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Monday, June 29, 2015

Borderland Beat

Borderland Beat

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Detained, the head Sicario for Sinaloa Cartel

Posted: 28 Jun 2015 11:53 PM PDT

Translated by Otis B Fly-Wheel for Borderland Beat from a Proceso article

[ Subject Matter: Felipe Quintero Saavedra "El Iraki"
Recommendation: Some prior knowledge of the Sinaloa Cartel would be useful]

Felipe Quintero Saavedra, "El Iraki", was detained by elements during operation Parral Seguro in Chihuahua; he is related to more than high impact  assassinations.

Reporter: Juan Jose Garcia Amaro

Elements of Operation Parral Seguro detained the head Sicario of the Sinaloa Cartel that operates in the South of Chihuahua State, he is linked with at least 20 executions of high impact in various towns of the State.

During his declarations, Felipe Quintero Saavedra, alias "El Iraki", 20 years of age, according to his criminal history he was born in Culiacan, Sinaloa, where he formed part of "la clica los plebes", informed the Attorney General of the State.

He is considered at the head Sicario for the Sinaloa Cartel, the Attorney Generals office said this subject is one on the priority objectives for capture of the Chihuahua Government, he has been known for 2 years to be running cells of Sicarios in this region.

In the operation, "El Iraki" was detained with an arsenal of weapons which, until this moment, with 20 executions of high impact in the Towns of Parral, Jimenez, Allende, Santa Barbara, San Fransico del Oro, and its outskirts.

The FGE said the capture was carried out during an impressive display of the mixed forces of Operation Parral Seguro, which included forces from the three levels of Government.

" It is known, that in the last two years Quintero Saavedra, has been in charge of criminal cells pertinent to the Sinaloa Cartel in killing and distribution of drugs".

At the time of his detention, forces confiscated 4 AK47 assault rifles, a 9mm pistol, a Nissan Sedan, a motorcycle, 4 black tactical vests, two bullet proof jackets, a plastic bag with marijuana inside and some packages of the same drug.

A spokesman for the FGE, Arturo Sandoval Figon, informed that the alleged Sicario was detained this Friday at 19:35 hours in a safe house located in Calle Escuadro no.3 de Parral, Chihuahua, the weapons were recovered from the same location.

Before the arrest, the subject was seen getting into the Nissan Sedan, he noticed the Police and jumped onto the motorcycle and sped off at high speed, in the chase the Agents pursuing the subject, could see a pistol shoved into the waistband of his trousers, as they chased him through various streets of the city.

The motorcyclist arrived at Calle Escudero where he entered the house marked no.3, and started to shoot at the Agents that had chased him, at this point the Agents repelled the aggression with fire arms.

The safe house of El Iraki had different routes of escape to the adjacent Calles like, Simon Bolivar, where he tried to avoid justice, but finally was detained in the tactical operation.

Click on image to enlarge

Original article in Spanish at Milenio

A Drug War Informer in No Man’s Land

Posted: 28 Jun 2015 11:02 PM PDT

Borderland Beat posted by DD, republished from NYT

Luis Octavio López Vega fled Mexico with the D.E.A.'s help, but the agency later severed its ties with him. Mr. López, 64, got a face-lift years ago and now lives in hiding in the western United States. Photo by Monica Almeica/The New York Times

The forecast called for record snowstorms, and Luis Octavio López Vega had no heat in his small hide-out.

Thieves had run off with the propane tanks on the camper that Mr. López had parked in the shadow of a towering grain elevator, near an abandoned industrial park. Rust had worn through the floor of his pickup truck, which he rarely dared to drive because he has neither a license nor insurance. His colitis was flaring so badly he could barely sit up straight, a consequence of the breakfast burrito and diet soda that had become part of his daily diet. He had not worked in months and was down to his last $250.

Going to a shelter might have opened him to questions about his identity that he did not want to answer, and reaching out to his family might have put them at odds with the law.

"I cannot go on like this, living day to day and going nowhere," Mr. López, 64, said one night last winter. "I feel like I'm running in place. After so many years, it's exhausting." 

 Mr. López, a native of Mexico, said in Spanish that he has lived under the radar in the western United States for more than a decade, camouflaging himself among the waves of immigrants who came across the border around the same time. Like so many of his compatriots, he works an assortment of low-wage jobs available to people without a green card. But while Mr. López blends into that resilient population with his calloused hands and thrift-store wardrobe, his predicament goes far beyond his immigration status.

