The eXiled’s special Drug War Correspondent
MONTERREY, NUEVO LEÓN–Here we go again, a new year and a fresh new wave of narco-war porn to go along with it.
If you’ve been paying close attention to the drug war in Monterrey (and if you’re reading this you must have) you will have noticed that the new year has only meant more violence, more drugs and more black SUVs shooting it out in the streets, 3-sided full-bore firefights between rival narco gangs and the army, pretty much like a Michael Bay movie.
Life in Monterrey right now is like living in the set of Bad Boys 2. Non-stop car-chases and multiple shootouts, but no point to it, no reason for the apparently random, senseless violence. Shit, MTV should make a reality show based on Monterrey or even better, a “Tampico Shores” show, only in this version we get to watch the entire cast having their bodies dissolved in acid.
That’s what it looks like from here, anyway. But I´ve come to figuring out how to follow this mess and make some sense of the violence.
For one thing, all these small acts of random violence only make sense if you consider them in the context of the bigger picture: first, you make a note of who gets killed, how, where… and after a few days, when you get a sense of the bigger picture, you have a pretty clear view of the situation.
First, let’s go over what happened last year: 2010 was the bloodiest, most violent year in recent history in my home state of Nuevo Leon–Monterrey is the capital of this state, for you short-memoried gringos out there. Official figures estimate there’ve been around 700 deaths in the wars between cops and narcos, but knowing how the Zetas operate in this state it’s safe to say the real figure is at least double or triple that amount. The violence has only accelerated due to the ugly split between the big players—the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel–a break-up that’s dragged the entire state into in a war-like situation, in which every day the news was filled with stories of more shootouts, more executions, more kidnappings, more good ol’ family feuding between the two cartels.
It wasn’t all bad. 2010 was also the year that the Mexican Marines first swooped into the scene. For the first few years of the narco-wars, the burden of the drug war fell almost entirely on the Mexican Army. The Federal Police keeps restructuring and trying to clean up its act, but every time keeps failing to get rid of insider corruption, which over the last few years has resulted in such things as killing entire families in highway checkpoints. By some accounts the Federales have become increasingly infiltrated with organized crime group corruption and money, although not nearly to the same extent as local police and law enforcement has.
The first big break for the Mexican Marines came when they bagged Arturo Beltrán Leyva in his hideout in a Cuernavaca condo. From then on they’ve been spearheading the military’s offensive against the drug cartels.
I’ve seen the Marines myself, of course. The first thing you notice about the Marines is how tall they are. It’s not just a coincidence– there’s actually a height requirement for any potential recruit in the Marines, who must be at least 1.80 meters tall (5’11”). They are a bigger and deadlier version of your average Army grunt, and they’re stone-cold killers to boot.
So the ebb and flow of last year was basically big acts of violence, followed by spillover violence the next few days, followed by an Army or Marines operation that would capture and kill a lot of criminals–Zetas most of the time, and every now and then a big time Zeta cell leader or jefe de plaza would get killed or captured.
The violence never really calmed down. Quite the opposite, nowadays just seeing or hearing shootouts seems to be the most common topic of conversation among regios (Monterrey natives). But then last December the violence escalated to a new level, reaching the boiling point with the false-rescue and subsequent hanging of a female kidnapper linked to a Zetas cell in our state that specialized in kidnappings for ransom.
At first what we heard was that this Zeta chick had been rescued when she was just about to leave the gates of El Topo Chico prison inside an ambulance, after she’d pretended to be sick and in need of hospitalization. Everyone thought that the “rescue” of this underworld Zeta chick was just another example of the total ineptitude of the government of PRI candidate Rodrigo Medina, the pretty-boy who was just elected State Governor of Nuevo Leon. But there was something strange about the way she was sprung from the ambulance: like, why her? She didn´t seem to be important, she was an unknown before her rescue.
Then on the last day of December her body turned up in the 6.00AM news: She was found hanging from a pedestrian crossing bridge–on her naked torso you could read the name “YAHIR”, apparently the name of her boyfriend, a Zeta, from the same cell. The killing of “the Redhead” as she was known, signaled the start of a new narco-war offensive launched by the Gulf Cartel.
