Mexico: Gangsters Eye Conquest of El Salvador


March 15, 2013: Drug cartelistas in Tamaulipas state (likely both the Gulf cartel and Los Zetas) have targeted anti-criminal violence civilian activists who are tracking cartel murders, extortion rackets (eg, roadblocks for shaking down truck drivers), and kidnappings on the web. The activists are anonymous and post on Facebook. The group calls itself Courage for Tamaulipas (Valor por Tamaulipas). In late February, cartel gunmen offered a reward of $48,000 to anyone providing a tip that identified the activists or their family members. The threat to internet activists who oppose the cartels is quite real because the internet presents a threat to the gangs. Many mainline Mexican medias began practicing self-censorship after the drug gangs began murdering their reporters. Internet activists have also paid with their lives. Cartel gunmen have murdered at least four Mexican internet activists in the last two years. One of the murdered internet activists, Maria Elizabeth Macias of Nuevo Laredo, was beheaded after she was murdered in 2011. Authorities believe the Zetas killed her. Nuevo Laredo is located in Tamaulipas state.

March 14, 2013: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that it will beef up security along the Mexico-Texas border. DHS had been focusing on Arizona and the Tucson, Arizona area. DHS and the Border Patrol have put as many as 1,500 agents into an 83-mile wide stretch of border south of Tucson. So it’s whack-a-mole. Facing a tougher time in Arizona, drug gangs are shifting operations east. South Texas and the Rio Grande Valley area have witnessed an upsurge in human trafficking and drug smuggling.

March 12, 2013: The Sinaloa cartel is expanding into South America. Colombia media reported that Sinaloa has literally bought shares of a cocaine smuggling operation run by members of Colombia’s Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla commanders. The Marxist FARC is reportedly near a peace deal with the Colombian government. Essentially the FARC rebels are selling cocaine production facilities to Sinaloa.

March 11, 2013: Mexico’s Zocalo newspaper group announced that its newspaper will no longer report on organized criminal activities because no one can guarantee the safety and security of journalists and journalism. The Zocalo group owns several newspapers in Coahuila state (northern Mexico), in the cities of Ciudad Acuna, Piedras Niegras, Saltillo, and Monclova.

March 10, 2013: Mexican marines rescued 104 migrants (102 from Honduras, two from El Salvador) who had been kidnapped by drug traffickers. The operation took place in Tamaulipas state.

March 9, 2013: Police reported that a senior official in Jalisco state’s tourism ministry was assassinated in Zapopan, a suburb of the city of Guadalajara. Gunmen chased Jose de Gallegos Alvarez’ SUV, then murdered him with semi-automatic pistol fire. 

March 8, 2013: Mexican prosecutors claimed that several of the vigilantes arrested in the town of Buenavista (Michoacan state) have ties to the Jalisco New Generation cartel. The army raided the town on March 7, and arrested 34 vigilantes. The vigilantes claim that they are protecting their town from the Knights Templar cartel.  The army launched the raid after the vigilantes kidnapped several municipal police officers and took their weapons.

March 6, 2013: Ties between the notorious Mara Salvatrucha gang (known as MS-13 or the Maras) and Los Zetas cartel are once again attracting headlines. However, allegations that members of MS-13 have cooperated with the Zetas are not new. A few years ago a couple of speculative press reports claimed that the Zetas had contacts with MS-13 gang members in the U.S. The implication was that Los Zetas and some MS-13 gangsters were discussing a drug distribution deal. That report made sense, for a link with MS-13 gives any drug trafficking organization a U.S. network. MS-13 originally formed in the U.S. Salvadoran immigrants played a key role in creating the original gang in Los Angeles, but the gang quickly added members from other Central American countries. The gang spread to several other major U.S. cities and then went international. The gang’s national and trans-national reach eventually attracted the attention of the FBI which formed a special MS-13 task force. In 2008, the FBI reported that the gang had members in 42 U.S. states. At the time the FBI estimated that MS-13 had from 6,000 to 10,000 U.S. members. In 2012, police estimated that the gang had 30,000 members around the world, with 8,000 in the U.S.

