Friday, December 7, 2012

Smoke Filled Rooms (part 2)

By ACI for Borderland Beat

For Part 1 click here
For Ibarra story click here

Jack stared at the screen, some joke he thought. Jack had been living a good life after receiving his reward. He dismissed the email and went about his day. Jack was what some might call a con. He had an affectionate relationship with gambling. When he lived in New York he would often gamble at Israeli run parking lots, stacking cards, dealing from the bottom, fleecing the naive and proud. He knew people, he could read them, but that was of little help when reading email. Jack was also adapt at the slow con, which given his terrible anxiety, seems out of place. He never left a room with out some sorted collection of benzos to battle it. But that is a story for another time.

Ivan couldn't believe his predicament. The DEA fucked him. He wished he could kill every single one of them. Why did they do this to him? He did his fucking job, he raged, how dare they? He led them right to the bastard and they leave him with nothing. Fuck them he thought. He was counting on that money. They seized millions in assests and he’d planned on getting a piece, what the fuck happened? Those filthy, lying thieves took it all for themselves. Now he was fucked, leveraged to the hilt, it felt like the whole world was falling down around him. If he didn't get cash soon he would be in too deep to get out and he knew it.

One night while drinking beers and surfing the web he came across a website. It talked about a man who fought the Canadian reward system and won. As the buzz from the Modelo settled in, his anger stewed. Fuck the DEA, all they did was lie, cheat and steal from me, maybe Canada would be different? He didn't know this guy but he was desperate and a little drunk. This was one hell of a risk, he had no idea what would happen. As the beer bottles began to pile up, he sent an email. It was then he began talking to a man named Jack.

Ivan originally thought Jack was Canadian and that he could somehow help get Ivan a reward. He began by sending information on a man Ivan claimed was major player in Canada. Jack still thought he was dealing with some nutcase, he had no idea this man Ivan was in fact the man he claimed to be. But the emails persisted, after a while Jack began listening to Ivan with less skepticism.

Jack would learn that Ivan was part of a tangled web of connections, wealth, narcos and of course greed and betrayal. Ivan came from a well known and famously connected family. His grandfather was a high ranking associate of a previous President. A symbol of what is wrong in Mexico. He was what some “analysts” might call a kingmaker of druglords. But to say that isn't correct. He wielded less power than one would think. He simply met with people and talked to his friends, making deals over champagne and caviar. He would listen to any offer, and offers were rarely denied, the unlucky simply got screwed over. This is the game which is played. He was still a puppet to those beyond him but that wasn't the way he saw it. And even if he was he didn't care, ego blinds many men.

This story is more about a man who tired to play all sides, using his connections to broker deals. He claimed he was independent, working alone and that he would work for anyone willing to pay. He played for both the Sinaloa Cartel and Los Zetas. This put him in the odd position of having more knowledge than one would think logical. Even more confounding was that he was able to live knowing such things. He was also courting the DEA, which made the game Ivan played appear even more foolish.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Smoke Filled Rooms (part 1)

By ACI for Borderland Beat

It’s no secret that the drug war is a dirty war. A war fought with deception, betrayal and lies. As in any war information is often the single most prized possession. This war is no different. Informants may be the single most important asset the government possesses. These people are not angles; they are often narcos, killers or any range of unsavory and unpleasant characters. They provide information for gain not for justice.
Informants by their very nature are part of the mechanism the government is trying to defeat. This is the beginning of a series that illustrates the role one informant played in this ever evolving and ever changing war. The following story is based on truth and it all started with an email.
Somewhere in Mexico
He stared at his computer screen; watching the curser blink. In all of his years doing this kind of work he never thought he would do this. An unsettling feeling set in; a combination of fear, excitement and betrayal. The room was dark, the only light coming from the screen on the computer. It was set up in a corner of the room and it was ancient. The fan inside made an awful humming sound, a small radio played music in the background.
The room itself wasn’t big; maybe 10 by 12 feet, the walls were bare except for a picture of the Virgin Mary in the center of a wall. The room had tiles floors, not much in the way of furniture. A mattress on the floor was covered by mound of sheets and cloths. A few religious candles lay on the floor. In the corner of the room was a small alter. A statue of Santa Muerte was at the center. It was surrounded with little offerings, several candles, some pesos, and a few pictures of Jesus Malverde. There was no need to guess his occupation.
Papers littered the floors; boxes filled with files were everywhere. Many would kill for these files. Old beer cans overflowing with cigarettes butts covered the desk. There he sat, staring through the smoke at the screen. The cursor continued to blink off and on the send button. He knew once he sent this it would be final, it could not be undone. But this information was worth money; a lot of money. He sat in his chair; smoke rose in front of his face, his wire rimmed glasses reflected what was on the screen. The ash on the end of his cigarette fell on to his lap, he wiped it away, and pondered what his next move was.
There was someone who could help, someone who knew what to do with information. It was through his sister that he learned of a man, someone with the knowhow to take his information and convert it into money. He was hesitant and scared. This wasn’t about doing the right thing; this was about money, pure and simple. He would try to tell himself he was righting his wrongs but he knew that was a lie. He knew the risk he was about to take, he knew that he was putting those around him in danger. After that thought the pit in his stomach grew and a bead of sweet ran down his brow, he wiped it away with his arm. Was this worth it? Could this man be trusted?
Trust means something else when your life is on the line. He thought how most people take this granted. He sure did, he thought of the time when his girlfriend cheated on him. A smirk came across his face. Those were the simpler times when misplaced trust ended in a broken heart not a death sentence. But this was an entirely different game, one which his life hung in the balance. If this man wasn’t who he said he was he knew he was a dead man.
He pressed the send button; there was no turning back now.

