Mexico Security Memo: March 29, 2011

10 MINS READMar 29, 2011 | 19:15 GMT
Mexico Security Memo

Interception of a Zeta Arms Shipment?

Mexican army personnel patrolling the south side of Nuevo Laredo the night of March 25 stopped a semitrailer after it pulled onto the Nuevo Laredo-Monterrey highway (MX-85) from a side street. When the soldiers opened the trailer to inspect the cargo, they were shot at by three gunmen inside. In the ensuing gunbattle, a fire broke out inside the trailer and for 30 minutes a large quantity of ammunition and about a dozen 40 mm grenades reportedly cooked off, killing the three gunmen. After the fire was put out, authorities found the remnants of a large shipment of guns, ammunition, magazines of several types, 71 tactical radios and numerous cellphones in the trailer, according to media reports. The reports indicated that 31 rifles and nine handguns (mostly destroyed) were found, along with a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) launcher. However, the photos of the weapons provide some revealing details. Though described as rifles, three of the firearms were not rifles, but military-grade weapons: two M249 SAWs and an M1919A4 — both belt-fed machine guns. The presence of those particular weapons and an RPG launcher, together with the tactical gear and an unknown though likely large quantity of ammunition, suggests two things. First, the bulk of the military ordnance was probably acquired from the Mexican military and not smuggled into Mexico from Texas — such ordnance is very difficult to obtain in the United States, particularly the RPG-7, which is used by the Mexican army but not by the U.S. military. Second, given the nature of the weapons in the shipment, and the group's history and demonstrated preference for military-grade hardware, it is highly likely that the cartel involved with the shipment was Los Zetas. In an event that involved a similar shipment in 2007, Mexican soldiers intercepted a semitrailer filled with weapons and tactical gear in Ciudad Victoria, south of Matamoros. That shipment was intended for Los Zetas, who at the time were serving as the enforcement arm of the Gulf cartel, for use in their fight against the Sinaloa Federation for control of Matamoros. Today, Los Zetas are locked in a struggle against the New Federation, made up of their former patrons, the Gulf cartel, and the Sinaloa Federation. The arms seizure also raises the question of where the Zetas are likely to engage with the Gulf and Sinaloa elements of the New Federation. A few kilometers south of where the March 25 interception occurred, MX-85 intersects with Federal Highway 2, which skirts the U.S. border and runs through Nuevo Guerrero and Reynosa toward both Valle Hermoso and Matamoros. Though the intended destination for the weapons shipment is not clear, due to the fact that Los Zetas are on the defensive in Monterrey and Nuevo Laredo — and recently lost control of the Reynosa plaza — the weapons may have been intended to equip them in one of those cities.

Bodies Found in Acapulco During Calderon's Visit

Five dismembered bodies were found March 25 in front of a department store on Farallon Avenue in Acapulco. The discovery was made about an hour after Mexican President Felipe Calderon opened the 36th edition of the Tourist Marketplace in the International Center of Acapulco. Two of the bodies were strewed on the ground near an abandoned SUV, and the other three were contained in plastic bags inside the vehicle. Messages found with the bodies indicated that the victims were police officers who had been killed by the Sinaloa Federation because they worked with the Independent Cartel of Acapulco (CIDA). This sequence of events surrounding Calderon's visit to Acapulco is reminiscent of an incident that occurred Jan. 23 in Juarez. On that day, gunmen shot at spectators and players on a soccer field during a Sunday afternoon match, killing seven and wounding three children. A few weeks before the attack, Calderon had dedicated the new soccer field in Juarez as part of his government's program to curb gang violence. Acapulco is among the most contested areas in Mexico by the cartels. Along with CIDA and Sinaloa, the Cartel Pacifico Sur — an ally of Los Zetas — and the Beltran Leyva Organization all are fighting for control of the plaza. With these four organizations locked in a struggle for the strategic Pacific Coast city and its surrounding areas, intimidation killings, particularly during high-profile visits by figures like the president, are a long-used tactic by the cartels to assert their power and send a message to the federal government as well as the local population that Mexican authorities are unable to stop even the most brazen violence. (click here to view interactive map)

March 21

  • Unidentified attackers detonated an explosive device at a concert by musician Jose Angel Ledezma Quintero in Bahia de Banderas, Nayarit state, injuring three members of the band.
  • Authorities discovered four bodies wrapped in black plastic near a road in Guasave, Sinaloa state.
  • Military authorities announced the arrests of six suspected members of an unidentified drug cartel in the municipalities of Armeria and Villa de Alvarez, Colima state.
  • Police officers in Zapopan, Jalisco state, discovered the severed torso of an unidentified man in a bag near a road.
  • Unidentified gunmen traveling in at least 10 vehicles shot and killed seven men in El Habal, Mazatlan municipality, Sinaloa state.

