Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War

Pancho Villa relative is Mexico's newest tough cop

Wednesday, May 4, 2011 |

By E. EDUARDO CASTILLO
Associated Press

CHETUMAL, Mexico – Much like his great uncle, revolutionary leader Pancho Villa, retired Mexican army Gen. Carlos Bibiano Villa Castillo isn't easily frightened.

Even before Villa started his job last month as top cop in the Caribbean coast state of Quintana Roo, he'd received a grisly welcome from Mexico's most ruthless drug cartel, the Zetas.

"This is a little gift for you," read the note, which was placed on a dismembered body dumped near the resort city of Cancun. "You're next, Villa."

It was no idle threat. Two years ago, retired Gen. Mauro Enrique Tello was kidnapped, tortured and killed shortly after he was hired as a security adviser to root out corruption in Cancun.

The 62-year-old Villa, who shares the intense stare and strong features of his famous relative, is undeterred. He started his new job on April 5.

"Damn good that they sent me a warning," Villa told The Associated Press. "If they are warning me, I'll be ready."

Such bravado has been a trademark for Villa as he's joined the struggle to contain this country's escalating drug wars and suggested publicly that he subscribes to a shoot-first, ask-questions-later style of policing.

A father of three, Villa sleeps with a rifle and a .44 caliber pistol he calls "mi negrita" — "my little black one." He joined the military at age 16, happy to receive three hot meals a day after a youth spent herding cattle in the mountains of Durango. A telecommunications and intelligence expert during his 43 years in the military, he rose to the rank of general and now calls the army his father, and the nation his mother.

In fact, Villa represents a new mold of top cop in a country where all levels of law enforcement — even federal prosecutors — have been co-opted by drug cartels. According to Mexico's Institute for Security and Democracy, 17 of Mexico's 32 states have retired military officers heading their departments of public security. Two years ago, the newspaper Reforma said there were only six.

That trend concerns human rights observers, who say a military-based approach threatens to only escalate the violence in a nation where mass graves and gang executions have become numbingly common. Nationwide, drug turf battles already have resulted in more than 34,000 deaths over the last four years.

"Military men have skills for eliminating their enemies, but not necessarily in crime prevention," said Juan Salgado, a specialist in public safety research at Mexico's Center for Economic Research and Teaching.

Oscar Manuel Soto, a researcher for the National Institute of Criminal Justice, notes that military officers have the advantage of specialized training in weapons and tactics, but that knowledge "is to handle situations of war, not to handle civilian situations, and that is a big problem."

The get-tough military style was made famous by Julian Leyzaola, a retired army lieutenant colonel and former Tijuana police chief who now heads public safety in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, Mexico's most dangerous.

While his crackdown on crime was popular in Tijuana, he was accused of torturing police he labeled corrupt. Villa says his strategy and style have nothing to do with Leyzaola, whom he said he's never met.

Villa stoked similar worries, however, after retiring from the military in early 2009 and serving as police chief in the northern city of Torreon, a major battleground between the Zetas and Sinaloa cartels. By his own count, his force carried out 76 gun battles with cartel foot soldiers; he was grazed by a bullet fragment in one confrontation.

In the 15 months Villa was police chief, the Coahuila state commission on humans rights opened four investigations into reports of arbitrary detention by local police. The commission didn't provide information on the outcomes, but none included allegations of torture or more serious human rights violations.

It was in Torreon that Villa saw firsthand the carnage wrought by the Zetas, which have been blamed for the massacres of 183 people in March and 72 in August in northern Tamaulipas state.

Villa recently told a local newspaper, La Jornada, "When I catch a Zeta ... I kill him. Why interrogate him?"

He has since backed away from the comment, insisting he said it in a moment of pique, when he had just survived the second ambush targeting him in a year and seen the man he expected to replace him in Torreon murdered.

In fact, Villa, an athletic career soldier with a carefully cropped mustache, has been fond of throwing off such one-liners. He's also been quoted as saying, "The only thing (a police chief) needs is a set of balls, and no fear."

Villa said he had to get tough in Torreon because he was dealing with a police force he described as overweight, corrupt and inefficient. Of the 1,100-member police force, "1,000 were corrupt," he charged.

"What did I need criminals for, if they were all on the force?" he said. Some of the officers there even rented out their uniforms and vehicles to crooks, he added.

Villa fired 600 police officers in Torreon and recruited new ones, including 114 former soldiers. He instituted background and drug checks and extensive vetting for officers.