“Nueva Federación” or “The New Federation,” is what they call the new alliance of sicario (“assassin”) cells between La Familia Michoacana and The Gulf Cartel. They act as though they’re independent from every other criminal organization, but the Gulf Cartel appears to be pulling the strings, under the leadership of Jorge Costilla “El Coss”—ever since “Tony Tormenta,” brother of Osiel Cárdenas, the former boss of the Gulf Cartel, was killed in a massive shootout with the Marines in Tamaulipas.
So this alliance is who’s behind a new bloody offensive that’s targeting the Zetas’ state-wide protection network, particularly the metropolitan area, kinda like the Zetas’ version of Fortress Europe.
I already talked about how effective these real-time human intelligence networks are. In spook circles, this sort of human intel is pure gold, just ask the C.I.A., they´d love to have something like this in every capital in the Middle East.
Just as soon as 2011 started, Army soldiers on convoy patrol received a distress call from some state cops saying that they were being attacked and under fire from four heavily armed men in a black Jeep Patriot. Then the first executions of the year happened just outside a San Pedro Shopping center (called “Valle Oriente”), and over the following days there were more and more attacks on cops by heavily-armed criminals taking place in all the municipalities of the Metropolitan area. Cops in Monterrey, Apodaca, San Nicolas, Guadalupe and San Pedro were the main targets, but also cops from rural municipalities like General Teran, China, Los Herreras, and other little towns between the city of Monterrey and the state of Tamaulipas. The rural towns have become virtual ghost towns; the cops have all resigned out of fear, the ones that were not corrupt “polizetas” anyway…the other bastards are paid by the narcos to patrol and inform on military operations.
Over the course of this month there´s been a steady increase of shootouts, dead cops, dead criminals, attacks against police stations and against the Topo Chico state prison. What this means is that the CDG (Cartel del Golfo, or in English, “The Gulf Cartel”) is engaging in all-out war on the Zetas’ security structure across four fronts.
The first front is of course their attacks on cops; then they’re also executing huge numbers of “tienderos” (street drug dealers, the cannon fodder) and “halcones” (the spies who inform on military or suspicious activity). Everyone knows that every city’s municipal cops are just an extension of the Zetas–that’s why you don´t see people giving a fuck about these traitors when they’re being hunted down like game, the rare Mexican blue pig.
The second front is inside the prison walls of the Topo Chico Penal Facility which the Zetas have under control because they’ve bought off the prison’s Administration. The prison mainly serves as a recruitment pool for Zeta foot-soldiers and the like, but it also serves as a massive safehouse, a place to hide when the heat is on. The CDG understands this so they are trying to wrestle control of the prison away from the Zetas. That’s why the kidnapping of “the Redhead” was just the beginning of a series of attacks that target the prison’s guards and the prisoners inside, sometimes by lobbing grenades from outside the walls into the big patios, where inmates and guards end up getting shrapnelled if they’re unlucky enough to be too close to the blast radius.
The biggest strike so far came in December when “Don Gaby,” the piracy czar of this state, was killed by another inmate over a supposed money debt. “Don Gaby” was actually very important in the finance structure of the Zetas and linked to Heriberto Lazcano himself–he not only supplied all the piracy goods sold in the states of Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Veracruz, but he also charged them a protection fee that amounted to $25 million pesos each month, or about $2 million US dollars. The Zetas used most of that money to buy more drug inventory (in huge quantities of course), as well as to buy weapons on the US border or to pay off local cops.
The third front was launched inside of San Pedro, the stronghold plaza of the Beltran Leyvas in Nuevo Leon. The January 1st attack there was a bigtime message: it said that the Gulf Cartel could now attack them even inside San Pedro, and they expressed this message very clearly by shootings up San Pedro’s municipal cops. The shaky alliance between the Zetas and the Beltrán Leyvas appears to be finally breaking, especially now that the Beltran’s leader is dead and their main operators are in prison.
Over the past few days there’ve been growing rumors that the Beltranes are breaking once and for all their alliance with the Zetas, and it may be true. Attacks in San Pedro have stopped suddenly—for some reason, they’re no longer being targeted in the same way that the Zetas are.
