The Mexican drug cartels are more than just gangs. They are a combination of organised crime and military – even if a rather undisciplined one. It’s the mafia with radio towers, RPG’s and armored vehicles. They are extremely badass; in the most horrible and corrupt way possible.
The Zetas are one of the most disruptive and aggressive of them all. Wired reports that “they were formed by ex-military men who became armed enforcers for the Gulf Cartel, the Zetas split with their former patrons nearly three years ago and have since become one of Mexico’s largest and most dangerous cartels.”
The Zetas — and other criminal groups like the Sinaloa Cartel and the Gulf Cartel — have a lot of fire power at their disposal. To put it in perspective they nearly rival Mexico’s own military. Police forces are often corrupted and almost always outgunned. Here is some of the equipment that makes the Mexican drug cartels some of the most dangerous criminal gangs in the world.
Under the Gun
These drug traffickers have a ton of guns. According to Wired “the Mexican army regularly seizes arsenals of small arms from stockpiles, abandoned after firefights or concealed inside vehicles driven by drug traffickers.” In June, after one particular incident, the military “had turned up 50 AK-47 rifles, along with grenade launchers, various machine guns, shotguns and bolt-action rifles.” It doesn’t end there:
The cartels are also getting increasingly more powerful guns. In March, firefights between police and the Zetas netted both M-60 and a .30-caliber Browning machine gun. Sniper rifles and machine guns up to the .50-caliber size have been discovered. The Mexican military has even turned up a German MG34 machine gun from World War II.
Where do they get these weapoons? It seems mainly from The United States and Central America. “In April, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms found that 68 000 out of 99 000 guns discovered in Mexico and submitted to the ATF since 2007 originated in the United States.”
Drug Gangs … With Grenades
Whether they are lobbing them by hand, or launching them with rockets, the Cartels have a lot of grenades. Hand-lobbed grenades are unfortunately quite common, and hundreds of grenades have reportedly been detonated in Mexico in 2012 alone. But the more dangerous weapons are of course RPG’s:
Rocket-propelled grenade launchers are some of the heaviest weapons possessed by the cartels, and owe their introduction to the region during the Cold War conflicts in Central America. . . They’ve been used in retaliatory attacks against the police and army following the arrest of cartel bosses, and Heriberto Lazcano — the former Zetas boss killed by Mexican marines in early October — was also reportedly packing one.
Cars, Monster Trucks, and The Monster
When a Cartel decides to get on the move, they roll hard. A solid convoy of a dozen SUV’s “and trucks loaded down with gunmen, and a single grupo de limpieza, or “cleanup squad,” can pose a formidable and fast-moving danger.” Some vehicles are armored, with steel welded inside interior compartments and paneling. But for these Narcos numbers are just not enough. Last year they were spotted with their own ‘tanks’. Well sort of. Their tanks were not tracked vehicles, but instead pimped out (in a military fashion) armored monster trucks. Wired says that the Mexican authorities have:
Seized more than 100 of the cartel “monsters,” which come in varying DIY designs, include firing ports and turrets, room for up to 12 gangsters at a time plus an armored steel shell. The biggest versions appear to be retrofitted dump trucks and semi-trucks.
The Incredible Flying Drug Mule
Closer to gliders than an actual plane, ultralight planes are small, cost around $3,000 and their engines purr quietly. Some don’t even have to land, and can literally release a harness carrying a drug load down to a waiting friend below. The downside is that they move slowly, but can also fly low and hide from the Border Patrol’s radars. Their use is also on the upsurge. U.S. Customs and Border Protection spotted 223 flights in 2011, double that of 2009. Few are ever caught.
Cartels are also building military-spec communication networks using massive radio towers. We brought you the story previously of how Mexican engineers are being abducted to help build these networks. According to Wired:
While the higher-level bosses reportedly rely on the internet to communicate, the cartels’ lower-level gangsters and lookouts have taken to building their own radio network deep inside remote areas of Mexico’s countryside.
The number of cartel radio antennas spread out across Mexico’s drug-trafficking routes alone could reach into the hundreds. In September, the Mexican military dismantled 167 antennas in just one operation, including solar panels used for electrical power. One surprising transmission tower discovered recently in Veracruz state — and likely used by the Zetas — reached a height of 295 feet.
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