Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Body of Zetas Boss Stolen by Armed Men

The corpse of a man identified by Mexican authorities as Zetas boss Heriberto Lazcano has been stolen from a funeral home, hours after his death.

On Sunday, Mexican marines engaged in a firefight in the town of Progreso in Coahuila state, close to the Texas border, killing two suspects. One of them was identified as Lazcano, known by the alias “Z-3,” who is among the country’s most powerful criminal bosses. However, around 1 a.m. on Monday, before Mexican authorities had even announced the death, a group of armed men reportedly came to the funeral home where the body was being stored, and whisked it away. According to Coahuila’s attorney general, the group forced the manager of the home to drive the corpse, and that of the other fallen Zeta, away in a hearse.

The theft of the body is described by the Wall Street Journal as “an embarrassing twist,” by The Economist as “a strange twist,” and by the Associated Press as a “bizarre and embarrassing twist.” It certainly casts a shadow over the government’s victory, showing that the Zetas have the power and organization to rescue their leader from the hands of the authorities. Crime expert George Grayson told the AP that “The Zetas take care of their dead … they never leave a man behind.”

The loss of the corpse could throw Lazcano’s death into doubt. The navy has released pictures of the body, which look very similar to the crime boss (El Economista compares the living and dead photos here), and took fingerprints which it said matched those of Lazcano. However, according to Animal Politico, the Mexican government recorded the corpse’s height as 160 cms, while the US DEA lists Lazcano as being 172.5 cms tall. They each give him different years of birth.

US authorities are currently checking DNA samples handed over by the Mexican government, according to the WSJ.

Lazcano’s body does not seem to have been taken to an elaborate mausoleum he had built in his hometown of Tezontle, Hidalgo state, however. Milenio reports from the tomb, and a church Lazcano built nearby, where things were quiet, and local people were reluctant to talk about the druglord.

It would not be the first time that the death of one of the top Mexican drug traffickers, whose leadership sometimes has a spiritual component, has been surrounded by mystery. Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, alias “El Chayo,” who led the Familia Michoacana, was reported killed by the security forces in December 2010. The cartel confirmed his death, but the body was never found. Since then there have been rumors that he is still alive, perhaps breaking off to start a new organization, the Knights Templar, as Borderland Beat sets out. The death of the Juarez Cartel’s Amado Carrillo Fuentes in a freak plastic surgery accident in 1997 has also continued to stir conspiracy theories.

Alejandro Hope at Animal Politico points out some more strange things about the incident, including that Lazcano, a major criminal boss engaged in a power struggle for control of his organization, was traveling almost alone and with a “laughably” small arsenal. Meanwhile, according to InSight Crime, this is the third time Lazcano has been reported dead during Felipe Calderon's six years in power.

Lazcano’s alleged death will likely leave Miguel Angel Treviño Morales, “El Z-40,” alone at the head of the Zetas. In recent months it was reported that Lazcano and ally “El Taliban” had split from Treviño, and since then, some five top leaders of the group have been captured, including El Taliban, as Hope sets out. Many of them were captured by the marines -- the AP lists more major drug traffickers killed or caught by the insitution in the last month, including El Taliban on September 27.

News Briefs

  • In Brazil, a close ally of ex-President Lula da Silva was found guilty on Tuesday, in one of the most important convictions yet to be reached in the “mensalão” corruption trials.  Jose Dirceu, who served as Lula’s chief of staff, is accused of having led a scheme to buy votes for the government’s legislation using funds from state companies. The AP says that he was the second most powerful man in the country until the scandal forced him out of office in 2005. Simon Romero at the NYT says that the case points to “a rare breakthrough in political accountability and a crucial streak of independence in the legal system,” but notes that the politicians found guilty may not face much jail time, and could be allowed to serve their terms in an open prison. Twenty of the 38 defendants in the case have already been found guilty.
  • Just the Facts has a report on the process of returning internal refugees to their land along Colombia’s Caribbean coast, a year after the passage of the landmark Victims Law. It found that no land has yet been returned, “except for cases in which brave and organized displaced communities decided to return on their own,” and some claimants have faced new threats for trying to recover territory. Meanwhile a “ferocious reverse land reform” is taking place, with large economic interests taking over land through intimidation.
  • The NYT Latitude blog looks at what Chavez’s victory means for politics in Argentina, noting that it boosts President Cristina Kirchner, whose inflationary economic policies and confrontational stance towards the media have parallels with the Venezuelan leader, suggesting to some that “the benefits of this model of governance continue to outweigh the costs.” Meanwhile Mary Anastasia O’Grady at the WSJ says the Chavez win will have been a great relief to Cuba’s rulers, as challenger Henrique Capriles had said he would cut the supply of cheap oil going to the communist island.
  • An Argentine journalist who is a strong critic of Chavez and of Kirchner said that he and his team were held in Caracas international airport for two hours and had their footage of the elections erased by the secret service, as well as the memories of their computers and cell phones. Jorge Lanata said that agents accused him of spying because he had filmed written orders putting him under surveillance, reports the Guardian.
  • The newly re-elected Venezuelan leader declared on Tuesday that he would continue his support for Bashar Assad, saying that he was the legitimate Syrian leader and that the US was partly to blame for the conflict, reports the AP.
  • International Crisis Group’s blog lists five common misconceptions about the Colombian conflict. It argues that there is more to the FARC’s fight than greed and crime, that the drug business is not the cause of the conflict but in part driven by it, and that the FARC were not the only ones to blame for the failure of previous talks.
  • Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has met with his negotiating team before they fly to Oslo to begin peace talks with the FARC. The talks are set to move to Havana on October 24 or 25, reports Caracol Radio.
  • The Guardian highlights a report on Maya Biosphere Reserve of northern Guatemala, whose trees are threatened not only by Mexican drug cartels building clandestine airstrips, but Salvadoran gangs setting up ranches to launder money and Chinese crime networks trafficking timber.
  • Brazil has launched the latest phase of a military operation to secure the country’s borders, sending some 7,500 to the frontiers with Peru and Bolivia to deter crimes like drug and timber trafficking, reports the AP. The previous five deployments in Operation Agata have also brought medical treatment and vaccinations to local populations, reports CNN.
  • The AP reports from Peru on the worship of a black saint called Santa Efigenia, particularly venerated by descendants of African slaves.

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