Cablegate: Narco-Killings Update

DE RUEHME #0713/01 0711940
R 111940Z MAR 08




E.O. 12958: N/A

REF: A. (A) 07 MEXICO 6228
B. (B) 07 MEXICO 6196
C. (C) 07 MEXICO 5401

1. (SBU) According to figures from the National Center for
Information, Analysis and Planning in order to Fight Crime
(CENAPI), there were over 2,400 organized crime-related
homicides in 2007, compared to an estimated 2,120 in 2006.
The majority of these killings continue to occur in states
traditionally associated with narcotics trafficking, such as
Sinaloa (385 executions in 2007), Michoacan (319), Guerrero
(278), Chihuahua (215), and Baja California (181). It is
estimated that approximately 300 of these homicides were law
enforcement officials and 27 military officials. The death
toll in January 2008, tracked by newspapers, was
approximately 201.

December/January -- Violence Spikes

2. (U) The end of 2007 and the beginning of 2008 witnessed an
unusually high level of armed clashes between narco gunmen
and the government forces -- army and police -- in the
central state of Zacatecas (December 29) and, more acutely,
in northern Tamaulipas. In the former, seven police officers
were injured and two were killed in an ambush staged to
rescue three men arrested while transporting a kidnap victim.
The attack was attributed to Los Zetas, the notorious hit
team of the Gulf cartel.

3. (U) Immediately following this attack, three separate
incidents took place in Tamaulipas.

-- On December 29 the chief of police in Matamoros was killed
by unidentified gunmen.
-- On January 7 a group of 13 gunmen engaged a joint force of
army troops and paramilitary members of the Federal
Preventive Police (PFP) in Rio Bravo: 8 of the latter were
injured, while 3 of the attackers were killed and 10 were
arrested. Interrogation of the detainees revealed that this
outfit was also part of Los Zetas.
-- The next day, January 8, in Reynosa, an unknown number of
gunmen, identified as Zetas, opened fire on a unit of the
Federal Investigation Agency (AFI) that was pursuing them,
killing 2 officers and wounding a third.

4. (U) Mexico's military forces have not come out unscathed.
After a further 1500 federal police officers (mainly military
troops seconded to the PFP) were deployed in Michoacan, a
clash with cartel gunmen on February 6 claimed the life of
Army Colonel Fortino Castillo Leon, the second highest
ranking causality of the GOM's counter-narcotics campaign.
(Note: The army also lost a Colonel on May 1, 2007 in the
course of a drug fight in Guerrero.)

Drug-Related Violence Spreads to Mexico City

5. (U) Through most of 2007, Mexico City had suffered little
violence compared to the levels observed in many other parts
of the country. However, in December 2007, 4 people working
at Mexico City's international airport were killed and
decapitated, sparking fears that drug gangs were increasing
their activities in Mexico City. The operations director of
Jet Service was one of those decapitated, along with one of
his staff members. All of the Jet Service personnel involved,
including a disappeared member of the staff, checked goods
arriving at the airport and had the right to enter cargo
holds on aircraft. The fact that the men's heads were cut
off along with their fingers suggests that the killers might
have been seeking revenge against the victims for not handing
over drugs that had been seized by customs (on December 12)
or informing authorities where to find the drugs. The fear of
narco-violence spreading to Mexico City was further supported
on December 19, when the federal Attorney General's office
(PGR) announced the arrest of six men with heavy weapons and
a grenade launcher in Mexico City. At least 3 of those
arrested were policemen. One was a member of AFI, while 2
others were members of the Mexico City police force.

6. (U) Moreover, in mid-January three men were arrested in
Mexico City with shoulder-fired rockets, rifles and a
submachine gun. Deputy Attorney General Jose Luis Santiago

MEXICO 00000713 002 OF 005

Vasconcelos -- a point man in the country's war on drug gangs
and the official in charge of extraditing drug bosses to the
U.S. -- said that the men arrested were plotting to kill him.
He said the suspected hit men may belong to the Sinaloa
Cartel, which dominates Mexico's Pacific Coast cocaine
smuggling routes.

