One Bad Friday in Mexico/Un Viernes Malo en México


Los Perros Feroces de Otoño llevan la Sangre, la Muerte y las Lágrimas

Within 24 hours 38 people were shot to death, mutilated and tortured in various locations throughout Mexico.

Unbelievably violent, even by narcoguerra standards…god knows what we’ll see next week…

tijuana bridge 8 Oct

Baja California–the most grotesque incident in a day rife with over-the-top violence was the murder of Tijuana tax official–Rogelio Sanchez Jimenez whose nude body was found hanging from a  bridge a few kilometers from the Mexican army HQ near Rosarito. His genitals were glued to his neck and the body showed signs of torture. Jimenez reportedly was supplying narcos with bogus drivers licenses and other IDs until,obviously,  something went “wrong.”


Guerrero– 12 men were executed in three cities–Chilpancingo, Acapulco and Coyuca de Benitez. Their bodies were left with narcomensajes–messages–stating that “this is going to happen to all rats, kidnappers and extortionists.”  The handprinted warnings  signed by “el jefe de jefes”–boss of bosses–are the latest episode in the vicious territorial battle between Guzman/Sinaloa and Beltran Leyva that has been raging in the state for months.

Morelos– -federal police reported that six bodies of people executed were found in the southern end of the state in Ciudad Ayala.

Distrito Federal— nine more bodies found– three men, handcuffed, blindfolded with duct tape, wrapped in blankets and left in a ditch alongside the Naucalpan-Toluca highway. Another victim was killed by 15 rounds from an AK47 as he was climbing into his truck outside a Texcoco restaurant. Four more bullet-riddled bodies were discovered inside a pickup truck, abandoned under a bridge outside  Teoloyucan. A few hours after this discovery state police reported finding another body inside a silver BMW parked at shopping center in Cuautitlan Izcalli.

Chihuahua– a female police officer assigned to the Secretariat of Public Security (SSP) gang task force, was killed in a commando-style attack in Ciudad Juarez as she was driving her car.  Six others were gunned down in the course of the day–two were juveniles.

Jalisco– in Guadalajara three people were killed and four others wounded in a running  tiroteo–gun battle- between a dozen combined  units of  federal police and military troops against suspected Zetas gunmen. Two military helicopters had to be called in for support during the course of the four-hour engagement.

More at ..Noreste in Sinalaoa.. in Jalisco at El Occidental ….on Tijuana bridge display at San Diego Union in English…on Chihuahua at El Universal.

Thinking Outside the Box of Bullets


Yesterday-Oct 7- El Universal reported that there have been 5,637 murders committed by drug cartels in Mexico thus far this year, surpassing the total number in 2008–5,630.

For an idea how badly the situation has  deteriorated since Calderon launched his bold war, note these figures:   in October 2008 there were 3,581 murders… in 2007:  2,673… in 2006 : 2,221… and  in  2005 : 1,537.

Drilling down into the figure, El Universal’s investigation found that the top seven states most affected by organized crime killings were:

Chihuahua topped the list  (no surprise) with 2,408 murders since January. Followed by:




Baja California-282…


Note: the Zetas/Compania controlled states –Tamaulipas, VeraCruz, Quintana Roo, Tabasco, Chiapas,–are not in the top seven.

For the full report go to “Narcoguerra no encuentra límites: masacre de adictos aterra a juarenses” at El Universal.

Clearly, Calderon’s mano dura response to the drug trafficking orgs has not rendered a more tranquil Mexico–just the opposite.  He called for WAR and he got it.  Unfortunately, so did the rest of Mexico.

With that  in mind, I recommend Sabina Berman’s  essay in Proceso— ” Seis ideas para repansar la guerra” . It is an impassioned, but  sharply incisive deconstruction of Calderon’s narcoguerra strategy–or lack thereof–that should be heeded but will likely bounce off the mules’  ears in Los Pinos and Washington.

