In 1985 during the Reagan administration, the United States Geological Survey published the results of fieldwork surveying the natural hydrocarbon resources in northeastern Mexico. The survey concluded that "giant" natural gas, coal and potentially oil deposits were present primarily in the Burgos and Sabinas basins.
According to Col. William W. Mendel (retired):
Weak or failing states and attendant [Transnational Organized Crime] are identified in the 2015 U.S. National Security Strategy as among the top strategic risks to the country because of the significant security consequences. Weak states provide the sanctuary for the crime-terror-insurgency nexus to flourish.
Military support to counter transnational crime can be traced to the U.S. Anti-Drug Abuse Act of 1988 (10 USC 1502), which established the creation of a drug-free America by 1995 as a U.S. policy goal. The resulting National Drug Control Strategy outlined two major campaigns: supply reduction and demand reduction. To reduce the supply of drugs entering the United States, the major effort was to stop illicit drugs overseas and in transit.
The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the military played the major roles in the overseas actions. Defense Secretary William J. Perry directed that the Department of Defense (DoD) would provide support for the detection and monitoring of the transport of illegal drugs, provide security assistance in source nations, and would support the DEA’s Kingpin Strategy in “Dismantling the Cartels.” At the time of the first National Drug Control Strategy of 1989, Joint Task Force (JTF) 4, under Atlantic Command located at Key West and JTF-5 (Pacific Command, Coast Guard Island, Alameda, California) were established to fulfill the military’s obligation to conduct air and sea detection and monitoring.
At this same time, DoD established JTF-6 (now JTF-North under U.S. Northern Command) at El Paso, Texas. Billeted in an old military jail, JTF-6 provided DoD support to drug law enforcement agencies in the Southwest border area. Typical missions of JTF-6 were to provide intelligence analysis, ground radar sensing, airborne reconnaissance, ground and air transportation, engineer operations, military exercises, ground reconnaissance, and mobile training teams. Guided by a [Special Operations Forces (SOF)] liaison office on staff, the SOF role was to provide training assistance and ground reconnaissance. JTF-North continues this mission today with the new guidance to "support our nation’s federal law enforcement agencies in the identification and interdiction of suspected transnational criminal organization activities conducted within and along the approaches to the continental United States."
Given the [National Security Strategy] and [Strategy for Countering Transnational Organized Crime] policy guidance, it is a safe bet that the combating [Transnational Organized Crime] support missions assigned to the military, including SOF, will devolve from the counterdrug paradigm of the past. This will possibly include some [counterterrorism] and counterinsurgency tasks in the admixture as we saw in Colombia.
The [Strategy for Countering Transnational Organized Crime] is intended to complement and interlock with the National Drug Control Strategy, but more than that, the U.S. drug war and [Transnational Organized Crime] war have been conjoined.
On October 22, 2020, members of the United States Congress wrote a letter to U.S. President Donald J. Trump voicing concerns about the supposed preferential treatment of state-owned Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX) over U.S. companies and the delaying or cancellation of contracts by the Government of Mexico under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador. Their grievance was that the interests of U.S. companies were not being considered following significant investments in infrastructure and transnational bidirectional pipelines after the 2014 energy reform which opened Mexico's oil and gas resources to foreign investment and exploitation. In total, 43 members of the House and Senate signed the letter, including John Cornyn, Ted Cruz, Chip Roy and Henry Cuellar.
It's worth mentioning that the author and several co-sponsors of the 2019 Drug Cartel Terrorist Designation Act (H.R.1700) also signed the letter. The significance of this will become clearer by the end of the story.
Odebrecht, Lozoya and Cabeza de Vaca
The 2014 constitutional reform which ended the PEMEX monopoly on the energy industry in Mexico was purchased through bribery of presidents, presidential candidates and legislators, along with encouragement from the U.S. State Department under former Secretary Hillary Clinton. Bribes were paid to officials all over Latin America through a sophisticated network of shell companies and offshore accounts which were revealed in what came to be known as the Odebrecht bribery scandal.
The Brazilian construction and engineering firm Odebrecht operated as a conduit for dark money from all over the world seeking to purchase influence. According to a 2016 indictment, they even had a dedicated bribery department called the Division of Structured Operations. Politicians throughout Latin America and the Caribbean have been implicated in the scandal.
