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The Elite Mercenaries

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July 7, 2013


The testimonies of men and women trained as specialists in covert operations, elite assassins hired either to eliminate crime leaders or to fight the army, depending on who’s your employer at the time are raw and insightful.  These are the voices of the new mercenaries, a product of the market of violence that the country has turned itself into.  Their narratives were made exclusively to representative Ricardo Monreal who included it in his book Escuadrones De La Muerte En México(Death Squads in Mexico) (House of Representatives, 2013) from which this article is taken from.
Juan Ignacio, 30, formed a current part of an elite group of the Mexican Navy.  He joined the security force in 2007, a few weeks after having abandoned the Heroica Escuela Naval Militar de Antón Lizardo, in Veracruz, by express invitation by one of his physical coaches and teachers…not having completed his studies was not an obstacle for his recruitment; His skills in handling weapons and his good physical condition made him a suitable candidate.
Proceso #1913
At the naval base in the port of Veracruz, he was called to appear…with clothes and training equipment because he would be at a distant location for three weeks.  With a group of 14 more youths he would set off the next day at a farm in the Huasteca veracruzana region, an hour from the town of Álamos, which is only accessible by a dirt road heading towards the Sierra Madre Oriental mountain range.  Before arriving, he noticed two marine checkpoints guarding the entrances.
The farm is actually a training camp at the base of the mountain, with a central house and dormitories around it, and five sections or distinct areas:
1) the shooting range
2) the obstacle clearance field
3) the area of detecting, arming and disarming explosives
4) the scaling and rappelling area
5) an area for motor vehicle use, from dirt bikes to armored vehicles, where testing of armored vehicles in motion, intercepting them and immobilizing them with high caliber weapons such as grenade launchers and rocket launchers.  Here they also teach how to protect and face against ambushes and surprise attacks.
The training in Álamos would consist of the first of the three courses over a period of a year and a half.  A month after that, Juan Ignacio would be leaving to Colombia for his second course.  On this occasion, the group consisted of 22 youths who arrived in three distinct groups: eight were marines, seven were army personnel, and seven were federal police officers.  Only one night was spent in Bogotá to then assemble for four months to the province of Tolima, at the facilities of the National Police Training and Operations of Colombia.
The training techniques focused on assault and capture of drug traffickers and high-profile criminals entrenched in hilly areas, caves and strongholds with private armies at their disposal.  They were also taught to infiltrate these same paramilitary groups, to identify clandestine training camps, to carry out covert assault operations, to dismantle synthetic drug laboratories, to detect illegal camouflaged crop fields hidden in jungles and hills, to handle explosives, to jump from moving vehicles or from low flying helicopters, to treat the wounded, to spy and counterspy, to identify designs and structures with false bottoms and to survive for days hidden without food in harsh geographical areas.
The third course took place in the United States, in the state of Arizona during the fall of 2008 for a period of 12 weeks.  The training focused on prevention, detection, neutralization and destruction of terrorist threats, be they objects, people, or civilian groups.  There, Juan Ignacio learned the doctrine that terrorism and drug trafficking represent the same level of security threat; He was also instructed in intelligence, counterintelligence, tracking, processing sensitive information, and encrypting language techniques.  He was also taught to manage physical and psychological crises.
Also how to “scientifically and psychologically torture the enemy, to not leave any marks or evidence.”  In all, the course was taught by bilingual Hispanic officers of the navy and army of the United States.
Having successfully completed the three courses allowed Juan Ignacio to formally join one of the two basic elite commandos that the Mexican Navy has since at least 2008.  According to the youth, one of these groups is aimed at pursing, fighting and to “eliminate”leaders of drug trafficking, guerillas, and terrorism through covert operations without the involvement of any officially recognized state force:
“When we perform an operation, we are strictly forbidden to identify ourselves as marines or to provide an explanation to someone.  Simply, through some official channels, some of our bosses warn the police or the military commanders of the region that we are a group of Special Forces and to be on alert, in case we require their support.  We just notify, we do not ask for permission.”
