Month: July 2013




Originally posted at



In Mexico, suspects in naval officer shooting acknowledge cartel ties

By Richard Fausset
July 29, 2013, 2:43 p.m.

MEXICO CITY — Three men arrested in the slaying of a Mexican navy vice admiral have confessed that they were present at the time of the crime, and that they are members of a drug cartel that has been terrorizing the area, the nation’s attorney general said Monday.

Sunday’s midday shooting death of Vice Adm. Carlos Miguel Salazar Ramonet and one of his assistants has sent shock waves through Mexico. The death of such a high-level military officer is a rarity in Mexico’s drug war, and the navy is considered the nation’s most elite and trustworthy fighting force.

The attack was one of numerous violent assaults on federal authorities in the state of Michoacan in recent weeks. Seven federal police officers have been killed, and many more wounded. More than 20 alleged criminals have also died in the shootouts.

Many here assume that the attacks were coordinated and carried out by the Caballeros Templarios, or Knights Templar, a cartel that runs an extensive and violent extortion racket in Michoacan. The Knights may be lashing out in response to the increased number of federal forces that began arriving in May to try to regain territory that the cartel essentially controls.

It appears that Salazar was not in Michoacan on assignment. At a news conference, Mexican Atty. Gen. Jesus Murillo Karam said that Salazar had been visiting family members in an undisclosed part of Mexico and was being driven back to Puerto Vallarta, in the neighboring state of Jalisco, where he had been based. He was traveling in a white Chevrolet Suburban with his wife, his assistant and a driver.

When Salazar discovered that the freeway he was traveling on was blocked, he decided to take a secondary road, where another truck blocked his path, Murillo Karam said. The people in the truck began asking the Suburban’s occupants for identification, when a second truck pulled up. The people inside the second truck opened fire on the Suburban.

The vice admiral covered his wife, getting her to the floor of the vehicle. But he was killed, along with the assistant, while trying to fight back, Murillo Karam said.

The wife and the driver were injured, but were “out of danger” as of Monday afternoon, according to Eduardo Sanchez, a government spokesman.

The three men arrested for taking part in the attack confessed their involvement, Murillo Karam said, “or at least [to being] the occupants of one of the trucks.” The men, according to the prosecutor, also acknowledged working as robbers, kidnappers and extortionists for the Knights Templar, earning monthly salaries of 7,500 pesos, or about $590.

That detail that goes a long way toward explaining the allure of the cartels in a country where minimum wage workers  earn roughly 1,430 pesos per month, or $112.

Murillo Karam said it was “important to note that the admiral wasn’t wearing a uniform, that he was going like any other citizen, much like many citizens who have visited their family on the weekend and were coming back to go to work.”  But the attackers might have deduced that Salazar was a top government official, particularly given his use of the Suburban, a favorite car among Mexico’s elite.

Whether Salazar was singled out or picked at random, the episode highlights the challenge President Enrique Peña Nieto faces as he tries to bring peace to Michoacan, a state he has acknowledged is partly controlled by cartels.

On Monday, Peña Nieto said the attack and incidents like it reaffirm the need to impose the rule of law throughout the country.

Cecilia Sanchez of the Times’ Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times


Army and Red Cross personnel stand next to the body of a victim, after a vehicle carrying a Mexican navy vice admiral was attacked by gunmen in Michoacan state. (AFP/Getty Images / July 28, 2013. via LA Times)




I wandered into a small 18th Century church in Guanajuato recently, and came across the following prayer, which I think I’d seen in other Mexican churches, but hadn’t really stopped to fully absorb:



It says, in part:

Jesus, you are our peace,

look at our nation damaged by


and scattered by fear and


Comfort the pain of those who


Give wisdom to the decisions of

those who govern us.

Touch the heart of those who

forgot that we are brothers,

and provoke suffering and death…

[Photos: RF]





Originally posted at

Alleged Mexican drug ‘queen’ sentenced in U.S., but will soon be free

By Richard Fausset
July 25, 2013, 5:58 p.m.

MEXICO CITY — Sandra Avila Beltran, the Mexican “Queen of the Pacific” who gained notoriety  after authorities accused her of being a rare female force in the illicit drug trade, will be returning to Mexico as a free woman soon after a judge in Miami on Thursday gave her a 70-month prison sentence that she has already largely fulfilled because of time served.