In Mexico, the Odebrecht bribery scandal led to the arrest of former president of PEMEX Emilio Lozoya in 2019. This year, Lozoya was extradited to Mexico to face charges related to bribery, money laundering and other criminal activity. According to Eje Central:
the bribes benefited 25 former officials, and 17 companies that participated in a corruption scheme that began with the government of Felipe Calderón, which facilitated the arrival of Enrique Peña Nieto to the Presidency of the Republic and which paid for the consummation of the Energy Reform that allowed the delivery of contracts to [Odebrecht] and other companies but especially of power from the Presidency of the Republic.
The Lozoya case has rocked the political establishment in Mexico with testimony implicating, among others, former Presidents Felipe Calderón and Enrique Peña Nieto, and Peña Nieto's campaign manager Luis Videgaray, who reportedly orchestrated bribes to legislators in exchange for energy reform as a part of the 2012 Pact for Mexico, which the Wall Street Journal touted as, "How Mexico Ended Political Gridlock".
One of the legislators named in testimony for accepting bribes in exchange for energy reform is the former senator and current governor of Tamaulipas, Francisco García Cabeza de Vaca.
Cabeza de Vaca has apparently been corrupt from the beginning of his career. According to testimony from Antonio Peña Argüelles, alias "Angeles", a former money launderer for Los Zetas and protected witness in a U.S. federal case in the Western District of Texas, Cabeza de Vaca has been compromised by organized crime since at least 2004 when he accepted $500,000 from the Gulf cartel for his campaign for mayor of Reynosa.
Los Zetas were the highly trained enforcers of the Gulf cartel made up of supposed deserters from the Mexican special forces known as the Grupo Aeromóvil de Fuerzas Especiales (GAFES). The GAFES were formed in 1986 as an elite quick reaction force specializing in counterinsurgency and unconventional warfare. When the North American Free Trade Agreement went into effect in 1994, the GAFES received combat experience in the brutal fight with the leftist Ejército Zapatista de Liberación Nacional (EZLN) in Chiapas. According to reporting by Carlos Marin, the army sent the GAFES to Chiapas to create paramilitary forces and displace the population in order to break the support of the people for the EZLN, an approach which would be used against organized crime years later. In Ioan Grillo's book El Narco, he describes how the mutilated bodies of rebels captured by the GAFES were dumped along a riverbank in the Las Margaritas municipality with their ears and noses sliced off, the sort of spectacular violence that Los Zetas would later standardize in the Drug War.
Some of the original members of Los Zetas are said to have been trained by the U.S. at the notorious School of the Americas, although accounts vary about exactly who, where and when. Some say it was at Ft. Benning in Georgia, others at Ft. Bragg in North Carolina, while other rumors suggest it was at Ft. Hood in Texas. According to military historian Craig Deare, it's likely that more than 500 Mexican GAFES received training from U.S. special forces.
According to reporting in Al Jazeera:
Some of the cartel’s initial members were elite Mexican troops, trained in the early 1990s by America’s 7th Special Forces Group or “snake eaters” at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, a former US special operations commander has told Al Jazeera.
“They were given map reading courses, communications, standard special forces training, light to heavy weapons, machine guns and automatic weapons,” says Craig Deare, the former special forces commander who is now a professor at the US National Defence University.
“I had some visibility on what was happening, because this [issue] was related to things I was doing in the Pentagon in the 1990s,” Deare, who also served as [Mexico] director in the office of the US Secretary of Defence, says.
The 7th Special Forces Group (SFG) specializes in the approach the U.S. has taken with Latin America since the end of the Second World War: unconventional warfare, counterinsurgency and, more recently, counterterrorism. During the Reagan administration in the 1980s, the 7th SFG trained, supported and fought with some of the most brutal and repressive special operations and unconventional forces in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Panama, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia and Venezuela.
Between 1996 and 1999, 3,200 soldiers, including at least 500 GAFES, were reportedly trained by the 7th SFG in the U.S. to create elite counternarcotics forces.
