Jun 18, 2011

Mexican drug cartels recruit women for hit squads

Security News
Cartels recruit women for hit squads
By Kent Paterson
June 17, 2011

In Mexico, young girls and women work as look-outs and even soldiers for criminal syndicates.

This week, security officials in the western state of Jalisco presented to the media three alleged female spies and hit women who were tied to the Zetas organization. The young women were arrested following a pair of shootouts June 14 with Jalisco state and municipal police that left six suspected Zetas dead and 10 others arrested, almost all of them between 16 and 21 years of age.

Maria Celeste, a 16-year-old from Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas, was reportedly fresh out of boot camp. The teen told reporters she had received a two-month training course conducted by former military personnel in the handling of AK-47 and AR-15 assault rifles, but had not yet been instructed in the use of grenades.

“I was invited by some friends who were going to work for the Zetas,” she said.

A separate report identified the trainer as 24-year-old Ricardo Adan Villareal, a former soldier assigned to the 8th Infantry Battalion in Mazatlan. Villareal was reportedly killed during last Tuesday’s confrontations.

A 21-year-old identified as Beatriz Hernandez said she was part of an eight-woman cell tasked with monitoring authorities on behalf of the Zetas. Originally from Veracruz, Beatriz said she worked in the town of Fresnillo, Zacatecas, in return for a salary of a little less than $400 every 15 days. Another 21-year-old detainee, Maria Guadalupe Sandoval, was paraded before the media dressed in military-style clothing.

According to Sandoval, her knowledge of weaponry and previous combat experience netted a monthly salary of about $1,000 (U.S.). Mexico’s current daily minimum wage is about $5, and jobs paying more than three daily minimum wages can be very scarce in Jalisco and Zacatecas.

Within the past two years, stories of female hit squads have also surfaced in Ciudad Juarez to the north. According to one press account, dozens of women killers were in the employ of La Linea, an organization which is now said to be aligned with the Zetas.

The armed encounters that resulted in the arrests of Sandoval and the other alleged Zetas occurred in a section of Jalisco bordering the state of Zacatecas that has been a flash point of violence.

Luis Carlos Najera, Jalisco state secretary of public security, told the Mexican press that the Zetas are attempting to establish a corridor between the coastal state of Nayarit and Zacatecas that would have to pass through his state, but that Jalisco police have fought off the attempts so far.

In the aftermath of other clashes in the same region last month, Mexican authorities detained 18 suspects and confiscated weapons as well as a so-called a narco-laboratory set up to manufacture illegal drugs. The hardware seized by law enforcement this week included two armored trucks, an M-60 machine gun, several assault rifles, a grenade launcher and ammunition.

An alleged Zeta leader, “Comandante Centeno,” was reported among those allegedly slain this week. He was identified as 41-year-old Heriberto Centeno Madrid of Fresnillo, Zacatecas.

Centeno had been a fugitive since escaping from a Zacatecas prison together with 52 other inmates in May 2009.