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Column 081009 Longmire

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Monday, August 10, 2009

 

Los Linces, Mexican Drug War Contemporaries of Los Zetas

 

By Sylvia Longmire

 

Drug-related violence throughout Mexico is vicious, rampant, and almost always attributed to drug trafficking organizations, or DTOs. However, that attribution is very generic. To many, DTOs are just a faceless machine of drugs, death, and destruction. To others, they are disciplined and well-structured organizations designed to make maximum profit through bribery, intimidation, and enforcement.

 

Upper-level management, as it were, of Mexican DTOs aren’t the ones who get their hands dirty during day-to-day operations and in defense of their transport routes. This is the job of the enforcement groups.

 

Some DTO enforcer groups have names and are loyal to one particular DTO. Los Zetas are probably the most well known—and most feared. Los Zetas were created by Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, the then-head of the Gulf Cartel, to protect Gulf interests, shipments, and trafficking routes. The original Zetas were former Mexican Special Forces (GAFES) soldiers, reportedly trained at Fort Benning, Georgia, in special tactics, surveillance and countersurveillance, urban warfare, prison escape, hostage rescue, explosives use, and high-tech communications. This training, in addition to virtually unlimited funding and an arsenal akin to a small army, makes Los Zetas one of the most formidable enforcement groups in Mexico. According to a 2008 report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS), new Zetas are now being recruited from Mexican federal and local law enforcement agencies, and many are civilians.

 

But Los Zetas aren’t alone in this business.

 

There are plenty of other enforcement groups loyal to certain DTOs, like Los Pelones (“the bald ones,” named after the shaved heads sported by new recruits) and Los Negros, who both work for the Sinaloa Federation. The same CRS report describes both groups as less sophisticated than Los Zetas. However, it appears both groups enjoy the advantageous support of corrupt law enforcement. Some agents of Mexico's Federal Investigative Agency (AFI) are believed to work as enforcers for the Sinaloa Cartel, and the Attorney General's Office (PGR) reported in December 2005 that one-fifth of its officers were under investigation for criminal activity at the time.

 

The Vicente Carrillo Fuentes Organization (VCFO), also known as the Juárez Cartel, also has its own group of enforcers. Until recently, they’ve been ghosts in Mexico’s drug war; a group within a cartel within a cartel. The VCFO has a smaller component cartel made up of corrupt law enforcement officers, and is known as La Linea. In May 2009, they reportedly posted a threatening video on YouTube. It was aimed at business owners in Nuevo Laredo, claiming they would be kidnapped or beheaded if they didn’t pay protection money, or a “war tax,” to La Linea. They have also left messages attached to corpses, which essentially state that aligning with “El Chapo” (Joaquín Guzmán Loera, head of the Sinaloa Federation) means certain death.

 

While some enforcement group activities are well publicized—and thus well-known throughout Mexico and the U.S., the VCFO’s enforcer group under La Linea has been very hard to pin down. It is called Los Linces, and very little concrete information is available about its members. On July 21, 2009, General Raúl David Guillén Altuza, chief of staff of the 5th Military Zone headquartered in Chihuahua, confirmed their existence. He also said some of their members are former Mexican military members, but not all.

 

Francisco Gómez, in his July 20 El Universal article, reported that Los Linces operate with no more than five members per group to avoid being detected, and have a wide variety of weaponry and tactical gear. Reports in The Dallas Morning News say this information has been confirmed by Mexican intelligence officials.

 

Gómez also writes, “With military training, the Linces job is to carry out hits for the main leaders of the [Juárez] Cartel, a few know their hiding spots and identity. They are also feared within La Linea. The group of assassins is formed by approximately 80 members. They were recruited from different states like Sinaloa, Veracruz and some southern states. This according to the documents provided by the Assistant Attorney General for Special Investigations and Organized Crime (SIEDO).”

 

This is where the information trail on Los Linces ends. SIEDO may have more official information regarding the group’s origins, numbers, arsenal, targets, etc., but that information has not been made public. However, one can probably safely presume that Los Linces aren’t that different—either in motivation or activity—from Los Zetas. They exist to protect drug trafficking corridors and their DTO’s general interests through the use of intimidation and violence.

 

Available reporting indicates Los Linces are a relatively new group, and not that large if the figure of 80 members is accurate. What is worrisome is their potential for growth and accumulation of power if they follow the Zetas model.

 

Los Zetas started out with only 30 or so members in the early 1990s, then grew to about 250-300 members in the last few years. Their ranks decreased due to killings and arrests, but they started recruiting former Guatemalan special forces soldiers, known as Kaibiles, to replenish their numbers. Los Zetas’ power grew substantially after Cárdenas Guillén was arrested and subsequently extradited to the U.S. After shifting alliances from the Gulf Cartel to the Beltrán Leyva Organization, then back to the Gulf Cartel, Los Zetas have grown strong enough to emerge as a DTO in their own right.

 

From pubic accounts, Los Linces appear to be in their nascent stages. Like Los Zetas, they are well funded, well trained, and brutally violent. However, their smaller numbers make them more vulnerable, both to the Mexican military and rival DTO enforcers. Either have the opportunity and probably the capability to keep Los Linces in check. If this doesn’t happen and Los Linces are allowed to grow, then the Mexican government will have another large enforcement group, possibly a new major DTO, and increased bloodshed to deal with in the near future.

 

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Sylvia Longmire is a former Air Force officer and Special Agent with the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, where she specialized in counterintelligence, counterespionage, and force protection analysis. After being medically retired in 2005, Ms. Longmire worked for almost four years as a Senior Intelligence Analyst for the California State Terrorism Threat Assessment Center, providing daily situational awareness to senior state government officials on southwest border violence and significant events in Latin America. She received her Master’s degree from the University of South Florida in Latin American and Caribbean Studies, with a focus on the Cuban and Guatemalan revolutions. Ms. Longmire is currently an independent consultant and freelance writer.  Her website is Mexico's Drug War; she is a regular contributor to Examiner.com; and her email address is spooky926@gmail.com.