Framed as an ironic consequence of the corrupting influence of the cartels, the training from the U.S. special forces diffused into the service of one of Mexico's oldest drug trafficking organizations. In 1997, the same year that the Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies was founded, Arturo Guzmán Decena, a GAFE better known by the alias "El Zeta-uno", defected along with other elite Mexican soldiers to work for the Gulf cartel in Tamaulipas. Trained by the U.S. in counterinsurgency and unconventional warfare supposedly to fight drug-trafficking, members of the GAFES formed one of the most infamous and brutal drug-trafficking organizations in Mexico's history: Los Zetas.
Los Zetas changed the way that organized crime operates in Mexico. The military tactics which they standardized and their supposed fights over territory were used to justify President Felipe Calderón's decision to deploy the military to prosecute La Guerra contra el Narcotráfico in December 2006 and its associated consequences.
According to a 2007 diplomatic cable from the US Consulate in Matamoros, the Drug Enforcement Administration obtained statements alleging that Cabeza de Vaca had funded Felipe Calderón's presidential campaign with drug money from the Cártel del Golfo, the criminal organization who supposedly recruited Los Zetas.
The beginning of the end
According to a diplomatic cable from the U.S. Consulate in Matamoros in 2015, Francisco García Cabeza de Vaca apparently met with then-Secretary of Public Security, Genaro García Luna, in Cabo San Lucas, Baja California in February 2012. The communiqué indicated that Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán Loera was also in Cabo San Lucas on that date, and was thought to have met with García Luna and Cabeza de Vaca. It's rumored that another cable exists which claims that, in fact, Cabeza de Vaca met with El Chapo and García Luna.
In December of 2019, Genaro García Luna, formerly the highest ranking federal law enforcement official in Mexico during Felipe Calderón's administration and one of the principal architects of the Drug War, was arrested for charges related to corruption and conspiring with El Chapo and the Sinaloa cartel to traffic multi-ton quantities of drugs and launder the illegal proceeds. He had been living in the U.S. and operated a security consultancy business.
In 2007, the year after Felipe Calderón sent the military to fight drug trafficking in Mexico in response to Los Zetas, Texas Governor Rick Perry appointed Fred Burton to the head of the Border Security Council. A former member of the U.S. State Department's Diplomatic Security Service, Burton worked for the private intelligence firm Stratfor, described by some as a private Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) for corporate clients, and by others as "[t]he Economist a week later and several hundred times more expensive."
The Border Security Council (BSC) was a lobbying group in Texas which used discretionary funds from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), including for the protection of U.S. food supplies, to come up with policy recommendations for addressing the threat of drug cartels in Texas despite very little evidence of cartel-related violence in the state.
The story goes that in January 2010, Los Zetas separated from their former partners, the Gulf cartel, and war between the two groups supposedly began throughout northeastern Mexico. Some of the worst violence and atrocities happened during this time.
In 2011, following the advice of the BSC, the Texas Agriculture Commissioner, Todd Staples, commissioned the report "Texas Border Security: A Strategic Military Assessment", written by former Department of Defense officials Barry McAffrey and Robert Scales. Barry McAffrey was also the Director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy during the Clinton administration.
The Texas Border Security assessment included a list of policy recommendations for securing the Texas border from the threat of "narco-terrorism". Some of the notable policy recommendations from the Texas Border Security assessment included:
• creating fusion centers to facilitate intelligence sharing between law enforcement and intelligence agencies
• creating partnerships between U.S. and Mexican law enforcement
• designating cartels as foreign terrorist organizations
A New Way Forward
U.S. Customs & Border Patrol (CBP, part of DHS) has historically worked in the shadow of their counterparts at the DEA and FBI. That's partly because they've had more cases of corruption than all the other federal law enforcement (LE) agencies combined. One of the worst cases of corruption yet documented was in 2015, when a CBP agent with links to the Gulf cartel was implicated in a beheading murder near McAllen. He was found to be in possession of more than a kilo of cocaine at the time of his arrest. CBP has lobbied for years to get the same privileges and access that their counterparts in other federal law enforcement agencies have. In January 2020, they were finally designated as a security agency.
One of the biggest challenges for CBP and other LE agencies has been Posse Comitatus statutes, which forbid the DoD and its agencies like the National Security Agency (NSA) and Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), from sharing intelligence for use by LE with a few exceptions. One notable exception is the El Paso Regional Intelligence Center (EPIC), a so-called fusion center established in 1974 in El Paso, Texas. Fusion centers utilize assets from various LE and intelligence agencies in multi-agency collaborative missions, usually counterterror and/or counternarcotics.
