Mexico's Navy on Point in Drug War on Land

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Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: The top story in Mexico right now sounds like a made for TV drama. A top drug lord is killed, but his body is stolen from the funeral parlor by armed gangsters. Authorities in Mexico say they have fingerprint proof that the dead man was the leader of the notoriously Zetas drug cartel. But today, officials said they only realized who'd they killed after the body went missing. Buried in all the drama is one detail that caught our eye, the government agency that nailed the Zetas boss was the Navy. In fact, the Mexican Navy has been taking the lead in the drug war for a couple of years now. Two other top Zetas leaders have been arrested over the last two weeks, also by the Mexican Navy. George Grayson is coauthor of The Executioner's Men: Los Zetas, Rogue Soldiers, Criminal Entrepreneurs, and the Shadow State they Created. And George Grayson, if I were a Mexican drug lord I'd be looking at the Navy like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and go, "Who are these guys?" So tell us, who are these guys? How did the Mexican Navy get so heavily involved in essentially a land war?

George Grayson: The Army has become corrupted, the Mexican police are also suffused with corruption and therefore, the government has turned to the navy, and the muscle of the Navy is the Marine Corp. And the Mexican Marines are very much like US Marines. They're tough, they have good intelligence and they are daring. And they also work quite closely with US security agencies.

Werman: Right, well talk about that because the Mexican Army, you've written, is less able to deal directly with US officials because of its institutional memory. Explain that.

Grayson: Well,there's still a lot of toxic nationalism in the Mexican Army. They still commemorate losses during the Mexican-American War when in the middle of the 19th century Mexico lost about half its territory. The Navy is a much more modern organization. It's officers and seamen go to other ports, they undertake maneuvers with foreign navies, they're more likely to speak English as well as Spanish, and they tend to be middle class as opposed to coming from the peasantry as is the case with the Army.

Werman: So allegedly the Navy didn't know that the drug lord they had killed, the body of whom was stolen yesterday was in fact a big fish. Then they ran it for fingerprints, but the body was gone. Is that possible, this elite Mexican Navy with all these intel chops you just told us about, they wouldn't know who they'd bagged?

Grayson: You're dealing with in the case of Lazcano, a former special forces member of the Army. And there is a Na Esprit de Corp within these special forces groups that they try to bury their dead in a decent fashion. We've had several examples of body snatching and so it certainly was an oversight both by the Navy and the federal authorities not to keep complete control over the body.

Werman: Now you're also an expert on the Zetas cartel and the Executioner in the title of your book, The Executioner's Men, refers to none other than Heriberto Lazcano, the drug lord whose body was stolen yesterday. The Zetas have now suffered a series of heavy blows in the last couple of weeks, can they recover?

Grayson: They will recover because they are like a civil service. There's a line of promotion and the new leader of the Zetas is called El Cuarenta, "L-40"³ and he is an incredibly sadistic, brutal and cruel, I won't even call him a human being. He deserves to reside in the lowest rungs of Hell, in fact, Dante should build a basement in Hell just for him. So while suffering a setback, they're by no means dead.

Werman: George Grayson, coauthor of The Executioner's Men. He's also a professor emeritus at the College of William and Mary in Virginia. Thank you very much.

Grayson: My pleasure, thank you.