Mientras más dura una guerra, más impopular se vuelve.
Pregúntele a la gente de Juárez, que recibió con júbilo al Ejército Mexicano, si ahora quiere que siga en sus calles. Pregúntele a la gente de Monterrey. Pregúntele a la gente de Morelia.
Ahora añoran el statu quo anterior, que era malo, porque éste es peor. La opinión es generalizada: Al mal de los cárteles enfrentados entre sí, ahora se añaden otros dos males. Los cárteles se han “deshumanizado”; es decir, que su violencia se ha vuelto ciega y el Ejército, supuesto agente de la vida civilizada, está violando los derechos humanos de los civiles y los criminales.
Es decir, la supuesta guerra se ha vuelto para millones de mexicanos una forma de vida en medio de una violencia extrema.

The longer a war goes on, the more unpopular it becomes.

Ask the people of Juarez, who received the Mexican Military with jubilation, if they still want soldiers on their streets.  Ask the people of Monterrey.  Ask the people of Morelia.

Now they yearn for the old status quo, which was bad, because this is worse.  The opinion is widespread: As bad as cartels fighting amongst themselves might be, it is now coupled with two other bad things.  The cartels have been “dehumanized;” that is, their violence has become blind.  And the Military, supposed agent of civilized life, is violating both civilians’ and criminals’ human rights.

In other words, for millions of Mexicans the so-called war has turned into a way of life amidst extreme violence.

Kristin Bricker provides the  English translation — ” Six ideas for re-thinking the war” at Narco News.

Eyeopening New Threat Analysis-Los Zetas


Dr Max Manwaring at the US Army War College Strategic Studies Institute has just delivered an important  42-page study focusing on  Los Zetas.. A “New” Dynamic in the Western Hemisphere Security Environment: The Mexican Zetas and Other Private Armies…in which he writes:

Long-standing common wisdom has it that
virtually any nonstate political actor with any kind of
resolve can take advantage of the instability inherent
in anything like the current Mexican internal security
situation. The tendency is that the best-motivated and
best-armed organization on the scene, or an alliance of
these entities, will eventually control that instability
for its own purposes. Carlos Marighella, in his wellknown
Manual of the Urban Guerrilla, elaborates on that
wisdom: “A terrorist act is no different than any other
urban guerrilla tactic, apart from the apparent facility
with which it can be carried out. That will depend on
planning and organization [and its resultant shock
value].”36 Thus, even though other privatized military
organizations (including enforcer gangs) are operating
in Mexico today, the Zetas appear to be the group
most likely to be able to achieve their objectives. Zeta
organization and planning has been outstanding, and
the shock value of Zeta operations has been unequaled.
Thus, as Marighella teaches, terrorism is a major force
multiplier—“a weapon the revolution cannot do

Long-standing common wisdom has it that virtually any nonstate political actor with any kind of resolve can take advantage of the instability inherent in anything like the current Mexican internal security situation. The tendency is that the best-motivated and best-armed organization on the scene, or an alliance of these entities, will eventually control that instability for its own purposes. Carlos Marighella, in his well-known Manual of the Urban Guerrilla, elaborates on that wisdom: “A terrorist act is no different than any other urban guerrilla tactic, apart from the apparent facility with which it can be carried out. That will depend on planning and organization [and its resultant shock value].”  Thus, even though other privatized military organizations (including enforcer gangs) are operating in Mexico today, the Zetas appear to be the group most likely to be able to achieve their objectives. Zeta organization and planning has been outstanding, and the shock value of Zeta operations has been unequaled. Thus, as Marighella teaches, terrorism is a major force multiplier—“a weapon the revolution cannot do without.”

Take the time to download the full report as pdf and read  the whole thing.

For a report en espanol on Manwaring’s new study, see Jose Carreno Figueras’  En campana, Partido Z… in today’s edition of Excelsior.

I posted on Manwarings’ 2008 analysis of the security threats posed by Mexican and Latin American gangs and transnational criminal organizations  last May…NarcoGuerra Times-Beyond Mexico. Other related posts include these on Parallel States  here and here, and another on Commercial Insurgencies here.

Will be posting further on this. Meantime, I’m returning to my well-thumbed copy of Marighella that I just happened to be reading when Manwaring’s report  dropped in.


