drugs

Four arrested near elementary school

Four people were arrested in Hermiston on Saturday for possession of methamphetamine, unlawful possession of weapons and frequenting a place of drugs.

Miguel Angel Alvarado Samaniego, 44, of Hermiston, Laurie Estrada Galindo, 35, of Hermiston, Juan Castillo Gordian, 29, of Mt. Hood, and Obispo Enriquez Valesquez, 21, of Mt. Hood, were arrested on multiple accounts of unlawful possession of controlled substances, forged instruments, weapons and firearms. Samaniego had a warrant in Umatilla County for failure to appear to court and Galindo is a registered felon.

ICE HOLD - Miguel Angel Alvarado Samaniego, Juan Castillo Gordian, Obispo Enriquez Valesquez

Appeals court continues border agent's 'Twilight Zone'

Advocates for a U.S .Border Patrol agent sent to prison for arresting a suspect carrying 75 pounds of drugs into the United States are seeking a presidential pardon after an appeals court affirmed the agent’s 24-month sentence.

Jesus E. “Chito” Diaz Jr. was convicted of using extra force in the apprehensive of the suspect, identified as “MBE,” despite the fact the juvenile suspect was returned to Mexico almost immediately without any complaint “that he was injured, hurt, or in pain.”

The Mexican government, which several times has gotten involved in U.S. prosecutions of U.S. Border Patrol agents over its treatment of Mexicans caught carrying drugs into the United States, then demanded a prosecution by the U.S. because MBE was arrested “with excessive force” and he “complained about the incident.”

On appeal, Diaz’ defense argued the trial judge said the case looked like nothing more than a misdemeanor, but the conviction was on a felony.

“Yet, the court affirms the lower court’s decision?” wrote Andy Ramirez, president of the Law Enforcement Officers Advocates Council. “Just as it has in prior cases where the government has been hellbent to make victims out of illegal alien narco-terrorists, and turn law enforcement officers into out of control, vicious thugs with badges? We don’t buy it, for this case fits the pattern and does not pass the smell test.”

The reaction came after the conviction of Diaz was affirmed by the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Ramirez said his organization now will seek a presidential pardon “as this purely political case against Agent Diaz is a travesty sought out by the Mexican government in another message prosecution.”

“The Diaz case and decision by the appellate court to affirm the conviction against him continues a pattern of overreaching prosecutions by the U.S. Department of Justice especially in the Western District of Texas that include well documented cases against former USBP Agents Gary Brugman, Ramos and Compean, Noe Aleman, former FBI Special Agent in Charge Hardrick Crawford, Jr, and former Edwards County Deputy Sheriff Gilmer Hernandez,” Ramirez said.

Diaz issued a statement through the organization: “My family and I are deeply disappointed in the 5th Circuit’s decision on my appeal considering the fact that the presiding judge during oral commented during oral arguments that this looked more like a misdemeanor than a felony.”

Sign a petition demanding Jesus Diaz be freed from a case launched because of pressure from the Mexican government.

E. Grady Jolly, the trial judge, said: “Nobody’s arguing, really, that the officer did the right thing or that it can be justified so much. The question is it just sounds more like a misdemeanor instead of a felony to me.”

Ramirez said the goal is a presidential pardon, after Diaz’ trip through the Elkton Federal Correctional Institution and an El Paso Texas halfway house and since he’s just days ago been restored to his wife and children.

“It is unconscionable that the case, which was pushed by the Mexican government, and included documented suborned perjury, could be affirmed in the favor of the so-called victim, MBE, a narco-terrorist illegal alien,” said Ramirez.

The organization said the drug-running suspect was covered with gang tattoos and had been the subject of a “be on lookout” warning from the Border Patrol already.

Also, far from being injured in the arrest, the only “markings” on MBE were “those from the straps on his shoulders … while carrying 75 lbs of bundled marijuana,” the organization said.

WND reported Diaz was found guilty of denying the teenager his constitutional rights by applying excessive force during the arrest. He was accused eventually of violating the smuggler’s rights by forcing him to the ground during his arrest, handcuffing him, then pulling on his arms to coerce him into complying with orders.

 


Jesus Diaz Jr.

The audio of the trial judge’s comments have been posted on the LEOAC site.