"I put some discipline in place, a heavy hand," he recalls.

Now, he promises to take a similar approach in Quintana Roo, a state the Zetas are believed to use as a trans-shipment point for drugs.

Villa said he sees some of the same problems among municipal and state police all over the country.

Of the 388,000 officers on such police forces, 70 percent have only a grade-school education and 60 percent earn less than $350 per month, raising concerns that they may be more susceptible to corruption.

On top of that, small town police also often are afraid of local criminals.

"A local policeman lives in that community, and the criminals know him, and know where he lives," Villa said. "And they threaten them, 'Cooperate or I'll go after your family.'"

His evaluation of the 1,700-member police force now under his command is hardly more encouraging.

"Sixty percent are useless: fat bellies, diabetes, flat feet ... they've got everything," he said.

Before taking the job, he was disappointed to hear his department had 60 advisers on the payroll.

"I don't want advisers, I want people on the street," Villa says. "What I want is 'go out and bust some heads.'"

In fact, Villa seems to be itching for a fight. He turned almost whimsical while describing the thrills of a gun battle.

"You should see how beautifully you start to sweat and the adrenaline gets running when the fighting starts," he said.

Whether the residents of Quintana Roo will welcome such an approach remains to be seen. But Villa's brazen attitude has won support from some desperate to put a stop to the constant drug cartel brutality.

"Men of these abilities and resoluteness are what the country needs," wrote reader Pedro Cazares in response to a La Jornada article about the general. "Just let them do their job."

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24 Borderland Beat Comments:

Anonymous said...

Hero, viva Mexico!

Ardent said...

'Much like his great uncle, revolutionary leader Pancho Villa, retired Mexican army Gen. Carlos Bibiano Villa Castillo isn't easily frightened.'

Oh my goodness! Now we have Mexico's greatest known/unkown Colombian resident of Mexico pulled out by Associate Press to spout pro drug war USA propaganda! Geronimo! Yet another war to puff piece along for!

'In fact, Villa represents a new mold of top cop in a country where all levels of law enforcement — even federal prosecutors — have been co-opted by drug cartels. '

Now what? Mexicans are supposed to shout...'Thank You, USA!' for these supposed new breed of cops DC is breeding for Los Pinos? Next we know, the Pentagon and Associated Press will be pulling out Che to motivate their own Gi Joe the Cop jingoism. Or perhaps Lev Bronshtein??? What a strange world!

'Villa recently told a local newspaper, La Jornada, "When I catch a Zeta ... I kill him. Why interrogate him?"'

Wow! Assassination is in! Obomber, too! What country USA style needs a court system these days?

wgnca said...

Buena Suerte, Senor Villa. Vaya con Dios!

Anonymous said...

i like his policy

Anonymous said...

This guy is crazy, you need to be a little crazy to go heads up with the cartels, but enjoying gun battles? Thats a whole other level of crazy. Why do they keep throwing in that his pancho's villa great nephew. Like its something great. Wasn't he against their government. Kind of like what the cartels are doing, new form of civil war.

Anonymous said...

Suerte!!!!

Anonymous said...

why arrest when the courts just release them, shoot the shoot again

Anonymous said...

HE LOOKS SCARED IN THE PICTURE!!!! LIKE MILHOUSE FROM THE SIMPSONS LOL

Anonymous said...

Texcoco Mex said.

Oh my goodness! Now we have Mexico's greatest known/unknown Colombian resident of Mexico pulled out by Associate Press to spout pro drug war USA propaganda! Geronimo! Yet another war to puff piece along for!

'In fact, Villa represents a new mold of top cop in a country where all levels of law enforcement — even federal prosecutors — have been co-opted by drug cartels.

Just an other idiot talking shit. What is it with you people always talking shit about others like if the U.S was perfect. Please read a little history and look a little more and you will see that in this world we all have a pass a present and a future and you will see no one is perfect.
Don't be bias and please do yourself a favor and educate yourself to establish credibility before commenting on other country's.

Anonymous said...

His grandfather led a revolution against a corrupt government that was successful and significant changes were made. He joined the military at 16 with pride, and he should have been proud to fight for the government that his grandfather helped change.

@ Ardent, he has the right reputation for the job. That is, Quintana Roo, not San Francisco. That is square in the middle of an area totally dominated by Zetas. What do you think he needs to do, invite the Zetas to plant petunias and geraniums with him? Or maybe he should stage a peaceful sit in at the town square and invite the Zetas to join him and offer them some tea. Get real guy, for that job, you need "balls and no fear" just as he said. Why don't you take your flower child ass down there and do the job your way.