The second elite group would be specialized in one function: “To eliminate the leaders of Los Zetas, especially those who deserted from the army”…It would be made up of over 600 members trained in Mexico and abroad:
“Amongst us we know them as Los Matazetas.  When the video of Los Matazetas from Veracruz came out we had no doubt that they were our fellow Marines, dedicated exclusively to eliminate these thugs. Even the one in the middle who appears to be the leader and is making the presentation is a companion who is easily identifiable by those who are part of the Special Forces group.”
Juan Ignacio has participated in several high impact operations in recent years in cities such as Mexico City, Monterrey, Puebla, Guadalajara, Tijuana, Culiacán, Matamoros (in Tamaulipas), San Fernando, and Cancún.  The one most satisfactorily remembered by him is with the persecution and elimination of Ezequiel Cárdenas Guillén, Tony Tormenta, in Matamoros, Tamaulipas on November 5, 2010:
Ezequiel Cárdenas Guillén (Tony Tormenta)
“It was four hours of persecution and confrontation.  There were about 50 deaths including Gulf Cartel hit men, marines, and military soldiers (The official report said only 10 deaths).  He had already escaped from us once, in the middle of another confrontation with the Navy, but this time he was unable to escape.  We received reinforcements from the Mexican Army and U.S. Special Agents, who had that bastard well monitored.  But the first round of attack and assault was formed by us, the Marines.”
It’s the same group of Special Forces who chased and gunned down Arturo Beltrán Leyva, El Barbas, in Cuernavaca, Morelos, on December 16, 2009:
“El Barbas”
“I wish I could’ve participated in that operation, but I found myself frank.  However, my companions told me details.  He had with him bodyguards who were former military personnel and people who were very bloodthirsty.  They managed to get him out of Tepoztlan, but not the condo in Cuernavaca. Intelligence had him well tracked for days, by his cell phones and shoes.”
– “By his shoes?”
-“ Yeah, they had a tracking device. They had been given to him by one of his trusted guards two weeks prior and he wore them everywhere.  He died wearing them.”
A soldier during an operation
…In the official operations, the elite group of the Navy performs with his fatigues, camouflaged with gray and green spots on a beige background, and with helmets of the same color.  Juan Ignacio says “These operations are often videotaped and almost always accompanied by one or two U.S. agents that monitor the operation or provide information about the location of targets.”
But he refers to other operations, unofficial ones, where they are dressed entirely in black, with boots, helmets, and masks of the same color, with no other identification other than a phosphorescent symbol pasted on the left shoulder,“It can be a tiger claw, a weapon or the face of an animal.  We don’t know the symbol until we are out in combat, so that we can have it fresh in our minds and to not confuse ourselves in case our enemies are dressed similarly.”
The black uniform is used frequently by the elite group that is in charge of fighting Los Zetas…The difference in uniform is not only distinct from the type of operation being performed, but also on the outcome: The elite operations conducted with the official uniform and recorded, if successful, should conclude with the presentation of the detainees, dead or alive. They are actions of the state itself. The black or “blind” operations are clearly intended for eliminating targets.  They use paramilitary extermination strategies.
Juan Ignacio receives a salary of nearly $30,000 pesos a month for his work, a “risk bonus”in every action that goes from $10,000 to $20,000 additional pesos, and an unquantifiable bonus known internally as “spoils of war”, i.e. cash, jewelry, or weapons seized and unreported.
He doesn’t believe that he’ll spend his whole life in the elite corps of the Mexican Navy:
-“Would you offer your services to the highest bidder, like a private soldier or elite fighter, as the so-called Blackwater do?”
-“A Mexican Blackwater?  I had not thought of that…it doesn’t sound bad.  I have to live somehow.”
“El Rambo” and La Compañía
Ignacio joined the ranks of the Mexican Army at the age of 20…Soon he gained a place amongst his companions of the military command of Ciudad Victoria, and a nickname: El Rambo, for his size, courage, and skill in handling assault and high caliber rifles.
He advanced quickly through the ranks of the military: Private, Corporal, Second Sergeant, and First Sergeant.  In this time, he got married and became a part of a department of social interest in the same city.  He earned $8,000 pesos a month.