Mr. López played a leading role in what is widely considered the biggest drug-trafficking case in Mexican history. The episode — which inspired the 2000 movie "Traffic" — pitted the Mexican military against the United States Drug Enforcement Administration. Throughout the 1990s, Mr. López worked closely with them both. He served as a senior adviser to the powerful general who was appointed Mexico's drug czar. And he was an informant for the D.E.A.
photo; Monica Almeica, NYT
His two worlds collided spectacularly in 1997, when Mexico arrested the general, Jesús Gutiérrez Rebollo, on charges of collaborating with drug traffickers. As Washington tried to make sense of the charges, both governments went looking for Mr. López. Mexico considered him a suspect in the case; the D.E.A. saw him as a potential gold mine of information.

The United States found him first. The D.E.A. secretly helped Mr. López and his family escape across the border in exchange for his cooperation with its investigation.

Dozens of hours of testimony from Mr. López about links between the military and drug cartels proved to be explosive, setting off a dizzying chain reaction in which Mexico asked the United States for help capturing Mr. López, Washington denied any knowledge of his whereabouts and the D.E.A. abruptly severed its ties with him.

photo by Monica Almeica
The reserved, unpretentious husband and father of three has been a fugitive ever since, on the run from his native country and abandoned by his adopted home. For more than a decade, he has carried information about the inner workings of the drug war that both governments carefully kept secret.
The United States continues to feign ignorance about his whereabouts when pressed by Mexican officials, who still ask for assistance to find him, a federal law enforcement official said.

The cover-up was initially led by the D.E.A., whose agents did not believe the Mexican authorities had a legitimate case against their informant. Other law enforcement agencies later went along, out of fear that the D.E.A.'s relationship with Mr. López might disrupt cooperation between the two countries on more pressing matters.

"We couldn't tell Mexico that we were protecting the guy, because that would have affected their cooperation with us on all kinds of other programs," said a former senior D.E.A. official who was involved in the case but was not authorized to speak publicly about a confidential informant. "So we cut him loose, and hoped he'd find a way to make it on his own."

These are the opaque dynamics that undermine the alliance between the United States and Mexico in the war on drugs, a fight that often feels more like shadow boxing. Though the governments are bound together by geography, neither believes the other can be fully trusted. Mr. López's ordeal — pieced together from classified D.E.A. intelligence reports and interviews with him, his family, friends, and more than a dozen current and former federal law enforcement officials — demonstrates why the mutual distrust is justified. 
The absence of any facts to either condemn Mr. López or exonerate him of corruption has wrought havoc on the former informant, and his fugitive's existence has been a ball and chain on his family, whom he sees during sporadic rendezvous. They all exhibit symptoms of emotional trauma, bouncing among flashes of rage, long periods of depression, episodes of binge drinking and persistent paranoia.

During several long interviews, Mr. López repeatedly said he was not guilty of any wrongdoing. He said he has refused to turn himself in to the Mexican authorities because he believes he will be killed rather than given a fair hearing. But years of living an anonymous, circumscribed life have been nearly as suffocating as a jail cell.

He starts most mornings at McDonald's, where breakfast costs less than $2 for seniors and free Wi-Fi allows him to peruse Mexican newspapers on his battered laptop for hours, his mind replaying the life choices that landed him there.

"I risked my life in Mexico because I believed things could change. I was wrong. Nothing has changed," Mr. López said. "I helped the United States because I believed that if all else failed, this government would support me. But I was wrong again. And now, I've lost everything."

The Military Steps In

These days, Mr. López wonders whether he is losing his mind as well. Last September, he took his troubles to a psychiatrist at a health clinic, telling her how his emotions were running erratically from hot to cold and about his difficulty sleeping. An hour later, he left with a diagnosis of bipolar disorder and a bottle of pills he decided not to take.

Sipping Diet Coke in a sunlit hotel room, Mr. López explained that he felt it was riskier to become dependent on medication that could be confiscated if he fell into police custody. More important, he said, the whole diagnosis was based on a lie — one of the many he tells to get by each day. When the doctor asked him what might be causing his stress, he told her that his family had turned against him.

"Imagine telling her what is really going on in my life," Mr. López said. "Where would I start? That I once helped capture El Güero Palma, and now I'm being treated like a delinquent?"

Ballads were written in Mexico about the day in 1995 when the authorities took down Héctor Luis Palma Salazar, known as "El Güero," the fearsome kingpin of the Sinaloa cartel. Mr. Palma met his fate on the outskirts of Guadalajara in suburban Zapopan, a nexus for everybody who was anybody in the drug war. 

Mr Lopez, far left.  Photo; Monica Alameica
 Mr. López served nearly two decades in the municipal police department there, most of them as chief. Politically astute and streetwise, he caught the attention of the D.E.A., which developed him as a confidential source during the mid-1990s and valued him for the reliability of his information. 