The number of fusion centers in the U.S. dramatically increased after 9/11 and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Critics have long warned about their potential for mission creep, which is the gradual expansion and evolution of a mission beyond its original mandate. For instance, what may have started as a counterterror mission expands over time to include all basic policing functions. Fusion centers therefore could be viewed as a buildup of capabilities for various LE, national security and intelligence functions.
One notable multiagency partnership is DHS Joint Task Force-West (JTF-W), which began from a directive on November 20, 2014 issued by the Southern Border and Approaches Campaign from DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson. According to a press release from the CBP website, JTF-W was formed "to identify, prioritize, and target the top criminal organizations impacting national security, border security and public safety." This is a key event in this story. Remember how CBP has always been the pariah of federal law enforcement? JTF-W effectively marked the beginning of "A New Way Forward."
Following the midterm elections on Nov 4, 2014, when the Republicans took the Senate and held onto the House of Representatives, the GOP saw an opportunity. They controlled both chambers of congress and anticipated (correctly) a victory against Hillary Clinton in 2016. They immediately got to work laying the foundation for some of the policies they anticipated would be possible when they took the Whitehouse in 2016.
JTF-W significantly expanded CBP's authority, autonomy and capabilities (remember mission creep?) under the pretext of combatting the evolving threat to national security, according to CBP, posed by illegal immigration and drug and human trafficking organizations. It's important to emphasize how significant this was.
According to CBP, JTF-W would also serve as "a key player in relations with Mexico by contributing to discussions between the two governments to improve security on both sides of the border."
Security and prosperity
The history of U.S. LE in Mexico is beyond the scope of this story. Generally, relations have been strained from deception and corruption and a population in Mexico who correctly note how much worse the violence has gotten in their country from the War on Drugs.
Although not all police are corrupt in Mexico, systemic corruption is a significant problem among the country's police. Inadequate training, low salaries, lack of accountability mechanisms and bad political leadership all contribute to the problem. It's not just state and municipal police, either. Corruption has reached the highest levels of law enforcement in Mexico, as in the case of Genaro García Luna. Allegations of extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, torture and more by police and security forces happen almost every week somewhere in Mexico. Northeastern Mexico in particular has had a long history of official corruption in the last 20 years.
One of the biggest problems in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas has been the state's corrupt governors, which brings us back to Cabeza de Vaca, the current governor of Tamaulipas. Cabeza de Vaca has a long history of links to organized crime.
But you'd never know it from reading Breitbart's Cartel Chronicles, even though the corrupt Mexican politician is one of their favorite narratives. According to Breitbart, Cabeza de Vaca is taking a stand against the now-defunct Los Zetas.
Nor would you see anything but praise for Cabeza de Vaca on the FoxNews website. Check out this editorial from Nelson Balido, perhaps the single most important character in this story. According to his CV, Balido completed graduate studies in International Affairs at the George Bush School of Government between 2005 and 2007. The George Bush School at Texas A&M University is also home to the Presidential Library of George H. W. Bush, the CIA Director during the Ford administration and Vice President during the Reagan Administration. It's also worth mentioning that Gerald Ford was Vice President during the Nixon Administration when the War on Drugs was declared 50 years ago.
According to his work history, Balido's current positions include:
>Chairman of the Border Commerce and Security Council, a lobbying group for security and construction contractors (more on that later)
>Lieutenant Commander with U.S. Southern Command - Public Affairs
>Consultant to the Undersecretary of Intelligence and Analysis at DHS
>Chairman & CEO of the US/Mexico Energy Relations Advisor
According to Balido, an embodiment of the military-industrial complex with ties to DoD, DHS and Ted Cruz (more on that later), Cabeza de Vaca—mentioned 26 times in Peña Argüelles' sworn testimony—is "clean as a whistle."
One other extremely important line in Balido's opinion piece is this: "[i]n Cabeza de Vaca, the United States finally finds someone who wants to collaborate at the state level."
Balido isn't the only one who thinks it'd be great for the U.S. federal government to collaborate with Mexico at the state level. Check out this 2017 interview with Brandon Darby and Ildefonso Ortiz, creators of Breitbart's Cartel Chronicles.
