Mexican police charged in attack on CIA officers

Fourteen officers in Mexico’s federal police force have been formally charged with the attempted murder of a pair of American CIA operatives who were attacked in their armored SUV in August.

MEXICO CITY — Fourteen officers in Mexico’s federal police force have been formally charged with the attempted murder of a pair of American CIA operatives who were attacked in their armored SUV in August on a road south of the capital, federal prosecutors said Friday.

In a statement, prosecutors said the officers’ actions were deliberate, alleging that they “intended to take the lives of two functionaries from the United States Embassy in Mexico,” as well as a member of the Mexican navy who was traveling with them through dangerous country on their way to a Mexican military training facility.

But in a phone interview, a spokesman for the prosecutors’ office left open the possibility that the attack could have been the result of a mixup, and not something more sinister.

“At this moment there are various lines of investigation,” said Jose Luis Manjarrez, including the officers’ “alleged relationship with organized crime,” but also the possibility that their attack was the result of "confusion."

Manjarrez added that the question of motive was “part of the investigation,” and would eventually be presented in court.

The attack has raised troubling questions here about the competence and trustworthiness of a federal police force that outgoing President Felipe Calderon has been trying to clean up and strengthen as his nation struggles in its fight against the powerful drug cartels.

Prosecutors allege the officers, all of them based out of a station in Mexico City, acted deceptively when confronted by investigators. They were in plain clothes and driving civilian vehicles when they approached the Toyota Land Cruiser, which had diplomatic license plates, and riddled it with 152 bullets.

But when the officers initially appeared before prosecutors, they showed up in their squad cars and had changed into their uniforms — “thereby encouraging the concealment of the cars that they had, and simulating a circumstance that turned out to be false,” the statement said.

Mexican officials said the investigation was carried out with the “close collaboration” of the federal police and the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City.

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Mexican officials capture key lieutenant of Sinaloa drug cartel

-- Richard Fausset and Cecilia Sanchez

Photo: Forensic personnel check a U.S. diplomatic vehicle attacked with gunfire in the Tres Marias–Huitzilac highway in Morelos, Mexico, in August. Credit: Nuvia Reyes / AFP/Getty Images


Quake rattles Guatemala, Mexico; 3 reported dead

At least three people were reportedly killed in Guatemala after a powerful earthquake shook the Central American country

MEXICO CITY -- At least three people were reportedly killed in Guatemala after a powerful earthquake shook the Central American country Wednesday morning.

The U.S. Geological Survey reported that the quake, which registered magnitude 7.4, occurred at 10:35 a.m. CST along the northern part of Guatemala's Pacific coast, about 100 miles west-southwest of Guatemala City.

Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina declared a "national red alert," suspending public activities and recommending that buildings be evacuated. The Mexican newspaper Milenio reported that three people had been found dead under the rubble in the Guatemalan city of San Pedro Sacatepequez -- along the country's border with Mexico -- where at least 40 houses had been destroyed by the temblor.

Guatemalan media reported downed phone lines, lost power and damaged buildings in various parts of the country.

The quake was also felt in numerous areas of Mexico, including parts of Mexico City, where some buildings were evacuated. However, Mayor Marcelo Ebrard tweeted in the early afternoon that the city was "without harm."

ALSO:

An industry fortified by Mexico's drug war

Mexico drug war displaces families in Sinaloa highlands

Mexican officials capture key lieutenant of Sinaloa drug cartel

-- Richard Fausset

Photo: Crowds of people gather at a meeting point in Mexico City on Wednesday after a 7.4-magnitude earthquake struck off the coast of Guatemala near the Mexican border. Credit: Mario Guzman / EPA


Mexico City's new subway line alters transit map

Mexico City's new subway line

MEXICO CITY -- Maria Guadalupe Garcia usually spends two hours traveling from her home in southeast Mexico City's Tlahuac borough on bus and microbus to reach the city's west side.

On Tuesday, Garcia, 60, was one of the first riders of a new subway line inaugurated by the mayor and Mexico's president. She said she expects that those two hours of commuting will be reduced to 45 minutes.

"It's going to benefit us so much," Garcia said, standing with her husband, Angel Hernandez, on the platform of the Mixcoac station. "Now, we'll go with calm."

