Evidence of "Extrajudicial" Death Squads Emerging in Mexico

Leaked State Department Cable Claims Juárez Business Leaders Hired Former Zetas for “Protection”

The drug war in Mexico has been depicted in the mainstream media, for the most part, as a conflict between brutal, rival “drug cartels” that are in a pitched battle over territory and for survival as the Mexican military seeks to restore order under the leadership of the brave and resolute President Felipe Calderón.

A U.S. State Department cable released last week through WikiLeaks pokes yet another hole in that bogus narrative, however. Given that fact, it is no surprise that the cable has been essentially ignored by the mainstream media, save one small daily, the El Paso Times — located in a U.S. border city across from Ciudad Juárez, Mexico, which registered more than 3,100 drug-war murders last year alone.

Diana Washington Valdez, a veteran drug-war reporter for the El Paso Times, in a March 16 story about the WikiLeaks cable, reported that a syndicate of Juárez businessmen hired a group of former Zetas (a paramilitary narco-trafficking group) to “protect themselves against kidnappings and extortions.”

The acknowledgement in an official U.S. document of the existence of this vigilante paramilitary group, which is funded by wealthy Juárez businessmen and has close ties to the Mexican military (the Zetas were founded by former Mexican special forces operatives), provides us with an important insight into the dynamics of the violence of the drug war in Mexico.

A similar alliance of former soldiers and wealthy business leaders (landowners) was the genesis for Colombia’s ruthless, right-wing paramilitary force known as the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC) [United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia]. The AUC grew out of a smaller vigilante death squad called Los Pepes, which was established in the early 1990s to battle narco-trafficking as well — in particular, the notorious Colombian bandito Pablo Escobar. The AUC, however, itself eventually became a major player in the narco-trafficking business and spread terror across Colombia by murdering thousands of Colombians — particularly those deemed to have leftist leanings, such as labor organizers and human rights activists.  

The WikiLeaks cable, drafted by the U.S. consulate in Juárez in late January 2009, provides the following description of the Pepes-like paramilitary group established in Juárez:

…There have been indications that local businesses are taking a different approach to self-protection, that of vigilantism. In October, the press carried stories of business people forming paramilitary groups to protect themselves from extortionists and kidnappers. On November 28 [2008], seven men were shot dead outside a school a few blocks from the Consulate, and placards were hung over their bodies (a fact not reported to the public) claiming that the executions were carried out by the `Yonkeros Unidos (United Junkyard Owners of Juárez)'.

In another notorious incident, a burned body was left outside a Juárez police station with its amputated hands each holding a gas fire starter, and with a sign saying that this would be the penalty paid by arsonists. During the week of January 11 [2009] an email circulated through Juárez, claiming that a new locally funded group called the `Comando Ciudadano por Juárez (Juárez Citizen Command, or CCJ)' was going to "clean (the) city of these criminals" and "end the life of a criminal every 24 hours."

… City and state government officials have argued that there exists no evidence of a vigilante movement in Ciudad Juárez, and that the messages by the CCJ are a hoax. A Consulate contact in the press, however, suggests that the CCJ is a real self-defense group comprised of eight former `Zetas' hired by four Juárez business owners (including 1998 PRI mayoral candidate Eleno Villalba).  According to the contact, the former `Zetas' paid a visit on local military commanders when they arrived in Juárez in September 2008, and purchased previously seized weapons from the army garrison. According to the contact, the former `Zetas' pledged not to target the army, and made themselves available to the army for extrajudicial operations. [Emphasis added.]

In addition to illuminating the cozy relationship between the Mexican military and this vigilante paramilitary group empowered to carry out “extrajudicial [outside the law] operations,” the State Department cable reveals a concern that the Mexican army itself may well be taking sides in Juárez’ drug war.

“The view is widely held that the army is comfortable letting the Sinaloa and Juárez cartels diminish each other's strength as they fight for control of the "plaza" (with a corollary theory being that the army would like to see the Sinaloa cartel win),” the State Department cable states. 

Police Blotter

The presence of a Mexican military-sanctioned death squad, or squads, operating in Juárez should not come as a surprise to Narco News readers. In December 2008, we published a story, (Juárez murders shine light on an emerging "Military Cartel") that included an analysis of all of the murders in Juárez between Jan. 1 and July 10 of 2008 — information compiled by U.S. federal law enforcers and leaked to Narco News by a source who prefers to remain anonymous. The raw data is available at this link.