Bomb In Mexico City Blamed on Drug Dealers

7. (U) A bomb that exploded about 100 meters from the Federal
District police headquarters has also contributed to rising
concern about drug related violence in Mexico City.
Investigators concluded that the bomb was aimed at a senior
anti-drug policeman. Local press immediately speculated that
the Sinaloa cartel may have had a role in the incident. The
Sinaloa gang wants to establish itself in Mexico City but a
series of successful raids on drug gangs have set back their
efforts. In retaliation, the gang purportedly targeted the
deputy head of public security in the Mexico City government
for assassination.

8. (SBU) However, Mexico City's chief prosecutor Rodolfo
Felix Cardenas, concluded that the attack was probably the
work of drug dealers, not the cartels. The devices were
homemade, and the initial investigation was drawing attention
to an area of the capital known for drug dealing. Embassy
security analysts agree with this hypothesis and note that
the details released by police and security camera footage of
the bungled operation suggest the bomber was a common
criminal/drug-dealer and not one of the cartels' many
professional hitmen. Nevertheless, security experts say the
use of explosives sets a worrying precedent. The bomber,
who was killed when the bomb he was carrying exploded, was
Juan Manuel Meza, known as "El Pipen." He was identified by
his brother who said that he had not seen him for six years.

9.(SBU) Prior to the incident, Attorney General Eduardo
Medina Mora had already maintained that drug trafficking
cartels were operating in Mexico City. Joel Ortega, Mexico
City Secretary of Public Security, has also asserted that
cartel members were living in residential areas of the city,
blending in with the wealthy population that travels in
luxury vehicles with security guards. On February 29,
security expert Jorge Chabat told poloffs that there were
definite indications of a cartel presence, which was not
surprising given the large domestic market. Both embassy
security analysts and Chabat also noted that three of
Mexico's most wanted fugitives were arrested in Mexico City
between August and September 2007: Juan Carlos de la Cruz
Reyna, Sandra Avila Beltran, and Juan Diego Espinoza.

GOM Response

10. (U) Since our last report (reftel), federal officials
have made a number of high-profile arrests and seizures. The
capture of Alfredo Beltran Leyva -- a top ranking leader in
the Sinaloa Cartel and brother of Arturo Beltran Leyva (the
right-hand man of the cartel's leader "El Chapo" Guzman) --
by Mexican army special forces on January 21 represents the
most important arrest since Calderon took office in December
2006. The following day, utilizing forensic analysis of
communications equipment seized at the time of Beltran's
arrest, officers from the PFP's Special Anti-Narcotics Unit
arrested another 11 alleged hitmen working for the Sinaloa
Cartel in Mexico City. The gangsters were arrested in two
raids on houses located in two upscale neighborhoods in
southern Mexico City. The gangsters had dozens of high-power
firearms and ammunition, including grenade launchers, machine
guns, and around 40 bullet-proof vests. Officers also found
a laboratory that was used to manufacture synthetic drugs.
Federal officials confirmed that those arrested are members
of the organization controlled by Arturo Beltran Leyva.

11. (U) The GOM's success with the Sinaloa Cartel has been
matched by operations targeting the country's two other major
drug gangs, the Gulf Cartel and the Arellano Felix
organization (aka "Tijuana Cartel"). From January 2007 to
January 22, 2008 the GOM claims to have arrested over 50
members of the Gulf Cartel. Separately, on January 17 in
Tijuana, four senior figures of the Tijuana Cartel were
captured and a "killers' training school" was discovered

MEXICO 00000713 003 OF 005

complete with an underground shooting range and an arsenal of

12. (U) Other noteworthy blows against the narcocartels since
our last report (reftel) include the following:

-- On December 12, Mexican Army elements detained one of the
top leaders of the Gulf Cartel along with three of his
subordinates in an operation in the state of Tamaulipas.
Marco Antonio Ramirez, aka "Tony la Palma" reportedly ran
large-scale operations in the states of San Luis Potosi,
Tamaulipas, Queretero, Hidalgo and Mexico.

