At least three of the 19 high-impact criminal organizations identified by the Financial Intelligence Unit of the Ministry of Finance operate in Yucatán, although none has the predominance of operations, a report by this body warns.
These are the cartels of the Pacific (or Sinaloa), the Gulf and Los Zetas .
However, drug trafficking scholars, consulted in Mexico City by Central 9, the Journalistic Investigation Unit of Grupo Megamedia, argue that the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas no longer exist as national organizations: they are atomized into many groups, frequently in conflict with each other. they add.
In Yucatan, the activities of what remains of the Gulf Cartel would be in charge of a group derived from that organization called “Los Pelones”, which operates in Quintana Roo and Yucatán, “although it is also very decimated, ” says Elías Razur Antonio, director of the Mexican Observatory on Drugs.
In the case of Los Zetas , he says, those who remain active in this drug trafficking organization do so through the Northwest Cartel , founded by the Treviño brothers in Nuevo León and Tamaulipas.
The UIF report on the geographical distribution of the main criminal organizations, released last month, does not include the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel (CJNG) as a group with a presence in Yucatán.
The experts consulted by Central 9 do consider it.
Along with these organizations in the State coexist other much smaller local ones, such as the so-called Los Epitacio Cartel, specialized in the sale of marijuana and linked to what remains of the Oaxaca Cartel, explains Razur Antonio.
Drug trafficking and money laundering
On September 21, the FIU presented its report on the country’s criminal activity, called the National Risk Assessment and National Strategy to Combat Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing.
Santiago Nieto Castillo, head of the agency, drew attention to the corruption existing in the port’s sea and the customs of the whole republic.
Due to the dishonesty of their managers, he said, drug trafficking and money laundering are allowed in many of those places.
In this regard, with regard to Yucatan, the FIU recently took two drastic measures: to report to the Attorney General’s Office (FGR) the former director of the Progreso Customs and a fishing entrepreneur from that place, for alleged money laundering. and drug trafficking.
According to data obtained by Central 9, in both cases, the Prosecutor’s Office issued arrest warrants against these two characters, who have taken refuge to avoid being arrested.
The FIU affirms in its 2020 National Risk Assessment that criminal organizations are known as Los Zetas and the Gulf and Pacific cartels work in Yucatán.
In Quintana Roo, according to that report, the CJNG also operates and in Campeche only Los Zetas and the Pacific Cartel.
Another FIU document entitled “National Risk Assessment, Preliminary Results”, from September 2019, maintains that in the case of Yucatán, of the three-drug trafficking organizations listed by the FIU, none has preeminence over others.
This is due, adds Razur Antonio, to the fact that, except for the Pacific Cartel and the CJNG, the other criminal organizations included in that analysis have already disappeared and their members have been pulverized into multiple groups, without any affiliation.
In Yucatán, Los Zetas, for example, which were very important more than ten years ago – they are attributed to the twelve headless people found in Merida and other towns in 2008 – now have little presence, says Razur Antonio.
“Its members, in any case, act as independent criminal cells and among these, the most relevant would be that of its former members who now report to the Northwest Cartel, led by Juan Gerardo Treviño Chávez, ” he says.
This is a relative of Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales, “el Zeta 40 ”, leader of that group until his arrest in 2013, the date that marked the beginning of the Los Zetas debacle.
A year earlier, in 2012, in Mérida, the state police arrested the strong man of Los Zetas in the Peninsula: Mateo Gabriel Domínguez Bouloy.
This person, says Razur Antonio, supervised drug dealing operations in Cozumel and Cancun, but lived in Mérida, from where he coordinated their operations.
Domínguez Bouloy, along with the ” Zeta 40 ” and his brother, Omar Treviño Morales, were held in the high-security prison of Puente Grande in Jalisco, at least until before its closure a few days ago, says the interviewee.
Although there is no updated information, it is known that many of the members of the network managed by Domínguez in the Peninsula continue to work for the Northwest Cartel, in Quintana Roo and Yucatán.
By the way, a prominent element of this organization, Moisés Escamilla May, alias ” El Gordo May “, a native of Escárcega, and head of Los Zetas in Cancun when twelve people were beheaded in Yucatán in August 2008, died last May, in the infirmary of the Puente Grande prison, a victim of Covid-19.
Escamilla May was accused of participating in these murders and was serving a 37-year prison sentence .
“El Chelelo”, captured in Mérida
Regarding the Gulf Cartel, this organization practically no longer exists, according to Víctor Ratti Fernández, director of Viae Consultores, a company in the country’s capital specialized in designing public policies on security.
Its last leader, José Alfredo Cárdenas Martínez, nephew of Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, was arrested in February 2018 in Matamoros, and from then on the organization collapsed, explains the specialist.
The head of the Gulf Cartel in Nuevo León, before the fall of Cárdenas Martínez, was Eleazar Medina Rojas, alias “ El Chelelo ”. The Yucatecan police arrested him in December of that year on the streets of Montebello, where he had his home, for a traffic violation.
” El Chelelo ” had taken refuge in Mérida to evade an extradition request from the United States government, for crimes against health committed in that country.
He was released for the offense but was immediately re -apprehended by an arrest warrant for extradition issued by the Prosecutor’s Office and detained in the El Altiplano Federal Center for Social Readaptation.