Brandon Darby: "Under the Merida Initiative, it seems to be counterproductive to operate hand in hand with Mexican federal forces, as the Mexican president himself could (and seems) to have links with the cartels. Perhaps it would be much better to selectively interact with state governments."
But let's back up a little bit. Remember JTF-W? In June 2016, right after Cabeza de Vaca won the governor's race (the following week, in fact), CBP Rio Grande Valley Sector announced the launch of the Se Busca Informacion (Seeking Information) initiative targeting the 10 most wanted criminals in the region.
Remember how JTF-W was conceived following the 2014 midterms? The U.S. presidential race truly starts after the midterms, and wagering that the country was tired of a (D) president after 8 years of Barack Obama, along with Hillary Clinton as the likely nominee for the Democrats who the GOP considered to be a weak candidate, the Republicans correctly saw the 2016 race as theirs to lose.
The presumptive Republican frontrunner heading into the primaries was Texas Senator and noted masturbator Ted Cruz. Cruz should've had everything needed to take the nomination, including support starting in early 2014 from Steve Bannon, then-manager of the rightwing Breitbart News. Like he did later with Cabeza de Vaca, Nelson Balido wrote several gushing opinion pieces on why Cruz would be the best candidate for the GOP to take the presidency in 2016.
Before he became Donald Trump's campaign manager on August 21, 2016, Steve Bannon initially was a supporter of Ted Cruz since early 2014.
Someone else in Cruz's orbit worth mentioning is Joseph Wade Miller. Miller was Cruz's chief political strategist until 2018 when he was hired as chief of staff for United States Congressman Chip Roy (R-TX). The significance of this should become clearer in just a moment.
On June 7, 2018, a week after the Mexican Navy, SEMAR, had been recalled from the state for what was later determined to be at least 47 forcible disappearances and extrajudicial executions, JTF-W announced a multiagency cooperative partnership with the state government of Tamaulipas under Governor Cabeza de Vaca known as the Campaña de Seguridad y Prosperidad (Campaign for Security and Prosperity).
But not everything has been secure and prosperous in Tamaulipas. Two of the most important border cities, Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo, have been disputed between the state and various factions of the Gulf cartel and Los Zetas since the beginning of Felipe Calderón's military offensive against drug traffickers.
Nuevo Laredo is one of the most important cities in the state because of the enormous volume of commerce that crosses there (40-70% of all U.S.-bound commercial traffic). Because Nuevo Laredo connects the financial capital of northeast Mexico, Monterrey, to I-35 in Laredo, it's arguably the single most important crossing in all of Mexico. It's disputed by the state and whatever is left of Cártel del Noreste (CDN), a faction formerly with Los Zetas.
Reynosa is the largest city in Tamaulipas and also one of the most important. The state government as well as the Gulf cartel in Matamoros—the criminal rivals of CDN and Los Metros—are both interested in retaking control of the valuable territories in Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa, or so the story goes.
In Tamaulipas, political power is inextricably linked to organized crime and has been for many years. The reasons for that are complex and beyond the scope of this story. In short, the battle for influence through both official and extra-official means comprises politics in Tamaulipas.
The state government is primarily focused on clearing whatever is left of belligerent criminal groups in Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa. Part of the reason for that is because the state government (GobTam) gives preferential treatment to the factions of the Gulf cartel in Matamoros. Why the Gulf cartel in Matamoros? According to the GobTam, the reason CDN and Los Metros (who are also rumored to have an alliance with CJNG, more on that later) are the highest priority is because they are the most violent and dangerous groups in the state. But that's not exactly true.
The gentlemanly cartel is a myth popularized in the canon of narco entertainment and journalism. In reality, it does not exist. All of these criminal groups are killers, kidnappers, extortionists, thieves and generally just huge pieces of shit (but still human beings with rights). The claim that one group is less violent than another depends on a lot of things, including how aggressively that group is prosecuted by the state. It's disingenuous or simply untrue to say that one group is worse than another. They're all bad and capable of extreme violence.
In fact, the complex relationship between organized crime and politics is the reason these groups are prioritized. The Gulf cartel in Matamoros claims to have given $10 million to the current governor and his brother, the PAN Senator Ismael Cabeza de Vaca, for their campaigns. It's also worth mentioning again that the Matamoros faction of the Gulf cartel—who are credited with creating Los Zetas—also funded Cabeza de Vaca's campaign at the beginning of his political career and Felipe Calderón's presidential campaign according to witness testimony and a leaked diplomatic cable.
