The memory is still fresh. I close my eyes and I can feel the tension. First the explosions… then the screams… then the silence.
The trickles of blood on the concrete make their way as small, red rivers to form a puddle, quickly dried by the sun. The bodies lie there, surrounded by police tape, waiting to be checked by forensic technicians. The prying eyes of the neighbors are fixed on the laughing police officers and the reporters who are speculating on the reasons for the execution.
Moments later the bodies are bagged and placed in a van, ready for their penultimate destination. If they are lucky they have family members who will recognize them at the coroner’s office and are able to give them a burial. In the worst cases, they will end up in a mass grave, next to others without names but similar in their wounds and histories in a parallel world.
Once the forensic experts and police officers are gone, only murmurs uttered by the curious crowd are left. A girl dressed in a school uniform looks at the blood on the pavement in horror, at the impact of the bullets on the wall surrounding the school and at the signature the killers left behind to make sure everybody knows who are responsible for the killings: “Z”
When I was offered the job of covering Monterrey and the so-called “Narco Wars” I had no idea what was coming. I arrived in March 2007 to a thriving city, stained only by isolated cases of violence. But in 2011 the 1,000 executions in the previous 12 months had been surpassed and the situation was out of control. People’s behavior and their routines had changed drastically. Night life was prohibited; no one wanted to be a victim.
The attacks on bars, executions of civilians and police in broad daylight and shoot-outs between rival gangs led to a rude awakening from the dreams of progress and welfare. Covering Mexico’s northern border also changed my life dramatically. Previously I lived in Guatemala and Honduras where what I had seen made a deep impression on me but nothing had prepared me for this.
It was a challenge and I committed mistakes in the beginning – mistakes that luckily didn’t have fatal consequences. I wasn’t the only one who had to live up to the changes. My colleagues who used to cover the occasional guy killed in a bar brawl or those who perished in a car accident were going through the same experience.
Threats became real and a few weeks after my arrival, hitmen kidnapped local journalists Gamaliel Lopez and cameraman Gerardo Paredes, both from TV Azteca, while they were leaving the University Hospital. Their bodies were never found and the guild would never be the same again. There was no margin for errors.
According toReporters sans Frontières (Reporters without borders) and Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Mexico is one of the most dangerous countries to work as a journalist. Colleagues from all over the country have suffered abuses while working, either from gangs or authorities and in the worst cases they have disappeared or have been executed. State and federal authorities rarely act in defense of journalists; there are neither investigations nor arrests made. Simply nothing.
While on assignment on the northern border I witnessed the worst human miseries: children killed or injured by stray bullets during clashes between rival gangs, headless corpses strung from bridges and overpasses, chopped off body parts thrown onto the street with threatening messages from one gang to another or to the government.
These deaths are just numbers for some media outlets, and for a large part of Mexican society, they are numbers that swell the statistics but have no face or name. Nobody was really interested.
People would say that those killed probably had something to do with it, that they “were involved somehow.” The conjecture above reason and the stigma annihilated logic, only the families left behind knew of the struggle.
The stress was huge. You live literally from day to day and the price is high. Threats, death and post traumatic stress disorder come with the job. For some of us it’s just a bitter experience, whereas others fare worse; they are kidnapped, tortured and killed, sometimes in front of their families, sometimes along with them.
The job has become Russian roulette but you don’t have the control of the trigger. Others do. To feel the cold metal of the muzzle pressed against your head, listening to the simple question “Do you value your life?” is something I don’t wish on anyone.
It’s hard to remember the most difficult situations. There’s always a lump in my throat or a lost tear, and the ghosts continue to be there, drunk on the adrenaline of the assignment.
I have always walked hand in hand with those who have allowed me to photograph them – their pain is often mine. Frequently I had to control my emotions at a funeral or at a crime scene, holding back the tears, gathering the strength to keep going.
I’d be lying if I said that my mind is okay after a little more than nine years covering the violence. I’d like to believe it is but every coverage leaves its mark; some difficult to get rid of. The tears of the people who cry for their loved ones, the threats, the adrenaline, the errors, and the shreds of the soul are left at each step.
Seeing the emptiness in the eyes of those who await the return of their loved ones back home, already knowing that such a return is impossible, is the emptiness I feel inside of me.
Now, since I’m living in Mexico City, everything looks so far away. It’s like I’ve woken up and the nightmare is finally over. I don’t hear the gunshots, the shooting blocks away from my house, nor the grenade attacks, nor the constant coming or going of sirens that break the silence of the night, nor crying or screaming.
But I know the problem is still there, fueled by corruption and disinterest of the authorities – the reality of a society that has been humiliated and oppressed forever.
I express my love and appreciation to all my friends and colleagues with whom I have shared moments of tension and journalistic joy, the exchange of experiences and solidarity in complex times. My respect for those who were threatened and also to those whose lives were blinded by bullets, hatred and stupidity. I share solidarity with those who have left their homeland, have been chased away by threats and left without the support of the media they work for.
Words or pictures do not stop bullets, and in the end, a story is not worth a life.
CIUDAD JUÁREZ, Mexico — Every time Erica González put the video goggles on, the details of her four days in captivity came rushing back to her. She could smell the sweaty T-shirt used to cover her head, taste the ash in the beer bottles that she was made to drink water from and hear her abductors’ muffled conversations.
“It was scary to go through it again,” Ms. González said, “but I said, ‘It’s good for me.’ ”
Ms. González, 18, is one of 25 patients who recently completed a virtual therapy program similar to the one used by the United States military to treat Iraq war veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder. Created by doctors and psychologists from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, the pilot project was aimed at filling a void in mental health services for Ciudad Juárez’s shellshocked residents.
The city, home to the powerful Juárez cartel and coveted by other criminal syndicates because of its strategic location within the drug trade, has been one of the front lines in President Felipe Calderón’s assault on organized crime.
The hair-raising virtual scenes that appear in the goggles were created for residents of this violence-racked city, which in recent years has had the highest murder rate in Mexico. The goggles show one of six scenes, including an armed robbery, a police checkpoint, a safe house for kidnappings and a shootout between cartel gunmen and army soldiers. Therapists show patients the scenes most closely related to their experience, and then further tailor the sessions to address their trauma more specifically, for instance by playing a song heard during their ordeal.
The program sharply reduced post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, with a success rate of 80 percent, organizers said.
“There has been a lot of attention to the problem of violence, which is understood as public safety, drug trafficking and police,” said Hugo Almada, who does research on the psychological toll of violence at the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juárez. But the toll on mental health has been largely ignored, he said.
Even those directly affected by the city’s violence, which has claimed more than 10,000 lives in the past four and a half years, often do not know when they need help.
Another traumatized resident, Juan Carlos García, 29, stopped eating and sleeping and became withdrawn after his brother was killed and he had to identify the body at the morgue. After nearly a year, Mr. García’s wife and co-workers persuaded him to try the virtual reality treatment.
Wearing his goggles and headphones, he retold the series of traumatic events, from the last time he saw his brother alive to his burial. He worked through breathing exercises with his therapist afterward, techniques that were intended to help him lower his anxiety levels, which were monitored as he viewed the images through the goggles. And he did his homework between sessions, spending time in his brother’s room, visiting his grave and driving by the site where he was killed.
These exercises are especially important, the project’s therapists said, because unlike Iraq war veterans who eventually leave the battle zone, patients in Ciudad Juárez continue to live in danger. Because the patients have to drive by, or live near, the places where violent episodes occurred, the therapy is intended to help them stop avoiding these routes and routines.
But it is uncertain whether the program will continue, though, because the grant under which it was conceived ran out in December and no other financing has emerged, organizers said.
As emotionally draining as the process was, Mr. García said it was worth it. “I remember, but there isn’t as much pain,” he said.
The need for psychological services remains vast. A recent study by the university in Ciudad Juárez found that more than 70 percent of the city’s residents had passed by a cordoned-off murder site. The doctors leading the virtual reality treatment estimate that a quarter of the population in Ciudad Juárez suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Maria Teresa Cerqueira, chief of the United States-Mexico border office of the Pan American Health Organization, said many residents in the city were dealing with the loss of loved ones, the disappearance of people around them or fears over their own security. “You need a lot of therapists that can support people,” she said.
Brisa Delgado is one of the victims of violence left adrift by the lack of a response network. Gang members burst into a house party that she was attending in January 2010, firing indiscriminately and leaving 15 people dead. Ms. Delgado’s head was grazed by a bullet in the attack, which the authorities said was a gang’s attempt to neutralize young people they mistakenly thought were rivals. Her government-subsidized psychologist discharged her after two months of therapy, but Ms. Delgado, a soft-spoken 18-year-old with auburn bangs swept to the side, was not feeling any better.
“Every day I dream that I get killed,” she said, looking down at her fidgety hands.
