Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War

'It is Zetas who should tremble:' Juarez police chief defiant about cartels' grip

Sunday, June 12, 2011 |

by Alejandro Martínez-Cabrera \ El Paso Times



JUAREZ -- In a country where impressionable youth and corrupt authorities revere the power of drug traffickers, Julian Leyzaola thinks of all criminals as equal: For him, they all have to go down.

A retired lieutenant colonel of the Mexican army, Leyzaola was sworn in as the chief of Juárez's municipal police in March. In that role, he has taken on the enormous challenge of reining in crime in one of the most violent cities in Mexico.

It is a daunting job, but he comes with experience. Leyzaola gained international prominence for helping reduce violence in Tijuana, cleaning up the city's police force and openly challenging drug organizations.

However, human-rights organizations have accused him of being directly involved in the torture of officers and other individuals to obtain confessions.

Leyzaola, the son and grandson of military officers, can switch from an aggressive and confrontational style to the calm, analytical demeanor of a military strategist. To stay safe in a city that has had about 8,000 killings in the past three years, Leyzaola eats and sleeps at police headquarters and carries a loaded Beretta.

Leyzaola recently spoke with several U.S. reporters, including two from the El Paso Times, about the similarities between Tijuana and Juárez, the human-rights accusations against him and his plans for regaining control of the city.

Q You've been in charge of the city's police department for three months. What kind of police force did you find upon your arrival?

A. I've found a police force with very low morale, infiltrated by criminals and anxious to recover its spaces, its prestige and the respect of the citizens. Definitely with bad police officers on the inside, it requires an internal cleansing that has already started quite aggressively.

I believe some 160 officers have left the force. Most of them have quit, some I have fired, and others have been indicted. I believe that those who have quit have done so because they no longer find the adequate conditions to honor their prior commitments and prefer to leave before they are caught.

But I think the agency is able to cleanse itself. If it's true that we have officers that come with dark intentions, it's also true that not the entire corporation is like that. We have to keep in mind that police officers are natives of this city. They are the most interested in seeing this city recover its stability.

Q How does Juárez compare to Tijuana?

A. Juárez and Tijuana have their similarities. They are both border cities that attract large populations from the center and south of the country.
But their internal problems are completely different. In Tijuana, the problematic was very complex. The organized crime situation was very well developed and evolved. They had separate divisions to handle kidnappings, executions, human trafficking, drug trafficking and extortion. Let's just say the criminal structure was very diversified over there.

Here in Juárez, it's like they are barely beginning. It's true that we have a very strong organized crime problem, but I don't think that organized crime is specialized in drug trafficking. It's specialized in other areas like extortions and car thefts. I think these two activities are the main problems in this city. Kidnappings also occur, but not with the frequency of other crimes occur.

Q Former members of the Juárez cartel have described similar divisions of labor as the ones you described in Tijuana (Published in a book titled "El Sicario: The Autobiography of a Mexican Assassin"). Aren't the high numbers of killings and other major crimes a consequence of the presence of organized crime in the city?

A. No, that precisely demonstrates that instead of organized crime, it's disorganized crime.

Q Can you tell us about the current balance of power between the different criminal organizations in the city? Last week, for instance, messages in Parral announced a possible association between La Linea and Los Zetas.

A. I think they have the liberty to associate or disassociate with who ever they want. I'm not particularly interested whether they are together or not. In the end, we have to defeat them.

Q Los Zetas have a particularly bloody modus operandi, more so than any other criminal group. How can it affect the region?

A. I'm going to discern a bit. I don't share the idea that Los Zetas or any other criminal organization is more violent or sadistic than another. I don't know why Los Zetas are so feared. In the end they're just criminals. They're not different from the rest just because they call themselves Zetas.

Am I supposed to tremble when the Zetas are mentioned or what? I think it is them who should tremble when they talk about the authorities.

I'll tell you one thing, and this is a fact: No criminal organization, no matter how violent or aggressive it may be, is going to flourish if it doesn't have the support of the authorities. No matter who it is. If they don't, they are definitely destined to fail.

Q What's your take on the decrease in the number of killings and other major crimes in the last three months?

A. It's true there have been some improvements. Crime has gone down some, but I believe it's too soon to celebrate or to boast any concrete achievement. I believe these are push-and-pull situations. I suddenly took away the support of the police from criminals and they recoiled, but they are going to want to recover the ground they've lost.

That's why I still don't like to talk about good things, about successful results, because it's too soon. Maybe we can talk about something more concrete in six months. Then we would be able to say that the results are scientifically supported.

