Tuesday 2 October 2012

CIA ambush may be one more chapter in Beltrán Leyva’s history of vengeance

The left-leaning Mexican journal La Jornada , which is published out of Mexico’s National Autonomous University (UNAM), reported on September 28 that the August 24 ambush by Mexican federal police on a United States embassy vehicle may have been called out as a revenge attack by remnants the Beltrán Leyva cartel. That story has now been “broken” by an Associated Press (AP) “exclusive” on October 2nd.

If true, this  an unusual turn of events, given that, after years of suffering defeats at the hands of the Mexican government and rival cartels,  authorities had declared the Beltrán Leyva  cartel disbanded and, effectively, out of business. What isn’t odd, as we shall see, is that remnants of Beltrán Leyva might engage in extreme acts of vengeance.

A Mexican Navy captain called for help from within the U.S. embassy vehicle

To support its report, AP cited a Mexican official as saying that investigators are now looking at the Beltran Leyva Cartel as the source of the ambush. A senior U.S. official also pointed to “strong circumstantial evidence” that the police, who wounded two CIA agents in the attack, were working for organized crime. The CIA agents have since returned to the United States.

For its part, La Jornada said that the attackers may not have been police officers at all, though it acknowledges that their specific purpose was to execute the two CIA agents. From the beginning the U.S. embassy has called the attack an ambush, though it did not speculate on motive.

La Jornada, referencing Mexican Military sources, said that the Mexican Navy had been collaborating with the CIA for the past three and a half years. This suggests vengeance as a motive, something Beltran Leyva is well-known for.

The Beltrán-Leyva Cartel was named after five brothers who were originally employed by the Sinaloa Cartel: Arturo, Alfredo, Alberto, Carlos and Héctor. Vengeance was their modus operandi.  For example, after Alfredo Beltrán Leyva was arrested early in 2008, his brother, Arturo, thought it would be a good idea to contract a hit on Édgar Eusebio Millán Gómez, Mexico’s federal police commissioner, as well as other government officials. The plot was foiled by authorities.

But the brothers then blamed the head of the Sinaloa Cartel, Joaquin "Chapo" Guzmán, whom they were working for at the time, for tipping off the government. To get even they had Guzmán’s son, Édgar Guzmán López, taken out in a shopping centre parking lot by fifteen men armed with grenade launchers and assault rifles.  The younger Guzmán was 22.

Another extreme example occurred after two efforts to capture Arturo Beltrán Leyva in December, 2009, the second of which was successful.

During the first, on December 11, 2009, Arturo Beltrán Leyva was holding a Christmas party in an affluent, highly-secure housing complex in a suburb of Cuernavaca when the Mexican Navy's special forces attempted to capture him. They failed, but not before killing three gunmen and an innocent bystander. Then two weeks later, on December 16, Arturo was tracked to a luxury apartment. Two hundred marines, some of whom rappelled from Navy Mil Mi-17 helicopters, engaged in a ninety minute shoot-out. They were supported by two tanks. This time, Arturo didn’t make it out alive.

Mexico’s president Felipe Calderón unwisely though this would be a big public relations victory for his government. To help boost morale, military honours were ordered for a marine who was killed in the second attack. The day after his highly-publicized funeral, the marine’s mother and other family members were shot to death. Banners put on a nursery school warned of further reprisals, and part of the school was also burnt down.

But Calderón had cause to draw attention to the marines’ loyalty and professionalism. The Mexican Navy, which has ground-based units much like the United States Marines, has been at the forefront of Mexico’s militarized war against the cartels. Though guilty of some human rights abuses, the Navy’s elite forces are nonetheless perceived by the Mexican government – and its people – as being more trustworthy than local, municipal, or federal police, and more disciplined and professional than the regular army.

This is one reason why the CIA engages with the Mexican Navy. At the time of the attack, the U.S. agents were en route with a marine captain to an installation where the navy has a training camp. A vehicle opened fire on them. Three other vehicles then joined in pursuit, with all four firing on the grey Toyota SUV, which had clearly visible embassy plates.

Bullet-proof windows held off the sustained assault

The vehicles appear to have been civilian, though Mexican officials are saying that it was federal police who fired on the SUV. So far, twelve officers have been detained, with evidence taken by dozens of others.

It is possible that the officers failed to notice the diplomatic plates, and that they thought this was a rival cartel’s vehicle, given that it was armoured with bullet-proof, tinted windows, and travelling at high speed. And it is also possible that remnants of Beltrán Leyva are doing what they have always done, which is to exact vengeance on their enemies.

But it is hard to tell who is active in Beltrán Leyva now: cartel lieutenant Óscar Osvaldo García Montoya, the last remaining soldier of any significance, was arrested on August 11, 2011.

There is another possibility.  Héctor Beltrán Leyva was second in command when his brother Arturo was killed in late 2009. He may be back in gear. So far, he has managed to elude a U.S. $5 million reward offer from the U.S. Department of State, and another U.S. $2.1 million on offer from Mexican government. After the violent break with Guzman and the Sinaloa Cartel Héctor helped secure difficult alliances with the unstable and ultra-violent Zetas and Gulf cartels.

What is certain is that the CIA officers were victims of an organized hit, adding a sense of urgency to an investigation that has drawn the world’s attention.

(TE Wilson is the author of Mezcalero, a Detective Sánchez novel.)

Twitter: @TimothyEWilson
Email: lapoliticaeslapolitica [at] gmail [dot] com

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