Drug violence was raging. When things got too heated, Mr. López sought backup from General Gutiérrez, a powerful ally whose territory spanned five Mexican states. It was part of a secret arrangement, Mr. López said, in which his officers shared information about the cartels with the military and the general provided extra muscle to the Zapopan police.

At home, Mr. López's wife and three children lived surrounded by bodyguards and snipers. With her husband often absent, Soledad López had her hands full with the children. Their oldest child, David, got his high school girlfriend pregnant. Luis Octavio failed eighth grade three times. Cecilia, the youngest, did not understand the tumult around her, and Mrs. López worked to protect her from it.

By the time Mr. Palma crossed his path, Mr. López had retired to start a private security firm. Mr. Palma had been on his way to a wedding when his private plane crashed in the mountains near Zapopan. Federal police officers who were on the Sinaloa payroll swept him from the scene and hid him in a house belonging to a supervisor.
Héctor Luis Palma Salazar, the fearsome kingpin of the Sinaloa cartel, after his arrest in 1995. Mr. López helped capture Mr. Palma, also known as "El Güero."
When Mr. López's security guards began receiving reports of suspicious activity there, they alerted him and the military. No one realized they had stumbled across one of the world's most notorious drug traffickers until Mr. López discovered a .45 Colt with the shape of a palm tree, or "palma," encrusted on its handle in diamonds, rubies and sapphires.
"It could only belong to one person," Mr. López said. 
The arrest was hailed on both sides of the border to justify the unprecedented role the Mexican military was beginning to play under President Ernesto Zedillo. The D.E.A. had long been pressuring Mexico to deploy the military against the cartels instead of the federal police, which often worked with traffickers instead of against them.

The agency was already secretly collaborating with General Gutiérrez. Ralph Villarruel, a veteran D.E.A. agent who had been working with Mr. López, said he pursued suspects the general believed were in hiding in the United States and seized loads of cocaine moving across the border. In return, he said, the general allowed him "unbelievable access" to crime scenes, suspects and evidence.

After Mr. Palma's arrest, Mr. López and General Gutiérrez let Mr. Villarruel make copies of names and numbers in the drug trafficker's cellphone. An appreciative Mr. Villarruel said he arranged with his bosses in Mexico City to award the general a special commendation. 
Ralph Villarruel, second from left, was a veteran D.E.A. agent who secretly worked with Mr. López and General Gutiérrez on drug cases. Mr. Villarruel kept a photograph taken in 1995 of the general, center, receiving a special commendation from the D.E.A. for his assistance. Mr. López is standing at the far right
"We were doing things we hadn't ever been able to do, and I wanted to acknowledge that," Mr. Villarruel said, pulling out a photograph of the closed-door occasion.

By December 1996, Mr. Zedillo elevated General Gutiérrez to run counternarcotics efforts as the director of Mexico's National Institute to Combat Drugs. The move was a victory for the administration of President Bill Clinton, which had put in effect the North American Free Trade Agreement and orchestrated a $50 billion bailout of the Mexican economy. Cracking down on drug traffickers hardly seemed too much to ask of the United States' neighbor.
General Gutiérrez was appointed Mexico's drug czar but was later arrested on charges of collaborating with drug traffickers.
In General Gutiérrez, who had the face and demeanor of a pit bull, the United States saw the no-nonsense partner it had been seeking. The administration invited him to Washington for briefings, and the United States' drug policy coordinator, Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, praised him as a soldier "of absolute, unquestioned integrity."

It seemed a head-spinning turn of events for a little-known military leader who could count his suits on one hand and had never traveled outside Mexico. When the general asked Mr. López to be his chief of staff, though, he was apprehensive about moving to the capital. But the general insisted.

"Going to work in Mexico City felt like falling into a snake pit," Mr. López said. "I had a bad feeling about the whole thing."

'There's a Problem'

Less than three months later, Mr. López was in Guadalajara for the birth of a grandchild when he suspected something had happened to his boss. He had been calling General Gutiérrez for days without success. Finally, he got the general's driver on the phone.

"I don't know where he is," the driver said, according to Mr. López. "You shouldn't call here anymore. I can't talk on this phone. Perhaps they're already listening. What the hell, you need to know. There's a problem." 
"It's global," the driver exhaled.

When Mr. López hung up and called the military base in Guadalajara, the commander there summoned him to a "counternarcotics operation."

"I didn't know exactly what was going on," Mr. López said, "but I knew that a trap was waiting for me at the base."

He told his family to leave Zapopan and warned his aides to stay away from the base. For several days, Mr. López kept out of sight, camping out in abandoned barns and beneath bridges while the military seized his house and searched his belongings.