Q Recently, the municipal police carried out a number of operations to seize counterfeit products in downtown. Why have you focused in this area of the city and in this particular crime?

A. I'll give you a very clear example. I see crime in Juárez as a climbing plant. If I cut the branches of that plant, I may cause some damage, but I'll actually be strengthening it because I'll open space and they'll grow more.

It is clear to me that the stem of that plant is in the downtown area. Patrol cars were prohibited from entering that zone because it was the territory of organized crime. Everything was anarchy and chaos in that sector.

One could find anything there. Drugs were sold like tortillas, and lines were made to buy them.

I know that slot machines and the sale of counterfeit discs in downtown are businesses of organized crime. If I know where the stem is, then I'll go and cut it. The branches will dry out on their own.

You'll notice it. (Later this month) I'm going to split the downtown police beat into sectors. We're going to assign police officers every three to five blocks.

With this we will remove the police force's anonymity because every citizen in that area will know the police officers.

Q City government officials have mentioned upcoming large-scale operations to combat crime in the city. Are your operations in downtown part of that?

A. It's a program to recover spaces and it's the axis of our security program. One of the military arts principles to establish control is that if you can't be strong everywhere, concentrate your forces where you can make decisions.

I can't recover the city on one single strike, so I'm going to concentrate my forces in small spaces.

Then I'll go to another, and then another, until I recover the entire city.

Q When will downtown be safe like it was before the violence began and recover the economic vibrancy it had, thanks to tourism?

A. I would like that to happen right now, but according to our security program, we're talking about maybe mid-next year.

Q To recover spaces, don't you also have to regain the citizens' trust? Right now that is missing.

A. Yes, it's one of the areas where we have to work harder. Citizens' trust in the authorities is not won with speeches or words; it is won with concrete actions.

I'm talking about a year and a half before we're able to recover that trust. In the end, security is a sensation and it's very subjective, because I can talk about statistics and that crime is descending, but if the citizen doesn't feel safe, how is that good for me? What's the point of saying it?

Q Several human-rights organizations have issued reports stating there are credible claims that in Tijuana you were involved in torture to extract confessions. You've responded before by saying these reports were efforts to undermine your reputation. Isn't it far-fetched to say that internationally respected human-rights groups were involved in an attack campaign against you?

A. I don't doubt of the good will and good intentions of human-rights organizations. I'm skeptical of the people they interviewed.

Also, the reality is that these organizations base their reports exclusively on the testimony of the complainants. These people say I took them out of their houses and that I tortured them, and (the organizations) automatically assumed it's true, because 24 of them said it. But did they see who those people were?

They base themselves on what those people said, but there is no scientific investigation.

Q So the accusations of torture are not true?

A. At least not by me. Not by my hands.


Q How do you balance the particular law enforcement needs of Juárez with retaining respect for human rights?

A. I think we all have to respect human rights. I think it is important to keep an eye on the actions of the police or any authority by a citizen organization, and to observe and verify complaints. Such an organism does need to exist but I also know that criminals try to protect themselves using this very resource.

The only thing I'll say is that a criminal is a criminal. Some of them call themselves human, which I doubt considering the aberrations some of them commit, like chopping up women or locking them up and torturing them for days. And they still demand that their rights are respected? I believe that the punishment of criminals has to be in the in direct proportion to the harm they caused.

Q What about torture?

A. Torture shouldn't be permitted, of course. If authorities are involved in torture, they are no different from criminals.

Q What's your relationship with state authorities and the federal police like?

A. With the state, we have an excellent relationship, there's a lot of collaboration and coordination. With the army it's the same thing.

With the federal police, there is no coordination. They have their work programs and we are starting our own, but there is no coordination.

Q For some time before you arrived, the federal police was in charge of preventive police work in the city, and before they leave they must transfer their responsibilities to the municipal police. Won't that lack of collaboration affect the transition?

A. In the end, they have to leave. Their current responsibilities are actually my responsibilities, not theirs. And it's not an aggression. They gradually have to reduce their number of officers in the city. Whether they want to do it in collaboration with us or they want to do it alone, it's their decision.

Q Tell us about the death threats you've received and the measures you take to protect yourself.

A. It's normal. Threats are a way for criminal organizations to test the psychological resistance of the authorities.

I never underestimate a threat. I take them all seriously. But I'm professional in what I do, and there are passive and active measures I take to keep myself safe.

I'm never in the same place at the same time. I never repeat routes.

You will never see me eating out in a restaurant. Never. I eat breakfast, lunch and dinner in this very place.