Somewhere in the US

Jackk had lived quite the life. If he told his life story no one would believe him, I didn’t at first. Most would assume that he is some made up character in some crime novel. It was the stuff movies are made of. His life has been a tangled web of coincidence and luck. Through a series of events he ended up being a CI or confidential informant for the FBI. The case would end up shaping Jack’s life and world.

Jack was picked purely because he knew the people that surrounding the government’s target. The government thought Jack could get them access to a dangerous man on the run. And they were right; with Jacks assistance the government finally arrested a man they have been hunting for years. There was a substantial reward being offered and Jack wanted his piece. Jack assumed as most would that upon the capture he would receive his reward. One might assume that a check would be sent out upon request, this however did not happen. It took years for the reward to pay out and it was though this experience that Jack learned how the system worked.

Jack had several articles written about his struggle to obtain the reward, he exposed a system few talk about. He gained recognition for his struggle. Then one day he received an email. It was from a man in Mexico. The email simply stated; I know a man from Colombia who smuggles fifty tons of coke into the US regularly and I know where he is, regards Ivan.
To be continued....

Monday, August 20, 2012

Ghosts from the Past

By ACI for Borderland Beat
Jorge Miguel Aldana Ibarra, a man who is currently wanted by the DEA for his alleged participation in the torture and murder of Kiki Camarena is a free man in Mexico. Aldana Ibarra was linked to the crime by several witnesses that were also convicted in Kiki's death. But before we reveal what he has been up recently, a little history.

The story of Kiki Camarena has been told many times. It has been regarded as a major escalation in the war on drugs.
This is an excerpt from a piece I wrote some time ago that gives some background on Kiki.
Enrique Camarena, an agent with the Drug Enforcement Agency began working in Guadalajara in 1981. His goal was to find out how powerful the Guadalajara Cartel had become. At the time he was only one of a handful of agents working within Mexico. He spent years infiltrating the Guadalajara Cartel for the DEA and had built close ties to El Padrino. Everything was going according to plan until the betrayal.
Miguel reacted and had Enrique kidnapped, tortured then killed, to serve as a warning to any who might want to disrupt cartel business. The blow back was historic; the United States began the largest murder investigation in its history. It did not take long before Miguel was identified as a target of interest. The United States put an enormous amount of pressure on the Mexican Government to apprehend Miguel. It would take the authorities 5 more years before they would be able to secure his arrest in 1989.
While this tells of how Kiki betrayed the powers that be, there is much more to this story. BB has received numerous documents detailing the kidnapping and torture of Kiki. The people who were present might surprise most who are not familiar with the story. One of those involved was Jorge Miguel Aldana Ibarra.

Jorge Miguel Aldana Ibarra has a long history with drug traffickers, dating all the way back to the Guadalajara Cartel. He once held the coveted position as the head of INTERPOL in Mexico. He led the greatly promoted “Operation Pacific,” which targeted 114 gangs and six thousand suspects. Authorities seized over 11 tons of narcotics and an arsenal of thousands of high-powered weapons. It was promoted as one of the greatest blows against organized crime at the time. He was thought to be incorruptible; it’s amazing how wrong this assumption was.

This is an actual memo by Special Agent Arthur Werge detailing the kidnapping, torture and murder of Kiki:
On September 9, 1992, (XXXXXXX) provided the following information:
The DEA agent Camarena, was kidnapped for his relationship with Sarah Cossio, a mistress of Rafael Caro Quintero, with the initial intention simply to "heat him up" and teach him a lesson. Camarena was, indeed, severely beaten and tortured. As a result, Javier Garcia, also known as the little chief, gave the order to kill him. Camarena was taken in a gray van to the ranch of Emilio Caro Quintero, current located on the grounds of La Primavera, where he was buried in one of the animal pens on the ranch. The special pen was on the left side of the entrance to the ranch. He was buried there by RAMON COSSIO OF MORA, "El Guero" Velasco, and (first name unknown) RIVERA RODRIGUEZ. After he was buried alive in Caro Emilio's ranch Quintero, the body was moved to another ranch, El Mareno, a helicopter owned by the Attorney General transported the body. All recordings of the interrogation and torture of Camarena were recorded by MAGDALENA SANTILLAN. Statements were given to Miguel Aldana Ibarra. According to source, NDP Alcaraz, a Mexican man who runs gambling operations in Guadalajara, Mexico has the actual possession of these recordings.(XXXXXXXXXXXXXX) AVW: bbb
In March 1985 Newsweek accused Jorge Miguel Aldana Ibarra, then director of Interpol-Mexico, of protecting a Honduran drug trafficker who was being pursued for Camarena’s death. Aldana Ibarra is said to have delayed his detention while the man stayed in a hotel in Mexico City. The PRG also reported that Aldana Ibarra protected Caro Quintero, Jaime Figueroa Soto and other traffickers. They also reported that Aldana Ibarra was there during a meeting of both government and cartel heavy hitters who were discussing options for dealing with the DEA. It was at this meeting which they decided that they had to send the DEA a message.
What make this even worse is that there have been several claims that he was an actual participant in Kiki's death. He has been charged with this offense in the United States. There have been several witness accounts which not only implicate Aldana Ibarra in covering up the torture and killing but also place him at the scene, some going as far as to say he participated in the torture.

