July Dogs

Month: May, 2009

A Homegrown Terrorism Story from The 90s

I’m putting up another of my terrorism articles as a companion piece to Homegrown Terror

 This one from. . .playboy book of true crime

Toxic Terror.

In it there’s a section on the Aryan Republican Army, aka the Midwest Bank Bandits. At the time “Toxic Terror” was published, the details regarding the ARA’s relationship with Tim McVeigh had not been  sufficiently established. Since then we’ve learned more about McVeigh’s link to the ARA–yet not enough to confirm that members of the ARA had an active role in the bombing of the federal  building in Oklahoma City.

But we will save all that tsuris for another day.

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Narcocorridos: Prime Time TV, plus… a Cartoon!

I share the view that AMC’s meth-framed series,  Breaking Bad is the most innovative, relevant, subversive, best directed, acted and filmed drama to hit  televison since the departure of  The Wire. If you haven’t seen it, I’m not taking the time to file a synopsis of the past two seasons–go here.

Last month Breaking Bad opened an episode with a music video featuring a narcocorrido specifically written for the show by Los Cuartes de Sinaloa that references one of the main characters, a strung-out dealer in Albuquerque who goes by the slyly apt street moniker–Heisenberg.

The title Negro y Azul refers to the blue-colored supermeth crafted by Breaking Bad’s protagonist,the beleagured Walter–a high school chemistry teacher heading for the grave via terminal cancer who decides to provide for his wife and cerebral palsy-stricken son by cooking high-quality crank and by default, a major norteno narco.

In an interview at the show’s blog, Los Cuates de Sinaloa’s Gabriel Berrelza explained the corridistas’ role: 

“We don’t encourage crime. There are a lot of corridos that have a message, warning the public about the harm that drugs can do. What we do is report the news. Drug traffickers are everywhere and we’re just giving people information about who’s on top, what they’re doing, the trouble they get into. It’s the nightly news set to music.”

It’s also sometimes a surreal goof.

Check this Ralph Bakshi-influenced cartoon set to  Jesus Palma’s “Corrido de Los Ovnis (UFOs)”  featuring a cerveza-soaked contrabandista, his pneumatically-breasted blonde moza and a pair of  little green space aliens who make a trip in their saucer to Sinaloa and go crazy for the coke.

Hilarity and  a new market ensue.

 To understand where all this is coming from, I emphatically recommend obtaining Elijah Wald’s 2001 Narcocorrido

Narcocorrido cover

An Old School roots music historian, Wald took off from Boston in the late 90s with his guitar strapped across his back and hitchiked his way across northern Meico– through Sinaloa, Michoacan, Culiacan, the Baja–interviewing the major bandas and corridistas along his hejira. It’s an outstanding piece of journalism.

Much has happened in the eight years since Wald’s book was published–especially since Calderon launched his military campaign. The narcoguerra wasn’t nearly as bloody and chaotic back then as it today.  But Wald’s book still holds up as the best English-language account of the music, the musicians and the culture that spawned them.  To learn more on the narcocorridos (and his other books) hit  his web site.

 

NarcoGuerra Times– Beyond Mexico

“The U.S. Mexico relationship is increasingly being designed as a security issue. The bilateral relationship is becoming militarized. The people who define this crucial relationship to both countries are increasingly in the Pentagon and the military.”  Laura Carlsen, the American Policy Programme at the Centre for International Policy.

 

In covering  Mexico’s drug war, it appears that most of the  US media has split its time between counting found heads around Ciudad Juarez and honking alarms about the cartel invasion of American suburbs.

But the Mexican cartels, especially the Los Zetas/Golfo consortium, have been busy beyond Mexico’s border to the south– dropping bodies and heads, building transhipment networks, buying cops and bureaucrats, recruiting from the military, from off the streets and in the countryside. 

 Mexican cartels now have their mitts in coca field production in Peru. 

Peruvian claims of Mexican cartels expanding echo those by officials in other Latin American countries, from Honduras to Argentina, where Mexican gangs have supplanted once-powerful Colombian cartels as kings of the illicit-drug underworld.