Neglect toward mental health is not exclusive to Ciudad Juárez. All across Mexico, institutions for the mentally ill are known for their decrepit conditions. On a recent afternoon, a dozen patients huddled in the shady end of a courtyard in one of the shelters for the mentally ill in Ciudad Juárez, off a dusty highway east of the city. They swatted off flies drawn to the smell of feces and dirty clothes.
Most of the money to operate the shelter comes from private donations. The government’s participation is negligible, said the shelter’s founder, the Rev. José Antonio Galván, who often salvages discarded and expired food for the patients.
“These are people that don’t exist,” Father Galván said. “They are invisible.”
For those whose lives have been turned upside down by criminals, psychological care can make the difference between self-imposed seclusion and guarded freedom. Ms. González, who stayed home for months after her kidnapping, has begun venturing out again. She goes to the movies with her boyfriend from time to time and is planning to return to school in August.
Ms. González is afraid that she may be kidnapped again, but she still feels as if she has come a long way.
“Before, I couldn’t talk about it without crying,” she said with a small, triumphant smile.
A departure from procedures typically used by cartels to convey messages was used Tuesday as thousands of flyers were aerial dropped on the Sinaloa city of Culiacán.
The usual methods of hanging banners, displaying cartulinas, and posting videos have been long used to send messages.Recently, in attempts to intimidate, terrorize and publicize threats, cartels have added the method of mass executions to accentuate messages.
In the past cartels have distributed small quantities of photocopied flyers, but the incident on Tuesday in the Sinaloa state capital was the first time that cartels have resorted to an aerial drop of flyers.
Possibly, it may be another indication of heighten escalation in what has become a nationwide, military-scale battle between the Sinaloa cartel and the Los Zetas cartel.
"It appears they dumped them early in the morning from an airplane. They surely know that it would be very difficult to do by land," Sinaloa Gov. Mario Lopez Valdez said.
Security expert Raul Benitez at the National Autonomous University of Mexico said it was the first time he knew of such mass flyer distribution, much less from an aircraft.
"I can't remember any cartel having used an airplane to do this, nor of them having distributed propaganda in public places," said Benitez.
The single-page, computer-printed leaflets were unsigned, but expressed anger at the in custody killing of a suspect who was recently arrested and sent to a prison allegedly dominated by the Sinaloa cartel.
The suspect, who had been identified as a member of the Beltran Leyva gang, whose remnants have allied with the Zetas, was killed by another inmate four days ago.
The message was unsigned, the translated to English text as follows:
THE GOVERNOR, BY ORDERS OF "CHAPO GUZMAN", GAVE INSTRUCTIONS THAT THE PGR ATTORNEY CONSIGN JAVIER AVILEZ ARAUJO, TO TORTURE AND MURDER, IN THE STATE PENITENTIARY, BECAUSE WHEN HE WAS FREE, THEY NEVER COULD DO IT!!!! WE MAKE THE GOVERNOR, MARIO LOPEZ VALDEZ, RESPONSIBLE OF THE LIFE OF JAVIER AVILEZ ARAUJO AND FOR THE DAYS THAT HE WAS ALIVE IN THE PENITENTIARY, WAS SPENT TORTURING HIM!!!!
IF HE OWED ANY OFFENSE, WHY NOT SEND HIM TO MEXICO CITY OR ANY OTHER PENITENTIARY WHERE CHAPO GUZMAN AND MARIO LOPEZ VALDEZ DIDN'T LEAD OR ISSUE ORDERS.
P.S WE ALL HAVE WHERE IT CAN HURT, AND SOONER OR LATER EVERYTHING ALL IS PAID, SHOW YOUR FACE LIKE MEN DO, NOT KILLING TIED (IMPRISONED) PEOPLE LIKE ELCHAPO GUZMAN DOES, WITHOUT THE HELP OF MALOVA, WE WOULD'VE FINISHED YOU!!
(MALOVA IS THE NICKNAME OF THE GOVERNOR)
The governor denied he has links to Guzman. "This is a person I don't even know, whom I have never had contact with and from whom I have never received an order," Lopez Valdez said.
The content of the letter suggest it is the work of the Zetas, who have launched an all-out attack against Sinaloa strongholds after Sinaloa and their allies moved into Zetas territory in the states of Tamaulipas and Veracruz.
Benitez said. "The Sinaloa cartel is very powerful in monetary terms, but it has a weak force of hit men. And the Zetas are weak in terms of money, but they are very strong in military terms, they have real armies of killers."
The tit-for-tat battle is only likely to continue, "It's about attacking enemy territory ... they keep striking blows against each other."
CULIACAN, Mexico — For generations, the extended Hernandez family tended fields of marijuana high in Sinaloa's western Sierra Madre highlands.
They sold their crops to representatives of the Sinaloa cartel for a fraction of what the drug would bring at the U.S. border and eked out a pittance.
Barefoot children never went to school; they just helped their dads with the planting and harvest. Women washed clothes in the river. They burned pine sap for light at night because there was no electricity.
But a couple of weeks ago, the fighting that has raged as the Zeta paramilitary force tries to encroach on the Sinaloa cartel's turf reached the string of ranchitos where the Hernandezes and scores of other families farmed.
In a single day, the new bad guys in town killed five members of the Hernandez clan. A couple of days later, five more.
"We knew we had to run," said one of the women, Consuelo. "We barely had time to bury the dead."
The Hernandez clan of four adults and 15 children ages eight months to 17 years piled into a pickup truck and drove for days to hide here in Culiacan, the state capital. As they fled, they grabbed four frying pans and a branding iron and left behind crops, cows and chickens.
All are crowded now into a windowless and abandoned two-room concrete house on the southern edge of the city.
They are among at least 1,500 families, some with 10 or 15 members each, who have been displaced in the last month by fighting in the pot- and poppy-growing Sinaloa hinterlands alone.
Nationwide, according to a recent study, drug war violence drove at least 160,000 Mexicans from their homes in 2011, a displaced population that the government largely refuses to acknowledge.
The study by the Norwegian Refugee Council, which has observed conflicts all over the world, was released in April. It says Mexico in 2011 saw a 33% increase from 2010 in the number of "internally displaced" people.
The government of President Felipe Calderon has been slow to recognize the problem and adopt internationally recognized ways to deal with it, United Nations officials say.
Reluctantly, the state government of Sinaloa began counting its displaced in May. Gov. Mario LopezValdez traveled to the battle zone between the Sinaloa cartel and the Zetas, today a string of veritable ghost towns. He announced he would deploy more troops to "restore security," not exactly the cure sought by many of the hiding farmers. For them, more men with guns only seem to exacerbate the problem.
The governor reached the zone by helicopter; a group of reporters traveling to the event by land were intercepted and turned back by drug traffickers who control the roads with their own checkpoints.
In an interview, Sinaloa state prosecutor Marco Antonio Higuera sought to downplay the problem, saying people flee for many reasons. He also seemed to suggest that the displaced shared at least part of the blame for their plight because they coexisted and cooperated with traffickers for so many decades.
"The custom was not to denounce the presence of armed gangs," Higuera said. "They never imagined the monster would turn on them."
The entry of the Zetas to the drug-producing Sierra Madre highlands, part of a cataclysmic battle with the Sinaloa cartel to become the last gang standing, radically altered a long-sustained and tolerated way of life.
Consuelo and the rest of the Hernandezes have known nothing else. Families in the Sierra Madre worked together, intermarried, supported one another. There was no education or healthcare anywhere near. Only some of the older men can read and write. Children can't do math but know how to separate the seeds from the marijuana plants to boost their value.
In the last days of April,the Hernandez family heard of newly arrived gunmen who were terrorizing their neighbors. Then, one afternoon last month, someone brought Consuelo the burned chunks of a human body — a not-so-subtle message.
It was hard to imagine that a drug war that has raged in other parts of Mexico was finally arriving at their ranchitos, Consuelo thought.
"People told us we could not live there anymore," said the 35-year-old mother of seven, a compact woman with curly hair and short, thick arms who had her first baby at 14. "The evil people were taking over."
When 10 relatives were killed in two days, the Hernandez family knew it was time to flee. The women gathered up clothes still wet from the river, a fistful of kitchen utensils and the children, and piled into a pickup truck.
It took three days of precarious travel through uncertain countryside to reach this capital, about 200 miles away.
Wrenched from their livelihood, they now pass listless days in the abandoned house, without beds or chairs or a future.
They have no way to earn a living, nor is there a system in place that might give them donated food, or put the kids in school.
"What will we do here?" Consuelo asked. "How will we live?"
A crime report by police in Michoacan state says a truck belonging to the Sabritas snack company was torched with gasoline bombs on a rural highway late Thursday. The attackers fled the scene.
Earlier Thursday, the cult-like Knights Templar drug cartel hung banners in one Michoacan city claiming credit for firebombing five Sabritas distribution centers last week. Dozens of trucks were burned in those attacks.
