AUGUST 9th 2014:
A version of this article by Ignacio Alvarado Alvarez appears today in the online magazine, Variopinto, under the title: Política, violencia y negocios (Politics, violence and business
The original, unedited article is posted [here] with the author’s permission. I am working on a translation of the article and hope to post it tomorrow. The article refers to a study from the Rice University Baker Institute by Tony Payan and Guadalupe Correa Cabrera. That report, Energy Reform and Security in Northeastern Mexico, is available here. -Molly
AUGUST 10th 2014:
Though not stated explicitly in the article below, we can see parallels with government tactics that began in Ciudad Juarez back in 2008 when the army moved into the city. Shortly afterward, many public security leadership positions were occupied by retired military officers and what the government called a “war against organized crime” resulted in the murders of more than 11,000 people in the city as well as thousands of reported disappearances. The article details a similar project in Coahuila, now the epicenter for privatization of the oil industry. We see how state officials cooperated with the Zetas and then with the federal security apparatus to remove possible obstacles to the development of new underground reserves that could revive the lagging fortunes of Mexico’s most profitable economic sector. And perpetrated a huge increase in homicides and forced disappearances in the region. For more details on the operations in the region, see the Aljazeera America piece by Ignacio Alvarado Alvarez and Michelle Garcia. -Molly
THE VIOLENT RE-DESIGN OF COAHUILA
Ignacio Alvarado Alvarez Translated (with permission) by Molly Molloy
Saltillo, Coah. Mexico — In the summer of 2010, the municipality of Piedras Negras, Coahuila could boast statistics showing that it was the 10th most livable city in the country, according to the Quality of Life Index of the Strategic Communication Office [Gabinete de Comunicacion Estrategica, http://www.gabinete.mx/]. With a population of nearly 200,000 and an urban marginalization/poverty rate of barely over six percent, the residents lived in the calmest and most pleasant Mexican border city. But these conditions were about undergo a shocking change.
One segment of the population that for years had made its living moving drugs across the river emerged out of the shadows in this year, and was not only seen doing business in the open, but also exercising an excessive level of power that soon erased the high quality of life reported by the above-mentioned communications company. Men armed with rifles went into the streets, took over control of security in the city and began to demand payment of extortion in exchange for not murdering or kidnapping businessmen and other prominent citizens.
Everyone was aware of the existence of the Zetas—they established here the most important criminal hegemony in the area, while forces of the state did practically nothing to oppose them. The government’s official version was that the power of the Zetas was of such magnitude that there was no way to confront them. But, going beyond the official version, there were elements which outlined a different reality: revealing links between a corrupt group of government officials in whose jurisdiction lay millions of pesos in hydrocarbons.
“(In Coahuila), we have become aware of a new criminal system that involves organized crime working together in a systemic way with federal, state and municipal authorities and law enforcement. This new model—functioning via sophisticated webs of corruption—reveals the new relationship that exists between the State and crime,” said Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera, Associate Professor and Director of the Department of Government at the University of Texas in Brownsville.
Correa and fellow Texas academic, Tony Payan, recently published their analysis of the enormous energy potential of the shale oil and gas deposits in the Burgos Basin and the deep water reserves in the Gulf of Mexico for the Mexico Center at Rice University. [See: Energy Reform and Security in Northeastern Mexico, https://bakerinstitute.org/media/files/files/21e1a8c8/BI-Brief-050614-Mexico_EnergySecurity.pdf ]
Thanks to Mexico’s energy sector reforms, the potential of these deposits will raise Mexico’s petroleum production to a level not achieved since the 1970s. But advances have been held back by the private investors’ fears of the violent climate in recent years.
The report published by Rice’s Mexico Center places the regional violence within the context of powerful economic interests. It is not the version imposed by the government of a war between cartels for routes to the United States, nor is it the concept of “La Plaza,” [territorial control by various criminal organizations]. Rather, the struggle is for control of the more than 120,000 square kilometers (70,000 sq. miles) of the Burgos Basin and its enormous gas reserves.
The Mexican northeast is preparing to become a more influential region whose enormous semi-desert expanses shared by Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon and Coahuila will put stratospheric earnings into the pockets of the owners of the land surface as well as those who control the exploitation of underground hydrocarbon deposits.