Peru’s top anti-narcotics official, General Miguel Hidalgo, said 32 suspected Mexican cartel members were arrested in Peru during the past two years, compared with “almost no one” during the previous comparable period. Four arrests occurred in September when police seized 2.5 tonnes of cocaine hidden in rubber ship bumpers that were about to be sent to Mexico from Lima’s port district.

Mexican cartels have established a criminal presence in other Peruvian ports to facilitate the transport of cocaine, said the top anti-drugs prosecutor, Sonia Medina. The northern port city of Paita near Piura is considered especially corrupt.

Several Mexicans were arrested and tried with 20 others in connection with the 2006 assassination of judge Hernan Saturno, who was bringing a drugs case against members of the Juarez drug cartel. Judge Saturno’s killing is one of 16 cases since 2006 in which Mexican sicarios, or assassins, are thought to have been involved. Ms Medina said paid Mexican killers are operating in Peru as enforcers for their bosses back home.

That Mexican drug lords are sending emissaries is no surprise to General Hidalgo. Peru and the US estimate that 80 per cent of all Peruvian cocaine – about one-third of world production – is shipped north via Mexico.

They essentially control traffic from  the ‘boutique’ cocaine outlets in Colombia. They control the shipping routes across the Gulf and along the Pacific coast from Peru, Colombia and the Venezuelan coast. Their coke and weapons truck  through Costa Rica, Honduras and Guatemala .DROGA-2-600

While operating in the US, they are careful to keep the violence indoors and off the streets–unlike their Colombian counterparts  in Miami  in the late Seventies. Unlikely we will see the running gun battles that took place  back in that day when Miami was referred to as Dodge City.

I’ve covered organized crime, drug smuggling, terrorists and murder for many years and haven’t seen anything quite like these Mexican cartels–especially Los Zetas. While some obvious comparisons can be made with the  Mafia/Cosa Nostra in the USA, we’re in another realm with these folks. For those who care to take some time reading, here are two interesting, and important, analyses that portend a broader war and the increased militarization of the war on drugs.  

In January 2008, Max G. Manwaring, professor of military strategy at the US Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, weighed in on the security threat that these new narcos and other criminal organizations pose to an increasingly unstable Latin America, comparing  the cartels to a Fortune 500 company 

These more horizontally organized criminal entities are among those evolving from the generalized pyramid structure into a flat, transnational organization that communicates and makes decisions instantaneously via cell phone and the Internet.  In this context, gangs and their TCO (Transnational CriminalOrganization) allies in Mexico, as in other countries, share many of the characteristics of a multinational Fortune 500 company. Thus, the phenomenon is an organization striving to make money, expand its markets, and move as freely as possible in the politicaljurisdictions within and between which they work. By performing its business tasks with super efficiency and for maximum profit, the general organization employs its chief executive officers and boards of directors, councils, system of internal justice, public affairs officers, negotiators, and franchised project managers. And, of course, this company has a security division, though somewhat more ruthless than one of a bona fide Fortune 500 corporation.

The 66-page report in pdf can be downloaded at the  Strategic Studies Institute.  While there I recommend downloading Manwaring’s latest mongraph published last week : State Supported and State Associated Gangs: Credible “Midwifes of New Social Orders”  .

 Like insurgencies and other unconventional asymmetric irregular wars, there is no simple or universal model upon which to base a response to the gang phenomenon (gangs and their various possible allies or supporters). Gangs come in different types, with different motives, and with different modes of action. Examples discussed include Venezuela’s institutionalized “popular militias,” Colombia’s devolving paramilitary criminal or warrior bands (bandas criminales), and al-Qaeda’s loosely organized networks of propaganda-agitator gangs operating in Spain and elsewhere in Western Europe. The motives and actions of these diverse groups are further complicated by their evershifting alliances with insurgents, transnational criminal organizations (TCOs), drug cartels, warlords, governments that want to maintain a plausible denial of aggressive action, and any other state or nonstate actor that might require the services of a mercenary gang organization or surrogate.

