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Jul 28, 2008 | 20:35 GMT

1 min read

Mexico Security Memo: July 28, 2008

Mexico Security Memo

Significant Seizures

The Mexican government has made several large seizures of narcotics, materials and cash in recent weeks throughout Mexico. One of the biggest was the July 25 discovery of 8,000 drums of chemicals used to make synthetic drugs in a warehouse in Guadalajara, in Jalisco state. Some of the barrels contained ephedrine and others acetone, two key ingredients in the manufacturing of crystal methamphetamine. Methamphetamine production is one of the more profitable enterprises in which Mexican drug cartels are involved, and the so-called Mexican "super labs" are responsible for an estimated 80 percent of the methamphetamine on the streets in the United States. It is important to note the growing importance of Mexican-made methamphetamine, the production of which has increased dramatically since 2005, when the United States began restricting the sale of ephedrine and pseudoephedrine. It is also important to recognize that one Mexican super lab is able to produce the same amount of the narcotic as hundreds of the small mom-and-pop meth labs common in the United States. The price of methamphetamine is comparable to that of powder cocaine in the United States, and with the cartels able to produce the synthetic narcotic themselves, they can keep a larger portion of the profits than when they act merely as middlemen transporting narcotics from South America. In any case, someone in the methamphetamine business will not be pleased about the July 25 seizure, and some form of violent payback will likely occur in the coming weeks and months. This could be the attempted assassination of a high-profile law enforcement official with connections to the seizure, or even an attempt to reclaim the seized goods. In the past, the cartels have contracted with assassination gangs like El Nica, which is believed to have been involved in the May 1 murder of Roberto Velasco Bravo, director of investigations for the federal police’s sensitive investigations unit, and the May 8 murder of Edgar Millan Gomez, the acting head of the federal police. However, many of these gangs have been dismantled by the government. Therefore, the cartels will either contract with a new gang or send in cartel enforcers, in which case large amounts of firepower will likely be employed. It is hard to say when an act of retaliation will occur. Millan was involved in a car chase that nearly captured Arturo Beltran Leyva outside of Cuernavaca, in Morelos state, and it was only a matter of hours before Milan was assassinated outside his home in the Guerrero colony of Mexico City. In an attempt to reclaim their “property” Los Zetas, who have diversified their interests to include human smuggling, are credited with the hijacking of a Mexican National Institute of Migration (INM) bus carrying 33 undocumented Cubans in Chiapas state only a couple of days after they were detained by the INM in Cancun, Quintana Roo. The Cubans were later detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials on the U.S. side of the border. In other cases, the time between seizures or arrests and retaliation has been weeks or even months. Although it is hard to predict the timing of a retaliatory strike, it is important to note that the cartels can act swiftly when they see a need to.

Foreign Kidnappings

Reports began surfacing this past week of foreign nationals being kidnapped for ransom in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, which shares a border with Texas and is home to the Gulf Cartel. On July 12, five South Korean nationals were kidnapped and held for a $30,000 ransom in the city of Reynosa. South Korean officials negotiated their release on July 22. South Korean officials refused to comment on whether the ransom was paid. It was later reveled that the five were planning to cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally to seek employment in the United States. On July 21, a 19-year-old American citizen named Roel Rolando Ramirez was rescued from room 226 of the Hotel California in the Mexican town of Miguel Aleman, in Tamaulipas state. The son of a New Mexico rancher, Rolando Ramirez lived in the Texas border town of Rio Grande City, where he was forced into a car and blindfolded after reportedly being tricked by a friend into stopping his truck. Rolando Ramirez was then taken to the Hotel California where he was told to call his father and ask for $200,000 to be wired to bank accounts in Mexico for his safe return. Rolando Ramirez’s father then alerted the state police, and they were able to rescue Ramirez and arrest his captors. Cartels typically target only their enemies in kidnapping attempts, but with the security situation along the U.S.-Mexican border in a state of flux, the cartels may be looking for other ways to make money. It would not be surprising to see cartels engage in kidnapping for ransom to help finance their narcotics operations, which have been constrained on both sides of the border. The Arellano Felix Organization (aka the Tijuana cartel) and the paramilitary group Los Zetas have both engaged in kidnapping for ransom when federal police and military operations severely hampered their drug trafficking activities. Also, it is important to note that human traffickers will sometimes hold their “cargo” hostage for additional funds. The illegal nature of human trafficking makes it difficult for awaiting family members to go to the proper authorities to report such situations. (click to view map)

July 21

  • Roel Rolando Ramirez was rescued after he was kidnapped July 17 in Miguel Aleman, Tamaulipas state. Rolando Ramirez’s father alerted state police after his son phoned him for the ransom. Police were able to locate Rolando Ramirez in a hotel in Miguel Aleman and arrest the kidnappers.
  • Two men were killed with AK-47s outside of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state. Authorities say the assassins were traveling in a truck on a state highway when they opened fire on the two men.

July 22

  • Five South Korean nationals were set free after they were kidnapped by a gang and spent 10 days detained in an undisclosed location in Reynosa. A $30,000 ransom was demanded but South Korean officials declined to comment on whether or not it was paid.
  • Los Zetas were presumed to be responsible for the deaths of three state police agents in Campeche state. The three officers were leaving a restaurant around midday in Ciudad del Carmen when the gunmen opened fire.

July 23

  • Chihuahua Gov. Jose Reyes received two letters threatening his life from Gente Nueva, a paramilitary group last known to be associated with El Chapo and the Sinaloa cartel. In one of the letters, the group accuses Reyes of siding with Carrillo Fuentes and the Juarez cartel and of “collaborating with the AFP.”

July 24

  • Twenty-one ministerial police officers resigned from departments in Culiacan, Mazatlan and Guasave, in Sinaloa state.
  • Salvador Barreno, director of the prison system in Juarez, Chihuahua state, was shot some 60 times by an armed group outside his home. He died at the scene.

July 25

  • Federal authorities seized four residences of Jesus Ernesto Sauceda Felix (aka El Chapo Sauceda), who is presumed to have been behind a drive-by shooting that killed eight innocent people, including a 15-yeqr-old girl, almost two weeks ago in Guamuchil, in Sinaloa state.
  • Federal police and elements of the Mexican military found 8,000 drums of chemicals used to make synthetic drugs in the basement of a warehouse in Guadalajara, Jalisco state.
  • The body of Pablo Aispuro Ramírez, a municipal police officer in Culiacan, was found hanging in a tree wearing a sombrero with a message pinned to his chest. He was reported kidnapped July 17.

July 26

  • Federal agents seized five large-caliber weapons, 17 magazines and 388 rounds of ammunition in a raid on a residence in Ejido, in Sonora state. Authorities say the residents of the home, members of the Sinaloa cartel, were planning an assault on rival groups.

July 27

  • A shooting in a prison 47 kilometers from Navolato, in Sinaloa state, left one prisoner dead and two others injured. A pistol was reportedly smuggled into the prison for the targeted assassination of Victoriano Araujo Payan, the brother of Gonzalo Araujo Payan, a former high-ranking Sinaloa cartel member who reportedly committed suicide in 2006.

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