He was arrested in Mexico in 1990 at his home in Cuernavaca, 51 miles southeast of Mexico City. Agents confiscated 2.2 pounds of pure cocaine, six automatic rifles and several rounds of ammunition. His extradition to the United States never happened. He was later released and has been walking around Mexico a free man, our source claims he is untouchable.

The indictment of both Aldana Ibarra and his cousin Ibarra Herrera caused quite a strain on US Mexican relations. There was an enormous amount of pressure from the United States to extradite these people. It seems however that wasn’t enough; neither lives in fear of extradition to the United States. Mexican authorities have even released a statement saying that they will not pursue criminal charges against the two.

The crimes he is charged with in the United States are as follows:
· Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering
· Conspiracy to Commit Violent Crimes in Aid of Racketeering
· Conspiracy To Kidnap a Federal Agent
· Kidnapping of a Federal Agent
· Felony Murder of a Federal Agent
· Aiding and Abetting
· Accessory After the Fact
Here is a link to his indictment:

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The Gang that Took on Chapo: Los Mazatlecos

By ACI for Borderland Beat

There has been a lot of talk of Choix and Northern Sinaloa lately.  Currently the area is at the center of the cartel wars.  With gun battles raging, mass exodus of civilians from their homes, the area harkens back to towns such as Meir or Saric.  Ghost towns, whose residents had to flee for fear of death; those who haven’t left yet stay inside, only venturing out if necessity.  Abandoned homes dot the landscape, homes which had been passed down generation after generation, inhabited now only by ghost of the past.  Gunmen roam the hills, these men bring the devil with them.  Those who have left, leave behind their culture, their history, their lives, everything they knew.  America doesn't like these stories, it shocks most who become aware.  As this nightmare continues the people of the Sierras can only watch as the outlaws battle it out, with federal forces in the middle.          

The man thought to be at the center of it all, is Chapo Isidro, he has been a character of interest for some time now.  Many wish to know how one man has been able to bring so much hell upon the Sinaloan Cartel.  The answer is not as simple as one would think, its a complex tapestry of what remains of the Beltran-Levya Organization.  Many of the leaders of los mazatlecos have been killed or arrested recently.  It is not yet clear how the group may recover from these loses but because they work closely with los zetas, it is difficult to discount this group.  So the question is who are the Mazatlecos?

Los mazatlecos are one of the largest groups working under the Beltran-Levya umbrella.  Los mazatleco’s took their name from their place of origin, Mazatlan, located on the southern coast of Sinaloa.  The city has long been prized by traffickers for its geographic location and its thriving port.  Mazatlan is one of busiest ports in Mexico.  Los Mazatlecos were at the direct service of El Mochomo before his arrest in 2008.  Since his arrest it is believed their loyalties have shifted to that of Hector Beltran-Levya.  The groups influence stretches from Sinaloa to the state of Nayarit and could be considered the largest and strongest cell operating under the Beltran Levyas as well as one of its last.

The mazatlecos leaderships came to light after the arrest of one of its patriarchs Geovany Lizarraga Ontiveros, who was arrested in Los Mochis in May of 2011.  The group attempted a daring rescue but failed and were repelled by elements of the military. 

Marcos Lizarraga Ontiveros the brother of Geovany was also arrested in May.  Geovany Lizarraga Ontiveros was thought to have given him control over distribution for the entire state of Sinaloa for the Beltran-Levya Organization.  He was taken to Mexico City to be tried for connection to organized crime and distribution of drugs.

Since this time much has happened to the group and its ability to operate.  Fighting has been long standing since since 2008 when the federation split. Recently though, violence has become a full fledged battle for control of the lucrative drug producing area known as “The Golden Triangle.”

The following people are part of Chapo Isidro's network.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Narco Convoys: Power in Numbers

By ACI for Borderland Beat
They moved in on the small town of Creel in the early hours of March 15, 2010.  A convoy of three luxury SUV’s pull off one of the main drags.  Through tinted windows gunmen filled the cabs.  They pulled over to a stop.  Many jumped out guns at the ready; they converged around the capo, Enrique Lopez Acosta, alias El Cumbias. 