On Feb. 19, 1997, the Mexican defense minister, Enrique Cervantes Aguirre, held a dramatic televised news conference and accused General Gutiérrez of using his authority to help protect Amado Carrillo Fuentes, a drug baron nicknamed "The Lord of the Skies," for his use of converted jetliners to move multiton shipments of cocaine.

The defense minister said that when General Gutiérrez was confronted with evidence of the association, he collapsed from what appeared to be a heart attack.

With checkpoints going up around Guadalajara, it seemed impossible for Mr. López to leave, and he was so well known he feared he could not hide for long. Borrowing a page from the drug trafficker's playbook, Mr. López went to see a plastic surgeon to alter his appearance. Using a false name, he handed the surgeon $2,000 in cash and got a face-lift.

In Washington, the Clinton administration summoned Mexican diplomats, demanding to know why their government had not shared its suspicions about General Gutiérrez before his trip to the United States. Congress called on the White House to void Mexico's standing as a reliable ally in the drug war, a move that could lead to sanctions against a country buying up American exports. The episode threatened security cooperation between the two countries.

Mr. Villarruel while stationed in Guadalajara, Mexico, in the mid-1980s.
The Justice Department ordered the D.E.A. to explain how it could have missed evidence that General Gutiérrez was dirty. The D.E.A. turned to Mr. Villarruel, who began looking for Mr. López. 

 Most of Mr. López's staff members had disappeared, said Mr. Villarruel, who learned that the military had rounded them up for questioning and that some of them had been tortured or worse. "My sources were dropping like flies," said Mr. Villarruel, a veteran agent and native of East Chicago, Ind., who has family roots in Guadalajara. "One day I'd be talking to a guy, the next day he'd be dead."

The D.E.A.'s message reached Mr. López in May 1997, just as he and his family thought they had run out of options. The scars around his face had healed and he had dropped 70 pounds, trading his "Vitamin T diet" — tacos, tostadas and tamales — for salads and turkey sandwiches. He had dyed his hair blond and shaved his beard. Still, he said he feared the military would eventually catch up with him.

Meanwhile, his family was struggling with an even more pressing matter. The grandchild born around the time of the general's arrest was sick. Her complexion was turning blue and her breathing was labored.

The family was so terrified of being discovered that it agonized for days before taking the child to the hospital. Doctors diagnosed pulmonary stenosis, which restricted the blood flowing to her lungs. She was breathing easier after surgery, but her father, David, was not. "I knew she was going to need a lot more care," he said. "How could I take care of her if I couldn't even give her a home?"

Only 22, he was now the de facto head of a family on the run. For safety's sake, he was the only one who knew his father's whereabouts, a secret he hoped he could keep if the military found him.

"I remember telling my dad, 'If the military detains me, give me three days,' " he recalled. "The first day of torture would be the hardest. The second day, they might realize I was not going to tell them where he was and let me go. But if I didn't appear the third day, I might never appear again."

Later that May, the D.E.A. opened an escape hatch, offering the family a haven in the United States and arranging work permits and visas. Making the trip were Mr. López's wife, three children, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren. The family members made their way to Utah, where they had a friend.

Mr. López followed a couple weeks later. Wearing a navy blue suit and a fedora he bought for the journey, he arrived in the United States with a briefcase packed with his life's savings, $100,000, and visions of starting over.

On the Run

This January, Mr. López and his son Luis Octavio headed to Wendy's for a 99-cent hamburger special. When his son handed over two dollars for their order, a few cents short of the total, an embarrassed Mr. López had to tell him that he could not cover the difference.

Money, or the lack of it, has been the hardest part of living in hiding, Mr. López said. His savings ran out long ago, and most employers are not interested in a 64-year-old man with no Social Security card or documented work history. He has tried day jobs as a dishwasher and a construction worker, but his back is not strong enough.

Fortunately, he said, he has an eye for junk. He inherited it from his father, who ran a car battery repair shop. Mr. López has taken that talent up a notch, scavenging for discarded auto parts, office equipment and home appliances that he restores and resells. But it is always a skate across thin ice, and Mr. López wakes up many days with no money and nothing left to sell. 

His dire circumstances reflect a precipitous fall from his arrival in the United States as a prized informant. The inside account he gave to Mr. Villarruel and other D.E.A. officials amounted to a bombshell, according to former agents involved with the case and classified intelligence reports obtained by The New York Times.

He claimed that the Mexican military was negotiating a deal to protect the cartels in exchange for a cut of their profits. Mr. López specifically accused several top officers of being involved, saying some had asked the cartels for $2,000 per kilogram of cocaine that passed through Mexican territory.