NPR ‘Morning Edition’ with Los Zetas

Los Zetas/La Compania  capped their month-long ride in the headlines  this morning with  a featured report on NPR’s Morning Edition  from John Burnett — ‘Mexico’s Ferocious Zetas Cartel Reigns Through Fear“.

It’s a good piece, considering the airtime constraints Burnett must report within. Much of it will be familiar to those who’ve been visiting here regularly since  April. A couple of things are quibble-worthy (with all due respect) :

Quibble 1:

Burnett flatly states that there were 31  ex-Mexican special forces soldiers who formed the original Zetas cadre that signed on with Osiel Cardenas and the Golfo ten years ago. The fact is nobody seems to know for certain–the numbers cited by Mexican defense ministry and PGR sources have ranged from 40 to 60.  Perhaps those high end figures include all Mexican military veterans and deserters who came in with the original Zetas company. What’s missing are the rogue Guatemalan special forces–the  kaibiles–that the Zetas brought north into Mexico in 2001  to run training camps for their recruits. There will be more on that in a later post.

A  low end figure of  36 ex-GAFE who signed on as Zetas (which is low-balling, I believe) would translate to three  Special Forces  A-Teams.

“The ‘A Detachment’ or ‘ A-team’ is the basic SF unit. This twelve man unit is specifically designed to organize, equip, train, advise or direct, and support indigenous military or paramilitary forces. ..It is said that a 12-man Special Forces A-Team can render the fighting power of a light infantry company.”

There are 150 soldiers in a light infantry company. On top of that–and most relevant in the threat capacity the Zetas have brought to the narcoguerra–the A-Teams specialize in “training-the-trainer”. Do the math and think about  how many Zetas recruits have gone through  SF training in the nine  years since Heriberto Lazcano and his fellow Ft. Bragg graduates began their program.   (See ‘Blowback from Bragg.  For more on what SF A-Teams can accomplish..go to offiical USASF statement at  Global Security. )

Quibble 2:

Fairly or unfairly, Burnett  refers to the Zetas home turf as  “the charmless industrial border cities in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas.”  I look forward to Austin-based Burnett  applying the term  “charmless”  to Laredo, McAllen or Brownsville in future reports to see if it generates some noise in Texas.  My dentist and friends in Tamaulipas might wince and sigh at  hearing Burnett’s description of their communities as “charmless”– Doug Sahm didn’t think so. Like a number of us,  Sir Doug found a hell-of-a-lot of “charm” down there.  (Albeit, back in the day.)

Zetas/La Compania, Ndrangheta and the Nuclear Options


Rusting barrel of nuclear waste on sea bed.

The security threats posed by Los Zetas/La Compania are in another realm now. Since May we’ve  noted several times that the cartel is operating  in 47 countries and that it has connections in Italy, specifically the Calabrian mafia known as Ndrangheta.  Over the past week this relationship has come into sharper focus, rendering a picture with some pronounced, unsettling features

On Thursday Sep 17 DEA officials in Canada, Italy and Mexico announced the arrests of 175 members of the Zetas/La Compania connected to Ndrangheta. In 2008, the Italian Antimafia Commission called Ndhrangeta “the most powerful mafia in the world” with an estimated annual revenue of 40b Euros–which translates to 3.5% of Italy’s GDP. 80% of the cocaine in European markets comes in through Gioia Taura, Italy’s largest seaport which is controlled by Ndrangheta. As a footnote, DOJ National Drug Intelligence Center 2009 report says Ndrangheta is  involved in drug trafficking in 19 US states–likely in collusion with Zetas/La Compania.

(For those unfamiliar with this mafie, try the Ndrangheta entry at Wikipedia–though it’s in need of updating.)

Only a few days earlier stories  on Ndrangheta’s nuclear waste dumping hit the news.  See Telegraph(UK) story here.  But it wasn’t really “news”– an even more telling item can be found from two years ago at The Guardian UK.

