Mexico: open season on police commanders

Juan Antonio Román GarcĂ­a, second highest ranking police commander in Ciudad Juárez, was killed May 10 when his car was sprayed with bullets outside his home. The attack came months after his name appeared at the top of a hit list left at a monument for fallen police officers. Two days earlier, Edgar Guzmán, 22-year-old she son of presumed Sinaloa Cartel chief Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman was killed by a 40-man hit squad in Culiacán. Later that day, presumed Sinaloa Cartel gunmen murdered Edgar Eusebio Millán, a top commander of the Federal Preventive Police, at his home in Mexico City. Hours before Millán’s funeral May 9, Esteban Robles, a senior Mexico City police detective, was gunned down in front of his apartment. Authorities say the Millán assassination was vengeance for the recent capture of Sinaloa Cartel kingin Alfredo “El Mochomo” Beltrán Leyva.

Two other senior police officers were shot in Mexico City in recent days, and hitmen killed Saul Peña, a top police officer in Ciudad Juárez. 2,500 people were killed in drug-related violence in Mexico last year, and the 2008 total stands at 1,100. (AP, Reuters, Reuters Latin America, May 10; ASIC-La Jornada, EFE, May 9; El Universal, May 8)

Earlier this month, several placards appeared in public places in Sinaloa state with threats to police commanders, personally signed by kingpin Arturo Beltrán, El Mochomo’s brother. One read: “I am going all-out. Let you know that, police-soldiers. So that it’s clear. ‘El Mochomo’ is still there. Sincerely, Arturo Beltran.” (M&C News, May 9) There is some confusion as to Mochomo’s situation. On May 9, the state prosecutors office in Jalisco announced that Alfredo Beltrán had been killed at Occidente top-security prison (formerly Puente Grande). Federal prison authorities promptly denied the claim. (La Jornada, May 9) Narco-corridos extolling the Beltrán brother by such groups as Los Alegres del Barranco (the Happy Ones of the Canyon) can be seen on YouTube. (El Universal, May 10)

On May 10, President Felipe CalderĂłn visited the violence-torn city of Reynosa, Tamaulipas, where he declared “¡Ya basta!” (enough already!) to organized crime. He called the state’s war on the cartels “a liberation struggle against slavery and domination that delinquency seeks to impose.” (Cronica de Hoy, May 10)

See our last posts on Mexico and the narco wars.

  1. Arrests in Mexican federal hit
    James C. McKinley writes for the New York Times, May 13:

    6 Charged in Shooting of Officer in Mexico
    Six people with links to a Sinaloa drug kingpin have been arrested and charged in the killing of the acting federal police chief last week, investigators announced Monday night.

    Investigators said the group that carried out the assassination was led by a federal police officer, JosĂ© Antonio Montes Garfias, 41, who was arrested with several incriminating documents. Among them were lists of cars used by top commanders in the federal police and records of drug shipments in and out of Mexico City’s international airport, said Gerardo Garay Cadena, the coordinator of the antidrug division of the federal police.

    The police chief, Edgar Millán Gomez, 41, was shot as he entered his apartment early Thursday morning after a long day coordinating the arrests of several members of the Sinaloa drug cartel, which is overseen by Arturo Beltrán Leyva.

    Though the police at first said there were several gunmen, investigators now say a lone gunman, Alejandro RamĂ­rez Báez, was waiting inside Mr. Millán’s home when he entered and switched on the lights, Mr. Garay said.

    Mr. Ramírez wore latex gloves and had a gun in each hand, the police said. As the unsuspecting Mr. Millán turned on the lights, the gunman pumped nine rounds into Mr. Millán and wounded his bodyguard, who was behind him, the police said. Though bleeding, the bodyguard wrestled Mr. Ramirez to the ground and arrested him.

    The police found a radio on Mr. Ramírez, along with a set of keys to the house. The radio was traced to two brothers, Jorge and Josué Ortega Gallegos, who deal in unlicensed radios; they were also arrested on charges of being part of the conspiracy.

    Under pressure from the police, the Gallegos brothers led investigators to a woman who had rented the radio, Juana Virginia González Chicuelar, known as La Vicky. Mr. Garay said investigators believed she was in charge of logistics for the assassination, including procuring radios and vehicles.

    She was apprehended with $8,000 in her car, which she said was payment to the Gallegos for nine radios. She also had a list of firearms with prices. Another woman, MarĂ­a Teresa Villanueva Aguirre, was arrested with her.

    Ms. González agreed to cooperate with the police and set up a meeting with a man she knew as El Señor, who had provided money to buy the gunman’s radio.

    When apprehended at a rendezvous, the man turned out to be the federal officer, Mr. Montes Garfias, who served for years as a federal agent at Mexico City’s airport and then was transferred to Culiacan, in Sinaloa State, where Mr. Beltrán Leyva’s cartel is based.

    Mr. Garay said there is evidence the group was also involved in the assassination of the head of the organized crime division, Roberto Velasco Bravo, two weeks ago.

    Investigators were tight-lipped about the nature of the evidence linking the federal police officer to the gang of Mr. Beltrán Leyva. “We have information under wraps that they are linked,” Mr. Garay said.

    Mexico has been plagued by a wave of drug violence since President Felipe CalderĂłn launched an offensive against drug cartels a year and a half ago. More than 3,000 people have been killed, among them 170 police officers and more than 30 federal agents.

    But the assassination of Mr. Millán, who coordinated all of the operations against drug dealers across the country, was the most brazen attack on a high-level official since the campaign started. It shook the country, causing many Mexicans to question whether any official was safe from assassins hired by the drug kingpins.

    José Antonio Montes Garfias is identified in the Mexican press as a Culiacán regional commander in the Public Security Secretariat (SSP). (Milenio, Excélsior, May 13)

  2. Mexican police commander seek asylum in US?
    From the New York Times, May 15:

    Attacks on Mexican police officers by drug cartels have escalated so severely that three police chiefs have sought asylum in the United States in recent months, saying their lives are in danger, Customs and Border Protection officials said. The officials did not identify the officers. Since President Felipe CalderĂłn began an offensive against drug cartels a year and a half ago, more than 200 police officers have been killed.