The final front in this offensive is propaganda, with the now common usage of narco-messages that try convincing the population that they were fighting to restore peace and order to their lives–like modern-day Robin Hoods, if Robin Hood was a cokehead mass-murderer. One other strange thing was how someone hacked into the twitter account of “Telediario”, a local news show from the Multimedios Media Company. The hackers then uploaded a report that Governor Medina had been executed. It created an atmosphere of disbelief and fear, although more than anything, it created a lot of disappointment: The execution of Gov. Medina would have been greeted as the best news this beleaguered region has gotten in a long time. Immediately after the bogus report, the hackers uploaded a direct threat against Multimedios: “Align or else.” Meaning, “Stop censoring Zeta-related news, you fucking sellouts!”
So far the Gulf Cartel offensive has engulfed Monterrey in a brutal gang war were pretty much anything goes. It’s too early to declare a winner, but it looks like the Zetas’ protection from the cops is crumbling: The cops that still cooperate with them are getting ambushed every day by Gulf Cartel sicarios (assassins). But the Zetas are still strong enough to kill those cops who refuse to help them–so if there ever was a time to NOT be a cop in this city this is it.
January is barely over and the body count already surpassed 100, making this the bloodiest, most violent month in the history of the state, and that´s counting the revolution and the dirty war of the 1960-70s. Good times.
Another record is 20 cops dead in less than 30 days. Fuck me, Guinness should think about releasing a narco-only world records books because these bastards set the bar higher every day.
Among the dead are the usual suspects: Cops, dealers, sicarios, etc. But there are a couple that stand out. First is Elín Jesús Ortíz Rosales, a 30 year-old native of the city of Saltillo (state of Coahuila) known in the Monterrey underworld as “Comandante Lino”. Lino is, or was, a Zeta commander identified by the Mexican Army as the Jefe de Plaza of the entire state of Nuevo Leon, in charge of the war against the Gulf cartel in the state.
I don’t know how true this is, because a new leader is killed or captured here almost every month. If you’re looking for a quick promotion, join the Zetas now. Just don’t count on a long career.
Lino died the most natural way a sicario can in this city: With a bullet to the head, assisted by the Mexican Army. The commander was driving through a rural back road between the municipalities of Escobedo and Monclova, accompanied by another man and a woman, most likely the girlfriend, when they ran into an Army truck on patrol.
Naturally, when they see the army in their way, the sicarios try to escape. But once they realize they can´t, Commander Lino calls for reinforcements. At least 4 SUVs and a Mercedes sedan zoom up, join the fight and almost overwhelm the Mexican soldiers, who call for reinforcements of their own. It’s a cellphone vs. cellphone war.
Once two more Army trucks join the fight, the Zetas drive off with the army in pursuit. Soon the pickup Lino was in flipped over and burned along with everyone inside. Six other Zeta sicarios died in multiple shootouts along the road. Several others escaped by hiding in the scrub or just outrunning the Army. More executions and the first narcoblockades of the year followed that action.
Not that it matters anymore, but the loss could mean more trouble for the Zetas who have been continuously hit on various fronts non-stop, including more attacks against guards of the Topo Chico prison outside the city walls.
The executions started in mid-December and hit the boiling point this past week when a woman who worked as a guard inside the prison was chopped to pieces and left in the street facing the prison doors.
That wasn’t the only grim execution this month, with at least 7 to 8 more dismembered bodies found in Montemorelos, Nuevo Leon. One of these chunks of meat turned out to be a woman too. The Gulf Cartel was proud of the butcher job they did on these guys, because they carved “CDG” into arms and legs or whatever body part, and left a big note on top of the pile of bodies:
“Sigue mandando Gente como esta pinche Mamito de Mierda Sigues tu Nico Guerra Luna
ATTE: CDG Metro 32″
(“Keep sending your people, like this punk bitch. You’re next Nico Guerra Luna – CDG Metro 32″)
Who knows who Nico Guerra Luna is, probably a cell leader or plaza leader of some importance, but “El Mamito” is Enrique Rejón, mexican soldier turned sicario extraordinaire.
He was one of the original Zetas, the elite group of 34 soldiers who went into business for themselves. Now a trusted Lt. of Heriberto Lazcano. Last I heard of him he was in charge of the plaza of San Luis Potosi, a state to the south of Nuevo Leon and one of the poorest regions in Mexico.
So it’s probably him and not “Comandante Lino” who is in charge of running the war operations against their former buddies from the gulf. Or maybe Lino is part of Miguel Treviño’s structure.
