Testimonios de la guerra contra el narco
Revista Proceso/Gloria Leticia Díaz
The following statements were obtained through hours of conversation with soldiers incarcerated in the prison facilities of Campo Militar No.1 (Military Camp #1) for alleged ties to organized crime or accused of murdering civilians.
For their own safety they can not be identified by name.
They spoke about the collusion between senior commanders of the Army and the drug cartels, about orders to plunder or to protect certain offenders, and even a military group devoted exclusively to homicides.
Jorge Otilio Cantu was on his way to his job at a call center at 6:00am Monday, April 18 2011, when he was killed during a military operation on Monterrey's south side. In an attempt to cover up the error and label the victim a criminal a pistol was placed inside the vehicle. 7 of the 8 soldiers originally detained have been arraigned in the death of Cantu.
"Any suspicious car"
In the north of the country, particularly where Los Zetas operate, soldiers risk their lives constantly. To prevent their murder, the high command has ordered them to shoot at "any suspicious car."
When asked what are the characteristics that make a vehicle suspicious, an individual in a group of soldiers that have served in Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas replied, "those that have tinted windows and are dirty, with mud caked on them.”
“That means they have been in the backcountry, or they do not want that to be identified from a helicopter."
Another soldier responds, "from a car like that a friend was shot in the head, we’re told why wait to get shot at, do the shooting first.”
According to another soldier a warning shot into the air without notice from a convoy or a checkpoint is sufficient for the rest of the troops to engage and fire, especially if the unit commander fires the first shot.
He adds, "If the group commander fires we have to follow because if we don’t we can be prosecuted for contempt."
A soldier that survived eight shootings in the northeast “Zeta” country recognizes that these decisions have led to serious "accidents": the killing of civilians traveling in "suspicious cars."
There is no hesitation to blame the victims, whether they drive erratically or do not see the signals to stop.
Intended to protect the Army's image and "Calderon’s war", but above all to avoid prosecution, the soldier adds, "superiors ordered us to put weapons or drugs" on the victims of "collateral damage."
The weapons and drugs, he explains, "are removed from seizures, or when we go in joint operations with Federal Police or the PGR, they put them there.”
“There are also commanders who have contacts with the Gulf Cartel. They call their contacts to lend a hand and they come with whatever material is needed. "
"You realize who your superior is with”
An officer who operated in several states confides, "No superior ever told me to protect this or that cartel, but by the orders we get from the General in charge of the zones and colonels in charge of battalions you realize with whom they have arrangements. You have to obey, if not you can be prosecuted, so you have no choice.”
"In 2004 I was sent to an operation destroying illegal drug plantations in the highlands of Michoacan. While destroying the marijuana a man arrived, a rancher. He was not armed but he was brave. He yelled to us why we were doing that to his crop, he had already settled matters in Morelia, at the XXI Military Zone headquarters.
"I told him I was following orders and that he better come down because I was going to arrest him but he fled. Afterwards I got the call from the General in command of the zone with new orders area to disengage and move to another position where we would concentrate with other units. We marched all night to get to the location in the orders but no one was there when we arrived the next morning.”
"Let him go"
In the cities drug sales and “narcotienditas” (literally crackhouses, locations where drugs are sold) do not escape the grip of some senior military commanders and the troops have no other option but to obey orders, according to another officer.
He tells a story: "I was leading a night patrol when suddenly we saw a guy who ran away from us and into a house. We followed him and entered the house. The guy had a “narcotienda” and we arrested him.”
"I immediately contacted the batallion Colonel to inform him of the incident and for orders to transfer custody of the prisoner and drugs to the Attorney General’s officials. The commander asked for the name of the detainee and told me to wait a moment before the transfer. A few minutes later he called and ordered me to let the detainee go and only make the drugs available.”
"The next day, after delivering my report, the commander sent for me and angrily asked why in the report I included his order to release the narcomenudista."
“I reminded him that’s what had happened and he ordered me to re-write the report and only say that I had found the drugs on the street. "
The commander’s close friend.
Another soldier related an incident that occurred on a highway southeast of the country.
"We stopped the driver of a luxury SUV at a checkpoint for a routine search. One soldier found weapons and a briefcase full of money. Although the occupants of the SUV had no permits to carry weapons they insited they were personal bodyguards of a congressman.”
"I told them they were under arrest for the arms and money but one of them insisted on calling his boss, who was supposedly a close friend of the zone commander. Within minutes I got a call from my superiors. I was ordered to set them free. "
It got out of hand
Most of the imprisoned soldiers feel they were betrayed by their superiors and are paying for the mistakes of Calderon’s war strategy. An officer tried for the murder of an alleged “halcon” sees the situation as extremely hypocritical because "we are trained to kill and know that to get promoted to a higher grade we need to show results by any means necessary. Our superiors don’t care. "
"I’m not going to deny I slapped that bastard around, that was the only way to make him talk. It was very hot, I went outside for a few minutes to breathe a little and left the halcon with the troops. I only took a few minutes I was out of breath and when I returned the guy was lying on a table, dead. It had gotten out of hand, they put his head in a bucket of water and did not realize that he got a heart attack.”
"I informed my superior but I can’t believe they prosecuted me. They are damn hypocrites. I’ve had to clean up the shit of others who are untouchable because they only answer to the Defense Minister (General Guillermo Galvan Galvan),” he added in disgust.
"Once I was given the order to go to a point in Reynosa. There was a unit of Gafes (Army special forces) there that only follow orders from the Defense Minister and President Calderon. They had slaughtered some Zetas and my unit had to clean the mess up.”
- “Does this unit (Gafes) kill only drug traffickers.?”
- “Anybody the Defense Minister and the President orders them to.”
- “Even Human Rights defenders?”
