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Mar 30, 2009 | 20:11 GMT

7 mins read

Mexico Security Memo: March 30, 2009

Mexico Security Memo

Monterrey and the Zeta-BLO Relationship

Authorities in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state, announced the capture this past week of Hector "La Burra" Huerta Rios, who is believed to have overseen the operations of the Beltran Leyva organization (BLO) in northeastern Mexico. Huerta was detained March 24, along with at least four accomplices in possession of several assault rifles and approximately $12,000 in cash. Huerta is believed to have managed BLO activities in the area since 2007. In this role, he reportedly reached at least a limited truce with Los Zetas, who have much stronger ties to the area. The information that has surfaced after this arrest supports STRATFOR's assessment of cooperation between the BLO and Los Zetas during the last year, though it also raises questions about how the relationship might be affected with one of the key players now behind bars. The motivation for Zeta-BLO agreement certainly has a strategic component, as the two organizations have a common enemy and rival in the Sinaloa cartel. At the same time, however, personalities also play an important role in how various criminal organizations interact. Even with the continuing shared strategic interest, it will be important to observe the extent to which the Zeta-BLO relationship is affected after Huerta's arrest. Any fallout or disruption potentially could create a new battle line in the cartel war.

Guatemala Zeta Camp Raid

Military and law enforcement authorities in Guatemala conducted a raid March 27 on a suspected Zeta camp near the Mexican border, seizing an assortment of firearms, ammunition and more than 500 40 mm grenades. No suspects were taken into custody, and according to one report, several individuals fled the camp when they observed authorities arriving by aircraft to conduct the raid. The camp, which was located in a remote area near Ixcan, also contained at least one airstrip, electrical generators and illumination equipment, presumably to allow night landings. Authorities also said they found evidence that two Mexican members of Los Zetas had used the camp to provide tactical training to at least 35 people, who appear to be Guatemalan youths from surrounding areas that had been recruited by Los Zetas to support the organization. Officials said several motorcycles at the camp were used to instruct the recruits in how to fire weapons while traveling. The discovery of the camp provides further evidence of the expanding presence of Mexican drug cartels in Central America. It also raises questions about the extent of Zeta activity in Guatemala. For one, the camp appears to be the first significant evidence of recent Zeta training in Guatemala. Several investigations and arrests over the past 12 months have uncovered an extensive Zeta presence inside Guatemala, as well as clandestine airstrips in the same region as the camp that have presumably been used for drug trafficking. In many of those cases, in addition to finding weapons and other materials, authorities discovered large quantities of fuel, suggesting that a significant purpose of those locations was to refuel aircraft loaded with drugs. No such discovery was reported in the March 27 case, which raises the possibility that the airstrip may have existed simply to resupply the camp. One key question at this point is what duties and assignments recruits graduating from the camp were receiving. While it is possible that they were being sent to assist the organization's operations in Mexico, the Guatemalans allegedly being trained there likely would be better suited to working in their own, more familiar territory. Considering Guatemala's strategic importance in the drug trade, it is natural that an organization like Los Zetas would seek to recruit locals to support its operations. There have been instances of former Kaibiles (Guatemalan Special Forces) serving as bodyguards for senior members of Los Zetas. Other former Kaibiles have been arrested in Mexico and charged with weapons smuggling and other offenses, so it is not unprecedented for Guatemalans to operate inside Mexico. Click to view map

March 23

  • Military forces responding to a report of a kidnapping raided a ranch in Ixtapa, Guerrero state, and seized nine trucks and 15 boats. Traces of drugs were also found in the area.
  • The Mexican government released a list identifying the country's 37 most-wanted drug cartel suspects, offering rewards of up to $2 million for information leading to their arrests.
  • Authorities in Ziracuaretiro, Michoacan state, located the bodies of three brothers who had been kidnapped the day before. Each had been shot twice in the head.
  • Mexican military forces forced an unidentified single-engine airplane to land in the Choix region of Sinaloa state, after reports surfaced the day before of unauthorized aircraft operating in the area.

March 24

  • A man and his daughter died when they were shot multiple times by gunmen traveling in vehicles along a busy road in Tijuana, Baja California state.
  • Authorities in Culiacan, Sinaloa state, conducted a series of searches that resulted in the seizure of $5 million in cash, approximately 450 pounds of cocaine, 1,500 rounds of ammunition and 10 firearms.
  • The police chief of Navolato, Sinaloa state, died when he was shot at least 10 times while driving near his home.
  • Five people, reported to be students at a local post-secondary education institute, died after being kidnapped in El Oro, Durango state.

March 25

  • A group of armed men entered a hospital in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, and removed a patient identified as Crispin Humberto Borunda Cardenas, who reportedly was awaiting extradition to the United States to face charges relating to cocaine trafficking.
  • Several armed men opened fire in the parking lot of a nightclub in Lazaro Cardenas, Michoacan state, killing four people. As police responded, they exchanged gunfire with the suspects en route to a suspected safe house, where officers succeeded in rescuing one alleged kidnapping victim.
  • A university professor of Congolese citizenship was shot to death on a bus in Mexico City, in what authorities suspect might have been a robbery, or an execution for failure to pay a debt.

March 26

  • The body of a U.S. Marshals deputy was found in a canal in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state.
  • Police in Zihuatanejo, Guerrero state, found the severed head of an unidentified person.
  • Four people were reported killed in separate incidents in Durango state; one man was shot at least 16 times in San Dimas.

March 27

  • U.S. authorities in Calexico, California, reportedly detained Mario Alberto Beltran Leyva, then handed him over to Mexican authorities in Mexicali, Mexican media reported.

March 29

  • At least three police officers were wounded during a firefight in Torreon, Coahuila state, after the officers' patrol cars were ambushed.

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