Mexico was jolted by revelations this week by Defense Secretary Gen. Ricardo Clemente Vega linking elite Guatemalan commandos to a Mexican drug cartel operating on both sides of the US-Mexico border. In an appearance before the Mexican Senate, Gen. Clemente announced the detention of five Guatemalan nationals in Chiapas state earlier this month on arms and immigration law violations. He said a probe was underway examining possible links between the men — all reputed to be members or ex-members of the Guatemalan army’s counterinsurgency unit known as the Kabiles — and Los Zetas, the heavily armed enforcers of Mexico’s Tamaulipas-based Gulf Cartel.
Cautioning against alarmism, Gen. Clemente nonetheless admitted, “there is a group of Kabil soldiers from Guatemala who, seemingly, want to be invited to work with Los Zetas.” The Guatemalans were detained by Mexican troops on Sept. 10 in Comitan, Chiapas, and then turned over to the Federal Attorney General’s office (PGR) for investigation. News of the arrests wasn’t made public until Gen. Clemente’s Senate testimony Sept. 27. Denying knowledge of the detentions, Chiapas Governor Pablo Salazar said the arrests were a federal matter.
The PGR identified seven Guatemalans currently held for questioning by the federal agency in Chiapas’ El Amate prison: Celvin Wosbeli Camoseco Montejo, Jose Armando Leon Hernandez, E. Jose Aragon, Miguel Angel Paredes Gonzalez, Jose Jonas Pacheco Escobar, Orlando de Jesus Rodriguez Ramirez, and Rafael Ortega.
Wolffer Estrada, Guatemala’s director of military intelligence, contacted the PGR after Gen. Clemente’s testimony. Estrada reportedly denied that the arrested men were active-duty members of the Guatemalan armed forces, but confirmed three of the detainees were former soldiers. According to one account, tips from the US Department of Homeland Security lead to the arrests of the Guatemalans. Citing a report from the San Antonio Express-News, the Mexican news agency APRO reported that a Kabil-Zeta alliance came to light this past summer after US authorities got wind of a group of 30 ex-Kabiles training members of Los Zetas at a ranch near McAllen, TX.
Formed in the 1970s, the Israeli-trained Kabiles were blamed by Guatemala’s Truth Commission and human rights groups for atrocities committed in the country’s civil war that ended with a 1996 peace agreement. Tens of thousands of mainly indigenous Mayan civilians, including large numbers of women and children, were massacred in counterinsurgency sweeps led by the Kabiles that left hundreds of villages destroyed. The Kabiles were known to have crossed the Mexican border on some occasions during the war, in pursuit of guierillas and their presumed sympathizers who had taken refuge in the Chiapas rainforest. Since the end of the Guatemalan civil war, the Central American nation has been engulfed in waves of crime, gang violence, narco-related executions and femicide.
Los Zetas were initially formed in the late 1990s by deserters from the Mexican army’s elite GAFE unit, a US-trained rapid deployment and anti-narcotics force set up in the wake of the 1994 Zapatista uprising. Besides numerous killings in Mexico, Los Zetas are suspected of murders in Texas and other US states at the behest of the Gulf Cartel. In earlier comments to the Mexico City daily La Jornada, the chief of the PGR’s anti-terrorism unit, Gen. Jose Serrano Gutierrez, said the Gulf Cartel had dispatched members of Los Zetas on arms procurement missions to Central and South America.
A possible Zeta-Kabil alliance has raised alarm among Mexican legislators. Dulce Maria Sauri, a senator representing the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), said such a marriage promised greater violence. Questioning the involvement of the Mexican military in anti-narcotics campaigns, Sen. Sauri also said soldiers could become “contaminated” by corruption. Congresswoman Eliana Garcia of the Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), called for Gen. Clemente to provide additional testimony about the Kabil-Zeta link before the Chamber of Deputies.
Contending “both groups are highly dangerous and threaten the security of Mexico,” Deputy Garcia warned the bands likewise pose threats to the United States, Guatemala and Colombia. (MexiData.info, Sept. 29)
See our last post on the Mexican crisis.