In it, Jolly stated, “Nobody’s arguing, really, that the officer did the right thing or that it can be justified so much. The question is it just sounds more like a misdemeanor instead of a felony to me.”

According to the FreeAgentDiaz.com website, Diaz was “maliciously prosecuted at the request of the Mexican consul in Eagle Pass, Texas.”

The legal case against the officer was “solely motivated by politics and is yet another example of prosecutorial abuse and misconduct while protecting Mexico’s narco-terror influences,” organizers of the website said.

According to the discovery documents, other agents, hours after the alleged incident, claimed to an off-duty Border Patrol officer that Diaz used “excessive force” on the drug smuggler. That’s even though the suspect “was processed for voluntary return to Mexico by BPA Marco A. Ramirez, and subsequently returned to Mexico on the same date.”

None of the other agents thought the case significant enough to try to stop it at the time.

Several members of Congress, including Reps. Duncan Hunter, R-Calif., Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Lamar Smith of the House Judiciary Committee, had been asked to look into the case.

Diaz’ wife earlier said she was outraged because the government told her that her husband would not be allowed to return home even after serving his prison term.

That’s because she also is a Border Patrol agent and is armed.

“I have to ask what does the DOJ want me to do? I can’t retire, I’m too young. Divorcing him is not an option as he would still have to come around for the children. What is Chito going to do about his brother, not see him for the next five years? He carries a gun,” Diana Diaz said in a statement released at the time.

The group has called for the U.S. House of Representatives to investigate the case.

WND reported when the federal government started reaching into the prison commissary fund belonging to Diaz to address part of a $7,000 fine imposed by the judge. That’s even though the court earlier told Diaz the fine would not be paid until after his jail sentence.

 

Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean

Border watchers will remember the extended battle fought by Border Patrol Agents Ignacio Ramos and Jose Compean after they were prosecuted, convicted and jailed, again at the request of the Mexican government, for shooting at and striking a drug smuggler who reportedly dropped a load in the U.S. and was fleeing back to Mexico.

Their punishments ultimately were commuted by President George W. Bush, although they did not receive pardons, leaving the convictions on their records.

Their original case stemmed from the Feb. 17, 2005, shooting of Oswaldo Aldrete-Davila. The two officers said they thought Aldrete-Davila was armed and made a threatening move.

WND was among the first to report Aldrete-Davila then committed a second drug offense, smuggling a second load of 750 pounds of marijuana across the border while he was under the protection of immunity from federal prosecutor Johnny Sutton’s office and in possession of a border-pass card authorized by the Department of Homeland Security.

WND also reported when Aldrete-Davila admitted to federal drug smuggling charges, was convicted and sentenced to federal prison for 57 months.

Aldrete-Davila was granted immunity for his drug smuggling by federal prosecutors in exchange for his testimony against the agents. He had crossed the Rio Grande and picked up a marijuana-loaded vehicle near El Paso. After a car chase in which he fled from the officers, he abandoned the vehicle and ran back across the border on foot. He was shot in the buttocks as he ran.

Saturday, January 26th, 1-4pm - DRUG WARS: Silver or Lead, a documentary

Alert date: 
January 11, 2013
Alert body: 

This is an event you will not want to miss:  DRUG WARS: Silver or Lead is a chilling documentary about the malignant spread of drug cartel presence in our country, our state and right here in our community.  OFIR is honored to welcome Rusty Fleming, award winning producer of DRUG WARS: Silver or Lead. 

Join OFIR, Saturday, January 26th from 1 - 4 pm at the Salem Public Library - Loucks Auditorium.

Learn what you should know, must know, but DON'T know about drug cartels.

Embedded in a vicious and violent drug cartel, Rusty filmed this documentary to teach us what we all need to understand about Mexican drug cartels and their malignant movement into our country and right here in our community. Meet the man that has been in the belly of the beast.Embedded in a vicious and violent drug cartel, Rusty filmed this documentary to teach us what we all need to understand about Mexican drug cartels and their malignant movement into our country and right here in our community. Meet the man that has been in the belly of the beast!

The High Intensity Drug Traffic Area (HIDTA) identifies eight counties in Oregon with critical drug problems.   

The I-5 corridor is a favored route among drug runners smuggling drugs from Mexico into Oregon, Washington and Canada. We are in harms way everyday and must become educated about what is really happening on our streets, in our schools and even at our kids parties.