The men wait, snorting lines of cocaine, more trucks arrive and more gunmen step out.  They converge and several gunmen block off access to the town.  They set up roadblocks, each of the trucks that block the road have lights which mimic police vehicles.  There must be at least forty or fifty gunmen.  A man and his truck approach the check point, he is pulled out and thrown against his vehicle and patted down, the man is later allowed to turn around and leave the way he came.

As the sun rises in the sky a large group of gunmen run towards what appears to be a very large house.  Sources claim this to be the mayor’s house, one of the biggest in town.  It is thought the occupants were involved in La Linea.  The gunmen fan out overtaking the property.  Several of the gunmen approached the front of the house; they kicked down doors and shot through windows.  After they killed who they came for they run back toward the street filled with trucks and gunmen.
A SUV pulls up to the check point, several other gunmen run up, they fire into the SUV.  Several shooters get in the vehicle and move the bodies out of the way.  One of the gunmen commandeers the vehicle and drives out of town with the rest of the convoy.
This video shows how small town are most vulnerable to cartel violence simply because they are outnumbered and outgunned.   The video cameras were installed because of a massacre of 13 people that had just occurred.
Lopez Acosta ran a cell of Gente Nueva in the state of Chihuahua.  He worked directly with Noel “El Falco” Salgueiro who at the time was the man behind much of the violence in Juarez.  La Gente Nueva is a faction of the Sinaloa Cartel; they operated mostly out of Chihuahua however have now branched out and operate in several states within Mexico, including Veracruz, Durango and Guerrero.  Most of the original members of this faction were former Juarez Cartel members, who defected to Sinaloa.  Greed lead many to wage war against “Viceroy” Carrillo Fuentes and his sicarios, La Linea.  To date at least 3000 people have died in the conflict between the two cartels.         
"El Falco"
Lopez Acosta was arrested in December 2010 at his lavish home in Delicias, Chihuahua where he was having a celebration.  In the operation he was wounded, and his brother killed.  Noel Salgueiro was said to have been at the party but was able to escape prior to the Mexican Armies arrival.  Salgueiro was eventually arrested in October of 2011.  He was arrested in Culiacan, alone and without incident; many believed he was turned over by Chapo because he had caused too many problems.    

This video shows a convoy of Zetas in San Fernando.  This has been site of several of the worst atrocities of the cartel wars.  This is where 72 migrants were massacred at a ranch because they refused to join the organization.  This is also the location of several mass graves which totaled more than 200 bodies.  It was said the Zetas roamed the streets freely, forcing many locals to abandon their town due to the lack of security.  In the following video a convoy can be seen traveling throughout the town unabated till some sort of confrontation ensues.   This was before either atrocity occurred, after both incidents the town was swarmed by Federal Troops and order was briefly restored.  The Mexican Government is now building a permanent military base outside of the town in an attempt to wrench the area back from Los Zetas. 

Monday, July 9, 2012

Chapo Isidro: A History

By ACI for Borderland Beat

Of all of the narcos roaming freely around Mexico few bring to mind the outlaws of old more so than Chapo Isidro Meza Flores. From the mountains, he and his band control one of the last hold outs of the Beltran Levya Cartel in Sinaloa. He controls most of the ranches and farms which produce significant quantities of both opium and marijuana for the Beltran Levya/Zeta alliance. His base of operations is in Guasave and surrounding villages, and is, and has become one of the most important lieutenants of Hector Beltran Levya, the last of the brothers who has avoided both death and capture. There was a recent shift in power however when one of his top men Adelmo "EL Lemo" Nuñez , betrayed him and went to work for Chapo Guzman. That's when all hell broke loose, the battle still rages as we speak. This war between Isidro and Adelmo "EL Lemo" Nuñez, will continue till either one is arrested, dies or disappears.

To understand how he and his cohorts have been able to outwit and outmaneuver several military offensives against them, one must understand the geography of the area. Northern Sinaloa is in the heart of the "Golden Triangle" the term used to describe Mexico's drug producing region. The mountainous region seems defiant of gravity, rugged and steep, beautiful and lush from a distance, it is hard to see the secrets hidden here and this place has many secrets.

Some of the roads are treacherous to navigate, they hug precariously to the sides of their mountains, steep cliffs and narrow valleys dot the landscape. Offering many opportunities to ambush or outmaneuver the military. Most places have only a couple points of entrance and can be secured using a fairly small quantity of men. With much of the area cut off due to geography, getting from one area to another can be a daunting task. Many mountains can only be hiked by foot and the vegetation and rock outcroppings offer ample places to hide what may need to be hidden.