Lessons derived from these cases demonstrate how gangs might fit into a holistic effort to compel radical political-social change, and illustrate how traditional political-military objectives may be achieved indirectly, rather than directly. These lessons are significant beyond their own domestic political context in that they are harbingers of many of the “wars among the people” that have emerged out of the Cold War, and are taking us kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

They may be too wonky for popular ingestion, but  are very important as guides to where this narcoguerra is likely heading.  

 

NarcoGuerra Times- Los Zetas Raise their Game

May hasn’t been festive for Mexican President Felipe Calderon. With a miserable economic forecast, a nationwide influenza outbreak and an increasingly abusive  military war on drug cartels, its been a bad month since he met with President Obama in Mexico City in April.

Despite weekly televised perp walks of captured cartel “kingpins” featuring pallets of confiscated cash, coke, weed and weapons–Los Zetas, the Special Forces of the narco trade, keeps bringing it.

On May 15 Los Zetas operators hit the prison in Zacatecas and, with the compliance of scores of prison guards, sprang 53 inmates–including seventeen midlevel Zetas. The smoothly executed operation was captured on surveillance cameras. I like this one from The Guardian because there’s no news reader twaddle to distract.

Note the orderly insertion by the black-clad Zeta team and the speed with which they moved the inmates down the corridors and out of the prison.

Imagine this happening at a prison in the United States.

You can’t–because the correction officers here are paid well enough. That’s not the case in Mexico–not for the prisons, not for the federal and state police, not for the army–not even for Calderon’s own cabinet.

The Zetas aren’t limiting their business to illegaladdictive substances like meth and coke–they also have oil for sale.

Last week the Mexican attorney general’s office–the Procuraduria General de la Republica–said that for the past two years Los Zetas was tapping some 80,000 gallons of diesel a week from Pemex lines in Veracruz and then selling the fuel to 70 distributors in central Mexico through a company called AutoExpress Especializados Teoloyucan (AETSA).

Interesting footnote to this:

After taking office in 2006, Calderon, an ardent privatizer in the Bush mold, had Pemex contract SY Coleman in Arlington, Virginia to provide security for the pipelines and fields in Veracruz. Since then the Zetas have been draining the lines with impunity. According to Pemex, illegal extraction of fuel tripled between 2006 and 2008, going from 136 incidents in 2006 to 396 three years later.

Coleman, a subsidiary of big dog defense contractor L3 Communications, was headed by Rumsfeld crony Jay Garner until he took a leave-of-absence in 2003 to run the Office of Reconstruction and Humanitarian Aid in Iraq. The Texas-based tech provider L3 also happens to have the contract for the high-tech fence going up along the US/Mexican border.

Given L3’s track record with the pipelines in Veracruz–I don’t expect their super-surveillance barrier is causing the Zetas and other cartels to lose sleep.

[I am putting together a detailed page on Los Zetas, including their core training at Ft Bragg, Ft Benning and Ft Huachuca, their recruitment of the kaibiles, Guatemalan special forces, and their expansion south into Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica. This is drawn from work I’ve been doing over the past six months for an old friend at an intel/analysis shop in NYC. I hope to have some of it up later this week–]

NarcoGuerra Times–Los Zetas News

Two news stories today on the near-mythical Los Zetas. (I’ll be posting much more on them later.)

 Reuters’ Robin Emmott reports from Durango:

A fight for control of the mountainous state of Durango has killed some 235 people this year, a jump in violence that poses a new challenge to troops already struggling to contain bloodshed along the U.S. border.

With only a few hundred soldiers in Durango, drug hitmen from eastern Mexico are taking over towns, kidnapping police, shooting up local government offices and slaughtering rivals.

This means nothing but more grief and aggravation for fugitive Forbes 400  kingpin, Chapo ‘Shorty’ Guzman, who may be seriously considering pulling the cord on his Golden Parachute.

 Meanwhile, the FBI office in Houston sent out a wild nationwide memo sure to scare the shit of an unwitting American citizenry from Anaheim to Alabama–especially those who get their drug war info from CNN’s Lou Dobbs and the Fox News phalange.