-- On January 12, 30 presumed Gulf Cartel enforcers ("Zetas")
were arrested by federal law enforcement authorities in
Coahuila and Campeche. Authorities seized drugs, high
powered weapons, communications equipment and cars . The
Zetas captured in these operations have been flown to Mexico
City, where they are being held in high security PGR

-- On January 26 Hector Izar Castro "El Teto" was arrested.
Izar was a former director of the municipal police in Rio
Verde, San Luis Potosi, who switched sides to become a leader
of the Zetas.

-- On February 7, in the Tamaulipas border town of Miguel
Aleman, the Mexican military seized nearly ten tons of
marijuana, 89 assault rifles, more than 83,000 rounds of
ammunition, and a variety of other weapons. Also seized in
the operation were a number of trucks, camouflage uniforms,
and weapons training gear. Five men were arrested in
connection with the seizure and have been taken to Mexico
City to be charged. The PGR says this is the most important
weapons seizure in Mexico in 20 years.

13. (U) On January 31, Attorney General Medina Mora reported
that since the beginning of the Calderon Administration,
Mexico's security forces had arrested 20,996 people suspected
of involvement in drug trafficking. Of these, he said more
than 15,000 had been bound over for trial in the federal
courts, suggesting that law enforcement authorities are
developing sufficient evidence for prosecution in the great
majority of cases.

GDF's Contribution

14. (SBU) Mexico City's government (GDF) is also making an
effort to disrupt links to organized crime within the local
police. In 2007, an average of 8 local policemen a month
were jailed for committing serious crimes with the charges
ranging from murder to armed robbery, grievous bodily harm,
kidnapping, extortion, helping prisoners escape, blackmail,
and sexual abuse. In 2006, only 5 policemen were sent to
jail. The GDF's Deputy Secretary of Government, Juan Jose
Garcia Ochoa believes efforts to clean up the police is one
reason why the mayor of Mexico City, Marcelo Ebrard, enjoys
relatively high approval ratings (up to 54 percent).

15. (U) The GDF can also lay claim to several successful
seizures and arrests. On February 13, local police arrested 7
alleged criminals of the Sinaloa Cartel and transported them
to a local Public Security Secretariat facility. According
to police, the two vehicles carrying the criminals were
initially stopped because they were being driven strangely,
with strobe lights shining inside them. Police found
sophisticated weapons inside their vehicles, including
special bullets known as "cop killers," grenades,
semiautomatic rifles, and bullet proof vests.

GOM's Counter-Narcotics Operations Press-On

16.(U) Meanwhile, the GOM continues to send federal forces
into various states. On February 26, SEDENA officials
announced that 1,800 additional military personnel would be
sent to Tamaulipas at the end of February. The troops will
augment the more than 3,000 troops already operating there
combating organized crime as part of Operation Nuevo

17. (U) In March, the GOM plans to launch "Opercion

MEXICO 00000713 004 OF 005

Limpieza." Under this measure, federal authorities and the
Mexican Army will inspect all privately owned aircraft
entering into Mexican airspace from Central and South
America. All such aircraft should land at 1 of 3 airports
(Chetumal and Cozumel in Quintana Roo State and Tapachula,
Chiapas State). A similar measure is planned for maritime
vessels with the Mexican Navy playing a major role.

Are the Cartels Hurting?

18. (U) On February 22, local newspaper El Universal reported
that representatives of Mexico's drug cartels approached
senior military officials to negotiate an end to the hunt for
their leaders and the attacks against them. In exchange, the
cartels promised a reduction in criminal violence. The
military reportedly rejected the proposal asserting it only
emboldens them in redoubling their efforts to combat
organized crime.

19. (SBU) Jorge Chabat told poloffs that Calderon's CN
strategy had recently shifted towards attacking the revenue
flows of the cartels, focusing more on seizures and less on
arresting cartel leaders (or "capos"). He compared this
strategy to that of the Fox Administration, which targeted
capos. He noted that Fox's strategy did not work and we only
saw the emergence of new capos in their place. He is
optimistic that Calderon's strategy of attacking both capos
and the economy of the cartels will definitely have a
significant effect.