The 12th line of this city's moving hive of a subway system -- the loved and loathed el metro -- opened to the public in what leaders called the most significant and complex public-works project in recent Mexican history.

The new Line 12, or Gold Line, cost about $1.8 billion and is a capstone for the administration of outgoing Mexico City Mayor Marcelo Ebrard. The line also represented an unprecedented test for engineers, planners and politicians  who had to fend off vigorous protests and legal challenges from some residents.

For riders, the line makes a crucial alteration to the transit landscape of Mexico City: It adds a lateral connection across the southern end of the metro map, crisscrossing four lines and creating transfer points where previously none existed.

The line also connects Tlahuac, a large, semirural expanse on the southeastern end of the metropolis, to the subway grid. End to end, Mixcoac to Tlahuac, the line stops at 20 stations across 15.5 miles of tunnels and elevated tracks.

More than 380,000 people are initially expected to use Line 12 daily. Overall, nearly 4 million passengers ride Mexico City's subway every day, making it one of the largest such systems in the world.

"This is an immense project for Mexico City," Ebrard said. "It is the longest line and turned out to be most complex. We are very proud of our engineers, our workers."

President Felipe Calderon said he was proud the federal government supplied funds for Line 12, meant to commemorate the 2010 bicentennial of Mexico's independence.

"It was worth it," Calderon said. "This ... is a sustainable solution to the problems of mobility and transport in Mexico City. Moreover, it minimizes the impact of pollution on the city, and that's fundamental."

By noon, smiling, cheering riders were joining the inaugural train on which Calderon and Ebrard briefly rode. An hour later, at Mixcoac station, commuters were already moving about the transfer point as hardy residents of this city do: earphones in, bags held close, eyes alert to the journey ahead.

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In Mexico, blind vendors sell bootleg CDs on subways

Party over? Alcohol sales banned on Mexico's Plaza Garibaldi

Popular Mayor Ebrard on sidelines in Mexico's presidential election

-- Daniel Hernandez

Photo: Juana Cisneros, 59, and Jose Hernandez, 52, were among the first riders of the new Mexico City subway line, Line 12, on Tuesday. Credit: Daniel Hernandez / Los Angeles Times


14 kidnapped Central American migrants found in Mexico

  Migrants

MEXICO CITY -- As a group of mothers from Honduras, Guatemala and other countries travels across Mexico in search of missing relatives, the Mexican navy on Monday announced that it had freed 14 Central Americans kidnapped by suspected drug traffickers.

Thousands of migrants from Central America go missing every year as they attempt to reach the United States through Mexico. They are often kidnapped by Mexican gangsters, held for ransom, forced to work for cartels or on marijuana farms, or killed. Many turn up in hidden mass graves.

Naval marines acting on what they described as an anonymous tip over the weekend discovered 14 migrants being held against their will in a shack in the town of Altamira, in the violent border state of Tamaulipas (link in Spanish). The state has been the scene of several massacres of Central American and Mexican migrants.

The rescued men and women looked for the most part young and skinny, judging by a video released by the navy. They told authorities they had been kidnapped in different places in Tamaulipas and were from Central America, the navy said. The navy did not offer a breakdown of nationalities and said their "migratory status" would be corroborated. They stand a good chance of being deported.

Two men who apparently were holding the migrants were arrested, the navy said.

Monday's announcement from the navy gives hope to groups searching for the missing that more  victims may still be alive.

A caravan of mothers  this month embarked on a 19-day, 14-state journey through Mexico. All 40 or so mothers are looking for children, spouses or other relatives who vanished on their way north. Through the efforts of the organizers -- they've staged a caravan every of the last several years -- and other migrant-rights activists, a few missing relatives have been found and reunited with mothers.

Human rights groups say government neglect and refusal to recognize the problem of the missing result in  families left with the task of searching on their own, sometimes going state to state to offer DNA evidence when bodies turn up.

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Sifting for answers in a mass grave in Tapachula, Mexico

Two-thirds of most-wanted Mexican drug lords are in custody, dead

Mexico's drug war disappearances leave families in anguish

-- Tracy Wilkinson

Photo: Central American migrants ride on top of a train in Veracruz state, one of the precarious ways in which they try to reach the U.S., in June 2011. Credit: European Pressphoto Agency

 

 

 

 

 

 


Party over? Alcohol sales banned on Mexico's Plaza Garibaldi

Pulque vendor

MEXICO CITY -- Will the last wailing, stumbling drunk person on Mexico City's Plaza Garibaldi please turn off the lights on the way out?

