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Mexico Security Memo: Jan. 28, 2008

6 MINS READJan 28, 2008 | 19:16 GMT
Mexico Security Memo

Investigating Police

The security operation that began several weeks ago in border cities in Tamaulipas state expanded its focus this past week. In addition to conducting security patrols and house-to-house searches for high-ranking members of the Gulf cartel, military forces began to investigate local police departments for links to organized crime. Army personnel reportedly surrounded and disarmed the police departments in Nuevo Laredo, Reynosa and Matamoros. The practice of confiscating weapons is standard procedure when the federal government investigates local law enforcement, since it allows authorities to examine weapons that might have been used in past crimes. It also lessens the likelihood of a violent encounter between local and federal authorities during such an investigation. Police under investigation also are routinely subjected to drug tests and, in some cases, polygraphs in order to root out officers who are on the cartel payroll. In this case, the move was intended to decrease the likelihood that corrupt local police officers will help cartel members elude the dragnet.

Indications of Success

Though the border operation has yet to lead to any significant arrests, there are indications that a small number of high-ranking Gulf cartel members are surrounded in the area, U.S. counternarcotics sources report. While searches by Mexican security forces are continuing, the size of the area and the number of potential hiding places suggest that progress will be slow. And once a suspect is located, we cannot rule out the possibility of a large-scale assault or firefight. Factors that would increase the likelihood of government success are tips by informants regarding the locations of targets and compromising cartel communication networks. Of course, information on the whereabouts of targeted suspects is likely to be closely guarded and known only by the suspects' personal protection details or fellow high-ranking members of the organization. One such Gulf member was arrested this past week in a separate operation and could provide authorities with information regarding the whereabouts of Gulf suspects being hunted in Tamaulipas state. Hector Izar Castro, aka "El Teto," was arrested by federal police in San Luis Potosi state, in possession of an assault rifle, small amounts of cocaine and heroin and six cellular telephones. Authorities described him as one of the original Zetas who was responsible for some liaison activities with the Juarez cartel. Although it is too soon to know what Izar's interrogation will reveal, any information he provides could be heavily relied upon as the government continues its campaign against the Gulf cartel.

A Significant Shake-Up

Perhaps the most significant arrest in President Felipe Calderon's war against the drug cartels came this past week in Sinaloa state, when Mexican military special forces arrested Alfredo Beltran Leyva, aka "El Mochomo," in the capital city of Culiacan and later transferred him to the Puente Grande penitentiary in Jalisco state. Beltran reportedly was traveling with three bodyguards in a luxury sport utility vehicle at the time of his capture and was in possession of an assault rifle, jewelry and two suitcases that contained $900,000 in cash. He led an organization referred to as "Los Tres Caballeros" — an important part of the Sinaloa federation — as well as two teams of hit men, "Los Pelones" and "Los Gueros." Beltran's capture came within two months of the Mexican army establishing a larger presence in Sinaloa state, a relatively short period of time for such a high-profile arrest. Taking him off the streets is a major victory for Calderon's administration, and although Mexico does not have a good track record of keeping well-connected prisoners from continuing to run their organizations from behind bars, Beltran's organization — and the Sinaloa cartel itself — has received a significant shake-up.

Jan. 21

  • Authorities in Michoacan state expanded a search for two fugitives who escaped from a jail in the port city of Lazaro Cardenas the day before. The two men, who were arrested at a highway checkpoint while carrying high-caliber weapons, are believed to have had accomplices in their escape.

Jan. 22

  • Nuevo Leon state police arrested two armed men near a government office in Monterrey. Authorities believe the men were planning an attack against a government official.
  • Military forces in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state, confiscated the weapons of the Nuevo Laredo police while the officers were being investigated for links to organized crime. Police departments in the nearby cities of Reynosa and Matamoros also reportedly were investigated.

Jan. 23

  • The security chief and his deputy at the Topo Chico prison, located in a suburb of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state, were wounded when a group of armed men opened fire on their vehicle after they had left the grounds. Citing an uptick in attacks against judicial officials, authorities said they believe the attack is related to the killing of a penal judge that occurred several days earlier.

Jan. 24

  • Police in El Paso, Texas, were ordered to stand guard at a hospital where a Mexican police commander was being treated for gunshot wounds he received during an attempt on his life just across the border in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state.
  • Three men were abducted in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state, by a group of armed men who claimed to be federal agents. One of the victims reportedly had arrived in the city from the United States just a few days before.

Jan. 25

  • A former government official in Ejutla, Oaxaca state, was discovered dead in his home with eight gunshot wounds.
  • The bodies of two men were discovered in Tijuana, Baja California state, one in a vehicle and one outside the vehicle nearby. Each had been shot to death.

Jan. 26

  • Police engaged in a high-speed chase and a firefight with a group of armed men in the Monterrey suburb of Santa Catarina, Nuevo Leon state. No one was wounded in the engagement, which resulted in police taking two suspects into custody.

Jan. 27

  • Three bodies with gunshot wounds and signs of torture reportedly were found separately in Acapulco, Guerrero state.
  • A firefight between suspected drug dealers in Sonora state left two men dead. Each had been shot several times.

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