Avila, 52, was arrested in 2007 in Mexico City with her Colombian boyfriend, Juan Diego Espinoza Ramirez, who pleaded guilty to cocaine trafficking charges two years later. A Mexican judge acquitted Avila of drug-related charges in 2010, but she was extradited to the United States to face charges that she conspired to import more than 11 pounds of cocaine into the U.S.

Officials alleged Avila was an important link between Colombian cocaine suppliers and Mexican drug groups. It is rare for a woman to face such charges, and this fact, in addition to her glamour, vanity and smiling insouciance — she once had a doctor visit her in prison to give her Botox treatments — turned her into a kind of drug war folk figure. She was interviewed by CNN’s Anderson Cooper, and the Mexican musical group Los Tucanes de Tijuana wrote a well-known narcocorrido about her.

Avila has always claimed she was an innocent homemaker. In a plea agreement with prosecutors in April, the drug charges were dropped, and Avila admitted to an accessory charge for helping to hide her boyfriend from authorities, according to Avila’s U.S. attorney, Stephen J. Ralls.

Ralls, in a phone interview Thursday, said that U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore, in sentencing Avila, also gave her credit for time served while in custody in Mexico and the U.S. She was still behind bars Thursday evening, but Ralls said it is probably just a matter of days before she is freed.

Ralls said that U.S. officials would probably send her back to Mexico soon, where she is not facing any further charges. Alberto Islas, a spokesman for the Mexican attorney general, said that his office “has no order of apprehension against Sandra Avila, nor is there any inquest open against her.”

Authorities first became suspicious of Avila in 2001 after her son was kidnapped and she was reportedly able to pay a multimillion-dollar ransom to get him back.

Cecilia Sanchez of The Times’ Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times

Photo: Sandra Avila Beltran, known as the “Queen of the Pacific,” is seen in a photo taken after her 2007 arrest in Mexico City. (Mexican attorney general’s office / July 25, 2013, via LA Times)





Originally posted at

Mexico President Enrique Peña Nieto to undergo thyroid surgery

By Richard Fausset
July 24, 2013, 6:15 p.m.

MEXICO CITY — Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto is planning to undergo thyroid surgery next week, his office announced Wednesday evening.

Doctors at Mexico City’s Central Military Hospital plan to remove a thyroid nodule during the July 31 operation, after which Peña Nieto will have a four-day recovery period at Los Pinos, the MexicanWhite House.

The thyroid gland is in the neck, below the voice box. Among other things, it helps regulate metabolism.

According to the American Thyroid Assn. website, thyroid nodule removal surgery may be necessary for a number of reasons. A biopsy may have determined that the nodule is cancerous, or possibly cancerous. Surgery may also be necessary if a biopsy was inconclusive. Nodules known to be non-cancerous may need to be removed if they are large, or causing pain.

The statement from the president’s office did not say which of these might be the case for Peña Nieto, and a spokesman declined to comment.

Peña Nieto, of Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, was elected in July 2012 and took office in December. He is pressing for a series of proposed institutional reforms that he says are designed to make Mexican government more modern and efficient.

this month, he finished a Mexico City 10K road race (6.2 miles) in a respectable 54 minutes, 8 seconds.

Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times

Photo: A handout photograph made available by Mexican Presidency on 13 July 2013 shows President of Mexico, Enrique Pena Nieto (C), as he runs at 3rd ‘Molino del Rey’ 10k-race in Chapultepec Park, Mexico City, Mexico. (European Pressphoto Agency / July 24, 2013, via LA Times)


Shootouts with Mexican police in Michoacan state leave 22 dead

By Richard Fausset
July 24, 2013, 8:17 a.m.

MEXICO CITY — Organized criminals in the troubled Mexican state of Michoacan were suspected of unleashing a series of attacks on government forces Tuesday that resulted in the deaths of 20 criminals and two federal police officers, according to the federal government.

The brazen attacks, which also left 15 police officers injured, underscored the challenge the Mexican government faces in a southwestern state that, while long plagued by outlaw groups, has suffered from intense new waves of cartel violence. The conflict is detracting from President Enrique Peña Nieto’s effort to steer the world’s attention away from Mexico’s drug war and toward the country’s economic potential.