Similar to Felipe Calderón and Genaro García Luna, the security strategy of Cabeza de Vaca is one of pacification, where certain groups pay to conduct their business without being disturbed by the government, and prosecution of the rivals of the favored groups. Armando Arteaga Chavez is allegedly the liaison in charge of overseeing this.
But the support for this strategy doesn't seem to be limited to Tamaulipas. Both Breitbart News and even a sitting United States Congressman, Chip Roy (R-TX), seem to be in favor of the prioritization strategy as well.
In fact, Congressman Chip Roy (R-TX) and 15 Republican co-sponsors favor the prioritization strategy so much that they've even authored a bill, the Drug Cartel Terrorist Designation Act (House Resolution 1700). If passed, H.R. 1700 would codify this strategy as the official policy of the United States. The proposed legislation would direct the Secretary of State to designate CDN, Los Metros, and CJNG—a group without a large presence in Tamaulipas at the moment, but who are rumored to have an alliance with Los Metros—as foreign terrorist organizations.
The term "narcoterrorism", introduced in 1983, was originally applied to violent drug trafficking organizations in Colombia and Peru. In Mexico, the concept of narcoterrorism has gained popularity in academic literature since at least 2008, primarily in reference to Los Zetas. This 2009 paper, apparently written as a part of graduate coursework at the online American Military University, suggests creating an interagency task force for sharing intelligence in an effort to combat the threat posed to U.S. LE by "the Los Zetas narco-terrorist organization."
In Mexico, hundreds of anonymous social media accounts which post crime scene photos and execution videos (often for 18 or more hours a day, similar to the hours a professional might keep) also sometimes refer to the violence in Mexico as "narco-terrorism".
These accounts—which first began appearing in the late '00s/early '10s after the Arab Spring when the modern Drug War began in earnest and at the height of Los Zetas' power—claim to be "citizen" journalists bringing an uncensored look at the violence in Mexico. Which is half true. They are definitely not censored despite repeatedly violating the user agreements of every social media platform with images of unspeakable brutality happening to someone's child. This topic could be a dissertation project but, long story short, the game is fairly simple:
>post violent content obtained entirely from police/military in private WhatsApp groups
>gain large social media followings
>work political messages into the content
>get paid for it
So who exactly is paying some of the more prominent ones? It's hard to say for sure, but look at the content of the political messages they post and it's pretty obvious.
Someone we know for sure is paying these sources is Breitbart News. In a 2017 interview with Breitbart's Brandon Darby and Ildefonso Ortiz, Ortiz said that Steve Bannon initially suggested they just hire "citizen" journalists in Mexico during their initial brainstorming session for Cartel Chronicles back in 2014. According to Ortiz:
Our initial objective was to focus on tweeters, local journalists and citizen journalists at risk, who cannot say what is happening in the areas controlled by the cartels. Bannon then said to me, 'Hire them,' and we thought between the three of us about how these people could contribute and communicate real, unfiltered information.
Brandon Darby has also admitted as much publicly on several occasions. See for yourself in this video or read the transcript below (excerpted from 1:05-2:35). Note that the video was published on YouTube on December 23, 2019. Breitbart's Cartel Chronicles have only been around since 2014, yet according to Darby, they've been paying "citizen" journalists since around 2011-2012. 🤔
The proposal to designate cartels as foreign terrorist organizations has more recently received support from President Trump, who indicated his intention to designate cartels as FTO in the aftermath of the killings of the Mormon family in Agua Prieta in November 2019.
The proposal seems to have stalled for now partly because a FTO designation could, in theory, substantiate claims for asylum at the border. Regardless, the justification for a FTO designation specifically for CDN, Los Metros and CJNG—two of which have no significant presence outside of northeastern Mexico—is hard to justify based on recent data about violent crime in Mexico. In fact, the northeastern Mexican states of Coahuila, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas, which the Drug Cartel Terrorist Designation Act is primarily targeting, are all below the national average for homicide and violent crime and have been for the last several years. From 2018-2019, homicide numbers were comparable or even went down.
