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The Mexican Drug War / March 3, 2011

dead ice agent mexico

The eXiled’s special Drug War Correspondent

MONTERREY, NUEVO LEÓN–While meeting Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon at the White House today, Barack Obama is expected to discuss the idea of letting armed US agents operate on Mexican territory. You know, to help us deal with our deadly drug violence. Boy oh boy do we Mexicans feel safe now!

I wonder if the idea to put US troops on Mexican soil has anything to with a recent trip by a few ICE agents into Northern Mexico that ended with one dead, one injured and one SUV turned to swiss cheese?

The attack took place on the night of February 11, when two ICE agents met a fake checkpoint while traveling with no escort on a lonely desert road between Monterrey and Mexico City. Right there was their first mistake. Every 5 year old kid around here knows that you might as well paint a target on your truck if you’re gonna travel solo like that. Mexican roads are very dangerous right now, specially in states with Zeta presence―and your ICE boys were deep in Zeta-infested territory.

Regular folk can travel in relative safety during the day, but it’s pretty much off-limits at night. But, if like the ICE agents, you’re traveling in a dark blue Suburban (obviously up-armored, judging by its window panels) with diplomatic plates, well, you’re just asking to be hit. Begging for it. And the agents got exactly what they asked for.

What were the agents doing there? Well, from what I could find out, the dead guy, agent Zapata, was based in Laredo, Texas, and worked in ICE’s human smuggling and trafficking unit. There’s a good chance that his investigations must have led him very often to a certain criminal organization, whose name starts with the last letter of the alphabet. Yes, the good-old, instant soup-eating Zetas.

Was the attack somehow related to one of his cases? Did the Zetas set up an ambush to terminate his line of inquiry? Maybe. But probably not.

About a week after the ambush, Mexican authorities captured six Zetas supposedly involved in the attack. Their guns tied them to a ring of gun runners operating in Dallas, Texas. Which is not very surprising. Most cartels buy their weapons from you yanks. I don’t mean to fluff any of you gun-crazed Americans out there, but it’s just a fact that Mexican cartels prefer shiny new American weapons to rusted AKs from El Salvador or some other Central American tropical hellhole. It makes sense: Buying new rather than used. So there’s not much of scent of a conspiracy there, if you ask me.

The FBI and other security agencies are still investigating the attack and fishing around for fiendish plots against Americans, but it’s not likely this was a planned gig. Targeting Americans is never good for business, much less American government officials. Even the Zetas must realize this. Regardless of what the Americans find (and I wouldn’t be surprised if they cook up some grand conspiracy connecting Mexican drug cartels with al Qaida), there is a very good chance that their meeting with the false checkpoint was random, like many acts of the drug war.

But one thing is clear: these agents should’ve been on an airplane, not in no man’s land in San Luis Potosi, a state that’s suffering an escalation of violence courtesy of the Gulf Cartel-Zeta war. (When Yasha Levine visited me in Mexico last year and we travelled through those parts, things were not even half as bad as they are right now. Even so, we constantly saw convoys of army trucks packed with Marines hunting for Zetas.)

Army Patrol Potosi

The ICE agents could have gotten away with a solo road trip maybe 10 or 15 years ago, when everyone still played nice. Back then, narcos holding US agents at gunpoint were known to allow their prisoners to “slip away” in order to avoid bringing unnecessary heat on their trafficking operation from pissed off, trigger happy Americans. Osiel Cardenas, the former leader of the Gulf Cartel, who is now sitting in a Texas prison, pulled this a few times on DEA agents who he caught meeting with informants. But the world has changed since them.

The ICE agents learned that the hard way. The sicarios somehow forced the agents to stop and roll down their window, which was a mistake. They exchanged some words. The sicarios asked for the SUV. The agents refused, saying they were U.S. diplomats. But since both agents looked Mexican, the Zetas didn’t buy their story. They probably thought they were rival contras from Gulf Cartel, or maybe they were unlucky businessman they could hold for a good ransom. Hell, they could have just wanted to steal the damn truck. Up-armored Suburbans are expensive and hard to come by, not to mention handy in a shootout, but not quite handy enough for the two agents.