High up in the Sierras, where isolation is a part of life, a culture emerged. One born out of self reliance and hardship, centered on the ruggedness of living in the harsh and unforgiving Sierras. The culture had little care for the authorities which offered them little in return. Outsiders are not welcome here, even without the cartel threats most locals would treat you the same, an outsider, someone who does not belong and is not to be trusted. A kind of Robin Hood bravado holds in the air, as the locals quietly praise those who went against the government. These criminals or outlaws were often related to many of those who called this place home. The locals never saw the harm in letting these men get one over on a government, which they only saw as inept and corrupt. Out of this environment were born many of the narcos you read about today.

Chapo Isidro was no stranger to the world of the cartels, having been involved since at least the early nineties. It is said Chapo Isidro began his climb up the cartel corporate ladder working under the Amado Carrillo Fuentes Organization. He was one of many who abandoned Juarez after The Lord of the Skies died. He left and began working under the Beltran Levya Brothers. With time he proved himself to be a skilled sicario, capable of daring, cunning and bravado. A skilled tactician with an eye for details, Chapo Isidro has had many successful operations which have propelled him to the status of the outlaws of old. These small groups which outsmarted the government again and again, making a mockery of those who attempted to capture them are alluring to the poor and disenfranchised.
El Mochomo
Many left the Beltrans when Arturo was killed to follow “La Barbies” faction but Chapo Isidro seems to have remained fiercely loyal to the Beltrans. There may also a connection between him and Vicente Carrillo Fuentes or Viceroy of the Juarez Cartel as well. Since Isidro Meza Flores worked for his brother, there is no reason to doubt the rumor. Due to the alliance with Beltran Levya and Los Zetas, one can assume they have continued to boaster this arrangment as both groups stand to gain from destroying the Sinaloan Cartel.

His group was the one of a few groups who starred in "The Battle" of Burrion where they confronted a group of sicarios backed by Chapo and Mayo. Some say some fifty trucks belonging to “Los Anthrax” a cell that operates under El Mayo Zambada went looking for revenge for the killing of Pancho Arce, they blamed Isidro and his Mazatlecos. Once again Chapo Isidro was the victor and it is said that many in that convoy never returned home. Isidro and his people earned the new title, "The Nightmare of Los Anthrax."
X Marks the Spot

His group also played a major role in the famous shootout in Tubutama, Sonora, where he and El Gilo annihilated another group of gunman from the Sinaloa Cartel. The Sinaloan Cartel sent Felix the Ice Cream Man, Raúl Sabori, Paéz Soto, Nini Beltrán and Los Jabalí and Jose Vásquez’s men to take El Gilo out, it is said that they rode in a convoy of thirty to forty vehicles, all notoriously marked with the letter X on the windows. Some say there were upwards of a hundred Sinaloan gunmen, all with the aim of taking out the Beltran Levya’s last remaining transit routes through Sonora. What the convoy never anticipated was the ambush Chapo Isidro and El Gilo had set in place for them.

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Mexican Psychopath

By ACI for Borderland Beat

They called him the hand with eyes, his legacy was one which left heads severed through out central Mexico.  His organization thrived on fear and violence and from the shadows he killed.  As his narcobanners continued to appear his reputation grew into myth.  He was a modern day psychopath, one of many in Mexico.  Their hands stained with blood, their souls deprived of conscience, these men roam the highways of Mexico, killing, leaving a trail of blood in their wake.  This is an examination of one of these monsters. 
He openly admitted to killing 300 by his own hand and bragged about ordering another 600, if his claim is true he would rank as one of the worlds most prolific killers.  He surpasses many who haunt dreams, Jack the Ripper, John Wayne Gacey, Ted Bundy, to name a few.  These are men, who inspired nightmares and slasher films; whose crimes have become infamous throughout generations.  But Óscar Osvaldo García Montoya may not even go down as one of Mexico’s most prolific killers; he may just simply be another one of Mexico’s psychopaths.

Óscar Osvaldo García Montoya or “El Compayito” as he was originally known as, was a native son of Sinaloa.  Born in 1975 in the town of Gausave, located in the northern part of the state, Garcia Montoya grew up in an abusive and neglectful household.  He enlisted in the Mexican Marines receiving training from one of the most brutal and feared elite forces in Central America, the Kaibiles.   This sets Garcia Montoya apart from many of his counterparts in Mexico, while many came from broken homes, most have never served in the Marines much less received training from los Kaibiles.  

The Kaibiles; a product of the cold war, have a reputation for producing killing machines; men who kill without thought or conscience.  Created in 1975 to combat the civil war in Guatemala, the Kaibiles quickly earned a reputation of brutality.  The training which was supposed to have been heavily influenced by the CIA is perceived by many as torturous.  From having to forfeit any previous medals or honors, to having to drink the blood of animals for courage; these methods of training are designed to take away individuals identity and replace it with one of a stone cold killer.  Garcia Montoya would later boast that the Kaibiles trained him to become a killer. 

He returned to Mexico and left the Marines to become a police officer in Baja California, and it is thought from here he entered into the world of the cartels around 2002.  He was brought to the attention of José Gerardo Álvarez known as"El Indio,” who at the time was a powerful lieutenant of Arturo Beltan Levya.  Garcia Montoya due to his background was promoted to chief of security for Gerardo Alvarez.