One day he told his wife that a Major who had retired from the army was looking for him to offer him a civil job:  head of security of a cargo transport company running from Cancún, Quintana Roo to Matamoros, Tamaulipas.  The starting salary was $30,000 pesos plus benefits, with the ability to move your way up.
El Rambo then recalled the blankets that often appeared in the vicinity of some quarters of Tamaulipas:  “Tired of Maruchan soup? Of punishments with boards and salary of $3,000 pesos?  Come and work for us.  La Compañía.”
In the military they knew that La Compañía was actually the name that Los Zetas presented themselves with, also known among the public as “los de la última letra” (the last letter).  Neither Ignacio nor his wife Iliana imagined that the transport company was one of the various facades that La Compañía had.
The first three months passed by normally.  Ignacio supervised the cargo of the trucks making sure that they didn’t arrive “milked out”, which could be anything from furniture to automotive parts or containers.  The latter were the ones that made him tenser.  Sometimes he had to monitor them personally and travel in vehicles like a “commando” from Tamaulipas to Quintana Roo or vice versa.  That is how his boss asked him, the manager of the company, who was a former Major from the Army.
One day, Ignacio informed his wife that he has received a promotion and must lie in Monterrey for some time.  This town was the matrix of the transport company.  The radical change of El Rambo took place there.  He started coming home to his house in Ciudad Victoria in new trucks…, with high caliber weapons, and of course with wads of dollars.  El Rambo then entrusted his wife what his new job was: to collect debts, to rob or execute people “who wanted to cross La Compania” by means of “kidnapping”.
The stay in Monterrey lasted almost one year.  During that time the former First Sergeant gave to his wife almost $60,000 to save.  One day he informed her that he would be close, that he switched… to Ciudad Mante, Tamaulipas, since he was in charge of a training camp of La Compañía. Ignacio and an ex Colombian soldier, who he had met would be the instructors of the farm in El Mante.  The objective was to form, every three weeks, hitmen cells or paramilitaries at the service of Los Zetas.
The ranch was given to El Rambo by a head of a plaza that was known as El Güero AFI o El Licenciado.  They were concentrated there every three or four weeks, groups of 30 to 35 youths who received training similar to the assault troops of the Mexican Army.
The guys would get up early to do physical exercises; after, they would go to the shooting range where they would learn the handling of handguns and assault weapons; knives, 9mm handguns, and M-16 rifles.
Afterwards they received submission techniques used against victims and grappling techniques, to end off with the handling of armored vehicles, the interception of objectives on the move, the practice of ambushing the enemy and retreating and exiting from critical combat situations.
They also taught them to block roads, burn vehicles and bring up “walls” and circles of protection to carry out escapes under emergency circumstances.  All of these courses were taught by El Rambo and the Colombian ex military soldier, Eddie, who had formed part of the paratrooper group in his country, and later had actively participated in the formation of the self-defense or paramilitary groups in Colombia.
In the ranch there was…Several shacks around, previously inhabited by workers but today housed the recruits of El Rambo and Eddie: a group of 32 youth hit men, of Mexican and Central American origin…Just El Rambo, in one year, had trained over 350 participants at the ranch in El Mante with paramilitary methods.
One evening on July 2010, Iliana got a surprise visit at her house.  Two unfriendly looking men came out of a black Lincoln Navigator outside her house. “Are you the wife of El Rambo?”… “Yes”… “Please come with us, to the University Hospital”.  They left her in front of the Forensic Medical Service in Ciudad Victoria and asked her to identify whether any of the six bodies were that of her husband.
The six were unrecognizable.  The upper parts of their bodies were completely burned, as if they had passed by a torch.  Finally she noticed the tattoos: a scorpion on his left ankle and a sea shell on the right. She came out to meet with the men from the black Lincoln…
“-What happened; Who killed him?” “-The day before yesterday a Navy commando blew up the ranch; most escaped, but those six didn’t.”
Today Iliana only has the dollars that El Rambo was giving her for three years, the “life insurance” of La Compañía; two children and an obsession: “Who took my Rambo?  I know he was wrong, but the government shouldn’t have killed him that way, like an animal, with a flamethrower…, that’s why there are prisons.”