- "Maybe. The only case I know where it wasn’t them is the woman who was killed in Chihuahua (victim’s advocate Marisela Escobedo), the one whose daughter was murdered.”
Another soldier spoke who was also prosecuted for the alleged death of another “halcon” while under torture.
"It is true that we are given human rights courses, but when we are out on operations our commanders make us forget everything. Of course they never put it in writing but we are given orders to eliminate all drug dealers who are deserters from the Army, or who resigned in order to collaborate with organized crime. We have been told these are orders straight from the Defense Minister."
“Recently a friend came to visit and he told me that back in February they detained from Zetas. They were ordered to kill them and take their bodies to Chiapas and throw them there. The orders to kill and dump them were never written, but they were obliged to obey. It's what you have to do if you want to get promoted."
Soldiers, performong their duty or stealing?
Denounced by human rights organizations and victims of home burglaries committed by the military, theft is widespread and even ordered by superiors. It's taking the spoils of war, according to the soldiers interviewed.
An officer who was transferred to Chihuahua recalls, "In my first operation I was surprised that the soldiers went out with empty backpacks. We arrived at a house where drugs and weapons were found and suddenly I saw the soldiers began to steal things. A captain arrived and told me to stop acting so innocent. Then a major got there and told me ‘Let's see, take this air conditioner.’ I refused and the captain spoke up, 'That's an order from a superior,' and they put the unit into the back of my pickup.”
"Then a Colonel arrived and communicated by radio with the General in command of the (military) zone who asked what was in the house. I thought the colonel was going to give a report about the drugs and weapons, but no, he began to describe flat-screen televisions, the refrigerator, computers; and the General gave orders to bring some items to the house of a lady who, I later learned, he was courting."
Soldiers from an Army unit enter a home in Mexico without a search warrant
The officer liked the woman
A similar case was witnessed by another officer: "While I was stationed in Tabasco I had become part of a section consisting of 30 men that participated in three failed operations. We got homes without a search warrant or anything like that, because supposedly military intelligence reports claimed that there were drugs and weapons.”
"We never found anything. We scared people because we came armed and masked.”
"Once the captain who led the mission began to give orders to ransack the house. The owner was inside at the time. He was a lawyer who asked who was in charge of the operation and the captain gave the name of a major. This major is now indicted for theft.”
"On another occasion something more serious occurred. There were only women in the house. Our commanding officer liked one of them and raped her. In the struggle the lady ripped the balaclava off and then denounced him.”
"When the police and lawyers arrived with a sketch at the gates of the barracks they were told that person wasn’t there."
The unconditional Commander
“Not all soldiers deployed in the war on drugs have carte blanche to commit injustices and abuses”, says a soldier who has experienced war in Sinaloa and Durango.
"All the Zone and battalion commanders have their special groups, officers and soldiers who are ready for anything. They are stalwarts of the commanders that can initiate investigations and seizures. They enter homes without search warrants to steal and commit atrocities.”
"Usually these people are the GAOI (Grupo de Análisis de Orden Interno-Internal order Analysis Group) in the zones, and the intelligence platoons in the battalions. When they go on special operations they do not use military vehicles. They move in confiscated trucks and cars. They don’t wear uniforms or remove all badges and insignia so they can't be recognized. Of course, they all wear balaclavas."
An Army corporal captured in Durango by an organized criminal group, most likely from the Sinaloa cartel, describes the nature of his links, and those of other soldiers and officers in his unit, to Los Zetas.
The narcos pay well
In the military environment strategies vary by region of the country when cooperating with drug traffickers, say insiders.
In the South and Southeast "drug traffickers usually contact soldiers for information on operations and troop movements. The payment depends on the rank and the type of information."
"A senior commander gets about 40,000 to 50,000 pesos a month and the lowest ranking, from 3,000 to 5,000 pesos a month. Usually there is an intermediary who is paying. "
In the north the drug and arms traffickers "pay at point of contact, when they arrive at military checkpoints, usually the payments are in dollars and vary depending on the load."
A war without weapons
In interviews the incarcerated soldiers expressed dissatisfaction because they claim they are being sent to war without the necessary equipment to confront better armed drug dealers.
"They send us to war with poor quality arms, some even break if dropped, the bulletproof vests are outdated and won’t or are we not withstand high caliber impacts, the boots are vinyl and weigh three kilos, the uniforms and helmets are a furnace in hot weather and freeze in cold weather. The only good thing is that if we die, our families receive a pension and they pay the running costs, "said a soldier who has suffered from the inclement weather in northern states.
The incentive bonus “is a joke”, says another. The soldiers sent to fight the drug war are given a daily incentive bonus pay of between 30 and 50 pesos, depending on rank.
"The generals and colonels get the bulk of the money, but us at the front who get shot at, they just give us 30 pesos a day ... and that’s if an officer doesn’t steal it.”
84 members of the military have been imprisoned since 2006.
Benito Jiménez/Agencia Reforma
Since the start of the Calderon administration military courts have prosecuted 84 military men for alleged links to drug trafficking, among them 2 generals, 33 officers and 49 soldiers, army sources said.
It was reported that military links with drug trafficking were discovered in 18 of the 46 military zones which the Army has.
Among them are the 13 soldiers arrested in Baja California with nearly a ton of the drug known as "crystal" and 30 kilos of cocaine in February 2011
Unofficially, most of the investigations against the 84 soldiers relate primarily to the Sinaloa cartel and the Beltran Leyva organization.
In mid 2009, nine soldiers were prosecuted for their links with Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada, a leader of the Sinaloa Cartel.
Later that year, a PGR investigation exposed a military network that gave protection to Arturo Beltran Leyva, "El Barbas", who was shot and killed by Marines in a subdivision of Cuernavaca in 2010