When the agents tried speeding off, one of the Zeta sicarios put his cannon through the SUV’s small window opening (armored truck window panels can’t go all the way down, only a few inches) and fired off a few lucky rounds inside. Agent Zapata took five slugs in his stomach and his partner, agent Dávila got hit once or twice in the leg.

I’m not going to say the agents fucked up because there was pretty much nothing else they could do but to try and speed the fuck out of there. The ones who fucked up are behind a desk, the ones who decided to send them on a road trip from Mexico City to Monterrey in a big, black SUV instead of a plane. That’s not only stupid, it’s irresponsible, considering Mexican federal authorities only use the road when backed up by at least a dozen other vehicles full of armed guards. Traveling in one truck halfway through Mexico doesn’t make any sense. Putting government agents in that position is not only stupid, but a clear sign of incompetence and/or negligence at high levels.

The other question: What were ICE agents doing on a Mexican road? An unidentified US functionary said the agents were doing routine work and not following a specific investigation. Now since when is traveling on an armored SUV in Mexico routine?

We’ll see how this one develops. Right now SIEDO [The Organized-Crime Investigation Unit of the Mexican Attorney General’s office―ed.] and PGR [The Attorney General of Mexico] agents are descending into San Luis to start investigating who was behind the attack.

Side note: This quote by Janet Napolitano is priceless. She is insane if the thinks anyone takes her seriously here, let alone knows who the fuck she is:

“Today I say to the cartels: Don’t even think about bringing your violence and tactics across this border,” Janet Napolitano warned last month during a speech in El Paso, Texas. “You will be met by an overwhelming response. And we’re going to continue to work with our partners in Mexico to dismantle and defeat you.”


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…

Read more of his stuff…

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Add your own

  • 1. Dejo  |  March 3rd, 2011 at 4:45 pm

    It could be entirely possible that Washington goaded the cartels into attacking them so they’d have an excuse to intervene. Of course one shouldn’t accuse malice when it’s usually stupidity but with Washington you never know what’s stupid and what’s malice.

  • 2. anon  |  March 3rd, 2011 at 6:03 pm

    pretty decent coverage here too:

    ICE Agents Shot in Mexico Were Targeted, Ambushed, Law Enforcement Source Claims

    ICE Agent’s Murder In Mexico Could Become a Cold Case

  • 3. blake  |  March 3rd, 2011 at 6:50 pm

    Keep writing look foward to reading ur post

  • 4. Tetrag  |  March 3rd, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    I’m with Dejo on this one. Such a huge fuck-up, without a sane cover story, days before a presidential visit where its having happened is likely to be used as a basis to request the opportunity to deploy troops? That smells a lot more like a set-up than a fuck-up to me.

  • 5. Pascual Gorostieta  |  March 3rd, 2011 at 10:19 pm

    I agree with Pancho it seems like a fuck up by the narcos. According to my relatives in Mexico the Zetas are losing ground around Monterrey and it’s metropolitan area; they are getting hit hard both by the Gulf Cartel and military.

  • 6. fajensen  |  March 4th, 2011 at 12:25 am

    So pretty soon we will have the CIA lighting up Mexican wedding parties with Hellfire missiles launched from drones operated by private contractors out of a trailer park in Bumfuck Nebraska?

  • 7. John Figler  |  March 4th, 2011 at 9:04 am

    Zapata-Davila incident doesn’t sound as cool as Maddox-Turner Joy, but I guess even the brass at the Pentagon isn’t as stupid, yet, not to figure out that they would not get away with a story about cartel operated torpedo boats harassing USN DDs down there.

    US intervention in northern Mexico is just a matter of time. Right now Af-pak is the only thing preventing it. As soon as you yanks can close one of those silly wars in Asia (and not get embroiled in another one in Libya) you’ll get back to the essentials.

    Mexican War 2.0, just like a Hollywood made post-prequel of the greatest hits of the 40s, the 1840s that is. Or a 1915 remake maybe?

    It would be even funnier than Afpak, since in this war the frontier across which the bad guys slip into sanctuary and supplies and is kept cynically open by a so called friendly govt is, er… well… the US border.

