Friday, June 24, 2011

Borderline Psychosis- Calderon Meets with Critics; Mexican Army Finds Cartel's Homemade 'Tanks', La Familia Unravels

MEXICO CITY: Mexican president Felipe Calderon took the unusual step of meeting with peace activists and victims of Mexico's drug violence in a televised meeting called 'Dialogue for Peace', but defended his hard-line strategy of using the military to crack down against the drug cartels.
[Poet-activist Javier] Sicilia demanded Calderon apologize for carnage that has left an estimated 40,000 dead, and demanded a change in the government's anti-crime strategy. But Calderon, flanked by Cabinet officials, repeated once more that it would be wrong to alter the basic thrust — a military-led campaign against the country's powerful cartels.

Calderon also said he would like to be remembered for other things he has done during his administration, such as building hospitals, fortifying education and legal institutions, and his environmental initiatives. But the conservative president admitted he will "probably be remembered for [the drug war], and probably with much injustice."

The meeting, at Chapultepec Castle in Mexico City, was televised live and attended by other relatives of victims of drug-related violence.
May not be too often I get to say this, but Calderon is absolutely correct. The problem of corruption and emboldened narcocriminals killing with impunity simply does not go away if the president orders the troops to the barracks, and state and local police have often demonstrated that they are unwilling to take on the cartels- or even operate in concert with them.

TAMAULIPAS: Members of the Mexican military on patrol on the northwestern state last month discovered a pair of homemade 'tanks' reportedly belonging to Los Zetas.
The patrol came across the warehouse when they clashed with a group of armed men in the town of Ciudad Camargo, in the far northeastern state of Tamaulipas. Two of the gunmen were killed in a firefight, while two hid inside the warehouse.

"We found two home-made armored trucks in the warehouse, which belongs to the Gulf Cartel," the military source told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The trucks were covered in steel plates one inch (2.5 centimeters) thick, strong enough to "resist the caliber of personal weapons the soldiers use," said the source.

The air-conditioned armored vehicles were equipped with portholes where snipers could open fire from and remain protected.

The home-made tanks are used in clashes with other drug cartels as well as to protect drug shipments.

In recent years, soldiers deployed in the northeastern Mexican border region have confiscated 109 home-made armored vehicles -- including one dubbed the "Popemobile" because it carried an armored cabin similar to that used to protect Pope Benedict XVI in foreign trips.

In May, police in the western state of Jalisco carrying out a sweep against the Los Zetas drug cartel discovered an armored vehicle large enough to carry 20 armed men and also equipped with weapons portholes.
The soldiers also found more than 20 big rigs in the warehouse that were apparently waiting to be up-armoured.

Over the last couple of years, the Mexican military has seized over 100 of these home made armoured vehicles- sometimes dubbed 'El Monstruo' by locals- designed to either attack rival gangs or protect high value shipments. The vehicles often cobbled together from dump trucks, garbage trucks or even heavy duty work trucks with inch-thick steel plating welded on. While the plating and strategically placed bulletproof glass make the vehicles nearly impervious to small-arms fire, they also are exceptionally slow and cumbersome, thus largely offsetting whatever advantage they'd provide in an assault with having to move it from point A to point B while maintaining the element of surprise.

ELSEWHERE IN TAMAULIPAS: The Houston Chronicle published a report earlier this month citing an unnamed cartel operative who claimed that Los Zetas had kidnapped passengers from buses running along Mexican National highway 101 through Tamaulipas and forced some of the abducted passengers into death matches with each other while raping and killing others.
In one of the most chilling revelations yet about the violence in Mexico, a drug cartel-connected trafficker claims fellow gangsters have kidnapped highway bus passengers and forced them into gladiator like fights to groom fresh assassins.

Members of the Zetas cartel, he says, have pushed passengers into an ancient Rome-like blood sport with a modern Mexico twist that they call, "Who is going to be the next hit man?"

"They cut guys to pieces," he said.

The victims are likely among the hundreds of people found in mass graves in recent months, he said.

Many are believed to have been dragged off buses traveling through Mexico, but little has been said about the circumstances of their deaths.

The trafficker said those who survive are taken captive and eventually given suicide missions, such as riding into a town controlled by rivals and shooting up the place.

The trafficker said he did not see the clashes, but his fellow criminals have boasted to him of their exploits.

Former and current federal law-enforcement officers in the U.S. said that while they knew Mexican bus passengers had been targeted for violence, they'd never before heard of forcing passengers into death matches.