As a down payment, cartel operatives delivered satchels packed with tens of millions of dollars to senior members of the military, according to Mr. López. He also accused American-trained counternarcotics units of allowing kingpins to escape during sting operations.

"It is highly likely that military officials probably wanted to continue to profit from an ongoing relationship with the drug traffickers," concluded one intelligence report.

Mr. López said he told the D.E.A. that he did not believe General Gutiérrez was among those conspiring with traffickers. But the intelligence reports suggested that the general had ties to the Juárez cartel, and that the relationship may have posed a threat to other military officers who were being paid by rival drug-trafficking organizations.

By 1998, some of that information began appearing in Congressional briefings and newspaper reports, pitting the D.E.A. against the White House. It was inopportune timing for the Clinton administration, which was now applauding the general's arrest as proof of the Mexican military's commitment to combating corruption.

The White House opposed any measures that would undermine the United States' second-largest trading partner. The D.E.A. accused Mexico of failing to live up to its security commitments, and it advocated taking action that could lead to economic sanctions. "There was definitely a split between us and the White House over Mexico," a former senior D.E.A. official said.

Mexico, which was still trying to track down Mr. López, intensified its search in 1999. The Foreign Ministry requested Washington's assistance to determine whether he lived in the United States, a senior American federal law enforcement official said. United States marshals reported back that he did. 

Mr. Villarruel, now retired from the D.E.A., has kept in contact with Mr. López and is unhappy with the way his onetime informant was treated by the agency. photo; Monica Almeica , NYT
Later that year, Mr. Villarruel asked Mr. López to meet him at a Denny's in San Diego. Mr. López could tell something was amiss when Mr. Villarruel arrived alone and had a hard time looking Mr. López in the eye.

"I told him I had orders from Washington that I couldn't have anything to do with him no more," Mr. Villarruel recalled. "I could tell there was some kind of pressure, but I couldn't tell if it was from Congress, or from Mexico, or where. All I knew was that if I had anything more to do with him, I could get in trouble."

The orders meant that "from that moment, the agency wasn't going to protect me or my family," said Mr. López, who was shocked and confused.

When Mexico ousted the Institutional Revolutionary Party in 2000, an era of multiparty democracy did not clean the slate. The new government officially charged Mr. López, issuing an arrest warrant, and promptly asked the United States to find him, former American officials said.

Mexican officials discussed the matter with the American attorney general and the secretary of state at the time, John Ashcroft and Colin L. Powell, according to D.E.A. memos and e-mails. Federal marshals received two to three calls a day from the Mexican authorities asking how close they were to detaining Mr. López, one memo shows.

Mr. Villarruel implored the D.E.A. to ignore Mexico's extradition request. Mr. López is "one of a few individuals remaining who can provide extremely damaging information on high-level, drug-related corruption within the Mexican government," Mr. Villarruel wrote to his bosses. He warned that "if López Vega is returned to Mexican authorities, it is highly likely that López Vega will be tortured and/or killed."

But D.E.A. officials refused to interfere with the arrest warrant.

Defying orders, Mr. Villarruel warned Mr. López to watch his back.

About five months later, Mr. López was meeting his sons at a relative's house in California when he noticed suspicious people hanging out in the neighborhood. He immediately jumped in a car and sped away.

Seconds later, SWAT teams, canine units and helicopters from the federal marshal's office descended. Officers tried to catch up with Mr. López but failed.

"I had a 20-second head start," Mr. López said. "When you're on the run, 20 seconds is a lot of time."

Excerpts From D.E.A. E-Mails Discussing the Case

 JAN. 22, 2002, 11:32 A.M.

(Mexico asked the United States to detain and extradite Luis Octavio López Vega. A Drug Enforcement Administration agent explains the agency's relationship with Mr. López, referred to as CS, or confidential source)

DEA agent responds to superiors;.

JAN. 24, 2002, 12:32 P.M.

(The pressure from Mexico intensifies as it takes its request to the United States attorney general, referred to as AG)


"We can only assume with a case like this that your dad's got some enemies in really powerful positions in Mexico, and they want him back," Mr. Wingert said.

Several years later, in 2007, the López family made their own power play. They shared their story with aides to Senator Orrin G. Hatch, the former chairman of the influential Judiciary Committee. The senator's staff members in Salt Lake City would not comment on their role, except to say that they referred the matter to the Justice and Homeland Security Departments, which helped the family obtain political asylum in 2011.

By then, David had returned home to Utah, where his wife gave birth to their third child. With no consistent work history, he has not been able to find a full-time job.

Luis Octavio got a bachelor's degree and a recruitment job at a college. But his family's history continues to hold him back. Last year, when he was profiled in a local newspaper as a model of how much Mexican immigrants have contributed to Utah, he lied about why his family came to this country. When approached about possibly taking a business trip to Guadalajara recently, he was tempted to go, if only out of defiance.