So why exactly do they want to designate these specific groups as FTO? Why all the policy papers and fusion centers and U.S.-Mexico collaborations? I'll let Brandon Darby explain (excerpted from the video 36:15-37:07).
It is, and has always been, about this.
On September 14, 2016, three months after he was elected governor of Tamaulipas, Francisco García Cabeza de Vaca travelled to the Texas capital and met with Sid Miller, the Texas Agriculture Commissioner (remember the 2011 Texas Border Security assessment?). The Governor of Texas, Gregg Abbott, refused to meet with him.
On June 25, 2020, it was announced that the "Se Busca Informacion" initiative had expanded in Coahuila.
In February 2020, Congressman Chip Roy wrote the Border Visibility and Security Act which merits a closer look. This act would compel the U.S. to purchase a variety of specific surveillance tech such as radar and other sensors for detecting human movement. Coincidentally, a majority of the supporters that Nelson Balido's 501(c)(3) Border Commerce and Security Council represents are surveillance tech, infrastructure and contracting companies, like Unalakleet Investments, Sentrillion, Qual-Tron, Cyberkinetics, BodyWorn, Ark Construction Management, Quanergy and WilliamsRDM, to name a few. In effect, the Border Visibility and Security Act is legislation which would hand billions of dollars in business to companies whose interests are represented by Nelson Balido, a lobbyist closely linked to DoD, DHS, Ted Cruz and Chip Roy—Cruz's former Chief of Staff and the bill's author—and a governor in Tamaulipas allegedly beholden to the Gulf cartel.
But Governor Cabeza de Vaca's ties to American politicians aren't exclusively to Republicans. Check out U.S. Congressman Henry Cuellar's (D-TX) website. The former Mexican senator-turned-governor of Tamaulipas, instrumental in liberalizing the Mexican hydrocarbon market, is also linked to Cuellar, the only (D) co-sponsor of Congressman Chip Roy's Border Visibility and Security Act.
Governor Cabeza de Vaca frequently points to his relationship with various U.S. politicians as proof of his integrity, like in this article from the GobTam's website about his trip to Washington September 7-12, 2019. During that trip, Cabeza de Vaca met with members of Congress and officials from the State Department, DHS and DoD. The trip was only a week after the U.S.-trained special forces police who answer directly to the governor, CAIET, had been accused of executing 8 people and fabricating evidence at the crime scene on September 5, 2019.
When talking about political corruption in Tamaulipas, it isn't just bloodless white-collar crime or nepotism. Corruption in Tamaulipas involves horrific violence and gross violations of human rights. The September 5, 2019 extrajudicial executions in Nuevo Laredo are how my research started.
[Content Warning ahead]
This is 21-year-old Jennifer Romero. Jennifer had come to Nuevo Laredo 3 days earlier with her boyfriend. She was 2 months pregnant at the time. She had the misfortune of being in a house suspected of involvement in criminal activity when CAIET took everyone they found there into custody.
Police detained Jennifer and 7 others, and drove them to the outskirts of the city to a housing project in the Valles de Anahuac neighborhood, where they were beaten, forced to dress in military clothing to look like sicarios, and executed with a single shot to the head at locations in and around the house. The police then placed weapons near the bodies to appear as if they had died in a gunfight. The bodies were photographed and the photos were leaked by CAIET and posted online by anonymous "citizen" journalists like the ones payed by Breitbart. The police even towed an armored truck to the crime scene in broad daylight to corroborate their account.
"SICARIOS FROM THE CDN TROOPS OF HELL RECLAIMED BY SATAN," were how the executions were widely portrayed online. "An aggression, neutralized."
The malicious lie that allows the state to violate the human rights of both criminals and innocent people is that the violence only happens to criminals, or it is just criminals killing each other, a settling of accounts. But it is a myth. The truth is that the violence is just ignored and implicitly accepted as the sad reality of Mexico.
On September 10, 2019, a day before the first stories in the press detailing what actually happened were published, Stratfor wrote a piece in Business Insider about the incident. The headline: "Gun battles on the border with the US show how deeply cartels have embedded themselves in Mexico."
On February 20, 2017, CNN reported that Craig Deare, the senior director for the Western Hemisphere at the National Security Council (NSC), had been removed from his seat on the NSC and reassigned to his previous position at the National Defense University. A retired Lt. Col., Deare was appointed to the NSC by Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn (retired), Donald Trump's short-lived National Security Advisor and head of the NSC.