  • 8. wendigo  |  March 4th, 2011 at 9:33 pm

    I dunno #7, military intervention in Mexico would be politically toxic to anyone in the U.S. that openly supports it– either party, really. Much more likely we’d see something like U.S. spook “advisers” flitting about, with maaaaybe some creepy merc contractors providing additional muscle. Can’t see much beyond that unless some substantially bigger incident occurs.

    Thanks again for these dispatches, Mr. Montana (IF THAT IS YOUR REAL NAME) … it’s hard to find such lucid analysis elsewhere online, and even being able to read a little spanglish doesn’t help. We got you, that other Monterrey guy’s blog, and not much else to go on. Much obliged.

  • 9. Hannibal  |  March 5th, 2011 at 6:11 am

    A US military intervention in Mejico would get kind of hairy; imagine the sicarios pulling their stunts on kidnapped American GIs; cutting their heads off and then sowing pig or dog heads onto their bodies; and then uploading that shit to youtube.

  • 10. Derp  |  March 5th, 2011 at 11:48 pm

    Derp derp!

    If Mexicans killed Americans then we need to invade Mexico! We gotta kill them before they kill us, we aren’t safe!

    Let’s secure the oilfields, occupy Mexico City, fire their military, install a new government, then-

    er, wait, won’t that create refugees that come up to America to escape all the violence down there?

    On second thought, you guys are on your own! You don’t have enough oil anyway, hmmph! Derp! But kudos on the fine-quality cocaine and weed, it’s the only thing that keeps me going working 60 hours a week with no over-time or benefits at my local Wal-Mart! Derp derp all the time, derp derp!

  • 11. Whyawannaknow  |  March 6th, 2011 at 10:33 am

    In another interesting twist, at least one of the weapons used in this incident was from the BATFE “project gunwalker” mess. The straw buyer who the BATFE allowed to purchase it and put it on the road to Mexico was arrested within hours of the incident. Just like the straw buyer in the Terry murder.

    Google “project gunwalker” for more hilarity.

  • 12. captain america  |  March 6th, 2011 at 8:24 pm

    isn’t cocaine too expensive for a walmart salary? serious question. i have no idea, it just seems like it would be.

  • 13. Whyawannaknow  |  March 7th, 2011 at 8:53 am

    Additionally, “Pancho” is dead wrong about the cartel’s choice of where to get weaponry. It’s not from US civilian sales, and memos provided by wiki leaks show the US government damn well knows it too.

    Less than 12% of the total number of guns captured by the Mexican government were conclusively shown to be of US origin in 2008, and of the guns the Mexican government thought possible to be of US origin and therefore submitted for analysis by the BATFE, less than half are proved to be from the US.

    From the BATFE’s own statistics the average weapon proven to be of US origin in Mexico is 14 years old, and a pistol- NOT A FREAKING AR OR AK VARIANT bought new at a US gun store or show.

    The US provenance military type weapons the cartels actually favor (select fire AR’s, machine guns, grenade launchers, hand grenades & etc.) have never been available for civilian purchase and instead are diverted or stolen from the ones our government provides the Mexican police for the drug war- Or the ones provided by US to the Mexican military. Or are sourced from the leftovers of the vast trove of weapons sent to central and South American countries since the Reagan administration to fight communist guerillas, wage counter revolution in Nicaragua or whatever other good reason they thought there was to push some more iron down there…

    So when you hear US Gov’t. sources who know these facts using the Mexican drug situation as a reason for the increased regulation of US civilian sales you may judge for yourself their motivation.

  • 14. serjio  |  March 7th, 2011 at 9:27 am

    debemos de dejar alos narcotraficantes ya por la paz el k kiera consumir todo tipo de enerbantes lo va aser el k no ,no lova aser por su propio bien y x su salud cada kin sabe lo k kiere en esta vids

  • 15. Noneofyourdamnbusiness  |  March 7th, 2011 at 2:24 pm

    US agents carrying guns in Mexico aren’t carrying guns to “operate” in Mexico, or to help keep Mexicans safe. They need to carry weapons to protect themselves in that hell hole of a country. The US government sends agents over there all the time to work as liasons with the Mexican government. ICE and Border Patrol agents are sent on details and day trips into Mexico for this reason. Since they aren’t allowed to carry their weapons, they have to depend on armed guards to protect them. Yes, that’s intelligent. Let’s have our agents depend on guys when they could be the ones being paid by the cartels. We aren’t doing any good being over in Mexico. We aren’t helping them, and we aren’t getting any vital information to help us.