If you have teens, friends with teens, grandchildren that are teens or neighbors with teens, please invite them to join you at this FREE event.                  

Apathy and ignorance of this issue is not an excuse, it's a major part of the problem.

If you have questions about this event, would like more information, or think that you could contribute to this program in a positive way, please contact us at 503.435.0141.

NOTE:  This award winning documentary is not a Hollywood movie, it's an actual, factual, behind the scenes look at how cartels operate and the dangers they pose for our children and our society.  Portions of this film are sickening and horrific, but true.  Please, be advised and prepare your children in advance.

NOTE:  The producer of the documentary recommends that children as young as 10 should see this movie.  Gangs and cartels are targeting even younger children now.  Shockingly, eight year olds are the new cartel target for drug addiction.  Every child is at risk.

10-year terms for drug ring roles

Two of the top three men involved in Benton County’s second-largest known drug operation will spend the next 10 years in prison.

Benton County Circuit Court Judge David Connell handed down the sentences Thursday to Abel Gonzalez-Martinez, 32, and Juventino Santibanez-Castro, 25, as part of plea agreements negotiated by the Oregon Department of Justice, the Benton County District Attorney’s Office and attorneys for both men.

Gonzalez-Martinez, of Corvallis, will serve 120 months in prison in exchange for pleading guilty to charges of racketeering, delivery of heroin and delivery of methamphetamine — all felonies.

Santibanez-Castro was sentenced to 126 months in exchange for pleading guilty to racketeering, delivery of methamphetamine and conspiracy to deliver methamphetamine.

Both also were sentenced to 36 months of post-prison supervision.

Other drug and racketeering charges were dismissed.

Authorities said that Gonzalez-Martinez was second-in-command to the kingpin of the operation, his older brother, Rogelio Gonzalez-Martinez of Lebanon, who remains in custody.

The enterprise involved bringing in “substantial amounts” of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine from Mexico for distribution throughout Oregon, according to court testimony.

Some of that activity involved sales to undercover officers who were building a case that culminated in a March 13 raid. Authorities executed more than three dozen search warrants and made 27 arrests, including Santibanez-Castro and the Gonzalez-Martinez brothers.

The raid came almost five years to the day after another huge drug bust, dubbed Ice Breaker, which remains the largest criminal sweep in Benton County’s history. Some of the people arrested in the Ice Breaker 2 raid this March had ties to the earlier drug ring, authorities said.

Police said that Abel Gonzalez-Martinez and Santibanez-Castro acted as runners by supplying dealers with drugs.

On Thursday, Salem attorney Jeff Jones, who represented Abel Gonzalez-Martinez, said his client “got into something and is remorseful.” A father of three children, ages 4, 6 and 9, Gonzalez-Martinez “knows he won’t hug them tonight — or for the next 10 years,” Jones said.

Neither Gonzalez-Martinez nor Santibanez-Castro had anything to say when Judge Connell asked him if he had a statement.

After the sentencing, the men were led away to be turned over to the state Department of Corrections. They wore black and white prison stripes. Their wrists were bound to belly chains, their legs hobbled by ankle shackles.

 Abel Gonzalez-Martinez - ICE HOLD

Police stop pickup, find meth and heroin

ROSEBURG — Two men were arrested Saturday afternoon after a state police trooper found large amounts of methamphetamine and heroin hidden in their pickup.

The drugs were discovered after a trooper stopped a northbound 1998 GMC Sierra for an unspecified traffic violation on Interstate 5 about eight miles south of Roseburg.

After identifying the truck’s occupants, troopers conducted an investigation that led them to find about 3½ pounds of methamphetamine and 1 pound of heroin concealed in the vehicle, police said.

The drugs’ estimated street value is $66,000, police said.

The truck’s driver is identified as Feliciano Ayala-Cardenas, 31, of San Jose, Calif. The passenger is identified as Sergio Gustazo Pineda-Villanueva, 23, of Aloha.

Both men were lodged in the Douglas County Jail on charges of unlawful possession and delivery of heroin and methamphetamine. Both men also face federal immigration charges, police said.

