Guatemalan commandos linked to Mexican cartels

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. (, Sept. 29)

See our last post on the Mexican crisis.

  1. More details from Weekly News Update on the Americas…

    On Sept. 10 Mexican authorities arrested seven Guatemalan men in Comitan in the southeastern state of Chiapas on suspicion of involvement in criminal activities. In a Sept. 28 interview, Guatemalan defense minister Carlos Aldana Villanueva confirmed reports that several of the arrested men were members of the notorious elite Guatemalan military unit known as the Kaibiles. Three of the seven were deserters and one was voluntarily discharged in 1997, he said; two of the ex-Kaibiles were explosives experts.

    According to the Mexican judicial investigation, the Guatemalans had illegal firearms with them and more than 1 million pesos (about $92,700), along with money in other currencies. There are also reports of other occasions when groups of Guatemalan veterans had entered Mexican territory for meetings “with people who came in luxury vehicles and with high-calibre weapons.” The Guatemalans told prosecutors that they got lost in the Guatemalan jungles and entered Mexico “by mistake.”

    Ex-Kaibiles are reportedly also engaged in criminal activity on both sides of the US-Mexico border. According to the San Antonio Express News, in August the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) alerted the US Border Patrol to the presence of Kaibiles in ranches south of McAllen, Texas, and in border areas in Mexico; they were training young recruits to “Los Zetas,” the armed wing of the “Gulf Cartel” drug trafficking organization, according to the DHS. The Zetas began with 31 deserters from the Mexican military, the DHS said, but over the last 18 months a new generation has formed which is even more violent. [The original Zetas reportedly came from the Mexican military’s Airborne Special Forces Group (GAFE); many GAFE troops received training from the US Army’s 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) in Fort Bragg, North Carolina.] (La Jornada, Mexico, Sept. 29)

    Mexican federal public safety secretary Ramon Martin Huerta was killed on Sept. 21 when the helicopter in which he was traveling crashed at Las Canoas, in a mountainous region of Mexico state, a few minutes after leaving Mexico City. All nine passengers were killed: the pilot, the co-pilot and six government officials, including Jose Antonio Bernal, an inspector for the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH). On Sept. 24, Attorney General Daniel Cabeza de Vaca said “the preliminary results point” to an accident, despite unexplained reports of an fire on the helicopter. But unnamed sources told the Mexican daily La Jornada that agents of the Federal Public Ministry had visited Gulf Cartel head Osiel Cardenas Guillen in the La Palma maximum security prison to question him about the crash. CNDH inspector Bernal, who dealt with prison complaints, and others had received “direct threats” from Cardenas Guillen, according to a letter the CNDH made public on Sept. 22, and had asked for protection. (LJ, Sept. 25)

    From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Oct. 9