The banners accused Sabritas of allowing law-enforcement agents to use its trucks for transport and surveillance.
Phoenix, AZ (written by Daniel Gonzalez/Arizona Republic) -- As Mexicans prepare to choose a new president one month from today, the election has turned into a referendum of sorts on President Felipe Calderon's war on the drug cartels, an effort that some Mexicans applaud as long overdue and others blame for escalating violence in the country.
The primary question for the three leading candidates seeking to succeed Calderon is whether they would continue to use the military to confront the cartels, as Calderon has since he launched a U.S.-backed crackdown on the drug-trafficking networks in 2006, or pursue a different strategy, experts say.
The candidates have yet to offer concrete proposals about how they would reduce cartel-related violence, which has resulted in the deaths of more than 50,000 people and emerged as the issue of overwhelming concern for Mexicans living on both sides of the border.
"Public safety is the big issue. It's what everyone is talking about," said Jaime Aguila, a history professor at Arizona State University who studies Mexican politics. "But while the candidates promise they will improve public safety, they are vague on the details."
Many in the United States -- particularly in border states such as Arizona -- are paying close attention to the race because the outcome could affect relations between the countries.
Besides sharing a 2,000-mile border, Mexico and the United States are also intertwined economically and socially. Mexico is the second-largest market for U.S. exports and the third-largest source of imports. What's more, nearly 12 million Mexicans live in the United States, and the U.S. has more than 30 million people of Mexican descent.
How the next president, who is limited to one six-year term, will deal with the violence is especially important in border states like Arizona, where large numbers of Mexicans travel regularly to visit relatives in Mexico and where law-enforcement officials are concerned about drug violence spreading into this country. The U.S. has given Mexico hundreds of millions of dollars to fight the cartels.
Most of the violence has been concentrated in eight states considered key drug-trafficking areas, among them Chihuahua, Sinaloa and Tamaulipas, but it has spread to other states, including Nuevo Leon, where 49 headless or mutilated bodies were recently found outside the city of Monterrey.
Two weeks ago, the police chief of San Luis Rio Colorado, Sonora, across the border from San Luis, Ariz., was shot and killed as he drove away from his home in a city that was about to be lauded as one of the state's safest.
"This is really Mexico's 9/11. It has really stunned Mexicans, and this is a country that is used to a certain level of violence," said Erik Lee, associate director of ASU's North American Center for Transborder Studies.
The top issue
The economy, job creation and privatization of the national oil industry are all major issues in the race. But they have been overshadowed by drug violence, said Christopher Wilson, an associate with the Mexico Institute at the Woodrow Wilson Center, a nonpartisan think tank in Washington, D.C.
"Certainly, there is a lot of concern in border states about the amount of drugs crossing through, and there are family ties that people have to a lot of border communities on the Mexican side of the border, so there is a natural concern for security on that side of the border as well," Wilson said.
All three candidates have promised to reduce drug violence, but they differ on how they would go about it, Wilson said. The candidates are scheduled to participate in their second debate on June 10.
There are 524,000 Mexicans in Arizona, which has the fourth-largest Mexican population of any U.S. state. Of those, 482,000 are of voting age, which is 18 in Mexico, according to the Migration Policy Institute, a research center in Washington, D.C.
Just 2,324 Mexicans in Arizona have registered to vote by mail, according to Mexico's federal election agency. Six years ago, 1,121 Mexicans from Arizona cast mail-in ballots.
For many Mexicans living in Arizona, drug violence in Mexico is the most important issue in the race. But many see voting as a waste of time, despite efforts by the Mexican government to encourage more Mexicans living outside the country to participate in the election.
"They are all the same," said Phoenix resident Jose Chacon, 44, echoing a common attitude among Mexicans in the U.S. toward Mexican politicians.
Chacon said he has no plans to vote. The restaurant cook is from the state of Michoacan, where drug cartel violence is rampant.
He said he agrees with Calderon's crackdown on the cartels but sees no end to the bloodshed.
Alejandro Lenero, 37, of Phoenix, is also concerned about security in Mexico but is equally pessimistic.
Lenero said he usually supports PAN candidates, but he doesn't have confidence that any of the presidential candidates have a solution to the drug-violence problem in Mexico.
"My personal opinion is this goes beyond the political parties," he said. "I don't think any of them can solve the problem. The problem is so many people without employment going for the easy money with the drug cartels. First, they have to fix the employment."
U.S. officials weigh in
State and federal law-enforcement officials in Arizona also have been keeping an eye on the Mexican presidential elections.
During a congressional-field hearing on controlling international drug trafficking held earlier this month in Phoenix, several top law-enforcement officials said cooperation with Mexican law enforcement increased under the Calderon administration. They hope that cooperation will continue under his successor.
With the cooperation of Mexican authorities, the U.S. has indicted "hundreds of high-level narcotics traffickers from Mexico," said Doug Coleman, special agent in charge of the Arizona office of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
"Anything that would change that level of cooperation would be extremely damaging," Coleman said.
In March, after meeting with the three leading candidates, Vice President Joe Biden said he believes Mexico will continue to cooperate closely with the United States in battling the cartels.
At the same time, Biden rejected growing calls from leaders in Mexico and other Latin American countries for the legalization of drugs as a way of reducing drug violence.
Mexican Cartel Tactical Note #12: Forensics of Recovered Weapons from Piedras Negras Tactical Engagement Between Los Zetas and GATE (Grupo de Armas y Tácticas Especiales) Note— Borderland Beat Reporter Chivis Martinez provided additional informational support pertaining to the Piedras Negras incident for this tactical note.
Chaos and panic erupted last night in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, the Mexican city that shares the border with Eagle Pass Texas.
Around 8PM twitterers and libre network users began reporting that shootouts were occurring in various sectors of the city in what media sources are calling a “narco rebellion”. In the aftermath Sergio Sisbeles, a spokesman for security affairs of Coahuila, stated there were 10 known casualties of the attacks with no apparent losses by the narco group, but possibly there may be civilian casualties.
Elements of GATE (special weapons and tactics group) and the narco group engaged in battle on Highway 75 and various parts of Piedras Negras. Using combat weapons and granadazos (grenades) the attacks lasted for hours.
Terror gripped the city causing widespread turmoil. The first confrontation broke out on Highway 57 at around 5 PM and the Micare plant and offices. The violence triggered American federal authorities to close the two international bridges in Eagle Pass, Texas.
A girls softball tournament was in progress while the violence was occurring, as the shootout ensued close to the playing field creating hysteria by the players and those attending the game, as they ran to safety.
Buses were stopped by the gunmen, passengers robbed and the buses set afire.
The armed gunmen are believed to be the Los Zetas cartel known to have control of Piedras Negras and are most likely responsible for the attacks. The border with Mexico, Eagle Pass and Piedras Negras was closed to protect American citizens and prevent the violence from crossing over into the United States.
By using buses and a crane, it was the gunmen themselves that blocked highway 57, and the Acuna/Piedras highway, virtually isolating and paralyzing the city. Bullet ridden vehicles were left inoperable by the gunmen shooting out the tires leaving hundreds of “ponchallantas” (punctured tires) scattered and blocking the main traffic arteries of the city.
A GATE officer was killed in the shootings, Maria Guadalupe Delgadillo, age 21, was dead at the scene however her fellow officer was alive but seriously wounded, he and the other wounded officers were taken to IMSS Clinic 11 for medical treatment, one in critical condition, four others serious condition and five in fair condition.
Army tanks remained at the hospital to protect the safety of the wounded officers. This action was taken hoping to prevent the gunmen from gaining entrance and killing the officers, as often occurs in Mexico to survivors of such attacks.
Recently, Piedras was one of the border cities receiving additional security as additional troops arrived such as the Marina and equipment including helicopters. On Monday of this week GATE troops arrived, and clearly preventing even greater loss of human life and property.
UPDATE: Coahuila's Prosecutor's Office announced the arrest of Eusebio Hernandez Olivas, alias “El Chebo” and Eduardo Hernández Reyes alias “El Guero”. These individuals were arrested in the vicinity of the road that leads from Piedras Negras to the ciudad Acuña and were arrested for involvement in the Piedras attack. (see fotos below) The state also emphasized that the GATE elements were deployed to Piedras this week to combat the alarming elevation of kidnapping and carjacking incidents in the city.