The instability in Michoacan ratcheted up in recent months as armed “self-defense” groups rose up to fight off the state’s dominant cartel, the Knights Templar, who, in addition to their drug operations, have engaged in a widespread campaign of extortion, rape and killings of everyday citizens.

Peña Nieto, who took office in December, sent thousands of federal troops to Michoacan in May in an effort to quell the violence, his first major military offensive against the drug gangs.

A statement late Tuesday from the Mexican Interior Ministry said that federal police units in various parts of the state were subjected to six “pre-planned” attacks carried out by “individuals with large arms hidden in the hills.”

The attackers also set up a number of roadblocks, using buses and other vehicles.

“In all of the cases, authorities repelled the aggressions to return order to the areas,” the statement said, adding that federal police and military units were searching for the shooters.

The attacks came a day after another bloody incident in the city of Los Reyes, in the western portion of the state. A group of citizens, among them members of a self-defense group, marched on city hall, apparently to protest the influence of the Knights Templar. A group of gunmen opened fire on the group, killing five people and injuring seven, according to the state government.

On Thursday, three other federal police were slain and six wounded in an ambush near the border with the state of Guerrero. On Friday, the bullet-riddled bodies of two men and two women were found hanging at the entrance to the city of El Limon de La Luna, in the agricultural municipality of Buenavista Tomatlan, home to some of the worst fighting between citizens and the Knights Templar.

In some cases, the federal authorities have been working alongside the armed vigilante groups, even co-staffing security checkpoints. But there is also some concern that the self-defense groups have been infiltrated by a rival cartel. Before the arrival of the military, confrontations between the self-defense groups and the Templars resulted in dozens of deaths.

Earlier in the day Tuesday, Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong told reporters that the government would seek out those responsible for the “cowardly” attack against the Los Reyes protesters and would continue the work of “reestablishing order, peace and security.”

“We will not let them violate the security, the property and the lives of the citizens,” Osorio Chong said during a news conference in the border city of Matamoros, where he had met with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to discuss border security issues.

Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times





Originally posted at


In Mexico, dozens fall to new violence across 4 troubled states

By Cecilia Sanchez and Richard Fausset
July 22, 2013, 6:28 p.m.

MEXICO CITY — Despite some recent promising homicide statistics, violence continues to rage in regions of Mexico plagued by drug gangs and organized crime, as evidenced by dozens of killings spread over four states in the last five days.

The incidents, which include a deadly ambush on federal police and the slaying of two people in a medical clinic by gunmen disguised as doctors,  demonstrate how much work President Enrique Peña Nieto has yet to do to convince his countrymen that Mexico is becoming safer.

In June, six months after Peña Nieto’s swearing-in, his government boasted that in both February and May the number of homicides connected to federal crimes fell below 1,000 per month. (Drug and organized crime cases are usually under federal jurisdiction in Mexico.)

Statistics for June showed that the symbolically important 1,000 figure again had not been breached, with 869 homicides reported by the Interior Ministry. Before February, it had been surpassed every month for three straight years.

But the seemingly unrelated acts of violence in recent days is a rebuke to anyone who thinks the country’s problems are solved.

The ambush of the federal officers occurred Thursday in the southwestern state of Michoacan, on a highway near the border with the state of Guerrero. Three officers were slain and six were wounded, according to the state prosecutor’s office.

A day later, the bodies of two men and two women were found hanging at the entrance to the Michoacan community of El Limon de la Luna, in a municipality called Buenavista Tomatlan. The farming region, in the western portion of Michoacan known as the Tierra Caliente (Hot Land), has beenone of the most unstable in Mexico in recent months, with vigilante groups taking up arms to defend themselves from a narcotics cartel called the Knights Templar. Peña Nieto sent the military to the region in May in an effort to restore order.

There is a concern that some of the vigilante groups have been infiltrated by members of a rival drug cartel. On Monday, according to media and government reports, a group of protesters in the western Michoacan city of Los Reyes marched on city hall, reportedly accompanied by members of a self-defense group who planned to kick out the municipal police, whom they suspected of supporting the Knights Templar.