But given the level of violence in Mexico — nearly 40,000 killed in gangland warfare over the past several years — they didn't find it tough to believe.

Borderland Beat, a blog specializing in drug cartels, reported an account in April of bus passengers brutalized by Zeta thugs and taunted into fighting.

"The stuff you would not think possible a few years ago is now commonplace," said Peter Hanna, a retired FBI agent who built his career focusing on Mexico's cartels. "It used to be you'd find dead bodies in drums with acid; now there are beheadings."

Even so, Hanna noted, killing people this way would be time-consuming and inefficient. "It would be more for amusement," he suggested. "I don't see it as intimidation or a successful way to recruit people."
While an outlandish anonymously-sourced story from an individual with a criminal background, the tale of forcing bus passengers into death matches would be consistent with autopsy findings that most of the 183 people pulled from the graves were killed by blunt force trauma, not gunshot wounds.

Earlier this month, Federal prosecutors in Mexico have charged 73 people in the mass killings, including at least seven police officers in the town of San Fernando.

MICHOACAN: Jose de Jesus Mendez Vargas- aka "El Chango" (the monkey)- was arrested by Mexican federal police at a checkpoint in the state of Aguascalientes without incident this week. Vargas, who was the de-facto head of the cult-like La Familia Michoacana cartel after military raids resulted in the killing or capture of top members back in December, started out as a hitman for the Gulf cartel, but cast his lot with the quasi-evangelical La Familia cartel when they asserted themselves along Mexico's western coast and in their namesake state in recent years.

La Familia was reportedly financially struggling to the point where they couldn't afford to pay hitmen, while Vargas was soliciting help and manpower from one-time rivals Los Zetas. After La Familia shot down a Mexican Army helicopter in May. Acting on documents obtained in the raid where the helicopter was downed, Police raided a meeting in nearby Jalisco. Information from one of the suspects arrested in that meeting led to the arrest of Vargas. While Vargas' capture may very well be the death knell for La Familia, other organizations including one made up of former La Familia members displaced after the December army raids continue to operate openly in the state.

The remnants of La Familia had been fighting with another faction that had broken off to form another cartel called the Knights Templar, which like La Familia, portrays themselves as Robin Hood-esque figures protecting the people of Michoacan from the invasive designs of the police, military or rival drug gangs.

CHIHUAHUA: A CBS investigative report has discovered that an AK47-variant rifle allowed to cross the Mexican border from the USA as part of the ATF's disastrous Operation Fast & Furious was involved in the abduction and slaying of Mario Gonzalez Rodgriguez- the brother of Chihuahua's then-state attorney general Patricia Gonzalez Rodriguez. In a video filmed shortly before he was killed in 2010, Mario appears in handcuffs and flanked by masked gunmen while being forced to read a statement that his sister was working on behalf of La Linea cartel.

Police later arrested 8 members of the Sinaloa cartel, confiscated their weapons and found Gonzalez Rodriguez's body buried under a home under construction in Chihuahua.

ELSEWHERE IN CHIHUAHUA: The police chief for the embattled border city of Ciudad Juarez survived an assassination attempt on Thursday in downtown Juarez.
City officials said two men opened fire on Leyzaola and his motorcade while they patrolled La Chaveña neighborhood near downtown Juárez, an area known for crime.

Leyzaola's bodyguards returned fire and wounded one of the attackers, identified as Roberto López Valles, 24, officials said. The other attacker fled.

Authorities detained López Valles in connection with the ambush and seized a gun and a weapon's magazine at the scene.
A retired Mexican army officer, Police Chief Julian Leyzaola was sworn in as the city's police chief in March and vowed to crack down on organized crime operating in the city and purge corrupt officers from the Juarez police department.

TEXAS: Officers from the Texas Rangers and other law enforcement agencies were involved in a cross-border shootout outside the town of Abram, TX earlier this month.
The incident began about 6:30 a.m. Thursday, when U.S. Border Patrol agents spotted a Dodge Durango near the lightly populated border town of Abram, Texas, said Steve McGraw, director of the Department of Public Safety Director. He joined officials from Border Patrol and Texas Fish and Wildlife for a news conference Friday in Weslaco, roughly 250 miles south of San Antonio and just north of the river separating Mexico and the U.S.

Agents who gave chase found the truck abandoned on the banks of the Rio Grande, and a group of people on the Mexican shore unloading bundles of marijuana from rubber rafts, according to the Department of Public Safety.