When I send my men home, I lock myself up at headquarters. You will never see me alone in the streets.

I know what I came here for, my responsibilities and the risks. And one of my responsibilities is to keep myself alive to continue with the job.

Q Why did you take this job and what's your motivation?

A. It's idealism. When I entered the military college, for four years they got into my head that we were destined to transform the country, to make a difference. And they made me believe it.

Then I returned to the Superior School of War, and for three years they reiterated the same idea.

They made me egomaniacal, because I thought I could achieve something as big as transforming a country.

And since that time, 35 years have gone by.

And you know what the worst part is?

I still believe it.

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25 Borderland Beat Comments:

Anonymous said...

1. "I'm never in the same place at the same time."

2. "I eat breakfast, lunch and dinner in this very place."

Did anyone else catch this?

Anonymous said...

Great man! He has deep ingrained sense of mission and vision. A great role model for politicians ... He is brilliant and wily and I 'm sure he has surrounded himself with staff that are loyal to the higher goals he espouses and lives by.

As far as so-called "human rights" critics... We know that Mexico is criminally distorted land where "outsiders" do not understand their on-the-ground daily realities. Who knows? Perhaps the drug cartels are feeding the human-rights critics?

God Bless this visionary, practical, brilliant, and heroic man.

Mexico-watcher

Anonymous said...

Q What about torture?

A. Torture shouldn't be permitted, of course. If authorities are involved in torture, they are no different from criminals.



Guess what that Makes Cheney? A Criminal!!!!

Anonymous said...

This guy is a damn hero!

Natural leader, makes me want to exchange my uniform for a Juarez PD one and go to war against the criminals!

Anonymous said...

"Guess what that Makes Cheney? A Criminal!!!! "

The article is not about Cheney. Wrong blog, stupid!

Anonymous said...

Awesome guy.... if Mexico had 100 more like him it might be a better,safer place.....but mexico is full of cowards. Unchecked cartel violence would never happen in the USA......

Anonymous said...

@June 12, 2011 1:17 PM
Mexico is not full of cowards...we have alot of brave and honest people, and if you knew anything about Mexico you would know that, moron. Many of the brave and honest people don't like the attention of the media unlike Leyzaola who glorify it. Many people just go on about their job with bravery and determination. I bet you never even heard of Ivonne Álvarez, Jaime Rodríguez Calderón, just to name a few of the thousands who remain Anonymous to society and the world.

Anonymous said...

@ anonymous 1:17

ur a dumbass....the banking/financial system is unchecked cartel violence....!!...

Like America is so much better...

Think b4 u talk next time...

Corruption and "cowards" exist at the highest level in the US government...

Anonymous said...

This man is what Mexico needs more of. I could not agree with him more,so now convince the hundred thousands who have benefitted from corruption all these years to go streight, its like asking the millions of third generation Welfare U S Citizens to get off the givt dole,a hard sale.

Anonymous said...

What happened to the accusations of him and his ties to the sinaloa cartel I didnt see them bring that up once in this article. All I saw was a quick response to the accusations saying he would go after the sinaloa cartel to just sounds like crock of shit.

DFL said...

@1:17
your right. You hit the nail on the head. 2:49 pm is Ardent and we know what an asshole and American hater that he is.
He lives among the Americans however he would find more confort living in Iran or with the Taliban. Those people are more like him and would welcome him with open arms. Hes just a blowhard!!

Anonymous said...

Yeah, human rights activists get a life, cartels sure dont use it why should we use it on them

Anonymous said...

I hear many blow hearts speak bad of Torture, but isn't being in Prison Torture ?.

There are many forms of torture, not being free, or not being allowed to speak my mind in a free society is torture.

So if torture saves the lives of many is it worth it ?

I leave that up to the people, however I must warn you, that if torture is used to much, it no longer works, take it from me, someone whom volunteered in the USAF Search and Evasion School to be tortured and I was just one of the thousands that went to this school.

J said...

I'd like for Leyazola to be right, but I am very doubtful he can change Juarez, or calm the violence. 9,0000 cartel members? That has to be double of how many are in Tijuana. And there is war in Juarez, not just rival factions, Sinaloa vs. Juarez is a lot more power, money, brutality, then El Teo vs. El Ingeniero.

Anonymous said...

To the Einstein who said that chaney is a criminal for torturing, im sure you are talking about waterboarding. Im sure Chaney never torured anyone and if he did it was for the safety and security of the U.S. and that includes your safety too. Im soo tired of people constantly complaning about how this nation is kept safe and still continue to enjoy those benefits. I wonder why.

Ardent said...