In 2007 Arturo, broke from the Sinaloan Federation and went to war with Guzman and Zambada.  When Arturo was killed in 2010, his faction splintered, with Gerardo Alvarez and Edger Villarreal known as “La Barbie” going against Arturo’s brother Hector or “El H.”  The ensuing war left bodies piled up throughout much of Sinaloa and Guerrero.  With the arrests of Villarreal and Alvarez, Garcia Montoya was left without a master and without a leash.  He began a systematic murder spree which aim was to control the local drug trade around Mexico City.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Kidnapping: Through the Eyes of the Taken

By ACI for Borderland Beat
What you are about to read is a true account of a kidnapping, as with most stories in Mexico, the victim wishes to remain anonymous, out of fear for himself and his families safety.

He awoke; the sun was blistering, dust devils spun down the street.  He could hear the stray dogs fighting over scraps of trash in the alley behind his home.  Dry and hot, the unmistakable smell of death filled the air, as he walked out his front door he could see what was creating the stench; a body was strewn on the side of the road; carelessly thrown into a ditch.  Dried blood stained the dirt, flies danced around the corpse.  He could see that part of the man’s skull was missing, a sure sign of an execution.  He pondered if the police had been called; perhaps this was the work of the police, hard to tell these days.  He thought he should feel something, fear, anger, sadness, something; but there was nothing there, he was numb.  He had seen so much already.

Since he was a little child he could remember watching the men in their trucks; the fancy cloths, snake skinned boots, ostentatious belt buckles, pistols gilded in gems and gold.  Women pinned for their attention, for their power, and from his front porch, it seemed to him that these men had everything.  But he knew that all these trappings came with a price.  He saw many lured into the world of the cartels, only to have their lives cut short.  He saw a better opportunity crossing into the United States. 

He had family in the states and steady work, but as with all who make the journey, he longed for his home.  Every so often he would make the trip back to his small suburb outside the city.  This last trip back was different however, the scenery had changed, and so had many of his friends and family.  Many had been sucked up into ensuing war which had broken out in the region.

On the outside everything appeared the same, perhaps more rundown, but more or less the same.  People still went through their daily routines, work, church and family dinners, but there was a quiet silence when he asked questions about what exactly was going on.  Perhaps they didn’t know, or were afraid to tell him, whatever it was it left an unsettling feeling in his gut.  One he should have perhaps heeded.

It was late in the afternoon and the sun had baked the dusty town.  He and a group of friends were hanging outside his friend’s house enjoying some cold beers.  There was much laughter and jokes; they all wanted to hear of his adventures in America.  Then they began telling him stories, and the jovial nature slowly turned eerie and silent.  His friends told him of the disappeared, the roaming bands of gun totting lunatics and the war.  He wasn’t shocked, it wasn’t like he hadn’t heard these stories before, but the difference was the sheer depth of the conflict, it seemed to have touched everyone. 

As they were telling stories a police vehicle pulled up beside them and four officers got out.  A short fat cop started questioning the young men, asking them for their names and ID’s.  Something was amiss, they were all put in handcuffs, tape placed over their mouths and bags placed over there heads and all faded to black.

The three received what felt like several blows to their bodies then tossed into the back of the vehicle.  There they drove to some place unknown.  Some dimly lit room, in some part of town he was unfamiliar with.  It smelled of shit and piss, the light flickered on and off, bobbing back and forth.  For all he knew it might have been part of a police department or someones home. 

They interrogated him and his two friends for what seemed like hours.  He wasn’t sure what they were after, what answers they could possibly want.  Something about who they worked for and what they did.  The beatings continued; he felt like he was being hit with a two by four for a while.  He could hear his friends moaning in agony.  The sweat poured out of his skin, he had heard too many stories like this to be naive.  He thought this was his end.

Dazed and confused he and his friends were then once again tossed into another vehicle.  This time they were thrown into the bed of a pickup truck.  He wondered how they were going to die.  He had heard of so many terrible ways to die in Mexico.  He shuttered at the thought blocking it out as much as he could.  He thought of all the things he was going to miss, dinner with his family, chasing girls with his friends, cold beer and tamales on summer days.  The memories came flooding back as the truck lumbered on.   He could feel the road underneath him, every pothole, twist and turn.  His mouth was dry, his eyes watered, was this how it was going to end for him he wondered?

The truck veered to a stop, kicking up dust and rock, as the tires fought the earth.  They halted on the side of a dirt road.  The men forced the three out of the truck pushing them forcefully over a small gulley next to the road.  They tripped, unable to navigate the terrain with their eyes covered.  One fell and was kicked by one of the gunmen.  The three were told to get on their knees.

He heard the first shot; then the awful thump of dead weight falling to the ground.  He felt his hands shake; there was a terrible pit in his stomach; that was his friend.  He heard the bullet casing wedge itself in the dirt, he heard footsteps and another click as another round loaded into the chamber.  Each sound echoing in his head, the seconds felt as if eternity was toying with him.  Then the second shot came, followed by that same dreadful thud.  He was next; then he heard feedback from a two way radio.  One of the gunmen answered, in a hushed tone he walked away.