Border Patrol agents say Mexican smugglers often use small, high-quality rafts to float drugs into U.S. territory, where they load them onto waiting vehicles to be taken farther north. Of late, however, smugglers wait with the rafts in American territory in case the vehicles are spotted and have to flee back to the river. There, they quickly put the drugs back onto the rafts and head back to Mexico to keep U.S. authorities from seizing the load.

The group threw rocks and shot "at least six" rounds at American agents, who responded by flooding the area with gunfire, the Department of Public Safety said. A U.S. Border Patrol boat was the first to arrive on the scene, followed by boats from Texas Parks and Wildlife and one belonging to the Texas Rangers, it said.

Authorities said they are still looking into how many Americans fired shots and what agencies they were from.

Three suspects on the Mexican side of the river were believed injured or killed, although authorities in that country were still working to confirm that. Two U.S. game wardens were treated for cuts and abrasions after being struck with rocks.

A video shot from a Department of Public Safety helicopter shows a blue raft with bundles of marijuana packed in plastic and burlap. Smoke is seen pouring from a small structure nearby, although what caused the fire is unclear.

U.S. authorities seized the Durango but found no drugs in it. They contacted authorities in Mexico, who seized about 400 pounds of marijuana on that side of the river and destroyed a raft left behind. No arrests were made.

The Texas Department of Public Safety, whose Rangers were involved in the shootout, said such an overwhelming response was standard given the United States' zero tolerance policy when guns are pointed at its authorities. Department officials previously said the Americans were under "heavy fire," but they've since backed away from that.

Delicia Lopez- Valley Monitor
ELSEWHERE IN TEXAS: Police in San Juan, TX discovered more than 1700 rounds of .50 cal BMG machine gun ammunition concealed in cases after attempting to pull over a truck driven by two illegal aliens earlier this month.
Police found more than 1,700 rounds of military-grade ammunition, commonly used by U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan, during a Monday evening traffic stop.

Investigators believe the load was headed to Mexico.

San Juan police stopped the driver of a Ford F-150 pickup near the intersection of “I” Road and Business 83 about 7:30 p.m. after an officer noticed the vehicle had a broken tail light, Sgt. Rolando Garcia said.

The driver, later identified in a federal court document as 34-year-old Miguel Angel Avendano-Reyna, drove into the parking lot of an H-E-B near the area before he and his passenger tried to flee on foot, police said. But two officers at the scene, including Garcia, were able to apprehend both of them after a short pursuit.

A search of the vehicle led to the discovery of 16 boxes and a black duffle bag under the truck’s back seat, Garcia said. Each container was filled with at least 100 rounds of .50-caliber ammunition.

The suspects had apparently picked up the load from an undisclosed residence in San Juan, and they had agreed to drop it off to an unidentified person in Hidalgo County for a payment of $250, officials said.

“This is something different for us. We usually get marijuana or other narcotics, but this type of seizure is big, especially with this type of ammunition,” Garcia said. The bullets were attached to a belt used for automatic weapons. “These have had confirmed kills in the military from as far as 3 miles away and it’s very destructive. It’s a very deadly round.”

The bullets are so powerful that they will go through bullet-proof vests and even armored vehicles and tanks, Garcia said.

San Juan police teamed up with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to continue investigating, Garcia said.

Avendano-Reyna and his passenger Jose Resendez-Olivares, 37, both are illegal immigrants who previously were deported a few months ago, according to federal court documents.

Avendano-Reyna, who admitted to authorities he knowingly possessed the rounds, was deported in September, while Resendez-Olivares, who claimed he helped load the boxes but didn’t know what was in them, was removed from the U.S. in November, documents show.
CENTRAL AMERICA: El Salvador's defense minister has asserted that Mexican drug traffickers are continuing to try and acquire high-powered weaponry through police and military forces in Central America.
Mexican officials have long said the most of the guns used by the cartels are smuggled in from the United States.

But Gen. David Munguia warns that the gangs have expanded into Central America are also trying to buy weapons there.

Munguia said Tuesday "there is a real threat," just days after his army arrested two noncommissioned officers and four soldiers accused of trying to steal 1,812 grenades.

The soldiers were allegedly trying to sell the grenades to gang members and drug traffickers in neighboring Guatemala, where Mexico's Zetas cartel has been active.
Earlier this month, Salvadoran military intelligence agents arrested a junior officer who deserted in December 2010 and was attempting to sell three M-16 rifles as well as uniforms to a civilian through to be an intermediary for drug traffickers.

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