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.

The Cover Up of the Cadereyt 49

By ACI for Borderland Beat

On May 13, 2012, 49 mutilated bodies turned up, outside the small village of San Juan.  The bodies were piled up on the side of the highway leading to Reynosa.  But before we delve deeper into how this massacre was covered up, let’s lay out some ground work.  

 A Sleepy Little Town
San Juan is very small village close to the town of Cadereyt, just outside of the city of Monterrey.  Cadereyt was a lazy town, best known for its churches and heat.  It is also home to some amazing grottos.  But in the war that has engulfed Mexico it will be known for something else entirely.

The town's historical Plaza

The Emergence El Loko
Cadereyt along with Allende were placed under the control of El Loko, or Daniel Elizondo sometime around July 2011.  He was the considered the Zetas boss for the rural area surrounding these two cities as well.  He wasted very little time making a name for himself, by leaving several mutilated bodies strewn through out the streets of both Allende and Cadereryt.  He is held reasonable for the killing of two young sisters from the town of Allende.  The two were picked up by the local police while walking home one night.  The local police apparently were ordered to deliver the girls to El Loko. He then raped, killed, then dismember their bodies, once again displaying the parts at the entrances to the town.  This case ended with the dismissal of 14 police officers who were reportedly involved.  El Loko, the man responsible was mysteriously was no where to be found.

A Mexican Cover Up

The Location of Loko's assumed death

Not long after the police were arrested, the military claimed one of two men shot in Cadereyt was none other than El Loko himself.  They announced his death saying only that they had killed a man who reportedly fit the description of El Loko, at this time no one even knew his real name.  What follows is the description the military released. 

Excerpt from Buggs
There have been preliminary reports that one of the sicarios killed was no other than El Loko. He was described as heavy set, about 200 pounds and was wearing a green shirt and Bermuda shorts. The military believes that it might be El Loko and the Attorney General's Office did confirm that the man killed was in fact El Loko.

The military had intitially suspected the man to be El Loko based on the fact that his name was written on the sun visor and the trunk of one of the vehicles. On the walls of the ranch military observed the letter "Z" written in yellow paint. The military believe that the ranch was used by the sicarios as a safe house.

El Loko is plaza boss in Allende and Cadereyta for Los Zetas. He is known to be a brutally violent sicario that has participated or has been linked to some gruesome executions.

El Loko

 El Loko was obviously a man who wielded significant power within los zetas.  He commanded enough power to have the Police bring him two innocent girls.  He survived an intense manhunt, which could have only been accomplished with the help of those higher up in the leadership of los zetas.  His death which was falsely claimed by the military, was promoted by the media and government and then quickly forgotten about.  The description given by the military did not resembled the true El Loko, it was generic and simple, it could have described almost anyone.  This by itself was troubling enough but as this terror unfolded the true depth of government complicity began to unravel.

The Menace Returns
September 2011, quiet returned to the area and silence took hold.  Not much was heard, some were frightened it was going to become another Mier.  The silence which plagues Nuevo Leon continued until May 13, 2012.  The day 49 torsos were discovered wrapped in plastic.  What followed was a bizarre chain of events, all of which deserving of a closer look.  

A Mothers Day to Remember
Several days before the massacre 12 people were found alive in Jalisco.  The victims lead police to a man called El Chato.  He was working for a cartel aligned with los zetas, he explained los zetas plan to display numerous corpses on Mother’s Day, even though he was unaware of the extent of the diabolic plan.  This portion of his interview was dismissed while the public focused on his confession that the victims were picked at random and had no ties to criminal organization.  It has long be suspected that many of the victims of these body dumps have been innocent.  No one paid much thought to this so called plan, that was until Sunday May 13, the day the 49 were found.  
Here is an except of that interview.  
Police: When were you going to kill the 12 people that were found alive, or what was the plan?
El Chato: Supposedly May 10 [Mothers Day in Mexico].
Police: Why?
El Chato: I don't know.

El Chato 
This leads us to the conclusion that the zetas had planned this massacre to take place on Mother’s Day, and that it was not a rouge cell leader who had gone off the reservation.  The plan it seems was to have several body dumps through out Mexico, utilizing not only los zetas but their allies as well.  This amount of coordination that would have had to taken place would have needed the cooperation of the highest levels of leadership, due to the compartmentalization of the los zetas organization and their allies.      

