Saturday, June 19, 2010

Los Zetas

It’s early on a Tuesday evening. I’m at the salsa meet up at Speakeasy. Layla, the Brazilian sex therapist, and I are chatting before the music starts.  She’s telling me about recent events in her daughter's life. 

 "This has been the worst week of my life" she says.  

 alarmed, I asked: "What happened?" 

It seems her daughter was married to a Mexican, and they lived in Monterrey with their two children.  Layla drove down to visit them for Thanksgiving.  She arrived Tuesday about noon.  When Layla entered their house through the smashed open front door, she saw her daughter in tears, clutching her children, and the living room all torn up. 

 "My gosh, what happened?" asked Layla.

Her daughter told Layla this story:  Two hours previously, a large group of masked, armed men burst into their home.  They grabbed her husband and beat the holy living crap out of him, breaking both his legs in the process.  They dragged him out to the street by his hair, threw him into the trunk of a car, slammed the lid, and roared off, tires squealing.  

The team leader then told her that they were Los Zetas, and that they wanted 1 million pesos ($100,000 U.S.) by Sunday, or "bad things will happen." 

In case you didn't know, Los Zetas are a rogue military hit squad.  It seems some genius at the DEA decided in 1992 that what the Mexican government needed to counter the drug cartels was a death squad.   Accordingly, a 24 man team comprised of Mexican military special forces began their studies at the School of the Americas in Panama.  Executive action teams from Latin American countries receive training by the U.S. military to carry out extortion, kidnappings, and executions at this school.  After graduation, the team, call sign "Zetas" (to distinguish them from the Federales, call sign "Yankees") deployed against the Gulf Cartel in eastern Mexico.  When the kidnappings and executions began, Senor Antonio Cardenas, the cartel patron, received information that a government death squad was responsible.  

He said  "A death squad?  What fun!   I want one of those."  

The cartel reached out to Los Zetas, and offered them money to change sides.  The amount of the bribe isn't known, but $5 million each would only be $120 million, which comprises about one week's income for the Gulf Cartel.  At any rate, Los Zetas accepted the offer, and began to apply their talents for the Gulf Cartel.  In 2006, the Zetas chieftain, Raul "Lucky" Hernandez, decided that they didn't need no stinkin' cartel, and they became independent contractors.  Now another another lawless gang ran loose in Mexico, specializing in moving methamphetamine that they produced in huge pharmaceutical-grade labs, human trafficking, kidnapping, extortion, and the beheading of rivals.  Only three of the original team are still alive because the of the significant attrition rate in that line of business.  Los Zetas, after decapitating the Gulf Cartel,  are now considered one of the two largest crime groups in Mexico, along with the Sinola Cartel in western Mexico, run by Senor Joaquin Guzman. 

A tripartite internecine war for control is now ongoing in Mexico between the thieves and swindlers who have owned the government for the last century and the Zetan and Sinolan narcotrafficantes.  The PRI ruled Mexico for 71 years, until their electoral ouster in 2000 created a power vacuum.    Previously, corrupt PRI authorities like city mayors, state governors, and federal officials accepted bribes from drug cartels in order to ply their trade unimpeded.  Since 2000, the new government's struggle against the cartels created by the change in elected officials has led to an estimated 50,000 Mexicans dying in the drug war.  Now, the drug cartels call the shots.  

According to a Mexican security analyst, "When a new official is elected, the cartels negotiate with him, and if he doesn't want to go along, they kill him, and that is the end of it".   

Five Mexican newsmen have been slain since the first of the year by the cartels for reporting considered unfavorable by the gangs.  Police found the latest fatality with "a note attached to the corpse signed by the Zetas."  The note was pinned to his forehead with a four inch nail, pounded in antemortem.

At any rate, kidnapping for ransom is nice work if you can get it, and that is what happened to Layla's son-in-law.   He was taken to a safe house elsewhere in Monterrey, handcuffed and thrown in an empty room with no food and no medical care for his broken legs.  On Saturday, Layla's daughter received a phone call.  Los Zetas demanded their money, and had her listen to her husband's screams as his fractured legs were given the boot.  She said they were only able to raise 250,000 pesos, but were ready to deliver it where ever they said.  The drop point instructions were given, and the next-door neighbor volunteered to deliver it.  When he arrived at the designated spot, four marked police cars converged from different directions, and boxed in the bag man.  It was Los Zetas!  They had squad cars!  Fuck! They captured the bag man at gunpoint, beat the holy living crap out of him, and took him and the money to the safe house.  They wanted the rest of their money, and they intended to ransom the bag man too.  They threw the good Samaritan into with the room with the son-in-law.  Meanwhile, the real police had the safe house under surveillance.  A SWAT  team went to the front door, knocked, and said they wanted to enter and search the house.  Los Zetas opened fire, and the SWAT team pulled back.  The Mexican army then surrounded the house, and they shot the shit out of the place with automatic weapons.  News reports in the Austin paper said 11 men were killed in a shootout in Monterrey.  None of Los Zetas survived.  When the police went in to search the wreckage, they found the neighbor and the son-in-law, now with an M-16 wound to one of his broken legs, but still alive. The cops that stormed the room said they found two men "handcuffed and whimpering".  Since the cops didn't know their identity, they took them both to the cop shop for interrogation and detention until they did.  They could have been drug dealers being tortured to reveal their stash. They still received no medical care.  The cops called Layla's daughter, and asked if her husband was missing.  

"Thank God!" she shouted, "you've saved him!"  

Once the cops were satisfied her husband was a kidnapping victim and not a drug dealer, they said "OK, there is a fine for needing rescue, and when we have $10,000 in cash, and we'll let him go."  

Layla had to round up another ten grand to get her son-in-law out of jail. 

"Wow" I said.  "That's quite a story.  Remind me not to go to Mexico any time soon, OK?"  

With that, the music started, and we made our way to the dance floor, safe in America.

Thursday, June 17, 2010