from more conservative Republicans blocked the appointment after a protracted political battle. President George W. Bush chose a fellow Texas politician and personal friend who, while ambassador, married Mexico's richest woman.

Even before WikiLeaks revealed his internal communications, Pascual's longtime expertise in working with "failed states" caused consternation among some Mexican officials who do not consider themselves one. Similar scrutiny is expected for Wayne, who specialized in counterterrorism in Europe and has spent the last several years in war-torn Afghanistan.

Wayne has never worked in Mexico, but the high-ranking diplomat is considered a reliable choice by some close observers of U.S.-Mexico relations.

"It's positive that he appointed a career diplomat rather than a political partisan," said James Gerber, a professor at San Diego State University. "On the surface it looks like a very good choice."

Wayne's experience in counterterrorism and economic issues and his interest in promoting bicultural relationships make him a good fit for the Mexico role, Gerber said. What appears to be missing from his portfolio is experience with immigration issues, one of the most important topics of U.S.-Mexico relations, Gerber added.

"From the time we knew Pascual would be leaving, the betting would be it would be a career diplomat who is well-known on the Hill," said Eric Olson, a senior associate at the Woodrow Wilson Center's Mexico Institute.

He said that taking such a figure off the "front lines" in Afghanistan shows the importance of the U.S.-Mexico relationship but is also a sign that Wayne is regarded as someone who can be trusted for a sensitive assignment.

"You can't put somebody in that position with those kinds of high-stakes issues on the agenda that you don't have great confidence in," Olson said. "You might send him off to a backwater, but this is not a backwater. This is a top priority."

Once the Mexican government has a chance to review the choice of Wayne, and if it does not object, a formal nomination by President Barack Obama is likely to follow. The appointment then must get the approval of the U.S. Senate.

"The big hurdle in Washington always is, can you get your nominees through the Senate?" Olson said.

Local residents who remember Wayne before he left the Bay Area for graduate school and the foreign service are rooting for him, including a retired French teacher whose classes at Mt. Diablo High School in Concord helped set him on a path to an international career.

"He was very enthusiastic, full of life, always thinking of new ideas," said Catherine Messersmith, 88. "I do pray that he gets the position."