The fact that Zetas/La Compania have been in business with a major transnational criminal organization dealing in nuclear waste on this scale has likely set certain heads of hair on fire in Washington. The game has been way beyond Mexico for some time. It just hasn’t registered with the US media. Perhaps that will change with this latest, but don’t count on it. The best, most thorough (and most high risk) reporting on all this  is by Mexican and Italian reporters who aren’t being translated into English.

Two veteran Italian antimafia prosecutors–Nicola Gratteri and Antonio Ingroia– have been sounding alarms about the cooperative between Los Zetas/La Compania and the Ndrangheta for more than a year.

Gratteri has just released an updated edition of his book on the Ndhrangeta–Fratelli di Sangue (Blood Brothers) published by Mondiadori and is out on the circuit doing interviews. Here today at El Universal and at more length on Ndrangheta with Kate Holman at The Tribune (UK)

Gratteri’s research shows that Zetas and Ndrangheta have been working together for more than two years. “They needed the European market and the Ndrangheta needed the cocaine, so they went into business.”

Besides the wholesale blow market, the Calabrians opened other business avenues in Europe for Zetas/La Compania including money laundering, real estate and human trafficking.

Ingroia was in Mexico City this week meeting with the PGR and other officials where he is seeking to establish a new the Italian-Mexican think tank–Instituto Nacional de Administración Pública–a transnational center for legal, social and public administration studies. Ingroia has been investigating and prosecuting the Italian mafias since 1990.

In an interview with Columba Vertiz de la Fuente at Proceso on Friday, Ingroia took a dim view of   Calderon’s militarized narcoguerra, saying flat-out that it  was a “bad strategy.”

“You cannot stop the cartels with the army, ” said Ingroia. “You only use the army in emergency situations. You use them to defend and protect high risk targets.” He went on to predict a further escalation in Mexico drug war violence, adding that the Mexican cartels are far more “ruthless and bloody” than their counterparts in Italy. Ingroia observed that organized crime is so integrated into the Mexican economy that it cannot be entirely eleminated.

I expect that last comment will only bring a yawn to most Mexicans who have been watching  scores of  federal, state and municipal officials parading in front of judges over the past month–most of them accused of being on the Zetas/La Compania payroll.

Zetas-The Cuban American Connection Part 2

rescatadosMexican military with rescued Cubanos-Foto: Pérez

Last Sunday a Mexican military intelligence team  made entry into a Zetas safe house in a popular tourist district in Cancun and extracted more than a dozen Cuban refugees who had been held prisoner there since September 1.

They were among nineteen young Cubans who had  fled their island nation on makeshift boats and headed west into Mexican waters where, per arrangement with the “Miami mafia”, they were plucked up by a speed boat and brought to Puerto Juarez and into the hands of Los Zetas and their Cuban-American partners.

Once ashore,  the four women in the group were separated out and put on trucks and driven away. The remaining fifteen men were stuffed into an Escalade with Florida plates and motored  to the safe house in Cancun where their captors demanded $10,000 per head. When the Cubans balked, it was the usual routine:  they were beaten and tortured until they came up with names and phone numbers for relatives in the US to come up with the cash for either their release or transport north to the US/Mexico border.

The only ones arrested thus far are both Cubans–Distán Farrádez Ullo, who rented the house and Tristán Barragán, who was guarding the prisoners whengrupo especial de Inteligencia Militar rolled through the doors.

Fernando Diaz Martinez with the Instituto Nacional de Migración–Mexico’s INS–said the Zetas/Cuban human trafficking operations have risen to such  a level that they are on the agenda for Calderon’s next  national security meeting.

Meanwhile the four young women  haven’t been seen or heard from in the fifteen days since they were driven out of  Puerto Juarez and into the night.

Find more on this en espanol at Milenio

July posting  on the Zetas Cuban-American connections here.

Back to School Detention for Los Zetas

All summer fun finally comes to an end–for school boys and girls and gangsters alike.

The first weeks in September brought some sober to Los Zetas/La Compañía’s intoxicating summer  where the transnational narco cartel was  seemingly on top of their game–hammering down La Familia on the Pacific coast, running meth superlabs in Argentina and buying real estate in Poland, among other interesting business ops.