The Cocaine Highway

By ACI for Borderland Beat

It all begins in the steamy mountains of Colombia, up mist covered hills, hidden under the lush canopy of forests; a plant is being cultivated.  The farmer growing the plant knows little of the journey his crop will take.  This is an examination of that journey.

Every day from his humble one room shack nestled in one of Colombia's many rural departments, he waters and tends to his crop.  If he is lucky enough to survive the weather or the fumigation from government planes he is able to harvest.  After he harvests his crop he must go through the laborious and time consuming effort of converting the leaves into what is known as coca base.  After his work is through he looks at his harvest and thinks of how lucky he is.  This should provide just enough money for his family survives till the next crop is ready. 

He meets a man known locally as El Leche at local village, El Leche is a known as a go between for the farmer and the FARC.  He meets with the farmer and pays him his salary for his work.  He tells the man he will be sending some of his people to collect the base and that they will speak again soon. 

Later at the man’s farm, a small armed group shows up at his shack to collect their payment.  They are all young, dressed in military fatigues, worn out boots and rifles rusted from the humid jungle heat.   They look tired and dirty, the result of living in the forest and moving from camp to camp.  These are the front line troops of one of the armed wings of the FARC.  The look tattered, paranoid and scared, they take the paste from the farmer and leave, vanishing back into the forest.

The small group consisting of both young men and women trek through the forest, each one listening for the nightmarish low thumping sound of helicopters in the distance.  They all seem on edge, they have spent too much time in the forest, moving from location to location, unable to enjoy the small luxuries we all take for granted.  If they stay in one spot for too long they may not see tomorrow.  So they trek on for what seems like miles.  After days of hellish hiking through dense and rugged terrain they approach a clearing; they have reached their destination, a large scale laboratory which sole purpose is refinement of the coca base into cocaine. 

As the walk up to the compound it is easy to see the many guards standing around with their assault rifle at their sides.  The group drops off their merchandise and once again vanishes into the mist of the jungle.  This factory is run by the Rastrojos, a group which was formed out of the now defunct AUC.  These labs are known as high value targets for the Colombian Government and are often targets of the US/Colombian effort to eradicate the production of cocaine.

Once the coca base has been converted in to what most would recognize as cocaine it is pressed into blocks and loaded on to a beat up, rusty truck.  Smoke pours out the back as the truck is barley able to turn over its engine.  Loaded up with its precious cargo, the overworked truck rumbles down the precarious road towards the mangrove swamps to the north. 
There waiting for them in the cover of the mangroves is what could only be described as a testament to the shear will of the traffickers; a fully submersible submarine.  The ship has a crew of 3 and they are all waiting on this payloads arrival.  Everyone starts packing the cramped space with as much cocaine as would fit.  The journey ahead for these sailors will not be easy.   They will be out in the open ocean for days with no one but themselves to insure delivery of the product.  In this cramped space the men will have to navigate the thousand mile journey to Guatemala, their final destination.  

After docking in a remote region of Guatemala the shipment is unloaded to group who works for a family known as the Lorenzanas.  The Lorenzanes are intermediaries whose sole purpose is to move the product from one end of the country to the other.  Guatemalan Soldiers provide them with security.  This is generally the smooth part of the operation with little risk due to the deep ties the family has fostered within the government.  Once the shipment has been moved, contact will made with a coordinator of the Sinaloa Cartel, one of the largest cartels in Mexico.  Arrangements will be made to move the contraband into Mexico.

Once inside Mexico, our shipment will traverse the country, making several stops along the way, all the while being broken up into smaller parcels and given to different plaza leaders.  The broken down shipments are then housed in safe houses until they are ready to be moved towards the border with the US.  These leaders are responsible for ensuring the distribution of the product along the various parts of the border which the Sinaloa Cartel controls.
Various methods will then be utilized to move the product across the border and into the United States.  Each area has a variety of ways of managing this; some techniques are locally based while others are used throughout the border region.  In the area of Arizona, where our shipment has arrived; has been using an innovative way of crossing drugs; remote controlled toy airplanes.  They are too small for radar to pick up and can been flown for some distance, it is a highly effective method of smuggling.  Our Kilo is taped to the bottom of one of these planes and flown to spotter on the other side.  GPS is often used to locate the planes once they have crossed the border.  Throughout this whole process those responsible watch in the shadows making sure everything runs smooth.  They know that if a load doesn’t make it, they will be left with the bill.  Spotters and decoys are used to throw off law enforcement and further the odds of success. 