The government of Mexico City, where drinking until dawn has long been a competitive pastime, has banned the sale and drinking of alcoholic beverages on the esplanade of Plaza Garibaldi. Public drinking was a previously tolerated custom at the meeting point for hundreds of struggling busking mariachi musicians and their glad-to-be-sad customers.

Authorities said alcohol would still be sold at the bars and cantinas that ring Garibaldi, but the practice of chugging beers or downing mixed drinks outdoors in the early-morning hours with mariachis crooning nearby will halt under Operation Zero Tolerance, said Alberto Esteva, subsecretary of public policy at City Hall.

Under the administration of Mayor Marcelo Ebrard, the city has invested about $26.8 million to revitalize Plaza Garibaldi, mostly on the construction of its Museum of Tequila and Mezcal and the repaving of the square. The outdoor alcohol ban is one more step in that plan, Esteva said in an interview.

"We gave the vendors alternative options, they didn't respond, and the city had to make a decision," the official said. "Garibaldi is about evoking that Mexican-ness, those customs, but permanent drunkenness is not one of them."

Alcohol sales were first barred Wednesday night, and by Thursday afternoon, without a vendor in sight on Garibaldi's wide expanse, mariachis and business owners expressed ambivalence about the new policy.

"There will be fewer people, because that's why they come downtown. To drink, drink here, and go somewhere else," said Soledad Diaz de Dios, whose family owns a recently renovated pulque bar on the square, La Hermosa Hortencia. "But [the drinking on the plaza] is also bad, for the tourism aspect."

Complaints of violence, public vomiting and marijuana smoking have grown. The plaza has also seen large brawls and confrontations with police involving semi-homeless youths, identified as "punks" by some of the musicians. Reportedly, drinks on the plaza are also sometimes spiked with substances meant to alter drinkers' mental states and thus make them vulnerable to assault.

"[The policy] is good, in quotation marks," said trumpet player Jesus Rosas. "Every Thursday through Saturday night, the party starts. And what's the party? Fights, breaking bottles, robberies."

But without the open-air drinking to go along with the mariachis, norteños, and jarochos, will Plaza Garibaldi ever be the same? Mariachis have complained to the city that the museum, for example, blocks access to the plaza, reducing their customer base.

"It hasn't been reformed, it's been completely tronado," huffed old-timer David Figueroa, a guitar player, using a slang term for broken, failed or flopped.

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-- Daniel Hernandez 

Photo: Soledad Diaz de Dios, a vendor at the pulque bar La Hermosa Hortencia, worries that fewer people will come to Plaza Garibaldi with the new alcohol ban on the square. Credit: Daniel Hernandez / Los Angeles Times 


Former members of Mexico student movement join Televisa talk show

Genaro lozano youtube screenshot promo televisa 

MEXICO CITY -- They rallied and railed against the dominant media duopoly in Mexico during a crucial election campaign, but now former members of the student movement known as #YoSoy132 are set to appear on a new talk show produced by the Televisa network.

The revelation Wednesday startled observers and sparked outraged and mocking commentary on Twitter in Mexico, where #YoSoy132, or "I Am 132," was founded in May.

The leaderless movement emerged in protest of Enrique Peña Nieto, the presidential candidate who went on to win the July 1 election, and against Televisa and TV Azteca. Together, the media conglomerates nearly monopolize the airwaves in Mexico, making them a target of protests by #YoSoy132 for what it called the networks' biased and favorable coverage of the candidate.

"Sin Filtro," or "Without Filters," is slated to be a weekly Sunday night program on ForoTV, an arm of Televisa. The format is a round-table of university students who will discuss, "without censorship," the pressing issues facing Mexico, host Genaro Lozano said in an interview Wednesday.

Lozano, a 36-year-old international relations professor and frequent political commentator  on Mexican news outlets, is not a former member of the student movement, but he helped moderate a presidential debate that #YoSoy132 organized. The unprecedented unofficial meeting with three of the four presidential candidates (Peña Nieto declined to attend) was noteworthy for being organized by citizens and not the federal electoral authorities.