The PGR’s  Special Investigation into Organized Crime unit ( SIDENA) hauled in 124 public officials last weekend–mainly state police in Hidalgo, along with a handful from Veracruz and Tabasco–charging them with being on Los Zetas/La Compañía  payrolls… El Siglo de Torreon’s Notimex names names.

On September 8 , a founding member of the Zetas, Sergio Enrique Ruiz Tlapanco–AKA El Tlapa, Z44–was scooped up by another  PGR unit in Puebla along with his Porsche, his  Hummer and a few AR15s at a house on Volkswagen street. 180124_afCph13suX From 1997 to 1999 Ruiz served as a Federal Judicial Police agent in Tabasco before joining up with the Zetas and the Cartel del Golfo. According to federal authorities, El Tlapa ran the Zetas operation in Tabasco, Campeche, northern Chiapas and southern Veracruz.

Two days later El Tlapa’s accountant Ana Georgina Domínguez Macias was arrested by a Mexican army unit outside a Zetas safe house in Veracruz  as she was leaving to catch a flight to Brazil.7f7cfb8a0234cefa96c4d0bf06f8e7c12-34

“La conta Gina” was carrying just under a quarter-million dollars worth of pesos when she was arrested.

More from Daniel Hernandez Cruz at La Quinta Columna.

The arrests  appeared timed as a strategic curtain-raiser for Mexico’s Grito de Independencia, a two day national  holiday beginning today, that has had Mexico’s security services on extremely elevated alert for more than a month.

Last year’s celebration in Morelia was catastrophically ripped apart by a grenade attack–allegedly by a Zetas cell– that killed 10 people and wounded 100 more who were in the streets shooting off fireworks and happily shouting “Viva Mexico”.

Beyond Tamaulipas

1818333367_b0598a7ed2(Credit: Symbiosis )

Earlier in the summer data from professor Edgardo Buscaglia and his research team at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México revealed  that Mexican narco cartels have operations in 47 countries.

Ten countries  in Europe. Nine in Africa. Five in Asia. Twenty-three in the Americas.

“That doesn’t mean that Mexican hit men walk around Albania or Togo murdering people,” says Buscaglia. The Mexicans operate directly or indirectly through strategic and operational alliances with other organized criminal groups in these countries and, apart from drugs, are linked to them by money laundering within the legal economy,credit card fraud and counterfeiting documents.

In Europe the Mexicans launder money through real estate companies in Poland and the Netherlands. They traffick Chinese immigrants out of Italy to Mexico.  In Nigeria, Togo and Morocco they do more money laundering, plus the  credit card fraud and document counterfeiting. From India, North Korea, Myanmar and China they broker  shipments of ephedrine, the essential meth precursor chemical.

Last week authorities had their hands full in Buenos Aires–literallywhen they uncovered 4.2 tons of  ephedrine during a Mexican cartel related murder investigation

Commissioner Miguel Castro, chief inspector with the Argentine Dept. of Illicit Traffic in Dangerous Drugs said three Mexicans were being sought on international warrants and identified them as Jose Angel Mora Zamora, José Esteban Tirado Lopez and Ruben Astorga Bazúa. The DEA office in Argentina tagged the trio as Los Zetas. According to investigators, the three  made their first entrance into Argentina in April 2008 that was followed by at least fifteen more business trips into the country.

The ephedrine–worth $65 million– was shipped from India to Buenos Aires port  last year to be used in a Zetas super lab located in Ingenerio Maschwitz, a Buenos Aires suburb–but the factory was closed down July 18 by authorities who learned of it during  a triple murder investigation–allegedly by the Zetas. It is one of  two such labs run by the  Zetas in Argentina, according to counternarcotics investigators.  Before the raid on their lab, the Zetas managed to  stash the 4.2 tons of ephedrine that was discovered last week.