March 22

  • Authorities announced the arrest of Jose Natividad Cortez Balcazar, the leader of La Familia Michoacana in Leon, Guanajuato state.
  • Authorities discovered the dismembered and decapitated body of an unidentified man near the Tikal neighborhood in Cancun, Quintana Roo state. Two messages signed by the "Zetas Special Forces" were found near the body. One message was a warning to Cancun Public Security Director Bibiano Villa Castillo. The other message warned either the authorities or rival criminal groups to "align [yourselves], otherwise this could become another Torreon."
  • Soldiers arrested six police officers during a raid on a police station in San Nicolas de los Garza, Nuevo Leon state. A separate raid on a police station in Santa Catarina resulted in the arrest of a police supervisor by a group of marines.
  • Unidentified gunmen shot and killed Jose Luis Guerrero Morales, the public security director for La Piedad, Michoacan state. Guerrero Morales was shot as he was being driven home by a municipal police officer. The officer apparently fled the scene of the attack.

March 23

  • Unidentified individuals abandoned the decapitated body of a man in the La Joya neighborhood of Yautepec, Morelos state. The victim's head was found near the body with a sign attributing the crime to the Cartel Pacifico Sur.
  • Unidentified gunmen opened fire on a public security building in General Teran, Nuevo Leon state, causing no injuries and only minor damage.
  • Soldiers in the Fresnos neighborhood of Apodaca, Nuevo Leon state, killed three suspected gunmen and freed a kidnapping victim during a raid on a house.
  • The decapitated bodies of two men were found in La Ferreria, Durango state. Both bodies had been marked with the number "16."
  • Unidentified gunmen shot and killed a police officer, as well as his mother and daughter, near a police roadblock in Linares, Nuevo Leon state.

March 24

  • Unidentified gunmen shot and killed two municipal police officers from Brisenas, Michoacan state, in Jamay, Jalisco state.
  • Military authorities announced the arrests of five suspected members of a drug trafficking cartel in the municipality of Coyuca de Catalan, Guerrero state.
  • Unidentified gunmen shot and killed three taxi drivers in Apatzingan, Michoacan.
  • Unidentified gunmen kidnapped three police officers at a gas station in Acapulco, Guerrero state. A fourth officer managed to escape. The bodies of the kidnapped agents were later discovered among the remains of five dismembered bodies.
  • Military authorities announced the arrest of Victor Emanuel Delgado Medrano, the suspected head of Los Zetas in Cancun, Quintana Roo state. Delgado Medrano was arrested with seven other suspects. A woman allegedly held hostage by Delgado Medrano's suspected accomplices was freed.

March 25

  • Authorities in Guadalupe, Nuevo Leon state, discovered the body of Jose Luis Cerda Melendez, a television host for Televisa. The body of Cerda Melendez's cousin and an independent cameraman were also found on March 25 near a highway. The three men had been kidnapped upon leaving the television studio on March 24. Cerda Melendez's body had originally been discovered by police after his death but was stolen by a group of gunmen, who moved it to a separate location. At least 14 officers were arrested for their alleged collaboration in removing the body.
  • Two police officers were injured when a grenade exploded near a police station in Saltillo, Coahuila state.

March 26

  • Five roadblocks were reported at separate points in San Nicolas de los Garza, Nuevo Leon state. The roadblocks were reportedly due to a military operation in the area.
  • Three gunmen were killed in a firefight with soldiers in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state. The gunmen were inside a semitrailer containing grenades, rifles, pistols, several machine guns, tactical gear, tactical radios and an unknown quantity of ammunition when the semitrailer was stopped by the soldiers. During the gunfight, a fire started in the trailer, detonating grenades and ammunition, killing the gunmen. Much of the ammunition and weapons inside the trailer were destroyed by the fire.

March 27

  • State investigative agents discovered the body of the municipal police commander inside a car in Villa Victoria, Mexico state. The director had been shot in the back.
  • Unidentified gunmen shot the municipal civil protection director of Nextlalpan, Mexico state, eight times during a patrol in Atocan. The director survived the attack.
  • Unidentified gunmen shot and killed the deputy director of prison guards at the No. 1 Social Re-adaptation Center in Durango, Durango state. The victim was killed by a group of attackers who waited for him near his home.

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