"I feel a tremendous sense of impotence," he said, "and the only tool I have to cope with that feeling is to separate myself, and act like my father's situation doesn't exist."

The Pursuit Continues 

Mr. López had settled into a booth at McDonald's one recent morning when his cellphone rang. A woman on the line said she had a recorded message for him. The next voice he heard belonged to General Gutiérrez.

"They tried to finish me, but they didn't succeed. I'm still here," the general said, his voice barely above a whisper, according to Mr. López.
General Gutiérrez, 88 and suffering from terminal prostate cancer, was speaking from a bed in the same military hospital where he had collapsed after his arrest 16 years earlier. He has not quite served half of his 40-year sentence, but he had been released from prison and his relatives said his rank had been restored so that he could receive military medical care.
In January, the Mexican government once again raised Mr. López's case with the American authorities, according to a Mexican official. The Justice Department asked for confirmation that the charges against Mr. López were still valid, and the Mexican government is expected to report back within the coming weeks, the Mexican official said.

"Until then," he said, "the case is not closed, as far as we are concerned."

The Justice Department and the D.E.A. said they could not comment on a case that involved a confidential informant. But an American law enforcement official who has fielded some of Mexico's requests said Washington was stalling for time, hoping the charges would be dropped. The United States is no closer to understanding whether Mr. López is guilty or the target of Mexican officials who wanted to silence him, the American official said.

"If it was up to us, we'd make this case go away," the official said. "But if Mexico decides it still wants him, I'm not sure how the United States is going to say no."

Security cooperation between the United States and Mexico has been strained since December, when Enrique Peña Nieto began his term as president of Mexico. His administration believes that his predecessor, Felipe Calderón, allowed the United States to play too big a role in setting Mexico's security agenda and in staging law enforcement operations, officials in both countries said.

Meanwhile, the violence that has left about 60,000 people dead over the past five years rages on. And the military has been so demoralized by accusations of corruption and human rights abuses that some of its leaders openly wonder whether to pull out of the fight against drug traffickers.

Mr. López religiously tracks these developments during his morning coffee breaks at McDonald's, looking for clues that might help him make sense of his own situation. Mr. Villarruel, now retired from the D.E.A., is one of his few contacts from his former life. Mr. López said he sees public attention as his only hope for a return to something resembling a normal existence. "For better or worse, it's time that I defend myself," Mr. López said.

When asked what he would do if he ran out of money, Mr. López shrugged and said he would figure something out. He compares himself to Prometheus, the Greek mythological figure whose punishment for stealing fire and giving it to humans was to be tortured, surviving only to face the same torment the next day.

"Every day is like the first day for me," he said. "From the moment I wake up until the moment I lay down, I am thinking, thinking, thinking about what happened to me. I try to make sense of things that don't make sense. And it eats away at me. And it eats away at my family. Then the next day, I wake up and start all over again."

DD.  This story was published by the NYT in 2013.  I have searched and not found anything about what has happened to Mr. Lopez since then.  If any readers have any info please send me an email.  We will not publish anything that would put Mr. Lopez in danger.

Violence Continues In Michoacán; Reign of Impunity Extends

Posted: 28 Jun 2015 08:20 PM PDT

Translated by Valor for Borderland Beat

Michoacán is one of the states with the most violence in the country due to the dispute between drug cartels in the Tierra Caliente region, which covers 17 municipalities in the state along with nine in Guerrero and five in the State of Mexico.

Municipalities include:

Michoacán: San Lucas, Tuzantla, Susupuato de Guerrero, Nocupetaro, Caracuaro, Tiquicheo, Huetamo de Nuñez.

Guerrero: Arcelia, San Miguel Totolapan, Ajuchitlán del Progreso, Tlapehuala, Coyuca de Catalán, Zirándaro, Cutzamala del Pinzón, Pungarabato, Tlalchapa.

Estado de México: Tlataya, Amatepec, San Simón de Guerrero, Tejupilco, Palmar Chico, Sultepec, Zacualpan.

The fight from organized crime for the control of the plazas and the inability of the state government to maintain a state of peace caused the armed uprising of hundreds of civilians from the communities of La Ruana and Tepalcatepec to make up groups called autodefensas in February 2013.

The civil uprising, consisting mainly of merchants, farmers and ranchers immediately won the sympathy of michoacanos and a year later, more than 30 towns of 20 municipalities had their own autodefensas.

