Conflict & Justice

Mexico's Navy on Point in Drug War on Land

The Mexican Navy on Wednesday sought to explain how it had managed to lose the body of slain drug kingpin, Heriberto "The Executioner" Lazcano.

Player utilities

Lazcano, the head of the Zetas drug cartel, was killed in a gunfight with Navy personnel on Monday, outside a baseball yard in the city of Progreso, in Coahuila state, near the Texas border.

Then on Tuesday his corpse was snatched from a funeral parlor.

The Navy says it didn't know who they'd gotten till the body was taken, at which point they decided to analyze fingerprints they'd already taken.

That narrative doesn't exactly agree with the timeline of the case, as it had been reported in local media.

Plus, it would be unusual for the Mexican Navy to be involved in a routine security operation, as suggested by the Navy's narrative.

The Navy has become the elite striking force of Mexico's drug war since it was first used in 2009.

"The army has become corrupted," says George Grayson, of William and Mary College in Williamsburg, "and the police is also suffused with corruption."

In addition, says Grayson, the Navy is much better at cooperating with US officials.

"The army is still full of a toxic nationalism," Grayson says.

The army, he says, perpetuates the memory of the humiliations it suffered in the Mexican-American War of the mid-19th century.

The Navy by contrast, says Grayson, is a much more modern and cosmopolitan organization.

Grayson is co-author of a study of the Zetas cartel, "The Executioner's Men: Los Zetas, Rogue Soldiers, Criminal Entrepreneurs, and the Shadow State they Created."

He says the Zetas will bounce back from the setbacks of the last two weeks: two other top Zetas leaders have been arrested over that time.

The Zetas are like "a civil service", says Grayson. There's a chain of promotion, and there's always someone ready to step into the shoes of a boss killed or captured at any level.

Many leading Zetas, like Lazcano, are ex-special forces, from the army.

"They have an 'esprit de corps'. They always try to bury their dead in a decent fashion," says Grayson.

There have been several examples before of body snatching, he says, so the authorities should have been on alert.

  • mexico-ship-at-sea-sized.jpg

    The Mexican Navy's normal role: at sea. Here's the Mexican Navy destroyer, ARM Netzahualcoyotl. (Photo: Wiki Commons)
  • Heriberto_lazcano.jpg

    Heriberto "The Executioner" Lazcano, head of the Zetas Cartel, killed October 8 by the Mexican Navy. (Photo: Wiki Commons)

Comments