Spate of Heavy Arms Seizures in Zetas Stronghold

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Mexico’s northern Coahuila state has seen a series of heavy arms seizures in recent weeks, evidence that Mexico’s police are often outgunned in their fight against the country’s cartels.

On October 20, agents from the Special Tactics and Weapons Unit (GATE) seized three Soviet-style hand-held rockets and a launcher, among other weapons, reported El Universal. The seizure took place in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, during a search operation for some of the 131 inmates who escaped from the local prison last month.

According to 24 Horas, this is but the latest seizure of heavy arms in Coahuila in recent weeks. When marines clashed with traffickers in the firefight that killed Zetas leader Heriberto Lazcano, alias “Z-3,” on October 7, they received fire from an AR-15 rifle fitted with a grenade launcher. Nine days later, following the arrest of a regional Zetas leader in the north of Coahuila state, two RPG-7 antitank missiles were seized.

Authorities stated that the use of RPG-7s is not uncommon, with the Sinaloa and Gulf Cartels also known to employ them.

InSight Crime Analysis

While the source of these weapons has still not been established, Central American military stockpiles, often left over from the region’s civil wars, is a likely option. US State Department cables from 2009 to 2010, leaked by WikiLeaks last year, stated that 90 percent of heavy arms — grenades and rocket launchers — seized from Mexican gangs came from Central America where they were likely stolen from national armies and trafficked north.

According to Mexico’s Defense Ministry (SEDENA), the Zetas are also purchasing heavy arms throughout the region.  The black market still has weapons that were not decommissioned following Central America’s civil wars that ran through the 1970s, 80s and early 90s. There have been cases of corrupt military officials in charge of these stockpiles selling them off to gangs.

 The use of heavy arms has allowed Mexican cartel to take on the army which has been deployed against organized crime. This has left police forces outgunned in many cases. In July, the governor of Sinaloa state requested that heavy arms seized from cartels be handed to the police for use rather than destroyed, arguing, “the arms [criminals] carry and their armored cars makes it so they always win.”

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