On Sunday night, state troopers seized 16 pounds of marijuana from a vehicle that had been stopped for a traffic violation while traveling north along I-5 just a few miles from where Saturday’s traffic stop occurred. Three Washington residents were cited and released on drug charges in the marijuana case, police said.

http://www.registerguard.com/web/updates/29161839-55/police-charges-heroin-traffic-methamphetamine.html.csp

OSP Traffic Stop Leads to Arrest of Two Men, Seizure of Over 3 lbs of Meth, 1 lb of Heroin - Interstate 5 south of Roseburg (Photos)
Oregon State Police - 12/10/12

Two men were arrested Saturday afternoon during an Oregon State Police (OSP) traffic stop on Interstate 5 about eight miles south of Roseburg after the trooper discovered over 3 pounds of methamphetamine and a pound of heroin concealed in their vehicle.

On December 8, 2012 at approximately 2:30 p.m., an OSP trooper stopped a 1998 GMC Sierra two-door displaying Oregon license plates northbound on Interstate 5 near milepost 115 for a traffic violation. The vehicle was occupied by two men identified as driver FELICIANO AYALA-CARDENAS, age 31, from San Jose, California, and passenger SERGIO GUSTAZO PINEDA-VILLANUEVA, age 23, from Aloha, Oregon.

Subsequent investigation during the traffic stop led to the discovery and seizure of approximately 3 1/2 lbs. of methamphetamine and one lb. of heroin concealed in the vehicle. Estimated value of the seized drugs is $66,000.

Both men were taken into custody without incident and lodged in the Douglas County Jail for Unlawful Possession and Delivery of a Controlled Substance - Methamphetamine and Unlawful Possession and Delivery of a Controlled Substance - Heroin. Douglas County Jail records also reflect both men have ICE holds.

Marion County Corrections Facility Inmate Roster INS Holds

What follows is information taken from the Marion County Sheriff / Marion County Correctional Facility (MCCF) website for Inmate / Offender Information, Full Jail Inmate Roster, relating to the number of MCCF prisoners the United States (U.S.) Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has identified as possibly being in the county illegally, U.S. DHS–ICE prisoners charged with drug crimes, and the approximate incarceration cost to Marion County to house its U.S. DHS–ICE jail population.

Total MCCF Inmates: 407

   Total MCCF Inmates with ICE Hold: 36

   Percent MCCF Inmates with ICE Hold: 8.84%

Total MCCF Inmates with ICE Hold POS/DEL METH: 3

Percent MCCF Inmates with ICE Hold POS/DEL METH: 8.33%

Total MCCF Inmates with ICE Hold POS/DEL HERION: 4

Percent MCCF Inmates with ICE Hold POS/DEL HERION: 11.11%

Total MCCF Inmates with ICE Hold POS/DEL COCAINE: 1

Percent MCCF Inmates with ICE Hold POS/DEL COCAINE: 2.78%

Total MCCF Inmates with ICE Hold POS/DEL MARIJUANA: 0

Percent MCCF Inmates with ICE Hold POS/DEL MARIJUANA: 0.00%

MCCF Incarceration Cost Per Inmate Per Day: $107.74

MCCF Incarceration Cost Per Day of 36 Inmates with ICE Holds: $3,878.64

MCCF Incarceration Cost Per Week of 36 Inmates with ICE Holds: $27,150.48

   MCCF Incarceration Cost Per Year of 36 Inmates with ICE Holds: $1,415,703.60

For the eleven months of 2012, the MCCF has averaged 42.09 criminal aliens per day at the jail.
 

Connecting the dots...

Connecting the dots between high unemployment, increased crime, exploding entitlement programs, over-crowded school and a deteriorating environment and how they are related to un-checked illegal immigration and excessive legal immigration is a big job, but one we all must continue to pursue.

While Americans re-elected President Obama based on their apparent preference for his economic policies, they do not embrace his plans for amnesty. Furthermore, Americans want to see laws enforced at the workplace through mandatory use of the free, accurate and easy to use E-verify program.

Neither the candidates nor the media drew attention to the deleterious impact that high immigration levels have on American workers," said Marilyn DeYoung, Chairman of the Board of CAPS. "There is no difference between outsourcing, sending American jobs overseas, and insourcing, bringing in foreign workers to take American jobs."

While jobs, jobs and jobs dominated races here in Oregon and across the nation, no one had enough confidence to point out that, here in Oregon about 100,000 illegal aliens are working and 200,000 Oregonians are unemployed. 