    The agents shouldn’t have been traveling alone. The blame should fall squarely on the US government for allowing them to be over there and for letting them travel alone. We should pull all agents back from Mexico since nothing is being accomplished over there anyways. The Mexicans don’t have high opinions of us gringos anyways, so lets let them fend for themselves.

    The only part of this I really agree with is the part about Janet Napolitano. She is such an idiot. She knows nothing about national security and I wish she would just shut the hell up.

  • 16. internal exile  |  March 7th, 2011 at 7:56 pm

    Shit Whyawannaknow, those guns still come from the US. Same diff. And Noneofyourdamnbusiness, Mexico is no hellhole. You wanna hellhole? Try Victorville.

  • 17. internal exile  |  March 7th, 2011 at 8:17 pm

    “Today I say to the cartels: Don’t even think about bringing your violence and tactics across this border,” Janet Napolitano warned last month during a speech in El Paso, Texas. “You will be met by an overwhelming response. And we’re going to continue to work with our partners in Mexico to dismantle and defeat you.” – Janet Neapolitino

    She captures perfectly the tone of a tottering empire.

  • 18. WTF  |  March 11th, 2011 at 11:59 am

    hey internal exile– you miss the point. The anti-gun predators in the US are trying to create a myth that mexican drug gangs source their guns from US gun shops and gun shows, which is mostly a lie. They tell this lie in order to pursue their totalitarian agenda of stripping guns from the hands of all law-abiding citizens in the USA, thus rendering them defenseless from criminal predators.

    Now, the select-fire ARs that the drug gangs acquire most likely have been originally manufactured in the US for the US Gov’t, and then got into gangsters’ hands via government (US or Mexican) corruption of some sort. That’s a whole different story. But we need to be clear about this.

    Incidentally the AKs almost most certainly come from eastern europe, via any of dozens of different places (Africa? South America? who knows). But from the US? Exceedingly unlikely, and the facts bear this out.

  • 19. Josh B  |  March 16th, 2011 at 8:34 am

    Good stuff Poncho. I lived in Monterrey from 99 to 01 and married una regia. I have followed your blog for over a year now. It really hits home how bad things have gotten. My wife refuses to go back to Monterrey to visit family. I remember feeling safe in any part of Monterrey when I lived in the city. I am curious about one thing in this blog. Was the attack on the main highway a “cuota” or a side road? I made the drive well over 10 times from Monterrey to DF. There was always several military check points around SLP. Are things really that bad where the Zetas are setting up road blocks on the main highways? Back in 00, I came across a suspicious road block between Reynosa and Monterrey while traveling the free highway. The plan clothed gunmen searched my car. Said they were looking for a gun shipment coming from the US and then let me go. Scary shit but back then there was really no need to worry about personal safety . Keep up the good work. It is hard to get updates from my family that live in Monterrey because they are too depressed to talk about the war. I turn to you to keep me up-to speed. Thank you!

  • 20. Brian Beckner  |  March 21st, 2011 at 9:47 am

    HWY 57 is not exactly “a lonely Mexican desert road”, although it is in the desert.

    Instead it is the main north/south HWY from Mexico City to Satillo and is a busy HWY with both commercial and passanger traffic.

    There is so much traffic during the day that one has to be alert at all time as to what the traffic is doing or one can in up in an accident.

  • 21. Walter  |  April 10th, 2011 at 11:54 am

    What is Montana’s email or is there any way to communicate with him directly.

  • 22. Mellissa Payne  |  April 14th, 2011 at 12:19 pm

    Dum Shit

  • 23. debaser  |  April 17th, 2011 at 7:53 am

    I wonder if these articles got Pancho Montana ‘disappeared’… its been a while

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