Second writing of my comment... The other got lost in cyberspace evidently...lol...

Yes, the example of Dick Cheney is totally relevant to judging Leyzaola's words.

Cheney, too, started out lying tongue in cheek to the world public about US government torture and denying that he authorized using it on Petnagon held POWs. He said that it really wasn't torture when it really was/is. Then later he bragged openly about how he has gotten away with ordering torture of prisoners, as has Dubya himself.

Leyzaola now comes along as player in the US drug wars and says he will not use torture, but he is about the same sort of political hack as Cheeny and is just saying total bs even as he no doubt is authorizing torture use. It is stupid to accept these liars' words as being honest truth.

PS- DFL, I write under ARDENT so it was not me writing earlier as you alleged. I wrote once upon a time under the name 'Ernest1' but then Sahid began to muddy up the messages by writing under the name 'Earnies World' and everybody became confused as to who was writing what. Get it, DFL. And congratulations. You have not been capping entire posts of yours any more. Right On!

Anonymous said...

I'm 2:49....

And who's ardent?....your a clown man..

I'm born and raised 100% nor-cal...

I'm not from Mexico nor do I have family in Mexico...

I'm not bashing America...I'm simply pointing out the ignorance in peoples comments...

If Mexico is full of cowards because they don't do anything about cartel violence...then America is full of cowards because they don't do anything about the cartel like financial institutions...

The corruption inside the US government continues to feed the destruction of the american people....the corruption inside the Mexican government continues 2 feed cartel violence...

Sound and honest institutional infrastructure does not exist in Mexico...and hardly exists in the US...

The US does nothing 2 promote better infrastructure inside of Mexico...all the US does is help its "war companies" by selling Mexico weapons 2 wage a war at the expense of the ordinary Mexican...

All this 2 continue a quagmire...the "war on drugs"....the US probably wants violence...they can sell more helicopters that way....

It ain't about."cowards"...or heroes...or w/e...its about $...

DFL said...

Lets not forget that Dick "head" Cheney was the CEO and President of Haliburton and he resigned to become Vice President to the worst president in America history, than foamed at the mouth with dirty lies to create a war then issued Non-compete contracts to his buddies at Haliburton, He lined his and his friends pockets with cash while almost 5,000 americans were killed and tens of thousands severly injured. He is considered a war criminal by many as is George W. Bush. More Americans were hurt and killed under thier "Administration" since Vietnam. He brought torture and shame to the U.S.
Hard to belive that i agree with Ardent on this subject.
I know that this blog is not about that however i thought i mention that just to remind folks!!
P.S. For 8 years there was no Drug war in America under Bush. He simpliy did`nt give a damn about this country. Those will go down as the darkest years in our History!!

Anonymous said...

i think they all need to do what guiliani did, he went after all the lowest level criminals, drug dealers, street hustlers ect, and it made everyone scared to do anything. He obviously succeded in tijuana cause its not that bad there, but maybe he should have stayed there, cause im sure the person replacing him isnt going to hold it down like he did. They need to clone him

Anonymous said...

It's amazing how this article suddenly warped into the Bush/Cheney show. It is well known that J. Leyzaola's methods are controversial and he's been a target for human rights organization. The man was giving a press conference/interview he's not going to admit to shit! (referring to torture tactics). But you can read between the lines, especially when he says no torture has been committed by his hands (what about indirectly)...or he doubts some of the criminals can be considered human because of the crimes they commit..I personally could care less if this guy is engaging in torture or not, as long as he is producing results, at the cost of eliminating drug cartel members! Bravo..Leyzaola...bravo!

Anonymous said...

I respect what this army guy is trying to do, but please, killing a killer is torture, he doesn't have to apologize for it.

Also, It is equally important to have human rights activists as well as those defending the strong actions.

Ardent said...

Two USA voters' votes for them both not giving a damn about the use of torture in Mexico or elsewhere... Is anybody really surprised here? This is BB after all!

They just don't give a damn that Leyzaola is lying through his teeth about him being supposedly clean on this issue.

Anonymous said...

@ June 12, 2011 12:38 PM

"Unchecked cartel violence would never happen in the USA......"

Its happening as we speak.

DFL said...

@ 10;52
No its not happening unchecked here!!
Cartel violence is no doubt here, but unlike the Mex. Police, we do something about it and do real investigations and make real arrests!!

Anonymous said...

I stopped smoking pot cause I will not have anyone bloods on my hands besides yu xan buy that legal weed in yr favotite store and get higher than the weed if the killing would stop Id be the first in line to buy pot again but til then I oppose violence to all

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