Mexico's Cartels and How it Got to This

By ACI for Borderland Beat

How it happen….
The war began before Calderon, but no one could have known what lay in store.  It was so unlikely; most thought that some arrangements would be made, life would go on as it always had.  But as time passed it became clear this was not to be and many simply wished that this Pandora's box would simply close.  Little did anyone know how pervasive and ingrained the darkness had become.

Only a few saw the demons lurking in the shadows, even then no one predicted what lay ahead.   The true roots of the evil had been lurking within the almost 80 year reign of the PRI and its predisposition to corruption.  The system was well worn, the networks had been laid, there was a price for everything, and this was all before the age of the Narco.

When the PRI lost to the PAN in 2000, it shook the foundation of the system to its core.  The old way of doing things had radically changed, the old networks fragmented, alliances broken, and what we have now come to know as the fragmentation of Mexico's criminal underworld had begun.  The chaos had arisen.  This was the cost of years and years of nepotism and corruption and the consequences were finally coming to pass.

Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo

The Godfather and His Empire
There was a time when one man stood above all others.  He was part of the old guard, well entrenched with the workings of the world in which he lived.  His name was Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo or El Padrino (The Godfather); he oversaw over an entire empire; his industry, illegal smuggling.

He was soon to create what would soon be know as the Mexican Cartel.  For years his network remained unchallenged, immune to justice.  At the time Felix Gallardo was untouchable, too big to fail as they would say.  His organization laid the foundation for the TCO’s to come.

He masterfully greased the hands of politicos and high ranking military officials.  He reached out and began relationships with the Colombians.  The relationship he forged with the Colombians was to be worth more than even he could imagine.  Seemed like there was nothing anyone could do about El Padrino or his organization. That was until the untimely death of DEA agent Enrique Camarena.

Enrique "Kiki" Camarena

The Attention One Receives
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. 

In 1984 Camarena led a raid on a 10,000 acre plantation called the Buffalo Ranch.  Miguel; through his network of police and federal informers quickly became aware of Enrique’s role in the raid.  The ranch was reportedly worth 8 billion dollars.  To Miguel and his ego this was  line that should have never been crossed. 

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.

All Empires Eventually Fall
But as with all kings, his reign was to come to an end, all kings eventually fall.  Miguel could see the wheels in motion, he could hear the whispers from those that tended to his mansion, his telephones were a lit with the chatter of governors he had so faithfully served.  He listened as his friends in the government turned on him, the end was near.

He thought he might be able to save what he had built; that he could prevent his subjects from feeding on each other.  He was wrong.  Little did he know how fragile his empire had become, or the monsters he would release upon the Mexican people.  Prior to his arrest he held a meeting in the upscale tourist town of Acapulco.

Here he met with his top lieutenants; Arellano Felix, Carrillo Feuntes, Miguel Quintero, Juan Abergo, Chapo Guzman and Mayo Zambada.  During this meeting he divided up his empire.  Tijuana went the Arellano Felix brothers, Sonora would go to Miguel Quintero, Guzman and Zambada would get Sinaloa and Juarez would go to Carrillo Feuntes.

The Gulf would remain in the hands of Juan Abergo.  His plan worked for a short while, but greed has its own temptations, and the empire he sacrificed his soul for, was doomed to fail.

Let the Good Times Roll
One major shift occurred in the early 1980’s with the Cocaine Wars in Florida.  As law enforcement started to seal off the Caribbean route, as it was called, the money dried up and the routes shifted west; towards Mexico and its porous border with the US.  Prior to this Mexican drug traffickers mainly focused on marijuana and opiate cultivation.  El Padrino had already established connection with the Colombian Cartels, so the transition came naturally.

Cocaine brought with it vast amounts of cash, but with that cash also came blood.  The influx of cash changed the face of the game.  It also changed its nature, violence increased as did the tactics used to intimidate enemies.   It turned one king into to many; soon it would be the Mexicans dictating to the Colombians how the game was played.

Nothing was too expensive, anything could be purchased, and everyone could be bought.  This is the moment that the Mexican Cartels became the main suppliers of drugs to the United States.