According to investigators the tons of ephedrine used in the meth superlabs came  from India and China where it sells for $70 per kilo, after off-loading in Argentina the price goes up to $4000 with the end-user Mexicans paying $15,00 per kilo.
If the investigators are correct in this scenario, then there was/is an Argentine importer selling to Zetas–otherwise the Mexicans wouldn’t be paying 15 thousand.
Which brings to mind a story I worked years ago on Operation Mountain Express that involved an ephedrine supply operation between Canada and US  where two Chicago-based Middle Eastern orgs–one Lebanese, the other Yemeni–trucked tons of ephedrine out of a Canadian pharmaceutical company down to the US and sold it to the Mexicans. The Middle Easterners’ profits were then shipped in side panels of cars to Lebanon where, according to investigators working the case, more than a million dollars ended up in the hands of Hizballah.
Add to that the well-established and extensive presence of Middle Easterners, including Hizballah and the Iranaian Pasdaran, in Argentina–see relevant sections aqui and here –a reasonable suspicion rises that there may be a Middle East “business” connection to the Zetas down there.  If such were to  prove out, it would only further confirm that this  narcoguerra is now well beyond Mexico and  into another dimension.

From Bush White House to Zetas’ La Empresa

US district court records in Texas revealed Bush White House campaign insider Josh Crescenzi was not only involved in the $46 million Pemex Zetas petro theft operation–he flat out admitted to knowing the condensate he was moving into the Texas oil market had been stolen, according to the convicted buyer in the scheme, Donald Schroeder of Trammo Petroleum in Houston.

Schroeder testified in May that Crescenzi told him over the phone that the oil Continental was selling had been stolen. The Zetas’ petro contraband ended up being bought by German giant, BASF.

Martha Mendoza’s AP story is here. En espanol, Tribuna Campeche.

This graf from yesterday’s AP story is a reminder of what’s been previously posted here at emphasis added..

“Mexico’s federal police commissioner, Rodrigo Esparza, cited the Zetas as an example. He said the fierce gang aligned with the Gulf drug cartel used false import documents to smuggle at least $46 million worth of oil to U.S. refineries”

That’s “import”, as in US docs not in Crescenzi/Continental who “imported” the condensate. Which brings a strong suspicion that Crescenzi/Continental were dealing with Zetas either directly or with a cut-out in Mexico.

If they were US customs docs, they were either falsified by Continental or somebody at Customs. If they were outright counterfeits, the Zetas were fully capable of providing those.

Either way,  Crescenzi’s alleged admission that he knew the oil was stolen during his sales pitch to  Schroeder at Trammo  makes it clear that Crescenzi/Continental were in on this from the jump.

Was Crescenzi or another exec/manager at Continental  in contact with Zetas..or with the Pemex insiders in 2006/2007?

Somebody was.

The image of Crescenzi–fresh out Karl Rove’s White House office– sitting across a desk from Zetas’ Herbierto Lazcano in Tamaulipas is like  a fantastic scene conjured from a Soderburgh/Rodriguez  mashup.

Yesterday’s startling revelations in this Free-Markets Gone Wild show is just the latest installment  in what appears to be a long running multi-lingual series.

Pemex Zetas Scandal-Bush Insider’s Boss Arrested

On Friday Kamal Abdallah,  chairman of Universal Property Development and Acquisition (UPDA), stood in a San Antonio federal courtroom facing charges on a stock scam involving two of his companies–including Continental Fuels,  currently under investigation in the Pemex Zetas scandal, where former Bush campaign insider Josh Crescenzi serves as vice President.

See Guillermo Contreras’ story from last night.

Earlier this year ICE agents seized a little over $40,000 from Continental’s account  that proesecutors  say was generated from sales of the stolen condensate.

Continental owns and operates UPDA’s port facilities and its blending/distribution businesses. One of these facilities–US Petroleum Depot–is located in Brownsville on the border with the state of Tamaulipas where the Zetas, according to multiple US and Mexican law enforcement officials, exert absolute control of all smuggling operations.

ICE says they are looking into now fewer than 10 US companies suspected of being involved in the multimillion dollar petro theft and sale extravaganza.

The narco-driven scandal that started in Mexico has crossed the border and  is picking up speed. The only things uncertain now are:  how far will it travel and how many–and how big– will the roadkill be before it runs out of  gas? armadillo_dead_a02