In that story, published only a month before the January 2009 U.S. State Department cable was penned, Narco News made the following observations based on that data:

… Since Calderon sent the military into Juárez in late March 2008, the murder toll in the city has jumped dramatically. The data obtained by Narco News shows the death toll on a steady climb from 18 in January — and after a slight lull in April — to 119 in June…. The murder figure for November, according to Mexican news reports, hit 192.

More than 20 incidents, where witnesses were willing to talk, involved multiple vehicles coordinating in an assault on a victim or victims; “armed commandos,” masked men or men in black, or a group of armed men [all trademarks of a paramilitary unit in operation].

Following, from the police blotter obtained by Narco News, are some narratives describing what appear to be hits carried out by a paramilitary group, or groups.

The three victims were found shot dead at 4063 Bahia and Montevideo in the Colonia Industrial. Witnesses said that the victims were shot by eight masked armed men that were driving a white station wagon.

The victims were shot while inside the Club 16 located at 16 de Septiembre and Constitucion. The victims were gunned down with an AK47 and .308 rifles. The witnesses said that the two armed men were dressed in black and had their face covered.

The victim was gunned down at his house by an armed commando who threw grenades and gas grenades into his house. The victim lived at 2312 Bosque de Granados. Forty two casings of 90 calibers, .308 calibers, and .223 calibers were found at the scene.

More from Narco News’ Dec. 6, 2008, story:

The one clear pattern that emerges from the data is that the murders in Juárez are, in almost all cases, not the result of random violence or shootouts between rival drug gangs. In most cases, they are cold-blooded assassinations, often involving coordinated teams of armed, sometimes masked, men who are making use of intelligence, surveillance and paramilitary-like tactics to take out their victims.

And those doing the dying don’t appear to be the military or the leadership of the drug-trafficking organizations, but rather DTO foot soldiers, snitches and occasionally innocent victims who happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. In that kind of environment, political targets (those who happen to be burrs in the saddle of government officials) also could easily be in the mix.

One federal agent who reviewed the data for Narco News had this to say about his take on the Juárez bloodshed:

“They’re anything but random acts. Some of these murders are likely the result of cartel turf battles, but the numbers seem too high for the cartels alone. I don’t think they would be killing each other at that rate.”

So if this is not as the media script depicts it, a turf war between the Juárez and Sinaloa “cartels’ alone, then who is responsible for all the killing? … Is Juárez a city in the grips of a death-squad campaign being carried out by paramilitary operatives of a corrupt Mexican military…?

A recent story in Reuterspenned by Julian Cardona, another veteran observer of Juárez’ drug war, states that “assailants have killed at least eight prominent activists across Chihuahua state, which includes Ciudad Juárez, since early 2008, when drug violence began to escalate in the region.” [Narco News’ journalists Fernando León and Erin Rosa recently published an in-depth report about the case of one of those activists, which can be found at this link.]

Cardona’s story for Reuters also states that the Mexican “government appears unable [or unwilling] to protect the rights workers.”

"This is an emergency," Juárez human rights leader Emilia Gonzalez says in the story. "There are a lot of activists, including some women, whose lives are in serious danger."

Well, it seems the State Department cable made public by WikiLeaks on March 16 provides some context for why that danger exists, if we assume a broad canvas for the “extrajudicial operations” of these military-backed vigilante paramilitary groups.

“It is the absence of effective law enforcement that creates an environment in which vigilantism could take root, along the lines seen in Colombia with the `Pepes' in the early 1990s [emphasis added],” the State Department cable states. “In theory, a vigilante group comprised of or in league with Mexican army elements could resolve an ongoing frustration of the garrison, which is that while they can seize weapons and drugs, their lack of police authority and training has generally resulted in alleged criminals going free under orders from a court of law.”

That is putting a bright spin on what can only be described as a death squad, which, as happened in Colombia with the AUC, can easily morph into a narco-terrorist organization itself, one that targets all perceived economic, political and cultural enemies — which is a recipe for unrestrained human rights violations in Mexico.

Stay tuned....

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