According to his CV, Craig Deare was the Dean of Academic Affairs at the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies from May 2004 until July 2007.
According to U.S. DoD Directive Number 5200.41E, the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies (WJPC) at the National Defense University in Washington is an institution responsible for supporting U.S. defense strategy objectives and policy priorities by:
(1) Offering executive-development strategic-security studies, research and outreach in rigorous outreach programs that foster long-term collaborative relationships.
(2) Developing and sustaining relationships and communities of interest among security practitioners and national security establishments, especially in defense, throughout the region.
(3) Enhancing enduring partnerships among the nations of the region.
The WJPC's area of responsibility includes the geographic regions managed by the U.S. Northern Command and the U.S. Southern Command, where Nelson Balido serves as a Lieutenant Commander in addition to his many other current jobs.
On February 15, 2017, a few days before he was removed from the NSC, one of Craig Deare's former colleagues wrote a column in the Miami Herald about Deare's "support for and involvement with some of the Western Hemisphere's most notorious human-rights abusers." According to his former colleague:
[Craig Deare was] a central figure in former Senate Armed Services Committee Chair Carl Levin’s request for a Department of Defense inspector general’s investigation into what role the U.S. Southern Command’s William Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies played in the 2009 military coup in Honduras. The allegation was that senior staff at the center had conspired to cover up the center’s support in Washington for the 2009 coup, which saw the Honduran military literally remove President Manuel Zelaya from power and fly him in his pajamas to Panama. CIA officers who discovered the center’s support for the coup plotters were said to be furious. … Of interest to Levin’s committee was the possibility that the CHDS, as the center is known, still bore vestiges of the old School of the Americas, the U.S. program that trained Latin America military officers, many of whom then went on to be brutal dictators in their home countries.
But the WJPC's involvement with some of the worst human rights violators in Latin America of the last 50 years goes back much further than that. Jaime Garcia Covarrubias, a former member of Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet's secret police, held a position at the the National Defense University's WJPC until 2014 despite the fact that officials from the U.S. State Department and DoD were aware of the allegations against him. Garcia Covarrubias was charged in 2015 with the torture and execution-style murders of 7 detainees in a supposed "armed clash that never happened" in Chile in 1973.
On October 15, 2020, the former Secretary of Defense in Enrique Peña Nieto's administration, Gen. Salvador Cienfuegos Zepeda, was arrested on charges of conspiracy, drug trafficking and money laundering. Before his arrest, Cienfuegos had previously been lauded with the William J. Perry Award for Excellence in Security and Defense Education on September 20, 2018, over a year and half after the conspiracy charged in the indictment. Previous winners of the William J. Perry award include Felipe Calderón and Alvaro Uribe.
Held one month after Mexico's presidential election, the award ceremony at the William J. Perry Center for Hemispheric Defense Studies in Washington appears to have been Salvador Cienfuegos' last trip to the U.S. prior to his arrest.
The arrest of Cienfuegos apparently came as a surprise within the U.S. establishment. In a story in the Washington Post on October 24, 2020, several current and former officials suggested that the arrest of Cienfuegos might not have been worth it because of the effect it could have on the bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Mexico. According to comments from Craig Deare in the Washington Post story:
'I would argue that maintaining an effective bilateral relationship is more important than the DEA or Department of Justice getting a scalp,' [Craig] Deare said. 'The government of Mexico is well within its rights to be upset that we disregarded their sovereignty, their institutions. In effect, we prioritized the wrong thing.'
Mexican officials apparently took Deare's advice. According to reporting in Vice, officials threatened to kick the DEA out of Mexico if the charges against Cienfuegos weren't dismissed.
On November 17, 2020, in an unprecedented joint statement with Mexico's Fiscalía General Alejandro Gertz Manero, U.S. Attorney General William Barr, George H.W. Bush's AG from 1991-1993, announced that the Department of Justice would seek to dismiss the charges against Cienfuegos.
According to a story on November 10, 2020, it was reported that Craig Deare expressed his confidence that with the arrival of Biden, relations between U.S. and Mexico would begin to normalize with the return of officials who understood the importance of the binational agenda.
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