We need to do a better job of connecting the dots.

 

Zetas cartel occupies Mexico state of Coahuila

SALTILLO, Mexico — Few outside Coahuila state noticed. Headlines were rare. But steadily, inexorably, Mexico's third-largest state slipped under the control of its deadliest drug cartel, the Zetas.

The aggressively expanding Zetas took advantage of three things in this state right across the border from Texas: rampant political corruption, an intimidated and silent public, and, if new statements by the former governor are to be believed, a complicit and profiting segment of the business elite. It took scarcely three years.

What happened to Coahuila has been replicated in several Mexican states — not just the violent ones that get the most attention, but others that have more quietly succumbed to cartel domination. Their tragedies cast Mexico's security situation and democratic strength in a much darker light than is usually acknowledged by government officials who have been waging a war against the drug gangs for six years.

"We are a people under siege, and it is a region-wide problem," said Raul Vera, the Roman Catholic bishop of Coahuila. A violence once limited to a small corner of the state has now spread in ways few imagined, he said.

What sets the Zetas apart from other cartels, in addition to a gruesome brutality designed to terrorize, is their determination to dominate territory by controlling all aspects of local criminal businesses.

Not content to simply smuggle drugs through a region, the Zetas move in, confront every local crime boss in charge of contraband, pirated CDs, prostitution, street drug sales and after-hour clubs, and announce that they are taking over. The locals have to comply or risk death.

And so it was in Coahuila. One common threat from Zeta extortionists, according to Saltillo businessmen: a thousand pesos, or three fingers.

With the Zetas meeting little resistance, wheels greased by a corrupt local government, there was little violence. But the people of Coahuila found themselves under the yoke of a vicious cartel nonetheless.

"It was as if it all fell from the sky to the Earth," said Eduardo Calderon, a psychologist who works with migrants, many of whom have been killed in the conflict. "We all knew it was happening, but it was as if it happened in silence."

The "silence" ended in rapid-fire succession in a few weeks' time starting mid-September. Coahuila saw one of the biggest mass prison breaks in history, staged by Zetas to free Zetas; the killing of the son of one of the country's most prominent political families (a police chief is the top suspect); and, on Oct. 7, the apparent slaying of the Zetas' top leader by federal troops who say they stumbled upon him as he watched a baseball game.

"Apparent" because armed commandos brazenly stole the body from local authorities within hours of the shooting. The military insists that the dead man was Heriberto Lazcano, Mexico's most feared fugitive, acknowledging that he had been living comfortably and freely in Coahuila for some time.

"He was like Pedro in his house," former Gov. Humberto Moreira said, using an expression that means he was totally at home and could go anywhere.

The Zetas had such confident dominion over the state that Lazcano, alias the Executioner, and the other top Zeta leader, Miguel Angel Trevino, regularly used a vast Coahuila game reserve to hunt zebras they imported from Africa.

Since their formation in the late 1990s and early 2000s as a paramilitary bodyguard for the then-dominant Gulf cartel, the Zetas operated primarily in Tamaulipas state on Mexico's northeastern shoulder and down the coast of Veracruz and into Guatemala.

For most of that time, Coahuila, rich in coal mines and with a booming auto industry, was used by cartels as little more than a transit route for drugs across the border. The Zetas maintained a presence limited to Torreon, the southwestern Coahuila city that served as a bulwark against the powerful Sinaloa cartel that reigned in neighboring Durango state.

In 2010, the Zetas broke away from the Gulf cartel, triggering a war that bloodied much of Tamaulipas and spilled over into neighboring states. Coahuila, with its rugged mountains and sparsely populated tracts, became a refuge for the Zetas, and they spread out across the state, including this heretofore calm capital, Saltillo.

Even if the violence hasn't been as ghastly as in other parts of Mexico, nearly 300 people, many of them professionals, have vanished in Coahuila, probably kidnapped by the Zetas for ransom or for their skills.

The man in charge of Coahuila during most of the Zeta takeover was Moreira, the former governor. After five years in office, he left the position a year ahead of schedule, in early 2011, to assume the national leadership of the Institutional Revolutionary Party on the eve of its triumphant return to presidential power after more than a decade.

But scandal followed Moreira, including a debt of more than $3 million he had saddled Coahuila with, allegedly from fraudulent loans. He was eventually forced to quit the PRI leadership, dashing what many thought to be his presidential aspirations.