Don't knock a good appointment to a tough job in a very tough area to police because you have a problem with the nations direction and leadership. That is like blaming Hillary Clinton for the US government not legalizing drugs in America. Direct your anger at the source. It makes you look jealous and cowardly with the misdirection you took with this attack.

Mexico needs heros and "he" is one. "You aren't", but it seems like you want to be through your misdirected attack on him.

TRC

Aleric said...

Support him or continue to live in fear.

Anonymous said...

He's got some big balls is all I can say.

Anonymous said...

Who do you think is going to fight the battles? A man who thrives on conflict,a man who invites his foe,lets get ready to rumble!! Turn the volume to max and take the fight to the criminals, kill them. Mexico must get off its lazy ass and get its house in order, I wish there were a thousand warriors like this man who could get er done. All the whining about poverty,human rights, military brutality is Bull Shit compared to the antics of these criminal,convict gangs who have brought Mexico to its Knees. American,European political correctness, have no place in a country in absolute disoray. You can not rehabilitate Mexico until it is stabolized,force and power are all that can be effective against such out of control criminal wave.

Anonymous said...

"If i find or capture a ZETA,i will NOT arrest him interrogate him,but KILL HIM." Bibiano Villa

Atta Boy !!!

Layla2 said...

Mexico is not the USA and does not have a reputable court system in place to actually try the criminals. Now there should still be rule of law and I doubt many would not agree with that--but, the criminals ARE COUNTING ON A DEFECTIVE/CORRUPT JUSTICE SYSTEM WHICH LETS THEM CONTINUE OPERATING WITH IMPUNITY. Just like they count on an ineffective police force to stop them from criminal (murderous) activity.

So, do you rally around the 'human rights' bobos while everyone is dying around you, OR do you stand up with a strong arm and FIGHT FIRE WITH FIRE. When Mexico's strong police/military forces are able to put out enough fire, like what's happening in Linares, NL, in enough places, where it can come up for air--then and only then--can you begin to think about correcting a collapsed justice system that will then be able to vindicate the VICTIMS of this horrible war.

Anonymous said...

Texcoco Mex said.

I agree with Gen. Carlos Bibiano Villa Castillo we should killed everybody...in heaven GOD will separate the good ones from the bad ones.

'lito'brito said...

good for him..i hope he sends a lot of Z's to hell before he is killed ..and please don't let them take you senor villa..i don't want to see the torture video...

ignore the "human rights" bobosos..what about the human right to live without fear of la leytra

buena suerte senor Villa y vaya con dios

Anonymous said...

It is the opening bell of attempts to send in 'Dorados'. Those warriors that understand the battlefield as did Doroteo and Zapata, that you cannot win without preparing to fight and kill your enemies. The Mexican Revolution, year 101, continues. Que Dios te proteje mi General.

Ardent said...

The real bobos babosos are the fools who think that human rights should be violated by government authorities at their own free will. What gets me is that many of these clowns will then turn around and tell you that they are supposedly against 'Big Government'! These rubber stamping fools are much bigger threats to the national security of common people than are the gutter snipe narco thugs.

Anonymous said...

Now all decent people all Mexico support this man if not you will all fall. It's about time a man of his courage stepped forward. If you don't support then don't cry.

Anonymous said...

killing a zeta is the only way to combat these roaches, put them in jail and they enjoy the taxes payed by honest citizens..gain some weight and they break through the front door..bullshit..kill this roaches

Anonymous said...

In times like these, in Mexico, people need a glimmer of hope, courage, and conviction, to believe better times are coming. So, they look to the Hero icon such as General Villa, who is fearless and incorruptible. A warrior, who has dedicated his life to serving his country. His methods/tactics are not for the faint of heart but who else you going to turn to in the face of evil?

And then you have people like "Ardent" who degrades and tries to smear this Mexican Hero's reputation. Yes, Ardent speaks of "human rights" violations..the human rights of the drug cartel members!

morafami said...

Kick that ass villa, some1 needs 2 take control over there , i'm glad that not every1 is turning the head 2 the situation. Good luck & i hope that more people will stand up 2 this.

Anonymous said...

why doesnt Human Rights open cases on the Cartels....what a joke enough is enough..

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