Shootouts, deaths, extortions, kidnappings, rapes, and the presence of the Caballeros Templarios and Jalisco Nueva Generación cartels, products from local governments without any control, and the then PRI governor Fausto Vallejo Figueroa, put the entire country on alert and Michoacán became the first challenge of the administration of Enrique Peña Nieto.

On January 15 2014, the federal government appointed Alfredo Castillo Cervantes as the Commissioner for Security and the Integral Development of Michoacán.  His objective was to restore public confidence in the institutions of law enforcement, in addition to legalizing and integrating the groups of autodefensas that emerged in the state into the Fuerza Rural.

Despite Peña Nieto's attempts to maintain order in Michoacán, violence and terror didn't leave the state and the figure of the commissioner failed.  On January 22 of this year, Enrique Peña Nieto ordered the departure of Castillo and instead appointed General Felipe Gurrola Ramírez in his place.

The situation of anarchy that the state of Michoacán lived through and the scandals that stemmed from a series of videos where the son of the former governor of Michoacán, Rodrigo Vallejo Mora, appeared in alongside members of organized crime such as Servando Gómez Martínez, "La Tuta", led to Fausto Vallejo's resignation as the Governor of Michoacán.

Rodrigo Vallejo, known as "El Gerber", is another case that remains pending in Michoacán.  Rodrigo Vallejo has appeared in several videos and photographs with members of organized crime.  From these incidents, he was held in Santiaguito prison located in the State of Mexico in August 2014; however, eight months later, he was released on bail after paying seven thousand pesos ($449 USD).

And violence continues in the state, now ruled by the academic Salvador Jara Guerrero.

On May 14, Enrique Hernández Salcedo, candidate for the mayor of Yurécuaro, through the Movimiento Regeneración Nacional (MORENA) (National Regeneration Movement), was fired upon during a political rally and minutes later, died.

In another act of violence, on May 22 a shootout between federal forces and alleged members of organized crime occurred in Tanhuato, which left at least 43 dead, of which 11 showed signs of torture, according to family members of the victims to the US newspaper The Washington Times.

Shootouts in Tumbiscatío

A month later, on June 23, social network users reported another alleged shootout in Tumbiscatío, which left 12 dead; however, state authorities reported no conflict in the area.

Michoacán, amongst the states with the most cases of manslaughter

The violent events that have occurred in Michoacán in recent months have been recorded in statistics of various organizations such as México ¿Cómo Vamos? and the Observatorio Nacional Ciudadano (ONC) (National Citizen Observatory), which the latter presented a report this month about Incidences of High Impact Crimes in Mexico during 2014.

The document revealed that the State of Mexico, Guanajuato, Michoacán, Chiapas and Oaxaca surpassed one thousand investigations for manslaughter.

Cartel Land

But the escalation of violence in Michoacán crossed the borders and is now the subject of a documentary that tells the story of two figures: the leader of the autodefensas in Michoacán, José Manuel Mireles, and the leader of the Arizona Border Recon (AZBR) in the United States, Tim Foley.

"Cartel Land" is the name of this controversial film that hits theaters in Mexico on July 2.  The director, Matthew Heinerman, expressed through images of severed heads, hanging corpses from bridges, cries of torture that go through the walls of houses that have been turned into makeshift prisons, the reality that currently exists in Michoacán.

Source: Sin Embargo

Cartel Gunsmiths

Posted: 28 Jun 2015 12:48 PM PDT

Lucio R. Borderland Beat republish in part from Motherboard and BB Archives

In October, 2014 The ATF agency along with Mexico's PGR agency dismantled two shops, both in Jalisco, one in Guadalajara, that was producing AR-15 rifles.  The factories were part of an network that sold its product to organized crime groups.  This was the first of its kind to be discovered in Mexico.

The shops manufactured the weapons for organized crime groups in Michoacán and the local cartel, Cartel Jalisco New Generation (CJNG). It is estimated the shops were only operating for a few months. The material was imported from the United States.

Below is an extract from an in-depth article of the same subject from Motherboard titled "The Cartel Gunsmiths", use the link to read full article.

Written by Brian Anderson

It was usually evening when the three men arrived at the shop. They would roll up in a Volkswagen Beetle, and come to a halt at a nondescript, garage-sized warehouse in a strip of shops in a residential neighborhood in Guadalajara, in Southwestern Mexico's Jalisco state. They would park the Bug, and proceed to drink on the curb. Eventually the men would go inside, entering through a street door. They always locked the door behind them.