Among the items confiscated from the attack: • Black Durango model 2000 • A Toyota Tundra burgundy • A GMC Sierra crew cab gray • A Toyota Tundra, double cab, white, 2010 model • A double cab DODGE RAM, color red, model 2010 • 50 AK-47s • Two rocket launchers • Three grenade launchers • Grenades • Ammunition • Six radios (communication type) • Three bullet-proof vests • Camouflaged boots • Camouflaged uniforms; • HK machine gun with ammunition • Machine gun MDD • Long gun (shotgun) • 20 long gun (R15 • A 22-caliber rifle • A 33 caliber rifle • Drugs • An antenna base
What: An engagement between criminal insurgents and Mexican state authorities that turned into running gun battles with infantry small arms (assault rifles, light machine guns, thrown/launched grenades, and rocket propelled grenades). Vehicles (with tires shot out) and buses (set on fire) were utilized by Zeta tactical units to channel opposing forces (to create kill zones) and to block main avenues of approach/hinder the mobility of responding GATE/law enforcement elements. Note—The reporting of army tanks protecting the hospital is in error; rather armored cars (non-tracked vehicles) were deployed. Ten allied Mexican state casualties were noted from this engagement.
When: Initially at 5:00 PM and then from 8:00 PM on for hours afterward, on Tuesday, 6 March, 2012.
Where: On Highway 75 and in various parts of Piedras Negras, Coahuila (Across from Eagle Pass, Texas).
Why: The Mexican government is deploying additional forces to Piedras Negras in order to retake de facto political control of the city from Los Zetas.
Outside Expert Analysis: Sid Heal, a retired SWAT Captain (later Commander) with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and retired CWO5 with the U.S. Marines, was asked to evaluate the level of this engagement. According to Commander Heal “Clearly, the confrontations between the authorities and criminals have escalated to war in all but name only.” After some reflection, he further went on to state:
One thing that occurred to me in retrospect is the long understood principle that the weaker adversary always seeks refuge. The nearest and safest refuge is a short distance to the north. Inevitably then, some of these violent episodes will follow and I believe we are starting to see that very thing. Moreover, there are historical precedents, not the least of which are the execution of 18 Americans by Pancho Villa in 1916 which resulted in the incursion by Gen. Pershing. Accordingly, if the Mexican government is unable to protect their own citizenry it is at least not incredible that they would seek refuge because it would provide both a temporary sanctuary and potential punitive actions against the assailants by a stronger government.
Commander Heal’s concerns are being echoed by many law enforcement officers along the U.S. Border. Increasingly, we are witnessing the emergence of zones of “dual-sovereignty” being established by the cartels on U.S. soil. The potential for the loss of de facto political control in rural areas of Southern Texas across from Piedras Negras and other borderland towns controlled by the Mexican cartels is becoming a U.S. national security concern.
Photographic Analysis: The following two photographs originally posted by GATE have had numbers added to them in order to label and identify the various weapons and hardware recovered. A third photograph of weapons on the table has then been enhanced and has had numbers added. It should be noted that the cartels are increasingly being armed with military grade weaponry—the same weaponry that would be provided to squad and platoon sized military units of insurgent forces and national armies.
GATE/For Public Distribution
GATE/For Public Distribution
Note: This roster is a culmination of the weapons and/or components shown in main photograph, the photographic enhancement of the items to the extreme right (displayed on the table nearest the banner). Weapons and components were moved around as the photographs were taken and, therefore, some will appear only in certain photographs. Additional enhancement of the photographs has revealed the presence of certain weapons that were not previously apparent due to placement and lighting.
1. AK-47, 7.62 X 39mm, fixed stock. 2. Grenade launcher, 40mm, rifle mount (mount configuration unknown). 3. Assorted Ammunition, Rifle, .30 caliber or greater, type unknown. 4. Grenade launcher, 40mm, M-79, standard format. 5. Grenade launcher, 40mm, Multiple, 6-round capacity, mfg. unknown. 6. Grenade launcher, 40mm, HK 69A1 “Granatpistole,” retractable butt-stock (Heckler & Koch). 7. (7) 40mm Spin-stabilized Grenades, HE // HEDP: (2) types present:
(4) Bearing strong resemblance to the U.S. M433 HEDP (Fragmentation / Shaped-charge).
(3) Bearing strong resemblance to the S. Korean K200 HE (Fragmentation / High Explosive). 8. Ammunition, Rifle, .30 caliber or greater, type unknown. 9. AK-47, 7.62 x 39mm, unknown origin, folding stock. 10. AK-47, 7.62 x 39mm, military issue, fixed stock. 11. Model 1919A4.30 cal. Browning Machine Gun, belt-fed, (U.S. produced or exact foreign copy). 12. PG-7 Booster charge – for RPG-7 munitions. 13. RPG round – PG-7VM (Romanian) HEAT with a modified fuze or an improvised fuze safety cover; heavily carried. 14. RPG round – PG-7V Anti-tank; consistent with RFAS or Bulgarian mfg. 15. RPG round – PG-7V Anti-tank; consistent with RFAS or Bulgarian mfg. 16. RPG round – PG-7VM (Romanian) HEAT. 17. RPG-7 Launcher, 40mm Russian (RFAS) or Eastern Bloc, heavily carried and recently fired. 18. RPG-7 Launcher, 40mm Russian (RFAS) or Eastern Bloc, heavily carried. 19. M-60 machine gun, 7.62 x 51mm, U.S. issue, produced sometime between 1996 and 1999. 20. Ammunition, Military Ball, linked, 7.62 x 51mm (for the M-60). 21. AK-47, Weapon origin uncertain, however, the folding stock that it is equipped indicates that it is Romanian, Polish, or post 1985 East German. 22. Weapon not identifiable from view angle, but may be a semi-auto shotgun, box magazine fed. 23. AK-47, 7.62 x 39mm, fixed stock. 24. This firearm appears to be a pump-action rifle, .30 cal. or above, model / origin unknown. 25. Limited item view prevents positive identification. 26. Magazines, 7.62 x 39mm, 30-round capacity, loaded. Magazine count: 108 // Total rounds: 3,240 rnds. 27. (2) Hand-held Transceivers (appear to be VHF). 28. Magazine, Drum, 7.62 x 39mm, AKM, 75-round capacity. 29. Hand Grenades, delay fragmentation, M-26A1 design, country of origin not identifiable; possibly: South African, South Korean, or U.S. 30. Hand Grenade, appears to be an RFAS RDG-5 with UZRGM Fuze. 31. Unknown container, possibly Deta-sheet (flexible explosive) rolled, or similar foreign compound. 32. Packing container containing at least one PG-7 booster charge – for the PG-7 rounds. 33. Canister, PG-7 booster charge. 34. Canister, PG-7 booster charge. 35. Tactical Vest, hand grenade configuration. 36. Body armor, military. 37. Tactical gear pouches. 38. Tactical duty belt. 39. Tactical Rifle sling, padded. 40. Body Armor, tactical, threat level (Bullet resistance) unknown. 41. This appears to be a ceramic plate/s for body armor shown (Item No. 40).
HK69A1 40mm Grenade launcher (“Granatpistole”) [Item No. 6; is a very high quality 40mm launcher that is produced in Germany and is in service with a number of military and police forces, all of which are overseas. There is a high likelihood that this weapon was hijacked or interdicted during a shipment of legitimate arms, possibly destined for delivery to the Mexican government. Another probable example of a hijacked weapon in this group would be Item No. 19, the M-60 Machine gun of U.S. mfg.
RPG-7 Presence: The presence of two RPG-7s’ (Item Nos. 17 & 18) in this cache may have significance based upon their origin. Components of the Mexican army appear to have fielded small numbers of RPG-7s within the past several years from sources currently unknown. The RPG-7 has seen very limited use on the southern continent, with the exception of the El Salvador conflict that occurred in Central America in the mid 1980’s. While the dates of manufacture of these weapons are not readily apparent, they appear far too new to be from the El Salvador conflict. They do however, appear, to be of European (RFAS or former Eastern Bloc) or Middle Eastern origin.
A Mexican Army road patrol unit seized a total of 2.2 metric tons of marijuana and a quantity of weapons and munitions in Zacatecas state Friday, according to Mexican news reports.
According to a story posted on the website of El Sol de Zacatecas news daily, the road patrol was near the village of Lobatos in Valpraiso municipality when soldiers observed two vehicles travelling in convoy. The driver and passengers immediately abandoned the vehicles without firing a shot as the unit closed. No detentions were reported.
Seized contraband included 2.258 metric tons of marijuana in 150 packages. Weapons and munitions seized included two AK-47 rifles, one 12 gauge shotgun, one .45 caliber submachine gun, two explosives detonators, weapons magazines and more than 200 rounds of ammunition.
An unrelated seizure of marijuana took place the day before in Zacatecas municipality when Policia Federal agents executed a search warrant at a residence near the intersection of calles Igualdad and Valores de la Democracia in Zacatecana colony.
A total of 760 grams of marijuana wrapped in 81 packages, presumably for retail sale, was seized. No one was reported detained in the raid.