The news agency Notimex reported that the protesters were fired on by members of a second group whose identity is unknown. Mexican papers Monday reported that as many as five people were killed in the attack. The state’s governor confirmed Monday via Twitter that one woman had been killed.

In the neighboring state of Jalisco, officials said seven people were slain in a 12-hour period Saturday in greater Guadalajara, Mexico’s second-largest metropolitan area and the longtime home of a number of narco bosses. Among the victims, officials said, were a state police officer and a municipal police officer from Puerto Vallarta.

In the state of Durango, to Jalisco’s north, eight people were slain Friday in three municipalities. The next day, three burned bodies were discovered in a home in the city of Lerdo.

In the border state of Coahuila, 18 people were slain in various incidents in the capital, Saltillo, between Friday and Sunday. Gunmen who dressed as doctors carried out an attack in a medical clinic in Torreon, state officials said.

Last week, the leader of the notorious Zetas drug cartel, Angel Treviño Morales, was captured by federal officials, and many had speculated that a wave of bloodshed would follow. But it is not clear if any of the recent events are connected to his detention.

In addition to army and navy troops who have been fighting the drug cartels since 2006, the federal government next year plans to introduce 4,000 to 5,000 members of a new gendarmerie, a special police force with military training that Peña Nieto promised during his campaign.

“We are defining their functions, where they are going to be and what they are going to do,” said Manuel Mondragon y Kalb, the national security commissioner, in a television interview this month.

Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times

Photo: Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto (Mexican President’s Office, via LA Times)


daft kitsch


…a la Mexicana. T-shirt shop, Guanajuato, GTO. [RF]



Before boarding at Mexico City’s northern bus terminal, a message board warns passengers of the “presuntos asaltantes” (“alleged assailants”) they may encounter on their journey. [RF]

A few more faces:





Originally posted at

Journalist found slain in Mexican state of Oaxaca

By Richard Fausset and Cecilia Sanchez
July 17, 2013, 6:06 p.m.

MEXICO CITY — A journalist who covered the police beat in the Mexican state of Oaxaca was found dead Wednesday, reportedly with gunshot wounds.

It was unclear whether Alberto Lopez Bello was attacked in retaliation for his work for El Imparcial, a newspaper in the city of Oaxaca, the state capital. The paper published a brief statement Wednesday demanding a thorough investigation and saying the killing “demonstrates the vulnerability to which communicators are exposed in their daily work of providing truthful and timely information to the citizenry.” [link in Spanish]

The Oaxacan state government said that Lopez’s body was found along with the corpse of another man in Trinidad de Viguera, a city north of the Oaxacan capital. The news website Milenio reportedthat Lopez suffered gunshot wounds. [link in Spanish]

The second man was identified by state officials as Arturo Alejandro Franco Rojas. Milenio reported that Franco worked for a municipal police intelligence unit.

Mexico remains one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists.

Lopez was the fourth journalist slain during the seven months that President Enrique Peña Nieto has been in office. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 53 journalists were killed or vanished during the six-year term of former President Felipe Calderon, Peña Nieto’s predecessor.

Oaxacan Gov.  Gabino Cue instructed the state prosecutor’s office to refer the case to the federal attorney general. In May, Mexico passed a law giving federal prosecutors more authority to take up cases involving crimes against journalists.

Sanchez is a researcher in The Times’ Mexico City bureau.

Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times

Photo: Authorities stand near the body of journalist Alberto Lopez Bello and another man in a cornfield north of Oaxaca, Mexico. ( AFP/Getty Images / July 17, 2013, via LA Times.)


North Korean ship detained


Originally posted at


Missile parts found on North Korean ship are claimed by Cuba

Cuba says the ship detained by Panama carried ‘obsolete defensive armaments’ going to North Korea for repair.

By Richard Fausset
July 16, 2013, 10:04 p.m.

MEXICO CITY— Cuba announced Tuesday that the missile parts the Panamanian government found hidden in a North Korean cargo ship heading home were part of a stash of aging military equipment in need of repair.

Cuba’s Exterior Relations Ministry said the North Korean ship contained 240 metric tons, or about 529,000 pounds, of “obsolete defensive armaments” that were being sent to North Korea to be repaired and returned to Cuba; it said it also carried about 10,000 tons of sugar.

