May 25, 2006 | 22:56 GMT

4 mins read

Kaibiles: The New Lethal Force in the Mexican Drug Wars

The investigation into the April beheadings of two Mexican police officers in the Pacific resort city of Acapulco has led to the Kaibiles, Guatemalan special forces deserters who have taken on the role of hired guns for Mexico's Gulf cartel, one of the most powerful drug cartels operating in the country. Acapulco is fast becoming a battleground for cartels vying for control of drug-trafficking supply routes. The Zetas, the Mexican version of the Kaibiles, already are fighting on the Gulf cartel's side against skinhead gangs hired by the Beltran Leyva brothers, leaders of the rival Sinaloa cartel. With Mexican anti-drug authorities bearing down on the cartel, however, Kaibiles — as many as 40, according to Mexico's attorney general — were brought in to assist the Zetas in dealing with that front. With the Kaibiles now in the mix, fighting is likely to increase in the near future. The Kaibiles, who are particularly brutal fighters trained in unconventional tactics, are infamous for forcing recruits to bite the heads off live chickens during training. In February 1999, the U.N. Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH), a body established after Guatemala's civil war to investigate human rights abuses that occurred during the conflict, harshly criticized the Kaibiles, citing human rights abuses. Kaibil actions during fighting in the 1980s made the group one of the most feared special forces units in Latin America. According to the CEH, for instance, Kaibil units responding to guerrilla attacks near the Guatemalan town of Las Dos Erres in December 1982 entered a village believed to be sympathetic to rebel groups. Although the Kaibiles reportedly found no weapons caches or guerrillas, they proceeded to conduct a two-day purge, killing everyone in the village, including women and children. As part of a national reconciliation process following Guatemala's civil war, the Guatemalan army has been restructuring and transforming its units, and has since dropped the name "Kaibil" from its special forces units, referring to them only as the Special Forces Brigade. The units have participated in U.N. peacekeeping operations in Africa. On Sept. 10, 2005, Mexican authorities arrested seven Guatemalan nationals in the southern Chiapas town of Comitan for smuggling weapons into Mexico. Guatemalan authorities later confirmed that at least four of the seven were former Kaibiles who had deserted their special operations unit at different times, the most recent one in 2004. Unlike the Zetas, the majority of whom deserted at the same time, Kaibiles apparently have been deserting in small numbers for several years now. A former high-ranking Mexican military official, Gen. Ramon Mota Sanchez, said in an October 2005 interview that former Mexican soldiers who deserted to join the Zetas possibly were trained by Kaibiles. Between 1994 and 1999, he said, Kaibiles trained several dozen Mexican special operations soldiers. After the end of wars in Central America, bands of militants, mercenaries and death squads suddenly found themselves without a war to fight. Like many of these groups, the Kaibiles looked abroad for work as hired guns, some of them entering the Mexican drug scene through contacts with the Zetas. Special forces units in one region often will share training or establish partnerships with neighboring units. The presence of Kaibiles in Mexico has introduced an additional foreign element into the Mexican drug wars, along with Mara Salvatrucha from El Salvador and Calle 18 gangs from Guatemala. With the well-trained and brutal Kaibiles and Zetas now in the mix, however, Mexico's drug wars are likely to get even uglier. Moreover, it is only a question of time before their level of violence reaches fronts in the drug war on the U.S. border, such as Tijuana and Nuevo Laredo.

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