Meanwhile in Jerez de Garcia Salina municipality, two armed suspects were killed in an exchange of gunfire with a Mexican Army unit Thursday afternoon, according to a news story posted posted on the website of El Sol de Zacatecas news daily
The gunfight took place in the parking lot of Plaza de Toros bull ring where the army unit observed individuals aboard a Mitsubushi Outlander SUV, the driver of which attempted to flee. Gunfire from the SUV was returned. and apparently the gunfire and pursuit continued on into an adjacent village.
Jerez de Garcia Salina has been the scene of a number of recent gunfights between Mexican security forces and criminal gangs which operate in the area. Since the start of the year, 25 individuals, all of them reportedly armed suspects have been killed in three separate firefights with Mexican security forces. A total of five shooting incidents have been recorded in the municipality.
Accord to the article, unidentified officials refused to speculate as to the cartel affiliations of the gunfight's participants. However, a May 4th gunfight was reportedly between a Los Zetas criminal gang and Gulf Cartel members.
Jerez de Garcia Salina sits astride Mexico Federal Highway 23, roughly 40 kilometers south of Fresnillo and 25 kilometers southwest of Zacatecas, the capital of Zacatecas state.
Chris Covert writes Mexican Drug War and national political news for Rantburg.com
Three unidentified armed suspects were killed in a gunfight with Mexican security forces in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas late Thursday morning, according to several Mexican news reports.
The encounter took place near the intersection of Libramiento Naciones Unidas and Avenida José Sulaima near a cemetery where a Policia Federal road patrol exchanged gunfire with at least four armed suspects who were travelling aboard a Nissan Murano SUV.
According to a report on the website of Vangardia news daily, officials with the Procuraduria General de la Republica (PGR) or attorney general refused to confirm the number of dead or wounded, only that an armed encounter took place. The casualty report comes from local reporting and Twitter postings.
In an unrelated gunfight, a Mexican Army soldiers detained two unidentified individuals and killed an armed suspect in Guemes municipality Thursday, according to a separate report in Vangardia news daily, posting on the website.
The unit had been dispatched to a warehouse near Plan de Ayala ejido because of a citizen's complaint of armed suspects in the area.
Gunfire between the army unit and armed suspects ensued leaving one armed suspect dead. An unidentified individual, who had been reportedly kidnapped and beaten was rescued.
Soldiers also seized one AK-47 rifle, one AR-15 rifle, 30 weapons magazines, 714 rounds of ammunition and other contraband.
Chris Covert writes Mexican Drug War and national political news for Rantburg,com
The charred body of a federal police commander was found with signs of torture and asphyxiation in the northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa, officials said Saturday.
The corpse of the Ministerial Federal Police coordinator in Sinaloa, Saul Carrasco Villa, was discovered around 10:00 p.m. Friday just outside the town of Tamazula II, near a water theme park, a spokesperson for the federal Attorney General's Office said.
Carrasco was found shirtless and with numerous blows on his body, that same spokesperson and another with the Sinaloa state Attorney General's Office added.
The federal law-enforcement official was kidnapped on Thursday in Culiacan, the state capital, while eating at a restaurant.
Heavily armed assailants located the police commander inside the establishment, stuffed him into a vehicle and drove away.
The federal AG's office said in a statement after the abduction that federal, state and municipal police were involved in the search but had been unable to locate Carrasco.
The Ministerial Federal Police is Mexico's equivalent of the FBI.
Mexican court authorities have suspended two judges while investigators look into possible irregularities.
The Federal Judiciary Council says it is temporarily suspending appellate Judge Jesus Guadalupe Luna and district Judge Efrain Cazares.
It did not describe the allegations being investigated.
But Luna acquitted the son of Sinaloa drug cartel chief Joaquin Guzman of money laundering. And he also upheld a lower court ruling that cleared Sandra Avila Beltran of organized-crime charges despite efforts by Mexico and the U.S. to prosecute the woman nicknamed "Queen of the Pacific."
Federal authorities say Cazares ignored credible evidence when he released some of mayors detained in a mass arrest of officials in the western state of Michoacan in 2009
The council said in a Friday statement that a separate agency is conducting the investigation.
By many measures, this country has made great strides in recent decades toward becoming a middle-class society, with broader access to education, consumer goods and professional careers that promise upward mobility.
And yet, while prosperity has expanded here, researchers and polling experts say Mexico remains stricken with a form of social poverty that presents a vexing obstacle to the emergence of a more developed, democratic neighbor on the southern U.S. border.
It is a deficit of social trust, characterized by weak levels of confidence in public institutions — police, courts, politicians — but also the erosion of interpersonal trust among neighbors and co-workers.
Mexico’s trust gap is considered especially threatening as the country struggles to keep the corrupting powers of billionaire drug cartels from further undermining democracy and the rule of law. If Mexicans don’t trust police and political leaders, and they’re too wary of fellow Mexicans to join citizen campaigns and social movements, scholars say, there may be no one left to turn to.
“The existence of social trust makes a modern, middle-class-based society possible,” said Luis Rubio, a prominent Mexican political scientist and co-author of a new report titled “Mexico: A Middle Class Society — Poor No More, Developed Not Yet.”
“Its absence may not change the economic or consumption-driven elements, but it does leave them somewhat orphaned,” he said.
Here in Cuernavaca, 50 miles south of Mexico City, the trust deficit is evident in the lives of Alfredo and Lilia Hoyos, two physicians who reside on a street of middle-class homes hidden behind high walls and thickets of razor wire.
As members of an international hospitality association, they have traveled the world staying in the homes of strangers, often arriving at a foreign doorstep to a warm welcome and their own set of keys to the house.
In turn, they have readily hosted global visitors — mostly Americans and Europeans — with little thought of risk to their children or themselves.
“We’ve made friends all over the world this way,” Alfredo Hoyos said.
And yet, when asked whether he would be so trusting if the travelers were other Mexicans, Hoyos fell silent and shook his head. “No,” he said ruefully. “Probably not. Especially not now.”
It was a tough but candid acknowledgment of the fear that has crept into their lives in the past two years as crime in Cuernavaca and in their once-tranquil neighborhood has soared. On their block, there have been at least four break-ins or attempted burglaries since March. The phone rings with extortion threats, some amateurish, others scarier. A colleague and close friend of Alfredo Hoyos was kidnapped from his office months ago, never to be heard from again.
Wary of turning to the police, who are often in league with criminals, Hoyos got an idea recently from an intrepid American couple who rode into town on their bikes from Oregon. Why not gather their neighbors together and form a neighborhood watch committee?
That was in March. Since then, Alfredo Hoyos has contacted a security expert and researched prices for an air-raid-style neighborhood alarm system. But he said that he has struggled to persuade others on the block to come to a meeting at his home and that only about half of his neighbors have responded to his entreaties. There is no rush to collective action.
Some of his neighbors are passive, Hoyos said. Other seem suspicious, fearful of getting involved. “They didn’t want to put themselves at risk,” he said, sounding disheartened. “But we have to do something.”
Erosion of social trust
Mexico’s middle class has been hit especially hard by the spread of fear and the erosion of social trust, researchers say, because its members are in many ways the most vulnerable to the country’s deteriorating public safety. Kidnappings and extortion schemes that formerly targeted wealthy Mexicans now terrorize middle-class families, which cannot afford bodyguards, armored vehicles and private security consultants.
But in many parts of Mexico, the middle class can’t go to the police for help, either.
“Today, if you are a victim of crime and you turn to the police, you’re at risk of being further victimized,” said Alfonso Valenzuela, an urban sociologist in Cuernavaca. “We can’t reestablish the rule of law without a minimum degree of trust.”
In an August poll, just 6 percent of respondents said they had high levels of trust in Mexico’s police, while 40 percent said they had “little” or “none.”
More worrisome, perhaps, is that fraying levels of trust impoverish relations not only between people and public institutions but also among ordinary Mexicans left increasingly unsure who among their neighbors, co-workers and other fellow citizens might have criminal ties. In a broad social survey conducted by the government in 2008, just 20 percent of respondents said they had high amounts of trust in their co-workers and classmates, while 31 percent reported “little” or “none.”
Among the 34 nations of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group that includes most of the world’s biggest economies, Mexico ranked near the bottom in citizens who “express high levels of trust in others,” according to surveys in 2008, the most recent year for which data are available.
Since then, Mexico’s drug war has only made matters worse.
A movement quickly fades
As the place that has given rise to Mexico’s most important anti-crime citizens movement, Cuernavaca is as good a place as any to gauge Mexico’s shortfall in social trust. It is an old, well-established university town with a reputation for good weather, where many Mexico City residents keep a second home and visiting Americans once flocked to language schools.
That was before “La Ciudad de la Eterna Primavera” (The City of the Eternal Spring) became “La Ciudad de la Eterna Balacera” (The City of the Eternal Gunfight), as local gallows humor has it.