There are many signs that point towards a fight for control within the zetas organization. Apparently a few months ago, Trevino, who’s known as “Z-40” by his fellow Zetas, called for a meeting with Lazcano in a ranch deep in the San Luis Potosi desert. There he planned to ambush Z-3 with help from the federal police and take control of the entire organization.
And yes, apparently the Federal Police is allied with the zetas through a federal police official who happens to be a relative of Miguel Treviño, otherwise known as “Z-40.” Maybe in a follow up article I´ll get more into the links between Z-40 and the PFP, but it would take a long time to untangle who’s killing who. Hell, it´s confusing even to me sometimes. It’s also kinda depressing; feds allied with the Zetas? Fuck, talk about “a relationship that was meant to be.” Going back to their roots, I guess—back to a time when they still wore their uniforms when shooting people.
The other VIP who met his doom this past week was a cattle businessman named Arturo de la Garza, son of a PRI state Governor. The “Cattle Baron,” as the US media calls him, was kidnapped. You can guess what happened after that: They found his body on a road in Nuevo Leon.
What I found interesting about this particular murder is that even though the executioners scrawled a message on the “Cattle Baron”’s body, none of the local newspapers printed that message. But they made sure to get the idea across anyway, thanks to a photo on the front page:
“This will happen to whoever supports the Z.”
Although the rumor is that the Zetas are the ones that killed him to send a message to the PRI (the longtime Mexico ruling political party) in the state. People who believe that rumor are also saying that the next politician to die will be the PRI mayor of Guadalupe, Ivonne Alvarez.
But then again this could be a narco-business tactic designed to move into a rival’s market. This tactic works this way: the more heat you bring on the state, the more the state beefs up its military presence. Mass-killing of innocent bystanders is a pretty high-impact tactical crime that the cartels use to trigger a big military presence and disrupt the operations of the rival cartel in the plaza. It’s all off the record of course: this is just one of those things that everybody around here knows or suspects, but it hasn’t been officially talked about much because it’s just too depressing.
It’s kind of clever, in a bloody way: you send somebody to your rivals’ hometown to shoot up civilians. The Feds descend on the place and search everything, shut down business. For the price of a few bullets, you disrupt the competition’s whole operation. Nothing personal, strictly business.
One sign that it might be working is that the Zetas are hard up for cash, to the point they’ve started robbing restaurants and casinos. That’s just about unheard-of for major drug dealers. When a drug dealer needs to do armed robberies to get their cash flow up, you know something’s wrong with their drug-cartel business.
LATE NARCO-WAR PORN UPDATE: Just as I sent this story in, another 6 bodies, almost completely burned, were found in the municipality of Escobedo, Nuevo Leon. And 1 more dead body was discovered in Cadereyta, with multiple gunshot wounds to the head and extremities.
Over in San Nicolas, city hall has imposed a nighttime curfew on all of its police agents, who are barred from leaving their assigned police stations after 7 PM because of the lack of security. They can only leave their police stations in the case of an emergency or to direct traffic if needed. It’s in response to the two transit cops who were killed yesterday—that’s scaring the shit out of every cop in the greater metropolitan area, not just San Nicolas cops, but everywhere now, state and municipal cops are even asking the Army to accompany them in the newly installed checkpoint—oops, I meant to say “security filters” which is the official term they’re using. (“Military checkpoint” doesn´t have a very comforting, nice ring to it, according to the local politicians anyway.)
The number of these militarized checkpoints in my hometown of Monterrey has grown substantially in the last couple of weeks, from 28 to 43. They’re officially there to look for stolen vehicles and to check the flow of armed passengers—which is to say, they’re looking for narcos, or trying to make things a bit tougher on their movements.
See, this is why it´s so fucking difficult writing about the drug war. So many corpses to keep count of, so many names, so much shit all around.
Pancho Montana is the eXiled Online’s Special Mexican War on Drugs Correspondent.
As a native of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, located in northern Mexico, Mr. Montana lives in Gulf Cartel territory. That means the streets belong to the Zetas, a paramilitary organization trained by the Yankees and hired by the Gulf Cartel to keep things civilized and business booming. Although it could be that the Zetas won’t be around for long…
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