In December 2013, the federal government inaugurated a super-highway from Mazatlan to Durango that will soon extend to Matamoros on the Gulf of Mexico. This route from the Pacific to the Gulf crosses states where 19 million Mexicans live and which generate wealth equivalent to 23 percent of the Gross Domestic Product. Mazatlan will not only become the Pacific port of entry to the United States, but also the gateway to Asia, currently the greatest market for hydrocarbons, according to the report by Correa and Payan, entitled Energy Reform and Security in Northeastern Mexico.
“What seems curious to me is that there is a close relationship between the disputed regions, that is, those with higher levels of violence, confrontations between sicarios and between them and the armed forces, as well as the subsequent displacement of people from their lands and businesses, and those areas rich in hydrocarbons, particularly in the Sabinas Basin and the Burgos Basin. And this petroleum and coal-rich zone is a very important region for the energy sector because coal is the key raw material for the development of the different hydrocarbon extraction processes,” indicated Correa.
According to Correa, the way in which the region became so violent involves a logic that is distinct from drug smuggling, or from the simple exercise of violence to control territory for crossing drugs, for extortion and kidnapping. She suggests the provocation of a brutal phase that could permit the establishment of a system friendly to those in privileged positions in the near future.
“There are elements that suggest the utilization of paramilitary tactics where it is not clear what the State’s role is in confrontations and mass executions,” Correa said. “Relationships between distinct actors are key because the new criminal model is being exported to diverse regions of the country.”
Coahuila is not only rich in oil shale reserves, but also in coal. The big mines that feed national electrical energy generation are in the central and northern region of the country, precisely where the rising crime wave began during the second half of the previous decade. It is the same region that includes the Sabinas Basin. The last remnant of the Burgos Basin runs just south of the Rio Bravo/Rio Grande until it reaches Piedras Negras.
For decades the smuggling of drugs into the United States has operated without notable interruptions. Even during the violent period that came with the incursion of the Zetas onto the local criminal map, the traffickers rarely attacked the civilian population. Between 2005 and 2009, the first four years of the government of Humberto Moreira (former governor of Coahuila), there were 788 homicide cases in the state—a fourth of the number of murders committed in Ciudad Juarez in just one year in 2010.
It was in 2010 that the tranquility of the towns and cities in the basins and the mining regions came to an end and this change is reflected immediately in the statistics reported by the Executive Secretariat of of the National Public Security System (SESNSP). Between 2010 and 2011, Coahuila reported 1,067 homicides. But the demonstration of criminal power attributed to the Zetas is more intricate and complete than what the official numbers indicate.
In March 2011, dozens of armed men raided the towns of Allende and Nava, just south of Piedras Negras. They abducted some 300 people and demolished houses with heavy machinery in operations that went on for days according to testimonies of survivors.
Three years after this massacre, the state government says that it was an act of vengeance due to betrayal committed by previous partners of Zeta chief Miguel Angel Trevin~o, Z-40, captured by Mexican Marines near Nuevo Laredo in the summer of 2013.
Allende is located about one hour away from the 14th Motorized Calvary Regiment of Muzquiz, and 20 minutes from the military garrison of the Plaza of Piedras Negras. Military guards are also stationed at the checkpoint on the highway just outside of the town, but no one came to the aid of the unfortunate families in Allende.
“No one has yet dared to link one thing with the other, but when they do they will realize that nothing was spontaneous,” said a former official of the previous state government. “The opening of the doors to this cartel carries very specific signals that impact the everyday lives of everyone. And I was inside and I know how they operate. I was afraid because I know the tactics that the government used to take revenge on their enemies.”
Humberto Moreira, a professor who began his career teaching secondary school classes via television, together with his brothers and close friends, joined a political group that monopolized power locally at the three levels of government in less than two decades. As governor, his political successes far exceeded those of any of his predecessors. Among his accomplishments, he enabled his brother Ruben to succeed him as governor while he simultaneously rose to the higher position of national director of the PRI.
His leadership of the (PRI) party lasted only a few months due to the corruption scandal that erupted when it was revealed that he had accumulated a public debt under his governorship of more than 33 billion pesos [more than three billion dollars]. This unleashed an investigation that resulted in the ex-treasurer of Coahuila, Javier Villareal, being held in prison in the United States under accusations of conspiracy, money-laundering, fraud and various other crimes. Also accused is Javier Torres, the interim governor appointed by Moreira when he left to take the position of national director of the PRI.
Money was not the only scandal during his term of office.