The Mystery of Knights Templar

By ACI for Borderland Beat
In December 2010 the streets of Michoacan were set ablaze, burning vehicles blocked the highways.  Black smoke could be seen from miles away, it was a war zone. The smell of burnt tires and gun powder permeated the air.  As bullets ricochet off the pavement, screams of panic could be heard as helicopters flew overhead.  Out numbered and out gunned the criminals began to vanish into the hills surrounding Apatzingan, taking their dead with them.  It would go down as one of the fiercest battles the drug war had seen, lasting several days.  This was the to be the last stand of the once mighty La Familia Cartel and their leader Nazario Moreno Gonzalez,  or was it?
The Intellectual Author
Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, the intellectual and spiritual leader of La Familila Michoacana was supposedly wounded during this fire fight.  But his body was never recovered.  It was suspected by the authorities that the reason the gunmen fought so fiercely was to protect someone of great importance.  It was widely assumed  that this person was none other than Nazario Moreno Gonzalez.  To Calderon this was to be a huge his success; a validation of his crusade against the cartels, with or without a body.  To claim with such certainty, that the leader of the feared La Familia was in fact dead without a body was strange, considering the prominence of El Chayo.  The people of Apatzingan mourned his death but none fully believed he actually died.  The rumor of a man who had taken advantage of the assumption of government begun.

Banner Claiming Knight Templar's Replacement of LFM

The Missing Body
Though a body was never found, one of El Chayo's most loyal lieutenants Servando Gomez Martinez, also know as La Tuta, sent a recording into Televisa announcing Nazario Moreno Gonzalez's death.  This is interesting to note as one would not expect a cartel to come out and announce the death of their own leader, much less to do it in such an elaborate fashion.  At the time the image of LFM was beginning to suffer greatly.  The heat they were receiving from the Federal Government was too much for the organization to withstand.  It would make sense for them to distance themselves from La Familia brand.  Before the end of December 2010 the Knights Templar would appear and Calderon had the one the feather in the cap he had always wanted, La familia disbanded.  But did they dismantle La Familia, or was this a impressive maneuver from the leadership to rid themselves of all the heat LFM had been receiving.

To be Made an Example Of
To understand why El Chayo may still be alive one must look at the history of La Familia Michoacana.  LFM started out as a faction of Los Zetas who went rouge.  They had long standing ties with both Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, and received training from Los Zetas.  Of all the cartels, President Calderon wanted La Familia most of all.  It was personal, La Familia came from the state where he was born, and they were openly provoking the federal authorities, killing several Federal Police.  Furthermore, no other state represented how far the narcos had be able to infiltrate the local institutions better than Michoacan.  Some said La Familia were able to put in place a shadow government, one which paralleled the state.  So Calderon's War was to begin here.  

La Familia which had arose from an armed wing of the Gulf Cartel was tasked with securing the drug trade in Michoacan.  They were to take over territory controlled then by the Milenio Cartel.  The Milenio Cartel had been operating in the state for some time and were the dominate organization in area, they were major methamphetamine producers.  In what could only be called a Mexican twist of fate, Milienio would later became allied with Los Zetas who would later become the biggest rivals of La Familia.

The Bait and Switch
Nazario Moreno Gonzalez was most likely wounded that day in Apatzingan, there has been little to discount this.  But did he survive?  One must consider the circumstantial evidence of the claim.  There was certainly major discord after the battle which can only be interpreted as a void in leadership, but did this mean his death?  Or was this the work of a man who took advantage of a governments eagerness to see him and his Cartel eliminated.  If he in fact survive then this would be one of the most intriguing tales from one of the most eccentric cartels in history.

The Rumors
The rumor that El Chayo is alive has been around since his death but it had some weight added to it recently.  The most damning evidence came in March of this year.  A message was posted online from CJNG targeting the Knight Templar.  In the video they clearly state they know El Chayo is still alive.  It makes no sense for them to make this accusation if it has no merit.  There would be nothing to gain from this claim but perhaps to promote confusion but this seems unlikely.  Given the similarities between the Knights Templar's code of conduct and La Familia's there are striking parallels.  It is also worth noting how solidified the Knights Templar became after the death of  Nazario Moreno Gonzalez.  While La Familia collapsed rapidly, leaving only isolated cells, leaderless across the country, while the Knights Templar seemed surprisingly organized.

On Their Own
With this new video, it appears that the Knights Templar have overplayed their hand.  It appears that Sinaloa, a long time ally has turned against them.  For what reason still remains unclear, but it is thought this might have to do with the Knights Templar encroaching on Sinaloa's territory.  This leaves the Gulf Cartel as CT's only ally left.  There is a lot of history between Enrique Plancarte of the Knights Templar and Juan Reyes Mejía González of the Gulf Cartel.  This relationship appears to have remained in tact.  The Knights Templar however have seemed to have lost ground in their abilities to produce methamphetamine, this can be assumed due to the increase in extortion and kidnappings attributed to the group.  In addition, the Knights Templar have seen several of their distribution networks in the US dismantled.  This has left the Cartel isolated from the narcotic trade.  If they can re-establish themselves as significant producers and exporters of methamphetamine they may one day return to power.  As for now the Cartel seems to be increasing less prominent in the scope of Mexico's Drug War.  So will it ever become clear the true fate of El Chayo and his role within the Knights Templar, that remains to be seen but as with most things in this war, anything is possible.