However, MS-13 and Los Zetas have also had several very public gangland-style disagreements, and the bloodshed was not so speculative. Three years ago Los Zetas gunmen and MS-13 gang members were in a turf battle over human trafficking of Central American migrants. There were other reports that some MS-13 members were working for the Sinaloa cartel and had fought with Zetas gunmen. Again, no surprise. Gangsters will kill each other but when it suits them they will cooperate. A few months ago a rumor appeared on the internet that claimed the Zetas had trained several MS-13 members in Zetas-style military tactics. The alleged training took place in a camp in El Salvador. MS-13 gang members then left El Salvador and worked for Los Zetas in Mexico. Los Zetas and MS-13 both go in for heinous crimes and barbaric murder. The Zetas, however, are highly disciplined, reflecting their origin as military deserters from an elite Mexican Army unit. MS-13 reflects its origins too, as an undisciplined street gang. So a rumor that MS-13 was creating a disciplined hit squad raised a few eyebrows. Now reports are circulating that MS-13 is allegedly trying to build a Zetas-type arsenal of automatic assault rifles, hand grenades, and rocket-propelled grenades. One very unsubstantiated rumor claimed that MS-13 is seeking shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles like the Russian-made Cold War-era SA-7. Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela have stockpiles of this heat-seeking relic. When rumors circulate that an El Salvador-connected gang is seeking assault rifles, RPGs, and missiles, the government of El Salvador has to investigate. The country suffered enormously from an extended Communist insurgency. The Soviet Union supplied the guerrillas with AK-47s and RPGs, shipped through Cuba and Nicaragua. So why would MS-13 want the weapons? Here is a scenario, hopefully fictional: the Mexican government has frustrated cartel attempts to carve out Colombia-type narco-duchies. It could be that a cartel commandante or two thinks El Salvador would be an acey-deucy narco-duchy.  A less exotic theory: MS-13 is simply fronting for Los Zetas, and the Zetas want to acquire weapons that will knock Mexican military Blackhawks out of the sky. (Austin Bay)

March 5, 2013: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security contends that the improved border fences and more agents along the Mexico-California border have significantly reduced the number of illegal immigrants entering the U.S. The U.S. recession has certainly played a major role in the reduction in illegal immigrants, but crossing between Tijuana and San Diego has become more difficult than it was. The new fences in and around San Diego are indeed more robust. Some are topped with razor wire, which is a psychological deterrent. Illegal immigrants can still head east to areas where there are no fences but these unfenced areas are in the desert. The U.S. now has some 1,000 kilometers (650 miles) of fences along the 3,700 kilometer U.S.-Mexico border. In 1993 U.S. security agencies arrested over 500,000 illegal immigrants along the California-Mexico border. In 2012, the figure was around 30,000. 

March 4, 2013: A Mexican citizen admitted in a U.S. court that he beheaded a man in Phoenix, Arizona. The crime occurred in 2010. The murdered man had stolen drugs from a Mexican cartel. The accused acknowledged that the execution-style murder was committed in order to send the message that anyone who stole from a drug cartel would face a similar death.

March 1, 2013: The government believes that three new drug cartel factions have appeared. A Los Zetas faction known as Sangre Z (Blood Zeta) is essentially operating as its own separate drug cartel.  A faction called la Corona has split from the Sinaloa cartel. The Zetas were originally the paramilitary arm of the Gulf cartel. The government said that the Gulf cartel has also spawned another splinter cartel known as the Gulf New Generation (Golfo Nueva Generacion).

February 27, 2013: The government arrested and charged the leader of Mexico’s national teacher’s union (National Education Workers Union, SNTE) with stealing $160 million in union funds. A statement by government prosecutors alleged that the union leader, Elba Esther Gordillo, had used some of the embezzled money to buy property in the U.S.  She does have a home in San Diego, California.  Prosecutors also claimed the Gordillo owed a U.S. department store three million dollars and paid the debt using a union credit card. Gordillo was arrested at a small private airport west of Mexico City. She may have been trying to flee the country. Gordillo’s salary was nominally $90,000 a year.

February 26, 2013: Authorities in Mexicali (Baja California Sur state) seized a compressed air cannon smugglers used to shoot thirty pound packs of marijuana over the border. The cannon’s tube was a large plastic pipe. Its air compressor was hooked to an automobile engine. 

February 25, 2013: A U.S. federal court in Texas sentenced a Texas resident to four years in prison. The man was convicted of buying weapons in the U.S. and selling them to Mexican buyers. Prosecutors alleged that the defendant had bought an AR-15 rifle and an AK-47, which were found at a crime scene in Saltillo (Coahuila state). An AR-15 the defendant purchased was found in Nuevo Laredo at the scene of a firefight between Mexican army troops and cartel gunmen. Four cartel gunmen and one soldier were killed in that particular firefight.

February 22, 2013: The Guatemalan government denied media reports that Mexican drug lord Joaquin Guzman (El Chapo) had been killed in a shootout near the town of San Valentin (Guatemala’s Peten region, near the Mexican border).

February 20, 2013: Vigilantes in the town of Ayutla (southern Guerrero state) claimed that one of their civilian protection patrols fought with a group of criminal gunmen. The vigilantes claimed to have killed one of the gunmen. The Ayutla vigilante group began operating in January 2013.


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