Tragedy followed when Moreira's son Jose Eduardo was shot twice in the head execution-style in the Coahuila town of Acuna early last month. Investigators believe that most of the Acuna police department turned Jose Eduardo over to the Zetas as a reprisal for the killing of a nephew of Trevino. The police chief was arrested.

Killing the son of a former governor — and nephew of the current one, Humberto's brother Ruben — was a rare strike by drug traffickers into the heart of Mexico's political elite.

In mourning, Humberto Moreira gave a series of remarkably candid interviews in which he accused entrepreneurs from Coahuila's mining sector of sharing the wealth with top drug traffickers who in turn used the money to buy weapons and pay off their troops. They killed his son, he said.

Mining in Coahuila is huge and notoriously dangerous, with companies routinely flouting safety regulations and workers dying in explosions and accidents. The depth to which drug traffickers have penetrated the industry is being investigated by federal authorities.

The question on the minds of many Mexicans was: If Moreira was so aware of criminal penetration, why didn't he stop it?

Critics suggest that during his tenure, he was happy to turn a blind eye to the growth of the Zetas as long as he could pursue his business and political interests. He denies that now and says fighting organized crime was up to the federal government; the federal government blames state officials, in Coahuila and elsewhere, for coddling the drug lords.

"The northern governors have long cut deals with the cartels that operate in their domains. The pattern in the north is cooperation," said George W. Grayson, a Mexico scholar at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va., who has written extensively on the Zetas and Mexican issues.

"The Coahuila police are among the most corrupt in all Mexico."

The extent to which the Zetas' tentacles had penetrated state government became clear this year when federal authorities discovered a protection racket that dated well into Humberto Moreira's administration and was led by none other than the brother of the state attorney general. According to the federal investigation, he and 10 other state officials were being paid roughly $60,000 a month by the Zetas to leak information to the gang.

The nearly 3 million residents of Coahuila, meanwhile, find ways to survive and accommodate.

In rural areas where the Zetas are most commonly seen on the streets, people have learned to be mute and blind. In cities such as Saltillo, they change their habits, don't go out at night, send their children to school in other cities.

A businessman whose family has lived here for generations said, "We are in a state of war, without realizing when or how we got there."

 

Gang rules 6 years after start of Mexico drug war

APATZINGAN, Mexico (AP) — Forest-camouflaged pickups roared to life as the Mexican soldiers pulled on their black masks and hoisted their Heckler & Koch G3 assault rifles.

The three-truck convoy pulled out of the base to patrol the rugged, mountainous region of the western state of Michoacan, when a raspy voice burst out of an unencrypted radio inside one of the cabs: "Three R's, 53." Three army vehicles, headed your way.

It wasn't a soldier's voice. The radio had picked up a call from the Knights Templar, a quasi-religious drug cartel that controls the area and most of the state. Its web of spies monitors the movements of the military and police around the clock. The gang's members not only live off methamphetamine and marijuana smuggling and extortion, they maintain country roads, control the local economy and act as private debt collectors for citizens frustrated with the courts, soldiers say.

"Because they're vigilant and well-organized they roll around here with a lot of ease," said Lt. Col. Julices Gonzalez Calzada, the leader of the patrol.

Felipe Calderon launched his presidency in December 2006 by sending the army to Michoacan, his home state, to battle organized crime that he said threatened to expand from drug trafficking to controlling civil society. His administration says it has debilitated many of the cartels with a leadership-focused offensive that has killed or captured 25 of the country's 37 most-wanted men.

But he has failed to stop drug cartels from morphing into mafias infiltrating society in the sun-seared Tierra Caliente, or Hot Country, a region named for its steamy weather, but now also too hot with gang activity for many to live and work safely. The government annihilated the leadership of one previous cartel, La Familia Michoacana, but a splinter group, the Knights Templar, moved in to take control.

Rank-and-file soldiers say they feel largely powerless in the face of an enemy that hides among the population. They say whenever they make strategic strikes, the gang's professional-grade infrastructure is replaced almost as fast as it's taken down.