The first installment of "Sin Filtro" is expected to feature Antonio Attolini, a former #YoSoy132 campus representative and one of the most prominent and recognizable student voices during the election. Later, however, Attolini was effectively booted out of #YoSoy132 after other students regarded his many media appearances -- including on Televisa -- as detrimental and distracting to the group's agenda.

Lozano said he understood the criticisms of the new program but added that he would make efforts to reach out to students from a range of public and private universities in Mexico for future on-air panels. 

"There is a phobia toward the networks, and that's a historical issue in Mexico," Lozano told The Times. "But I think opening a new space of dialogue is always a good thing, and I hope other such spaces open up on other networks."

He added that he previously had taped a pilot for a similar program on another network, but only within the last two weeks did a contact with the Televisa conglomerate lead to "Sin Filtro." Lozano said he expects to sign a contract for the show with Televisa on Thursday.

Online, the official Twitter account of #YoSoy132 distanced itself once more from Attolini, saying: "#YoSoy132 does not have leaders precisely to avoid that the contradictions of one affect us all." Other Twitter users were less generous, with some dubbing the student panelists who appear on a "Sin Filtro" promo on YouTube as "traitors." (Links in Spanish.)

The promo itself is a study of what might arguably be called unintended irony.

Lozano identified the participants as all former members of #YoSoy132, now sitting before cameras belonging to the largest mass media company in the Spanish-speaking world, which is also currently tied to a trafficking ring investigation in Nicaragua.

"I'm tired of the fact that the old news media class gives us information in the same manner, and with bias," one panelist, a young woman wearing heavy-framed eyeglasses, emphatically declares. "That is bad for freedom of speech in the country and that's why we're here, to discuss what interests you, without filters."

Attolini, meanwhile, broke his silence on Twitter on Wednesday as the virtual booing and hissing rained down on him. By the afternoon, he tweeted: "The struggle will be infinite if we don't start gaining territory. Now we have it inside the wolf's cave. Let's say the things that are concealed."

"Sin Filtro" is scheduled to premiere Sunday, Oct. 28. Lozano said the likely topic will be media democratization, a central issue for the student movement during the campaign.

RELATED:

Accused Mexican drug ring posing as media on trial in Nicaragua

Crowds in Mexico protest against leading presidential candidate

In Mexico, Yo Soy 132 ponders next step

-- Daniel Hernandez

Photo: Moderator Genaro Lozano appears in a screenshot of a promo for "Sin Filtro." Credit: Via YouTube


Mexican union reform effort stays alive -- for now

LABOR REFORM
MEXICO CITY — A dramatic vote in the Mexican Senate has kept alive a plan to reform this country’s corrupt and politically powerful unions, despite opponents’ attempts to smother the idea in the legislature.

But the senators' move late Tuesday could also torpedo a broader labor-reform bill, of which the union reforms are only one part. That left Mexicans pondering two very different futures Wednesday: one that could see a diminished role for the country’s king-making union bosses and another in which nothing much changes.

The reforms in question would require union elections to be held with secret ballots and open the books of big labor to public scrutiny. That, in theory, could undermine the virtual fiefdoms of labor leaders like Elba Esther Gordillo, the head of Mexico’s national teachers union, whose salary is unknown, but who is known to carry $5,000 Hermes purses and once gave out Hummers to loyal followers.

The reforms could also undermine an important source of political power for the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which managed to co-opt big labor for most of the 20th century, when it ran Mexican society in a top-down, semi-authoritarian manner.

The teachers union and the powerful syndicate representing workers in the state oil company, PEMEX, both remain closely linked to the PRI. Critics consider both unions to be warrens of corruption, and hindrances to the modernization of two key elements of Mexican society: the poorly managed state oil and gas monopoly and the underperforming educational system.

Both Gordillo of the teachers union and Carlos Romero Deschamps, the longtime leader of the oil company union, were reelected over the weekend, clear indications that labor’s old guard was not planning on going gently.

That only intensified the drama facing Mexico's president-elect, Enrique Peña Nieto of PRI, who rode to victory in July promising sweeping government reforms, but heads a party that may not be so eager to give up its ways.