This went on for at least two months in 2014, according to a neighbor of the shop, where the men seemed to work odd hours. They never drew much attention to themselves, so there was little reason to believe their shop, located at calle Isla Trapani 2691, was in fact a sophisticated illegal gun manufacturing plant, and that the three of them were using the space to quietly produce homemade, untraceable firearms for one of Mexico's fastest-growing and violent crime syndicates.

lower receivers
Inside the shop, the men mostly made AR-15s. These air-cooled, magazine-fed rifles have become ubiquitous among Mexican narcos; they're relatively lightweight, and can take a beating. At their secret lab in Guadalajara, the three men fashioned the AR-15s from an assemblage of firearms components purchased in borderland gun shops in the US, and then smuggled into Mexico in small batches, according to officials from both countries who were interviewed for this story.

But as Mexican authorities discovered when they raided the shop, with support from American officials, on October 7, the men also milled functioning AR-15 lower receivers from unfinished blocks of aluminum. The lower receiver houses an AR-15's main firing mechanism, and by Mexican and American law is the only part of the rifle that's legally defined and controlled as the "firearm."* The men made these lowers in-house with the same sort of milling technology now embraced by a worldwide maker movement. In Mexico and the US, legal lower receivers bear serial numbers designed to make the firearms traceable. The homemade Jalisco cartel guns, being unserialized, are nearly impossible to track with a level of certainty.

Organized crime groups in Mexico have long trafficked in illegal firearms, but cartels need firepower now more than ever as they diversify their portfolios, adding oil theft, extortion, kidnapping, and human trafficking to the mix, along with drug running. Here, for the first time, was evidence of a cartel making its own firearms too. Was it just a one-off novelty, or an omen?

They hid in plain sight, the homebrew gun club for a powerful new gang, the Jalisco New Generation Cartel. The Jalisco cartel has undergone such a meteoric, savage rise to power in the last few months that the head of criminal investigations for Mexico's attorney general labeled the gang a "red flag." The group is terrorizing the region with coordinated attacks on government installations. In May, Jalisco cartel members downed a Mexican military helicopter with a rocket-propelled grenade. Six soldiers were killed. The Jalisco cartel is also behind a rash of fiery roadblocks, in which cartel operatives set large vehicles and gas stations ablaze as a show of strength and to incite chaos. The cartel has been behind 39 of these roadblocks as of today; one of them, just blocks away from the site of the gang's boutique gun lab, involved a public transit bus.
finished lower receiver
The lower receiver is the crux of an AR-15. It plays host to the rifle's trigger mechanism, and conjoins the stock, grip, and magazine, as well as the upper receiver, to which the barrel mounts. For a rifle like an AR-15 that has both upper and lower receivers, only the lower receiver is considered the firearm, making the rest of the gun's parts far easier to acquire and harder to trace.

The DIY gun machining process often begins with a "blank," an unfinished piece of material that, with the right tooling, can be augmented to house the actual firing mechanism. The US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) doesn't consider a blank to be in a "stage of manufacture," which is when the firearm must be classified per the US Gun Control Act, if it's 80 percent or less complete. In other words, the blanks widely known as "80 percent lowers"—meaning they have a solid fire control cavity not yet machined with holes or divots for a fire selector, firing pins, or a trigger—are not legally considered guns by the ATF, and can be purchased off the shelf in the US but not in Mexico.

It's only once that cavity is properly machined to house a firing mechanism that the unfinished 80 percent lower receiver becomes a finished lower receiver, at which point it meets the legal definition of a "firearm" in both Mexico and the United States. It is then subject to government regulation, and must be issued and stamped with a serial number.

Amateur machinists and gunsmiths have been tooling functional lower receivers from 80 percent blanks for decades. Today, there are a few ways to do this for an untraceable AR-15: with a good, old-fashioned drill press, similar to the hand drill used in this ATF demo; with a 3D printer; and with a computer-numerical control (CNC) mill that can automatically machine an untraceable gun out of metal.

But the men weren't merely finishing the job on receiver blanks at the lab in Guadalajara. They were creating new lowers altogether.

A finished lower receiver might be what makes a gun "a gun" in the eyes of the law on both sides of the Mexico-US border. But even a firearms novice knows there's a lot more to a gun than that. Where did all the other gun parts—the stocks, grips, magazines, barrels, ammo, and so on—that funneled to the Jalisco cartel's illegal arms factory come from?

Special Agent Keith Heinzerling, of the US ATF, said we don't know because gun parts cannot be traced as they are recovered within Mexico. A serial number is required to conduct a trace via the ATF's e-Trace system for tracking recovered firearms, and gun parts, with the exception of the receiver or frame, do not bear serial numbers per the GCA. They therefore cannot be traced.

"You could surmise that [the parts] are coming from the US, since most of the weapons that come down here illegally are from the US," Heinzerling, the ATF country attaché to the US Embassy in Mexico City, told me over the phone. "But we don't have our finger on that. There's no way to trace them back."

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