Now the two sides largely co-exist.
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To get a soldier's eye view of the conflict, The Associated Press spent two days embedded with the 51st Battalion of the 43rd Military Zone, a vast region that's home to about 3,000 soldiers, a force that's more than doubled since Calderon mounted his offensive. Gen. Miguel Angel Patino, commanding officer, said his troops' work against the gangs has "limited a lot of their activity. They don't have the freedom to act that they used to."

But patrols through dry forests, avocado fields and hardscrabble towns show that the cartel operates with few restrictions. Soldiers point out pastel-colored, air-conditioned narco-mansions that stand out from the cluster of humble rural shacks in many of the small towns.

In the deep hills around El Alcalde, a town 12 miles from Apatzingan, is a brand-new sports arena with a cock-fighting pit and a bull-fighting ring that seats hundreds. The stables are filled with dozens of sleek, well-groomed horses. Soldiers say it was built and run by the Knights Templar.

The Calderon government claims its efforts are reducing violence in Mexico, though it stopped reporting the number of drug-related killings more than a year ago, when it reached 47,500 since Calderon started his term. Many private groups now put the number close to 60,000.

Indeed, things are quieter in the Tierra Caliente, where in 2009 La Familia rounded up, tortured and dumped the bodies of 12 federal police officers working the area.

In 2010, police battled with cartel forces for several days as gang members hijacked and torched buses, blocking major highways in the state capital of Morelia. Authorities say it ended with the killing of La Familia founder Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, known as "The Craziest One," though his body was never found.

Soldiers say confrontations are down to about one a month. But even the general agrees it's because the Knights Templar won the war against the rival gang.

"What the Knights Templar is doing is maintaining tight control on organized crime in this area," Patino said. "The dominance allows the area to stay quiet to a certain point."

Most citizens are quiet, too, shaking off questions about the drug gang. Local residents questioned by the AP about extortions or cartel rule declined to talk.

When the then-mayor of Apatzingan was pressed by reporters last year about a string of kidnappings in his town, he practically broke down.

"I want to go away, I want to resign this job, because I wasn't made for this. I can't even ensure the safety of my own children, who are also in danger," Mayor Genaro Guizar said in an emotional interview with the Milenio television station.

Calderon's office declined to comment directly on the situation in the Tierra Caliente, but referred The Associated Press to a speech the president delivered this year in Michoacan emphasizing the importance of purging local, state and federal police forces of corruption in order to produce trustworthy agencies capable of investigating crimes and bringing suspects to trial.
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The cartel's territory begins at the gates of the military base in the center of Apatzingan. Each of the five entrances is watched around the clock by the Knights Templar, as are virtually every highway exit, toll booth and village square, according to the soldiers.

The cartel consists largely of men from the Tierra Caliente, and they promote themselves as a mystic Christian order dedicated to protecting the population from abuse at the hands of the military and police. They have self-published at least two books and a variety of pamphlets collecting the sayings and memoirs of their leaders, most prominently the late Moreno, founder of their predecessor gang, La Familia.

Even the troops acknowledge the cartel has a substantial degree of local support due to its family networks, patronage of local communities and exploitation of citizens' anger at the government.

The cartel runs "training schools," including one in Apatzingan, that teach courses in leadership portraying cartel members as clean-living men of honor, steeped in Asian religion alongside Catholicism, and dedicated to protecting the people of Michoacan from a government they say is manipulated by a ultraconservative religious group known as El Yunque, or the Anvil.

According to cartel leaders, it is their duty to go against the government, saying Calderon used insecurity as a pretext for launching a bloody war.

"It has brought death and pain on thousands of homes," according to one book attributed to Moreno, whose philosophy was adopted by Knights Templar after the downfall of La Familia. "It was my obligation, with my comrades, to mount this fight. It's the only way to guarantee a change in our country."

Under Mexican law, soldiers can't formally investigate crimes and can only stop criminal activity that occurs directly in front of them. So they are limited to patrolling, responding to tips about crimes in progress, searching cars at roadside checkpoints and hunting for meth labs and marijuana fields by helicopter and on foot.

Most officers in the 43rd Military Zone carry two radios, one encrypted for military communications, and the other to listen to the Knights Templar watching their men. They also carry laminated cards confiscated from cartel operatives printed with hundreds of the gang's radio codes. The code "53" refers to the army, "69" to the U.S.-made Humvees and "56" to military intelligence operatives.

One army officer said he had heard Templar operatives checking the status of roads all the way to Mexico City, some six hours drive east.