Peña Nieto, who takes office Dec. 1, has supported the idea of labor reform in general. He has declined, however, to take a strong stand on the union reform effort: In Madrid this month, he said he was in favor of greater union “transparency,” but added that the “autonomy” of the unions must also be respected.

His fellow party members are dominant in the Mexican Chamber of Deputies, and last month they stripped the broader labor-reform bill of its union-reform provisions before it passed the lower chamber.

On Tuesday, however, the union reforms were reintroduced in the Senate version of the bill, thanks to an ad-hoc coalition of senators from the left-wing Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD, and the right-wing National Action Party, or PAN. The bill passed on a 100-28 vote after 12 hours of debate.

Now, under Mexican law, the bill goes back to the lower chamber, which will consider the Senate’s alterations.

If the lower house approves the Senate’s changes, the altered bill will go to the desk of outgoing President Felipe Calderon, who introduced it.

But if disagreement remains, there is a chance the bill could languish in legislative limbo.

There is also a third possibility: The legislation could be approved by both houses, but without the union-reform provisions. Even in that scaled-back form, the bill could bring historic change to Mexico’s traditionally rigid labor market, making it easier for businesses to hire and fire workers, formalizing the outsourcing of work in some cases, and allowing for the payment of an hourly wage.

Those proposals infuriated some on the Mexican left, who worried that the bill only weakened the position of workers whose guaranteed minimum wage is about 60 cents per hour.

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Mexico's Senate approves bill to fight money-laundering epidemic

-- Richard Fausset and Cecilia Sanchez

PHOTO: A demonstrator shouts slogans against proposed labor reforms outside Congress in Mexico City on Sept. 27. A proposal to reform Mexico's 1970s-era labor laws, loosen work rules and increase union democracy split Mexican political parties, threatening to create the first big political battle for President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto. The banner reads, "No to labor reform." Credit: Alexandre Meneghini / Associated Press

 


U.N. rights chief decries U.S. Border Patrol's 'excessive force'

Nogales

MEXICO CITY -- The United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights criticized U.S. Border Patrol officers Thursday for resorting to “excessive use of force,” according to news reports, a week after a 16-year-old boy was fatally shot by officers after allegedly throwing rocks at them near the Mexican border town of Nogales.

“There have been very many young people, teenagers, who have been killed at the border,” the commissioner, Navi Pillay, said at a news conference in Geneva, according to wire services. “The reports reaching me are that there has been excessive use of force by the U.S. border patrols while they are enforcing the immigration laws.”

U.S. officials allege that the shooting victim, Jose Antonio Elena Rodriguez, was smuggling drugs before the Oct. 10 incident, which has been strongly condemned by the Mexican government.

The FBI is investigating the matter, and the Department of Homeland Security is reviewing its guidelines for the use of force by border agencies.

At least 16 civilians have been killed by border agents since 2010, many of them during rock-throwing incidents involving suspected drug smugglers.

ALSO:

Cuba lifts 'exit visa' requirement for its citizens

Mexican officials hoping to use Lazcano's dead parents for ID

Mexico's Senate approves bill to fight money-laundering epidemic

--Richard Fausset

Photo:  A U.S. Border Patrol vehicle keeps watch along the border fence in Nogales, Ariz, on Aug. 9, 2012.  Credit: Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press


Mexico's Senate approves bill to fight money-laundering epidemic

Cash seized

MEXICO CITY -- Mexico’s Senate on Thursday unanimously approved an anti-money laundering bill in  hope of stemming a multibillion-dollar tide of illicit cash that flows from the nation’s powerful drug cartels and has seeped into nearly every corner of the Mexican economy.

The bill, which was approved this year  by the lower chamber, has been under consideration for more than two years in the Mexican Congress and could help the struggling nation in its fight against the narco gangs. Although  the outgoing administration of Felipe Calderon has managed to kill or capture more than two-thirds of the country’s most-wanted drug capos, it has struggled to hit them in their bank accounts.

Calderon, who leaves office in December, has long supported a stronger anti-laundering statute, and on Thursday -- a day when Amnesty International was criticizing him for failing to have taken more effective action to stem human-rights abuses committed in his six-year fight against the narcos -- the president sent a tweet congratulating the legislators.

“This will allow us to cut the economic resources of organized crime,” he wrote. “This is big news.”