20.(SBU) Embassy security analysts continue to believe that
the GOM's CN operations are impacting the cartels operations,
noting the number of seizures and arrests that have taken
place. As a potential unintended consequence of the GOM's CN
ops, there is increasing evidence the cartels are looking to
cooperate more in the form of some kind of division of labor,
with different groups specializing either in transportation,
production, and distribution -- akin to what we have seen in
Colombia. This scenario would present new challenges to the
GOM. Chabat believed this was possible but was cautiously
optimistic, maintaining the cartels would be easier to
control and less violent under this scenario.

CN Ops Draw Criticism

21.(U) On January 23 President Calderon signed a decree, the
Programa Sectorial de Defensa Nacional 2007-2012, which
envisages keeping the army -- currently deployed in 10 states
-- out on the streets for the remainder of his
administration. The same day the decree was signed, the head
of the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH) Jose Luis
Soberanes, called upon Mexico,s Congress to publish a
timetable for the withdrawal of troops from the country's

22. (SBU) PRI Senate leader Manlio Fabio Beltrones endorsed
Soberanes' proposal January 25 and suggested that the Senate
set a deadline of 18 months for the withdrawal of military
troops. Beltrones said the army needed to be replaced by a
special police force trained to deal with organized crime.
Beltones recognized that the army had performed functions
beyond the current capacity of Mexico,s police force but
considered it unacceptable for the army to assume this role
indefinitely. President of the Institute for Security and
Democracy (INSYDE), Ernesto Lopez Portillo Vargas, echoed
similar concerns to emboffs on February 22. Portillo said the
longer the military was involved, the greater risk they ran
of "contamination" by the cartels. As the military's role
deepened, so too did the prospects of its members becoming
compromised as either informants or converts to organized
criminal organizations.

23. (SBU) Many leftist political leaders have also been
critical. On February 22, PRD leader Manuel Camacho Solis
opined to a visiting congressional staffer and emboffs that
the GOM's CN operations were just a "show" by Calderon to
boost his popularity ratings. He maintained the GOM was
exhausting all of its good intel leads in its rush to produce
quick results. He argued that Calderon needs to develop a
long-term intelligence strategy. He predicted Calderon's
popularity will start to wane when it no longer can deliver

MEXICO 00000713 005 OF 005

victories in the drug war. On February 28, PRD Senator Graco
Ramirez Garrido who sits on the National Defense Commission
expressed similar concerns to poloffs. He believes Calderon's
plan to use the military throughout his term is "too long"
and described the CN ops as a "militarization of the
country." His solution, however, for dealing with the
problem was to legalize drugs.

24. (U) Intermittent claims of abuses by security forces also
undermine the integrity of the government's efforts. The
National Commission for Human Rights (CNDH) has launched two
new investigations against into military operations that took
place this year. On January 11, Victor Alberto de Paz
Ortega, 17 years old, was allegedly driving in a truck with
his friend when soldiers shot and killed him in Huetamo.
SEDENA claimed the youth tried to run over the soldiers and
the soldiers responded by shooting. The second investigation
is related to an incident that occurred in February when
Sergio Meza Varela was allegedly shot and killed by soldiers
as he attempted to avoid a military checkpoint.


25. (SBU) Although narco-killings continue, an ongoing string
of high-profile arrests and seizures suggests President
Calderon's resolve has not wavered in taking this fight to
the cartels. In the meantime, the GOM won adoption of
judicial reform legislation that will give the security
forces new tools to fight organized crime. It is also
pushing forward on a package of public security reforms that
would modify the entire police structure across the country
to emphasizing internal affairs and other ways to
professionalize the police. Ultimately, Calderon's objective
is to train and empower the police to assume their rightful
lead on all CN operations (septel).

26. (SBU) Calderon's efforts to combat organized crime have
also bought him public support. On March 3 local newspaper
Milenio reported on Calderon's approval rating at the start
of 2008. According to the poll, 64% of Mexicans believe
Calderon is doing a good job. At the same time, challenges
remain. In the same poll, only 42% of those interviewed say
that they have noticed improvements in the level of drug
consumption and distribution due to Calderon's fight against
organized crime. There is also evidence that some
drug-induced violence is moving from the Southwest border to
the heart of Mexico. Recent arrests/seizures in Mexico City,
the reported assassination plot against PGR Deputy Attorney
General Santiago Vasconcelos, and the February 15th bombing
near Mexico City Public Security offices support this

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