On Monday, the army said, soldiers with the 43rd Military Zone, raided a ranch named "The Horses" in village outside Apatzingan that is believed to be the property of Enrique "Kiki" Plancarte Solis, co-leader of the Knights Templar along with Servando "La Tuta" Gomez Martinez.

The troops were attacked with gunfire and grenades and returned fire, killing one of the attackers, the army said. Inside the ranch the troops found more than 28 pounds of marijuana, a pound of crystal meth, a smaller amount of cocaine, dozens of grenades, anti-tank rockets, pistols and rifles, including a powerful 50-caliber sniper rifle, and hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash.

The soldiers have taken down 90 labs so far this year, but the number of arrests they've made — 95 — does not reflect the amount of criminal activity they're aware of.

"All we can do is keep working, keep patrolling, moving through the countryside and the streets, and try to find them from time to time," Patino said.
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The army says it is well-received by people in the Tierra Caliente, though Michoacan's state commission on human rights says complaints against the army and federal police in Apatzingan have risen sharply, from 69 in 2008 to 391 last year.

Riding in groups of six or seven, the riflemen of the 51st Battalion scan the traffic and the roadside from benches mounted in the backs of their pickups. In each truck, one soldier mans a heavy weapon mounted on a pivot behind the roof of the cab.

They pull onto a dirt road and head to a series of little towns that are home to some of the Knights Templar leadership, including the communally owned village of El Alcalde, where they stop at a yellow stucco house filled with new appliances and surrounded by a chain-link fence topped in barbed wire.

The gate is open, and the soldiers walk up to the open windows, pulling aside the shades and peering inside. The house is cleaned every day but rarely occupied. They have no doubt that it's owned by a high-ranking member of the Knights Templar, Gonzalez said.

Each of the little towns in the area has such a house, newly built, assiduously maintained and filled with luxury finishes, thick carved-wood doors, marble floors, faux-Greek concrete columns, and immaculately tended rose bushes. Most sit on high ground at the edge of the towns, offering vistas of the roads and other houses. The money that paid for them didn't come just from avocado trees.

Outside of town, a shrine to La Familia founder Moreno Gonzalez sits atop a steep flight of concrete steps, dominating the road. Dozens of votive candles set on the chapel steps have been smashed to shards, the glass panels of the chapel doors are broken and deep pockmarks, apparently from bullets, mar the doors.

A black "Z' has been spray-painted on the front of the chapel, the trademark of the paramilitary Zetas cartel that battled the Knights Templar and La Familia before being largely driven out by the Knights.

Gonzalez said he believes the Knights Templar left the vandalism unrepaired as a way of inspiring their followers to maintain vigilance against future Zeta incursions.

Soldiers say the Knights Templar extort protection money from nearly every legitimate business in the Tierra Caliente, including at least three taxes on the region's famous avocados — one on the owners of the fields based on the area they own, one charged per ton on the middlemen who buy the crop and a third for exporters based on every kilogram of avocados.

The cartel also taxes Michoacan's lemon farmers as well as urban stores and markets.

"They've come as far as fixing the price of a tortilla or a kilo of meat," Gonzalez said. "They give the order that everyone is going to sell it for 60 pesos and all of butchers adjust their price to 60 pesos a kilo."

The military has found ledgers with budgets for road maintenance in rural areas. Around El Alcalde, in the neighboring towns of Guanajatillo, Moreno's reputed birthplace, and Los Laureles, roads are notably smoother than elsewhere, with well-tended culverts and surrounding fields of freshly planted and rigorously cared-for sorghum.

Gonzalez says local people have reported that the Knights Templar have planted hundreds of acres of the crop, and the equipment in the fields is expensive and new, including a shiny green John Deere combine harvester. Following the trail of funds earned from criminal activity falls to civilian prosecutors and investigators, and the soldiers say they see virtually no evidence that authorities are tracking the Knight Templars' money.

National Day of Remembrance

Alert date: 
November 4, 2012
Alert body: 

November 4 marks the 2nd annual National Remembrance Day for American citizens killed by illegal aliens and the politicians who are just as responsible due to continued support of the illegal alien presence in our country and the lack of enforcement of our existing immigration laws.

May those killed and injured by illegal aliens find peace.  Read more about it.

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