The FBI is advising law enforcement officers across the country that a Texas cell of Los Zetas — an increasingly powerful arm of the Mexican Gulf Cartel drug trafficking syndicate — has acquired a secluded ranch where it trains its members to “neutralize” competitors in the United States.

In order to ensure its share of the lucrative illegal drug trade, the cartel’s members reportedly are operating north of the border to collect debts and spy on competitors. They have also protected cocaine and heroin shipments that were bound for Houston, where they were repackaged and shipped on to Alabama, Delaware, Georgia and Michigan, according to the FBI.

The information, which was disseminated Monday to state, local and federal agencies, does not provide specifics, such as the location of the ranch, but includes a notation that the information came from reliable FBI contacts.

Trainees are reportedly taught about home invasions, firearms and ways to run vehicles off the road in order to kidnap occupants who owe drug debts.

Fortunately, Houston Chronicle reporterDane Schiller bothered to pick up the phone and make a call to Texas law enforcement.

Lt. Dan Webb, of the Texas Department of Public Safety’s narcotics division for the Houston regional office, said Zetas do operate in Houston and other parts of Texas, but they try to limit their time on U.S. soil in order to avoid being arrested by authorities who are far less corrupt than in Mexico.

As for whether the organization has a training ranch in Texas, Webb said there have long been rumors, but he is not aware of hard evidence.

“It very well could be true, but as far as us having a location for the ranch, it is all conjecture,” said Webb, who believes it is more likely they train in Mexico than Texas. “If we had any hard evidence, we’d be all over it.”

He said a lot of drug activity by U.S. gangs, such as the Texas Syndicate or the Mexican Mafia, is mistakenly attributed to Zetas.

“We are trying to keep them over in Mexico and discourage them from coming to America in any form or fashion,” he said.

Lt. Webb has this right. The Zetas have no intention–nor need– to engage US law enforcement in shootouts north of the border. These aren’t some wildassed Mexican bandidos led by Alfonso Bedoya.

NarcoGuerra Times–Cartels as Parallel State?

lafamilia

 

“Mexico has been plagued in recent years by drug-related violence, with powerful cartels battling each other and the security forces, as rival gangs vie for control of lucrative smuggling and distribution routes.

Armed groups linked to Mexico’s drug cartels murdered around 1,500 people in 2006 and 2,700 people in 2007, with the 2008 death toll soaring to more than 6,000. So far this year, according to press tallies, more than 2,300 people have died.”

 

This requisite wire service boilerplate tagged to every story that runs in the US media doesn’t get near to what is going on south of the Rio Grande/Bravo.

After two-years of  war on the drug cartels–including the military occupation of Ciudad Juarez,– Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s mano dura campaign  has little to show for all the blood and money spilled.

Last weekend an on-the-ground  report from Michoacan  came in that  threw a sobering splash of cold water on Calderon’s claims of success in his narcoguerra.  Fourteen Michoacan journalists interviewed for this report  concurred that the cartel, La Familia Michoacana  controlled at least 85% of the state.  Some said the narcos had full reign. The cartels have agreements with local, state and federal authorities to conduct business–growing marijuana or poppies, transporting and wholesaling the commodities, running prostitution and extortion rackets or whatever other cash-generating enterprise they come up with. 

In Michocan, as elsewhere in Mexico, the cartels muscle regular payoffs from businesses and city and state offcials– essentially taxing the government.  They also kill journalists that displease them or refuse to do their PR work.

But there’s another development  that takes these new  narcos to another, more interesting level where they are functioning  behind populist  ideology and in the case of La Familia, with Bible-based overtones. They refer to their assassinations and beheadings as “divine justice”.  Professor George Grayson provided a detailed backgrounder on them in February at the Foreign PolicyResearch Institute. 

Though a well-respected expert on Mexico who is frequently quoted in the media, Grayson sits on the board of the hardline anti-immigration group, Center for Immigration Studies and thus veers to the alarmist when it comes to the actual threat the cartels pose to the US.  He is an ardent supporter for the militarization of the US/Mexico border.  Last month Grayson said  “I’m with those who think that Mexico poses a much greater threat in the next few years than does Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan combined. And I’m an optimist. I think they (soldiers) are going to be needed soon.”