In December 2009, hundreds of Mexican marines in helicopters and armored vehicles swooped into the city and killed cartel kingpin Arturo Beltran Leyva in a wild shootout that the government hailed as a major victory.
Known as “the Beard” and “the Boss of Bosses,” Beltran Leyva ran his criminal empire from a gleaming white condo tower just up the street from where Alfredo and Lilia Hoyos live.
“People here say they used to see him shopping in the grocery store,” Lilia Hoyos said.
Beltran Leyva’s demise shattered his trafficking organization into smaller factions that are now at war with one another, and the violence has the entire city on edge.
But the crime wave has also produced a citizen movement led by local poet and activist Javier Sicilia, whose 24-year-old son was killed in March 2011 along with a group of friends.
“Estamos Hasta la Madre!” (We’ve had enough!) became the anti-crime movement’s rallying cry. More than 40,000 Mexicans gathered in Cuernavaca in April 2011 to protest the violence and the government’s largely ineffective response.
Sicilia’s movement traveled the country by caravan, winning headlines and drawing huge crowds. Foreign governments and human rights organizations heaped awards on the brokenhearted, crusading father as he marched his supporters to Mexico City last year and held a face-to-face “dialogue” challenging Mexican President Felipe Calderon on national television.
It was a movement that relied heavily on middle-class Mexicans and their ability to trust one another enough to share wrenching personal stories, protest in public and draw attention to the unsolved murder cases of their loved ones.
Now, a year later, Sicilia’s movement is struggling to keep its members engaged, organizers say. A first anniversary rally in early April drew just a few thousand supporters in Cuernavaca.
“We lost momentum so quickly,” said organizer Rocato Bablot, adding that jealousies, misinformation and pettiness were to blame. But he also viewed those problems as symptoms of a trust shortage.
“As soon as negative rumors about the movement began to circulate, people lost faith,” he said. “When there’s so little trust, people are quick to believe anything negative.”
The disenchantment on Alfredo Hoyos’s street hasn’t reached that level. Hoyos said he planned to redouble his efforts to gather his neighbors to a meeting, or at least try to rally the ones who are willing to take action.
Just then the Hoyos family’s doorbell rang. It was a neighbor from up the street, the victim of an attempted break-in the week before. “I heard you were organizing a meeting,” the man said.
They are ordinary, middle-class Mexicans – computer technicians, police officers and engineers – who went to work one day and never came home. They are Mexico’s missing – and unlike many of the 50,000 killed in the country’s drug wars, they have no direct links to organized crime, drug traffickers or their internecine rivalries. They are not involved in the drug trade but have become caught up in the country’s narco-violence. Their bodies are seldom recovered, adding to the devastation and sense of impotence family members feel.
Mexico’s disappeared are an open wound in a society already numbed by the grisly violence of the cartels – the decapitations, bodies found in vats of acid, the strangulations – and the psychological terror they wage. The country’s National Human Rights Commission estimates the number of disappeared at 5,300 while human-rights groups say it is as high as 12,000. Authorities have been reluctant to solve the crimes, or even register the disappearances, even as hundreds of bodies have been found in mass graves, some hacked to pieces. Family members usually don’t know the motive for the crime, and in many cases don’t even receive ransom demands from drug cartels.
Many of the victims disappear in the northern states of Coahuila, Chihuahua, Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon, along the U.S. border, where the drug cartels are most active and local authorities are often complicit in their activities. Family members themselves are left to take up the cause, until they are warned away by anonymous death threats.
“They never appear again, either alive or dead,” said Yolanda Moran, spokesperson of the Working Group of Forced Disappearances in Coahuila state (FUNDEC), an advocacy group that works with Amnesty International. “They are the collateral damage in the war on drugs. But they are our loved ones.”
Family members cling to the belief that the disappeared are still alive. They cannot bear to sign death certificates, collect insurance money or close bank accounts. And so they live in a terrible state of limbo. They gathered in May at a conference in Mexico City organized by FUNDEC to highlight their plight and seek solace from others living a similar torment.
President Felipe Calderon, who deployed the military to fight the drug cartels in 2006, unleashing the current narco-violence, has acknowledged the problem and passed a law this spring to protect the rights of crime victims. The government has agreed to set up a database to record cases of disappeared persons and compensate relatives of those who have been killed, forcibly disappeared or been the target of human-rights abuses by security forces. The law also requires authorities to identify the remains of victims and to locate those who may still be alive.
“We have laid the groundwork for strengthening our judicial institutions and building a country where the rule of law is adhered to by all levels of government,” said Patricia Espinosa, Mexico’s Foreign Minister, in an interview with The Globe and Mail. “But this is going to take a long time. It is a long process.”
The most difficult thing for Monica Heredia Gutierrez is trying to explain to her five-year-old son what happened to his father. Filiberto Guzman Morales, 47, was last seen on Dec. 15, 2009. He had been hired by a telecommunications outsourcing firm on behalf of Nokia to install a cellphone network in Nuevo Laredo, a city just across the border from Laredo, Texas.
His wife was fearful: The city is known as a lucrative drug-smuggling corridor, where Los Zetas, the country’s best armed, most violent and highly organized drug cartel has its base. But the family needed the money. Mr. Guzman promised that while away from home he would stay in constant touch with his wife, so when Ms. Heredia didn’t hear from him on Dec. 16, she began to worry.
The company called her the next day, saying her husband and another engineer had gone missing. Their cars were still in the driveway of the house they had rented, the company reported, but their computers had been taken. She flew from her home in Mexico City to launch a formal complaint with the prosecutor’s office in Nuevo Laredo. Nokia provided her with a lawyer, but says it is up to the police to resolve the case; to date, they have not done so.
Ms. Heredia believes her husband was kidnapped by Los Zetas. His engineering skills make him a high-value target. (Last year, Mexico’s military found secret telecommunications networks across the northeast controlled by drug traffickers, installed to co-ordinate drug shipments and orchestrate attacks.) Ms. Heredia became suspicious after discovering that the owner of the rental property had ties to drug traffickers.
The disappearance has altered the family’s lives in every way. Ms. Heredia cannot access her husband’s bank account, since it was only in his name, and she has had to move in with her mother and sister. Most of all, though, she grieves for her lost future. “It’s like my heart has been cut in half,” she says. “My son says, ‘Daddy is lost because he cannot find his way home.’ And I don’t know what to tell him.”
Juan Hernandez, a tall, slim man, joined Mexico’s federal police force when he was just 19. An excellent shot, he soon became a third-class officer. His mother, Patricia Manzanares remembers his words: “‘Mama,’ he told me, ‘I am prepared to die for my job. You will never lack for anything because I will be part of the police family and they will protect you.’
“His dream was to build me a house and to marry his girlfriend,” says Ms. Manzanares, who lives in Gustavo A. Madero, a municipality of Mexico City.
In 2011, his second year on the force, Mr. Hernandez was sent to San Nicolas de los Garza, in Monterrey, an area embroiled in a brutal wave of violence as Los Zetas fought rival cartels for control of the smuggling corridor. Mr. Hernandez was last seen late on Feb. 20 inside the 88 Inn, the hotel where the police were staying. The next day he didn’t report to work. Instead of sending out a battalion of officers to look for him, his commander simply listed him as missing.
When Ms. Manzanares, 44, launched her own complaint with the state prosecutor’s office, his police commander and other senior officers gave conflicting versions of events. One officer said her son had last been seen leaving the hotel to recharge his telephone at a small shop two doors away. Another said he’d been spotted at a popular police bar, Los Rieles.
Said Ms. Manzanares: “How could he disappear inside a well-guarded police hotel?” Her theory is that the police commander was complicit in the disappearance, hence the reluctance to investigate the case. A few months later, Ms. Manzanares received a call from the commander asking her to identify her son’s remains.
Police showed her a cellphone video of two masked members of Los Zetas beheading two victims, sawing off their heads with a machete. “The police said, ‘This is your son, take into consideration that when heads are cut off, they become swollen in size,’ “ she recalls, weeping at the memory. “They wanted it to be my son so we could conclude the case. But it wasn’t him. A mother can always recognize her own son.”
Links to Los Zetas
Jose Antonio Robledo Fernandez studied civil engineering and his dream was to move to Vancouver, where he had studied English in high school as an exchange student. He was grateful to get a well-paying job as a supervisor at ICA Fluor Daniel, a construction conglomerate.
In 2009, the 32-year-old was sent north to Monclova, Coahuila, a border state where Los Zetas operate, to oversee a project building furnaces for Altos Hornos de Mexico S.A. He was last seen alive Sunday, Jan. 25, 2009. He had just returned from a day trip to Monterrey and was sitting in his blue Nissan outside a garage, speaking to his girlfriend on his cellphone when several armed men approached him.