Krav Maga Commandos
The ad published in El Universal in mid October 2010 seemed to appeal Marycarmen: “International Security Company offers a career path and is the top performer.  Training and professional training for protecting third parties and yourself. Life insurance.  Men and women of 18-40 years old.  Able to travel and reside outside Mexico City.  Income at $18,000-$35,000 a month. “It didn’t have a phone number or a contact address.  Only an email, , where those interested can send in their resume with a photo.
Marycarmen had just become a widow.  Her husband was a Federal Police Officer who had died in a shootout with members of La Familia Michoacana near Apatzingán in an ambush…With a four year old girl, she now had to face life with anything she had on hand: a natural and familiar inclination for anything related to security…Two hours after sending in her resume she received a reply: “Show up tomorrow at 11:00 hours at the address…with this email form”.  On the mezzanine of the building was the directory of the office.  Before going up, she looked up the name of the company that headed it: “Israelíes A. C.”
They presented two examinations (psychometric and aptitude) and was interviewed by a recruiter of Israeli origin.  Right then and there they told her that she had been approved and would move on to the next test, the most important thing: training for five weeks in Krav Maga, the Israeli martial art, and handling weapons.  The next day she had to go to the premises of the Police Academy in Tlalnepantla, Mexico State, next to the prison Barrientos.  She would go out on Saturday afternoon and return on Sunday before six o’clock in the afternoon…” She would receive 2,000 pesos per week.
Krav Maga (“contact combat” in Hebrew) is the official system of fighting and self defense used by the defense and security forces of Israel…After the creation of the State of Israel…it was adopted…by the Israel Defense Forces, the Israeli Police and its various units and counterterrorism special forces.
…Marycarmen arrived at the prison Barrientos with 37 other recruits, eight women and 29 men. The workouts were hard and harsh. They had paramilitary discipline, similar to the training in Israel.  Physical conditioning, self defense, punching with knuckles, taking down, immobilizing the enemy from behind, disarming the attacker, observing the field of action, covering weak flanks, and classes of arms.
Special Forces, undercover operations
Here you had to disassemble and reassemble guns, handguns, machine guns and assault rifles in less than 10 seconds, run with three weapons on the body: a rifle, a handgun on the belt, and a knife attached to the leg.
They needed to distinguish between the cartridge of a handgun and the clip of a rifle magazine.  They were also trained to rappel up walls, slide along the ground, breaking down doors quietly, and handling basic explosives.
Two classes caught the attention of Marycarmen: identifying weaknesses in armored cars and facilities, and the recreation of an attack, with similarities in which the PRI candidate of Tamaulipas, Rodolfo Torre Cantú would suffer from.  She learned things that you should never do in these situations; ways to face armed commandos and how to get a guarded individual out of a danger zone.
Not just anyone would finish the training.  The first week four dropped out; the second week three; the third week two, and the fourth week two more.  26 participants completed the course.  Before them, a group of 22 recruits were the first generation. Nonetheless they were missing 32 more members, because the Krav Maga commando set aside between 80 and 100 members for the governor Egidio Torre Cantú and his family, as was stated by the head trainer, a former Israeli soldier who has lived in our country for over a decade.
According to the instructor, the commandos of Krav Maga (groups of 30-40 members) are helped by entrepreneurs of the Jewish community in Mexico, by businessmen in Nuevo Leon and Guanajuato.  Training has also been given to elite members of the elite troops of some municipal and sate police forces; but the most numerous are those who have been prepared for the guarding of governors in the State of Mexico (150 members), Tamaulipas, San Luis Potosí and Nuevo León.
The Krav Maga commandos are the prototypical paramilitaries of the world, for the versatility, agility and for the lethal responsiveness.  In Mexico they operate with absolute discretion, with minimal regulation and uncontrolled monitoring of personnel in charge of training and their recruits…You cannot deduct the assumption that they can cross or have crossed the thin line of becoming an official paramilitary group, and enroll in becoming a paramilitary mercenary group, that of which organized crime thrives on.
Source: Proceso #1913 Pages 6-11

About Doc

Spreading the word about the dangers of methamphetamine.

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