Among the armaments, the ministry statement said, were two antiaircraft missile systems, nine missiles “in parts and pieces,” two MIG-21s and 15 engines for such planes.

“The agreements signed by Cuba in this area are based on the need to maintain our defense capability to protect national sovereignty,” the statement said. “The Republic of Cuba reiterates its firm and irrevocable commitment to peace, disarmament, including nuclear disarmament, and respect for international law.”

It was unclear Tuesday night whether the shipment of the war materiel constitutes a violation of the United NationsSecurity Council resolutions that have targeted North Korea for continuing to develop its nuclear weapons program. Resolution 1718, passed in 2006, prohibits, among other things, the solicitation of “services or assistance” from North Korea for a range of military items, including missile systems and combat aircraft.

Cuba’s announcement came less than 24 hours afterPanamanian President Ricardo Martinelli said that parts of a missile system had been discovered hidden on the North Korean vessel. The discovery was made five days after the ship, the Chong Chon Gang, was detained at Colon, on Panama’s Caribbean coast, before it could pass through the Panama Canal and return to North Korea. Panamanian officials originally suspected the vessel was smuggling drugs.

Martinelli said the weapons were undeclared. He and other officials said the North Korean crew was uncooperative with Panamanian investigators and that the ship’s captain attempted to commit suicide.

Whether international law was, in fact, respected, probably will be a matter for the United Nations. Before the Cubans declared ownership of the discovered items, State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said that a report probably would be sent to the U.N.’s sanctions committee.

“If indeed there were a shipment of arms on board this vessel, any shipment of arms or related material would violate U.N. Security Resolutions 1718, 1874 and 2094,” he said, referring to the resolutions targeting the North Korean government.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), in a statement, called the incident “yet another example of why we need to treat Cuba as the international pariah that it is.”

The discovery may also end up illustrating the desperation of a defiant communist government in Pyongyang that is increasingly isolated on the world stage, and hoping to at least bolster its relationship with ideological soul mates in Cuba. The two nations have shared diplomatic relations since 1960.

In late June, a North Korean military delegation headed by Gen. Kim Kyok Sik visited top Cuban military officials in Havana. The visit came four months after the U.N. Security Council responded to a North Korean nuclear test by tightening sanctions, which also prohibit the import or export of conventional weapons and items that could be used by North Korea to develop nuclear weapons.

The visit also came as Myanmar, also known as Burma, an important North Korean ally, appears to be giving its old friend the cold shoulder. In November 2012, Myanmar’s government agreed to abide by a U.N. resolution prohibiting the procurement of military goods and assistance from North Korea.

“They’ve got a very short list of allies with whom they can trade militarily,” said Hugh Griffiths of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

Griffiths said the ship probably got the attention of U.S. intelligence upon its arrival in a part of the Western Hemisphere that it rarely visits. In 2010, officials in Ukraine found drugs and small-arms ammunition aboard the ship, he said.

Ventrell said that the Chong Chon Gang had a “public record of narcotics smuggling.”

Steve Atkiss of Command Consulting Group, a Washington-based company that advises the Panamanian government, said crew members dropped anchor to prevent being taken to shore and broke the onboard crane that could have helped unload the massive supply of Cuban sugar.

Panamanian officials, who before the Cuban announcement thought more contraband might be aboard, said it would take days to unload all of the sugar and conduct a thorough search.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency quoted an unnamed Foreign Ministry official as saying, “We need to verify the facts first, but if [the seized items] are found to be materials for missiles, we can take actions as they violate the U.N. resolutions.”

Times staff writers Ken Dilanian in Washington and Julie Makinen in Beijing and Cecilia Sanchez of the Times’ Mexico City bureau contributed to this report.


Captured Zeta cartel lord Treviño infamous for brutality

Snowden digging himself in deeper with new threats, revelations

Neo-Nazi metal musician planned ‘large’ terror attack, officials say

Copyright © 2013, Los Angeles Times

Photo: The North Korean-flagged cargo ship Chong Chon Gang, center, sits docked at Colon, Panama. (Arnulfo Franco, Associated Press / July 16, 2013, via LA Times)