Terrified, Mr. Robledo dropped his cellphone on the floor of his vehicle and his girlfriend could hear the men ordering him out and then, the muffled sounds of them beating Mr. Robledo. His body was never found – nor was his vehicle.
His father, also named Jose Antonio Robledo, travelled to Monclova to investigate for himself. An accountant, he meticulously documented all the evidence he uncovered, including the fact that a driver working for the company was a convicted drug trafficker with links to Los Zetas. The head of the security company contracted by ICA was accused of operating an extortion and kidnapping ring.
The senior Mr. Robledo and his wife, Maria Guadalupe Fernandez Martinez, lobbied federal police to investigate for two years until they took action. The driver and the security head were finally arrested and charged with weapons offences in April, 2011. However, the kidnapping charges never went ahead.
“To lose a son for parents is the worst thing. But to have your son disappear is even more terrible because you always wonder if he is still alive,” says Ms. Fernandez. “This should not happen in Mexico. These are our children.”
This image provided Saturday June 2, 2012, by the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, shows the vehicle where five dead bodies burned were found inside in Pinal County's Vekol Valley area, west of Casa Grande, N.M. Authorities say the incident may be drug related. (AP Photo/ Pinal County Sheriff’s Office.
Arizona Daily Sun
Five bodies burned beyond recognition have been found inside the shell of a charred sport utility vehicle in the Arizona desert, and Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu said Saturday the case is likely connected to drug cartel violence.
The bodies and vehicle were found in the Vekol Valley, a rugged, mountainous desert area that's a well-known smuggling corridor for drugs and illegal immigrants headed from Mexico to Phoenix and the U.S. interior.
The bodies were so badly burned that investigators couldn't immediately determine their gender or ethnicity. While it's unclear whether the victims were from Mexico, the sheriff's office has notified the Mexican Consulate.
"Given all these indicators, you don't have to be a homicide detective to add up all this information," Babeu said.
A Border Patrol agent first spotted the white Ford Expedition driving at around 4:30 a.m.
The vehicle disappeared despite an effort by federal and local authorities to track it down. Why the vehicle first drew attention from authorities is unclear.
At daybreak, an agent spotted tracks leading from Interstate 8 into the desert. The vehicle that left the tracks had apparently launched off the highway, going airborne for a short distance before landing in the desert. The tracks continued on for a couple of miles.
Agents could see the smoldering vehicle from a distance through binoculars.
They approached with extinguishers. Inside, they found the bodies _ one in the rear passenger seat and four lying in the back cargo compartment. The front seats were empty, Babeu said.
Babeu said investigators will try to determine whether the victims were dead before the SUV was set ablaze or whether they were alive when the fire was started.
"Clearly these people were murdered, but we don't know the manner of death," he said.
The sheriff said the extent of the violence, particularly in the western part of the county _ about 35 miles south of Phoenix _ is more evidence that drug smuggling north of the border hasn't subsided.
Pinal County deputies were involved in more than 350 high-speed pursuits last year, and Babeu said most of those involved cartel members. There have been shootings, the bodies of murder victims have been left in the desert and just this week, several loads of drugs were confiscated, he said.
A total of three armed suspects were shot and killed in a shootout with Nuevo Leon state police agents Saturday in Montemorelos municipality, according to Mexican news accounts.
According to a post on the website of Milenio news daily, the armed group were gunned down around 2020 hrs at a hotel near the village of Bugambilias. The suspects had been ordered to surrender, but instead opened fired on police agents with the Nuevo Leon Agencia Estatal de Investigaciones (AEI) as they attempted to detain them.
The AEI unit involved in the shootout was an anti-kidnapping unit which had been investigating abductions in the area for several weeks. AEI agents found that a local taxi driver was being used to transport the suspects and their victim.
The gang numbered ten total, and presumably the other seven were either not present during the shootout, or had escaped AEI agents.
Execution in San Nicolas de los Garza
In an unrelated shooting, four individuals were shot to death in an encounter with another armed group in San Nicolas de los Garza, Nuevo Leon Friday night, according to a separate report posted on Milenio news daily.
The four suspects were travelling aboard a Nissan X-Terra SUV near the intersection of calles Corregidora and Hercule in Hacienda los Morales colony, when they were intercepted by several armed suspects travelling aboard Ford Crown Victoria and Volkswagen Jetta sedans.
A pursuit was initiated which ended minutes later when the victims in the SUV decided to dismount and make their escape on foot. Three of the victims died at the scene while a fourth died while receiving medical attention.
According to a late report by Milenio by writers Sandra Gonzalez and Nestor Hernandez, two of the shooting victims were the sons of a Jose Santos Ornelas Almaraz, a former Secretaria Seguridad Publica (SSP) for Guadalupe municipality during the term of Cristina Diaz Salazar.
The victims were were identified as Hector Almaraz Salvatore Daniel, 19 and Diego Huerta, 20,Serna Jesus Ivan Gonzalez, 25, and Adam Zapata Mireles, 21.
Milenio reported that Jose Santos Ornelas Almaraz had been detained by the Mexican Army in June 2009 after his name was found on a list in Zuazua municipality of SSP and other officials, which allegedly provided protection for local criminal gangs. The list was found at a Zuazua safe house maintained by a local cartel affiliated gang. Jose Santos Ornelas Almaraz was later released and apparently exonerated for the crime.
Despite that, the records found in the safe house said that several SSP officials had been paid MX $4,500 (US $314.24) every two weeks. Two police commanders and 37 other police agents were detained and then sent to prison for their connections to organized crime.
The mayor of Guadalupe, Cristina Diaz Salazar, went on to become a deputy in both the Nuevo Leon and national Chamber of Deputies, eventually winding up as general secretary to Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI). She has served briefly as interim president of PRI just after the resignation of disgraced PRI president Humberto Moreira Valdes last December.
Coppers bust five safe houses
A total of five safe houses used by a local cartel gang were found and dismantled by Escobedo municipal and Nuevo Leon state police agents Friday.
According to a report published in Milenio news daily, Escobedo municipal police officers detained three suspects at a traffic stop near the corner of avenidas Camino Real and Las Torres in Santa Martha colony. A police patrol had observed the three suspects travelling aboard a taxi cab which ran a red light, initiating a pursuit.
Police at the scene also seized two pistols from the suspects, who were identified as Fernando Vela Carlos Carranza, 24, and Joseph Alexander Rosales Tovar, 18.
Information provided by the suspects led police to five different safe houses used by a local criminal group in Escobedo, San Nicolas de los Garza and El Carmen municipalities.
A safe house near the intersection of calles Campollines and Acosia in Rincón del Carmen colony had been used by the group for kidnapping. At that location police found marijuana, explosives, Molotov cocktails, and cash.
In San Nicolas de los Garza three more safe houses were found in Paraje, San José and Balcones colonies. In total police seized firearms, two detonators for explosives, drugs, two vehicles and a payroll for lookouts.
Chris Covert writes Mexican Drug War and national political news for Rantburg.com
Tijuana, BC. A total of $ 90 000 USD, presumably generated by drug sales in the East Los Angeles, California, were seized on Saturday in this city to a man identified as Cardenas Sosa Othniel.
The State Secretariat of Public Security (SSPE) reported that in an operation implemented in Colonia Francisco Villa in the south of the border, agents of the State Preventive Police (PEP) arrested Sosa Cardenas.
In a statement, the state agency reported that Sosa Cardenas, 47, was arrested while driving a vehicle in which, after a rigorous inspection, agents found the $ 90,000 in bills of various denominations.
Cardenas Sosa said the money was proceeds of drug sales in Los Angeles, California, and owned by the Arellano Felix brothers, specifically, he said, belongs to Fernando Sanchez Arellano, known as "El Ingeniero" (The Engineer), is the leader of the Tijuana drug cartel.
The 47 year old Sosa Cardenas, says he lives in Los Angeles and is a legal U.S. resident.
When cornered, the man who is also known by the alias of "El Oto" told officers, "if I let go I give you the amount of $ 50,000", an action that was rejected by the agents.
Othniel Sosa Cardenas, alias El Oto, was arrested and brought before the Public Ministry of Federal Jurisdiction.
The Tijuana cartel, one of Mexico's oldest criminal organizations, was founded by Fernando Sanchez Arellano's uncles, the Arellano Felix brothers.
Sanchez Arellano's mother, Enedina Arellano Felix, is considered the cartel's financial brains.
The Tijuana cartel, once one of Mexico's most powerful criminal organizations, has been weakened dramatically in recent years by the arrests of some of its top leaders.
Gunmen shot dead 11 people and wounded at least nine others at a rehab center in northern Mexico on Sunday in the latest bloody episode in a brutal turf war between drug gangs.
Dead bodies were strewn across blood-soaked beds, armchairs and the floor at the church-operated rehabilitation center in the city of Torreon, the Milenio television network reported.