The bill, which now heads to the president's desk for his signature, establishes a new specialized prosecution unit to go after money launderers and lays out a number of new reporting requirements for major transactions. Casinos will have to report big-money bets, and charity groups will have to inform the government of particularly generous donations. The sale of expensive boats, cars,  airplanes and jewelry also must be reported.

Among other things, the bill will prohibit the use of cash in many real-estate transactions, require banks to flag big credit card bills and force Mexican notaries, who handle most real-estate deals here, to report suspicious activity.

U.S. officials estimate that Mexican drug cartels send $19 billion to $29 billion in ill-gotten cash from the United States to their home country every year, and some Mexican officials have put the annual  of laundered money at $50 billion, representing a staggering 3% of the legitimate  Mexican economy.

As with many reform efforts in Mexico, passing a law will \help only so much. To make a real dent in the drug trade, it also must be enforced. Observers have suggested that the government has neglected to crack down hard on money laundering for fear that it would damage the rest of the economy.

Mexico approved an asset-forfeiture law in 2008 similar to ones in Italy and Colombia that made a big difference in their fights against organized crime, allowing the governments to seize and sell ill-gotten properties. But Mexican prosecutors have used the 2008 law sparingly.

-- Richard Fausset and Cecilia Sanchez

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International banks have aided Mexican drug gangs

U.S. blacklisting seems to have little consequence in Mexico

Cartels use legitimate trade to launder money, U.S., Mexico say

Photo: Soldiers carry a table loaded with seized U.S. dollars at a media presentation in Mexico  City last year. The cache of $15.3 million found in a car in downtown Tijuana is believed by authorities to belong to members of the Sinaloa drug cartel. Credit: Eduardo Verdugo / Associated Press

 


Mexico captures alleged Zetas chief linked to numerous crimes

Squirrel

MEXICO CITY -- The Mexican navy on Monday announced the capture of an alleged Zetas field commander who it accused of numerous high-profile crimes, including the possible murder of an American who disappeared while reportedly jet-skiing on a border lake two years ago.

The suspect, Salvador Alfonso Martinez Escobedo, alias the Squirrel, was paraded before reporters in a televised presentation in Mexico City. Without offering evidence, naval spokesman Vice Admiral Jose Luis Vergara alleged that Martinez was linked to a long string of crimes, including the 2010 execution of 72 migrants, mostly from Central America, in the northern state of Tamaulipas as well as two massive prison breaks, also in Tamaulipas, in which nearly 200 inmates escaped.

Vergara identified Martinez as a regional commander of the notorious Zetas paramilitary force and close confidant of top Zetas capo Miguel Angel Trevino. He said Martinez was suspected in overseeing several secret mass graves containing some 200 victims and of executing 50 people "with his own hands."

In addition to Martinez's other alleged crimes, Vergara said he was "presumed responsible" for the possible killing of David Hartley, a 30-year-old Colorado native. Hartley disappeared Sept. 30, 2010, on what his wife, Tiffany, described as a jet-ski outing on Falcon Lake, which straddles the U.S.-Mexico border south of the Tamaulipas city of Nuevo Laredo. No body was found, and the only version of events came from Tiffany Hartley.

A top Mexican investigator of the incident was killed shortly thereafter -- also by Martinez, Vergara alleged Monday.

Vergara said Martinez was captured Saturday in Nuevo Laredo several hours after a shootout with navy special forces who eventually intercepted the car in which he was traveling.

Martinez seemed nearly buoyant at the meeting with journalists, offering a tight smile, nodding vigorously to reporters' questions, flashing a thumbs-up and pumping his handcuffed fists in the air as he was led away. A reward of slightly more than $1 million had been offered for his capture.

His arrest is the latest in several important blows dealt by the Mexican military to both the Zetas and their former patron, the Gulf Cartel.

ALSO:

Dismembered bodies, warped minds

Latest Mexico drug arrest may cripple Gulf cartel

Mexico journalists' killings solved? Critics doubt it

-- Tracy Wilkinson

Photo: Salvador Alfonso Martinez Escobedo, alias "the Squirrel," is presented before reporters in Mexico City on Monday. Martinez is suspected in a string of high-profile crimes. Credit: Mario Guzman / European Pressphoto Agency


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