In March 2011 several supposed leaders of the the Zetas were arrested in Coahuila, identified as Gerardo Hernandez Sanchez—aka El Gerry, and Pedro Toga Lara—El Guacho. Both of them took advantage of the protected witness program of the PGR (Mexican Attorney General), along with another presumed Zeta leader arrested in January 2012, Jose Luis Sarabia.
The three informants incriminated leaders of the federal, state and municipal police as members of the Zetas’ network of complicity. But the most relevant of them was Humberto Torres Charles who served as legal director of state health services under the protection of his brother Jesus who had been named by Moreira to the post of Attorney General of the state of Coahuila.
Before the judge, the three witnesses said that they had testified under torture and irregularities were also found in the case files. The state government officials accused by the PGR of creating the support network for the Zetas were exonerated in February of this year (2014). Neither was (former governor and national PRI director) Humberto Moreira convicted in the case of the billions of pesos in public debt.
But the idea that the Zetas operated with the consent of the former state government has also been suggested by the current state governor, Ruben Moreira.
“In 2011 (if not before) we were were at the point where the government was no longer in control, rather, organized crime had taken over,” Governor Moreira said in a statement to the newspaper Vanguardia of Saltillo (Coahuila) in December 2013.
In fact, Humberto Moreira was a governor who avoided the responsibility of attacking organized crime. Rather, he delegated this function to retired military officers—he has stated this himself—who were appointed to the posts of municipal public security and other leadership positions in the state police.
“What did I do as governor? I went to (Secretary of Defense) General Guillermo Galvan and I said: ‘General, give me a hand here,’” said Humberto Moreira in an interview with journalist Ramon Alberto Garza, published in Reporte Indigo in October 2012.
The freedom provided to the Zetas during the governorship of Humberto Moreira ended when his brother took over the office.
Before he assumed the governorship on December 1, 2011, Ruben Moreira held a meeting with the federal security cabinet in the headquarters of the Secretary of Government (Gobernacion) in Mexico City. He was brought up to date on the strategy that would be utilized to annihilate the (Zeta) cells of Miguel Angel Trevino and Heriberto Lazcano.
At this meeting he was told: “We are going after them, governor. Are you with us or not?” One of Ruben Moriera’s collaborators recounted this to the former government official. “Well, of course, I am with you,” responded the governor-elect, according to the same source.
“Ruben, like any good politician, had observed that the Moreira trademark was going down because of the debt problem and the corruption. And (Felipe) Calderon, despite the fact that he was in his last year as president, was stronger than ever. And this information gave me a lot of clarity to understand why he (Ruben Moreira) had become more ‘calderonista’ than Calderon,” said the former advisor.
The new state government established the Armed Special Tactical Group (GATE, a SWAT unit), which would lead the offensive against the Zetas. They assassinated a nephew of Z-40 and in response, the Zetas ordered the execution of Jose Eduardo Moreira, the son of Humberto Moreira. The assassination was carried out on the afternoon of October 3, 2012.
“This act marked a turning point in the new configuration of organized crime and the fight against it. After the death of Eduardo Moreira, the Zetas start losing their most visible leaders, beginning with Heriberto Lazcano. The end of this period comes with the arrest of Miguel Angel Trevino Morales. From this point, the Zetas take on a much lower profile, and begin a new phase with the development of a successful transnational criminal enterprise,” according to Guadalupe Correa of the University of Texas at Brownsville.
In fact, the numbers of homicides were on the rise during 2012 and 2013, totaling 1,416. Nevertheless, the most terrible legacy were forced disappearances—some 8,000 people—according to the estimates of the organization, United Forces for Our Disappeared [Fueras Unidas pro Nuestros Desaparecidos, Fundec] in Coahuila—made up of victims’ family members. At this stage, the evidence gathered through their own investigations cannot clearly discern which operations are carried out by forces of the state, which by paramilitaries or which are perpetrated by narco-trafficking groups. They are left with the sensation of an enormous complicity.
“This is a criminal system that at this point we cannot see how far it goes,” said Raul Vera, Bishop of the Diocesis of Saltillo and the principal supporter of Fundec. “We are going to assume that there is a tiny and tenuous difference between what is assumed to be a political organization of the country and what are narco-trafficking organizations or cartels. But today, you just don’t know where one ends and the other begins. The line is blurred because the corruption is at such a high level that it is impossible to distinguish one from the other.”