"The armed attackers came on two pickup trucks, entered the center and opened fire," a senior police official told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The attack came almost a year to the day after a similar assault on a rehab center downtown left 11 people dead and wounded two others.
Five drug rehabilitation centers - all in the north of the country - were attacked in 2010. In one of the worst attacks, again in June, some 30 gunmen stormed a facility in the city of Chihuahua, killing 19 people.
These centers have become frequent targets of drug cartels, which seek members of rival trafficking groups among the patients and eliminate them to prevent them from talking to the police.
The latest assault on the Torreon center, called "Your Life on the Rock," occurred at 9:15 pm Sunday (0215 GMT Monday).
The gunmen used AR-15 assault rifles and nine-millimeter caliber pistols, police said. According to eyewitnesses, some victims walked away before the authorities arrived. The dead have not yet been identified.
The building, located in a residential area in front of a park, was cordoned off by police and forensic experts were working on the crime scene.
The army and police established security checkpoints around the hospital where the wounded were being treated in order to prevent contract killers from finishing off those who survived the attack.
Police also stepped up patrols around the city of one million inhabitants, located some 550 kilometers (350 miles) from the US border city of Laredo, Texas.
More than 50,000 people are believed to have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico since 2006.
That year the government launched a military crackdown on the country's powerful drug cartels, which are themselves locked in brutal turf wars marked by macabre displays of violence such as beheadings and mass graves.
The Torreon region is a scene of a violent confrontation between the Sinaloa cartel and the Zetas, an increasingly powerful drug trafficking group founded by deserters from US-trained Mexican special forces.
The two gangs are fighting for control of lucrative cocaine delivery routes to the United States.
Across the border, five bodies burnt beyond recognition were found over the weekend in the smoldering wreckage of a vehicle on a popular drug trafficking route in the Arizona desert.
Update: According to Efekto TV, Coahuila's State Security Spokesman, Sergio Sisbeles, has confirmed the official toll as: 11 dead and 8 wounded. At this time, 4 of the victims have been identified. It was also stated one of the victims and one of the injured have prison records.
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection crew navigates a 33-foot Secure-Around-Flotation-Equipped boat while on patrol near Corpus Christi. SAFE boats are used to pursue and board vessels in rough waters.
A U.S. Navy frigate hides in the darkness just over the horizon, its Seahawk helicopter's turbines fired up, ready for liftoff.
Some 30 miles away, Colombian sailors on patrol boats hug the South American coast as they covertly close in on a motorboat suspected of ferrying cocaine. U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents in the air on a P-3 plane capture everything on radar, part of an orchestrated multinational trap to nab bulk loads of drugs long before they make it to the United States.
While America has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into securing the U.S. border across Texas and elsewhere, the mammoth sea still beckons with possibilities, absent the sensors, cameras, massive manpower and fences found on land.
Fortified as never before, drug traffickers increasingly are bypassing the heavily guarded land crossings for the comparatively naked seas and 367 miles of shore where they are more likely to cross paths with fishermen than federal agents - and where snagging smugglers is a puzzle based on intelligence, surveillance, patience and luck.
"I think we've got a guy coming out of the bay now, this could be our boy," said a veteran CBP officer flying in the P-3 at about 12,500 feet over choppy waters.
But it wasn't. Not this time.
"You get information from a confidential informant. Maybe somebody stubbed their toe, or the wind wasn't right," the agent joked of the litany of things that could have delayed the journey. "Mañana," he said, using the Spanish word for tomorrow. "We refer to it as 'doper time.' "
'Going to get worse'
The Caribbean is a long way from the shores of Texas, but this is where the smuggling begins, where huge loads of cocaine are slipped out of the jungle-lined coasts and jumped to Central America, or the Caribbean Islands, then methodically moved toward the United States.
Today, bundles of marijuana and cocaine are drifting onto Texas beaches as a result, loads likely abandoned or lost before they could be intercepted.
"I don't see it getting any better; if anything, it is going to get worse," Travis Poulson, chief ranger for the Padre Island National Seashore, said of traffickers turning to the coast. "There is money in it."
Authorities still make many more busts on the land border between the United States and Mexico than along the beaches, but concede they don't know exactly what is happening on waters that stretch far and wide, and lap the Third Coast of the United States.
"As we make the land border more secure, they will find any way they can to get in," said U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, an Austin-based Republican who heads a committee that oversees the Departmentof Homeland Security. "They will certainly turn to the sea to get their product in."
McCaul, who represents part of Harris County, is to preside over a hearing June 21 in Washington to examine the maritime threat posed by drug traffickers.
He noted that 165,000 metric tons of illegal drugs were seized in the Caribbean, Bahamas and Gulf of Mexico last year, up 36 percent from 2008.
In April, 55 pounds of cocaine washed up on San Jose Island in Aransas County.
In other recent incidents, U.S. Fish and Wildlife officers searching for nesting turtles found 23 pounds of pot on Matagorda Island; and 1,186 pounds of marijuana were seized near Corpus Christi aboard a boat making its way up the Intracoastal Waterway.
They are among at least 15 known "wash ups" and seizures along Texas' coast this year, but given the number of counties and jurisdictions involved, there could be many more.
In southern California in May, 8,000 pounds of marijuana were found floating off the coast.
Part of federal law enforcement's fighting fleet is the 39-foot Midnight Express.
"Coming up," a U.S. CBP boat pilot shouted on a recent evening as he hit the throttle on the Midnight Express. It has 1,200 horsepower and the CBP contends it is the fastest law enforcement boat in the world.
The boat slices through the choppy waters and darkness as agents look for boaters that could be smugglers off Port Aransas.
Sometimes, drug loads can be lost when a boat sinks; the stash is dumped overboard in rough water or jettisoned from a boat or plane to evade arrest.
There also are reports of loads being dropped along the beach at night, and buried in sand dunes until they can be picked up by four-wheel drive vehicles.
It's nearly legend along the Texas coast.
"Me and my buddies talk about it, running up on a load of cocaine," said Dwight Sykora 25, as he took a break on the Padre Island National Seashore.
Smugglers in darkness
He described a night spent on a remote stretch of beach, watching in the darkness as a boat ran up on shore where men quickly offloaded bundles.
Traffickers were quickly snared by police, he said.
"There are people watching, apparently; the government caught them."
A 2012 report by Houston's High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area, a coalition of federal, state and local police agencies that includes all but six counties of the Texas coast, warns the coast is unguarded.
"The vast expanse of remote and largely unmonitored coastline, coupled with an insufficient presence to adequately detect and investigate maritime smuggling activities in the Houston HIDTA, provides (drug traffickers) with an advantage that they are clearly exploiting," notes the assessment.
"You are going to see more and more 'end-a-rounds,' " said Michael Kostelnik, assistant commissioner over air and marine operations for Customs and Border Protection.
To counter the threat, the agency has deployed boats along coastal and border waterways as well as beefed up the use of drones to aid the hunt.
CBP-operated P-3 aircraft coordinate with the Navy, Coast Guard and security forces from Latin American governments as they fly missions over the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the Caribbean Sea and Pacific Ocean.
They have consistently seized or derailed more cocaine than is caught annually on the entire U.S.-Mexico border.
A U.S. Customs and Border Protection pilot navigates the 39-foot Midnight Express near Corpus Christi. CBP bills the 1,200-horsepower craft as the most powerful vessel used in law enforcement anywhere in the world.
Above: Members of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection navigate a 39-ft Midnight Express powerboat outside of Corpus Christi. The boat is the most powerful vessel used in law enforcement anywhere in the world. Right: A U.S. Customs and Border Protection radar operator points to the location of suspicious boat activity while flying aboard a P-3 airplane outfitted with special surveillance equipment and nicknamed the P-3 "Dome", above the Caribbean Coast, Tuesday, May 15, 2012, in Central
DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart became one of the first foreign officials in history to receive Mexico’s Merit of Honor from President Felipe Calderon for her leadership and commitment in supporting the Mexican Federal Police (SSP) in combating organized crime. The ceremony took place in Iztapalapa, Mexico on June 2nd.
SSP holds this event every year to recognize Federal Police sacrifices and achievements as well as new capabilities of this rapidly transforming institution. President Calderon and the First Lady were in attendance, as well as cabinet members, military leaders, state governors, the diplomatic community, media, and key representatives from the private sector.
In addition, President Calderon also presented awards to Colombian National Police Chief General Oscar Naranjo, INTERPOL Secretary General Ronald Noble, and Former Commissioner General of Information, Spanish National Police Jesus de la Morena for their commitment to battling organized crime worldwide.
“This is a tremendous honor for DEA and represents our unwavering support and commitment to Mexico in battling the world’s most ruthless criminal networks,” Administrator Leonhart said. “Together we have shown that the rule of law can prevail on both sides of the border and we look forward to continued joint success in the fight against transnational crime.”