MONTERREY, NUEVO LEÓN–While meeting Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon at the White House on March 3, Barack Obama discussed the idea of letting armed US agents operate on Mexican territory. You know, to help us deal with our deadly drug violence. Boy oh boy do we Mexicans feel safe now!
I wonder if the idea to put US troops on Mexican soil has anything to with a recent trip by a few ICE agents into Northern Mexico that ended with one dead, one injured and one SUV turned to swiss cheese?
The attack took place on the night of February 11, when two ICE agents met a fake checkpoint while traveling with no escort on a lonely desert road between Monterrey and Mexico City. Right there was their first mistake. Every 5 year old kid around here knows that you might as well paint a target on your truck if you’re gonna travel solo like that. Mexican roads are very dangerous right now, specially in states with Zeta present; and your ICE boys were deep in Zeta-infested territory.
Regular folk can travel in relative safety during the day, but it’s pretty much off-limits at night. But, if like the ICE agents, you’re traveling in a dark blue Suburban (obviously up-armored, judging by its window panels) with diplomatic plates, well, you’re just asking to be hit. Begging for it. And the agents got exactly what they asked for.
What were the agents doing there? Well, from what I could find out, the dead guy, agent Zapata, was based in Laredo, Texas, and worked in ICE’s human smuggling and trafficking unit. There’s a good chance that his investigations must have led him very often to a certain criminal organization, whose name starts with the last letter of the alphabet. Yes, the good-old, instant soup-eating Zetas.
Was the attack somehow related to one of his cases? Did the Zetas set up an ambush to terminate his line of inquiry? Maybe. But probably not.
About a week after the ambush, Mexican authorities captured six Zetas supposedly involved in the attack. Their guns tied them to a ring of gun runners operating in Dallas, Texas. Which is not very surprising. Most cartels buy their weapons from you yanks. I don’t mean to fluff any of you gun-crazed Americans out there, but it’s just a fact that Mexican cartels prefer shiny new American weapons to rusted AKs from El Salvador or some other Central American tropical hellhole. It makes sense: Buying new rather than used. So there’s not much of scent of a conspiracy there, if you ask me.
The FBI and other security agencies are still investigating the attack and fishing around for fiendish plots against Americans, but it’s not likely this was a planned gig. Targeting Americans is never good for business, much less American government officials. Even the Zetas must realize this. Regardless of what the Americans find (and I wouldn’t be surprised if they cook up some grand conspiracy connecting Mexican drug cartels with al Qaida), there is a very good chance that their meeting with the false checkpoint was random, like many acts of the drug war.
But one thing is clear: these agents should’ve been on an airplane, not in no man’s land in San Luis Potosi, a state that’s suffering an escalation of violence courtesy of the Gulf Cartel-Zeta war. (When Yasha Levine visited me in Mexico last year and we travelled through those parts, things were not even half as bad as they are right now. Even so, we constantly saw convoys of army trucks packed with Marines hunting for Zetas.)
The ICE agents could have gotten away with a solo road trip maybe 10 or 15 years ago, when everyone still played nice. Back then, narcos holding US agents at gunpoint were known to allow their prisoners to “slip away” in order to avoid bringing unnecessary heat on their trafficking operation from pissed off, trigger happy Americans. Osiel Cardenas, the former leader of the Gulf Cartel, who is now sitting in a Texas prison, pulled this a few times on DEA agents who he caught meeting with informants. But the world has changed since them.
The ICE agents learned that the hard way. The sicarios somehow forced the agents to stop and roll down their window, which was a mistake. They exchanged some words. The sicarios asked for the SUV. The agents refused, saying they were U.S. diplomats. But since both agents looked Mexican, the Zetas didn’t buy their story. They probably thought they were rival contras from Gulf Cartel, or maybe they were unlucky businessman they could hold for a good ransom. Hell, they could have just wanted to steal the damn truck. Up-armored Suburbans are expensive and hard to come by, not to mention handy in a shootout, but not quite handy enough for the two agents.
When the agents tried speeding off, one of the Zeta sicarios put his cannon through the SUV’s small window opening (armored truck window panels can’t go all the way down, only a few inches) and fired off a few lucky rounds inside. Agent Zapata took five slugs in his stomach and his partner, agent Dávila got hit once or twice in the leg.
I’m not going to say the agents fucked up because there was pretty much nothing else they could do but to try and speed the fuck out of there. The ones who fucked up are behind a desk, the ones who decided to send them on a road trip from Mexico City to Monterrey in a big, black SUV instead of a plane. That’s not only stupid, it’s irresponsible, considering Mexican federal authorities only use the road when backed up by at least a dozen other vehicles full of armed guards. Traveling in one truck halfway through Mexico doesn’t make any sense. Putting government agents in that position is not only stupid, but a clear sign of incompetence and/or negligence at high levels.
The other question: What were ICE agents doing on a Mexican road? An unidentified US functionary said the agents were doing routine work and not following a specific investigation. Now since when is traveling on an armored SUV in Mexico routine?
We’ll see how this one develops. Right now SIEDO [The Organized-Crime Investigation Unit of the Mexican Attorney General’s office and PGR [The Attorney General of Mexico] agents are descending into San Luis to start investigating who was behind the attack.
Side note: This quote by Janet Napolitano is priceless. She is insane if the thinks anyone takes her seriously here, let alone knows who the fuck she is:
“Today I say to the cartels: Don’t even think about bringing your violence and tactics across this border,” Janet Napolitano warned last month during a speech in El Paso, Texas. “You will be met by an overwhelming response. And we’re going to continue to work with our partners in Mexico to dismantle and defeat you.”
March 11, 2011
Pancho Montana is the eXiled Online’s special Mexican war on drugs correspondent. He is a native of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, located in northern Mexico.