Which leads to the question: are the Mexican narco cartels functioning as a Parallel State? 

While  “parallel state ” is not  in wide circulation beyond  military, security and intel circles, we will be hearing  it more frequently as narco-fueled events continue to deteriorate in Mexico, Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Historian Robert Paxton is credited with coining the term  to describe “a collection of organizations or institutions that are state-like in their organization, management and structure, though they are not officially part of the legitimate state or government. They serve primarily to promote the prevailing political and social ideology of the state.”

For more on this check out Plazas for Profit: Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency an analysis by John P. Sullivan and Adam Elkus  in the April edition of  Small Wars Journal.

As for all the hyper-ventilating regards the cartel invasion of your neighborhood … check this from Tucson.

Memories of The Geek Beat

I’ve been  working  a book project on Tom Forcade, the 1970s  counterculture, dope smuggling, Nixon’s War on Drugs etc. etc. etc. Anyway, in the course of this, I’m going through my old files from back in that day and comes across a sheaf of  yellowed typewritten notes I made during a frenzied six-week hejira through California for Playboy in the terminal bleedout  of that decade.  (More on that at a later date, including the story that eventually appeared in High Times.)

Among the papers Spring%20Street,%20LA%201910-1I came across this gem I culled from Stewart Edward White’s  1910 novel, The Rules of The Game.

Stewart, a popular author of Western novels during the Twenties, describes Los Angeles through the eyes of his Midwest protagonist, Bob Orde. Its a foreshadow of the institutionalized short con we live today–cable news, Wall Street, WalMart, televangelists, Rush and Chris and Glenn, infomercials…..

“Each extreme of costume seemed justified, either by the balmy summer-night effect of the California open air, or by the hint of chill that crept from the distant mountains. Either aspect could be welcomed or ignored by a very slight effort of the will. Electric signs blazed everywhere.

Bob was struck by the numbers of clairvoyants, palm readers, Hindu frauds, crazy cults, fake healers, Chinese doctors, and the like thus lavishly advertised. The class that elsewhere is pressed by neccesity to the inexpensive dinginess of backstreets, here blossomed forth in truly tropical luxuriance.

Street vendors with all sorts of things, from mechanical toys to spot eradicators, spread their portable lay-outs at every corner. Vacant lots were crowded with spielers of all sorts–religious or political fanatics, vendors of cure-alls, of universal tools, of marvelous axle-grease, of anything and everything to catch the idle dollar.  Brilliantly lighted shops called the passer-by to contemplate the latest wave motor, flying machine, door check or what-not. Stock in these enterprises were for sale–and was being sold! Other sidewalk booths, like the those ordinarily used as dispensaries of hot doughnuts and coffee, offered wild-cat mining shares, oil stock and real estate in some highly speculative suburb.”

Pink Floyd Taka Taka on The Border

While working through my narco blogs out of Mexico this morning–a Zetas fan in Culiacan, Sinaloa offered this gem from Los Chirrines busting it out in Hussongs on the Baja. While the band obviously worked this up for the gringo turistas, the Thatcher-era  anthem also translates into a sardonic head-bopper for the New Gen narcos down South. Begin by substituting “Calederon” for “Teacher, and you get the idea.

Presente!

My grandfather introduced me to the IWW when I was a boy tagging along at his side on the farm in Oklahoma. He showed me his tattoo.

iww-kat-2007

He told me about being a teamster–not a truck driver–a teamster driving a team of six mules. He told me about Chicago and Haymarket. He told me about the Bosses and their lies. He told me about who really made the wealth, who really did the work in this big world, who put the cars on the road and got  the food on the tables.He was old enough and tough enough to have lived and worked through all that history no longer taught in our American schools.

So for all those who stumble in here that haven’t a clue about why today–May 1– is an international holiday  (except, of course, here in the USA and Canada), here are three videos to explain…