After his arrest, Medina Rojas obtained an amparo against extradition, which still keeps him in preventive detention until the governments of the United States and Mexico justify the extraditions.
The list of extraditable persons also includes, among others, the Treviño Morales brothers .
The remains of what was once the Gulf Cartel, in the case of the Yucatan Peninsula, were collected by ” Los Pelones “, a criminal gang that operates mainly in Quintana Roo, but with some ramifications in Yucatán, says Ratti Fernández.
This gang, however, is also in the process of dismantling , due to the recent arrest of several of its most important leaders.
Captured twice in Yucatán
Regarding the Pacific Cartel, its activities in Yucatán would be related to money laundering and drug trafficking, where the State would be a stopover on a longer transportation route.
Among its alleged best-known members in Yucatán, Roberto Nájera Gutiérrez appears, detained in January 2013, to fulfill an arrest warrant issued by a judge in Chiapas, where he was accused of murder.
Police agents transferred Nájera Gutiérrez to that state, but later he was released and returned to Yucatán .
Here he was arrested again in January 2017, for the possession of exclusive Army weapons. For this crime, he was sentenced to six years in prison.
A Najera Gutierrez, alias “La Gallina” is related to operations of laundering money from drug trafficking, by buying ranches in the east of the state and other real estate, but has never been judicially accused of that crime.
The Jalisco NG Cartel appears
Razur Antonio adds that although the FIU does not see the presence of the CJNG in Yucatecan territory, “I believe, as I have stated to the newspaper on other occasions, that this cartel would have operational bases in the state to coordinate the financing and logistics of the members of that cartel who fight in Quintana Roo against rival gangs, for the control of drug trafficking in that entity. “
He adds that together with this type of larger organizations, other regional or local organizations operate in Yucatán, such as the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel.
In a seminar organized on November 26, 2019, by the Colegio de México, Nieto Castillo said that this group, known for its ” huachicoleo ” activities in El Bajío, “is also engaged in the theft of hydrocarbons and human trafficking in the Yucatan Peninsula “.
“Los Epitacio”, Local Cartel
In addition to this organization, in Yucatán there is a small, very local cartel, known as the Cartel de los Epitacio, run by Hérbert Armando Bautista Epitacio, a native of Oaxaca and which he runs together with several members of his family.
This criminal group, considered one of the main marijuana distributors in Mérida, would be linked to the Oaxaca Cartel, which specializes in the trafficking of that drug, says Razur Antonio.
The retail sale of marijuana in small stores in the south of the Yucatecan capital, in Kanasín and also in some towns of Quintana Roo, is the main activity of ” Los Epitacio “.
The group’s leader, Hérbert Armando Bautista Epitacio, known as the “Lic” or the “King” was detained twice by the Yucatecan police.
The first, in October 2013, near the Central de Abastos de Mérida, when he was transporting 300 kilos of marijuana in a vehicle.
The second time occurred in January 2019, in Temozón Norte, when he did not obey a stop sign from the police, who detected him driving a luxury car at high speed.
Bautista Epitacio faced the agents with bullets and for the crime of attempted murder, he was linked to the process, although his group would continue to function normally, says Ratti Fernández.
Razur Antonio, for his part, affirms that in the National Risk Assessment and National Strategy to Combat Money Laundering and Terrorism Financing, the Financial Intelligence Unit denounces the corruption of customs in the country and Nieto Castillo himself, in At a previous press conference, he said that irregularities had been detected in three of them, including that of Progreso, and announced that the person in charge had already been removed and reported for money laundering, although he did not mention his name.
The dismissed official is Guillermo César Calderón León, who took office in April 2019 and separated in January 2020.
In February, the Prosecutor’s Office issued an arrest warrant against him after receiving a complaint from the UIF about the movement of unusual amounts of money in the official’s bank accounts that could have an illicit origin.
Calderón León obtained a provisional suspension last month that prevents the Prosecutor’s Office from apprehending him, while it is decided whether to grant him the definitive suspension.
This is the first time in a long time that a criminal complaint has been filed against a high-level customs officer in Yucatán.
Razur Antonio is also struck by the freezing of the bank accounts of the Progreso businessman MVC and the issuance of an arrest warrant against him, issued by the Attorney General of the Republic.
According to the director of the Mexican Observatory on Drugs, the Progreso businessman has unsuccessfully requested protection to unfreeze his accounts and also to prevent his capture, although there is no updated information on this last matter.
At a press conference in Mexico City, on March 5, Nieto Castillo spoke about the MVC case without mentioning his name, and said that this person “has to do with a shark commercialization operation, which is used by criminal groups. , to transport drugs to the United States ”.
He added that “the operation comes from Costa Rica to the state of Yucatan and from Yucatan to Florida , and is related from a series of companies in the fishing industry that are used as a front for the purpose of developing operations.”
They would be different cases
According to the files of the newspaper, in July 2009, the Progreso Customs found a shipment of 900 kilos of cocaine hidden in packages with frozen shark, which came in two refrigerated containers from Costa Rica, on the cargo ship “Dover Strai”.
The owner of the shipment, it was said later, would be a businessman from Tonalá, Jalisco, who was never detained. The investigations did not link the shipment to businessmen from the Progreso fishing industry.
Shortly after, the cargo was said to belong to the Pacific Cartel .
By Nieto Castillo’s statements, it is understood that this episode of eleven years ago is alien to these new revelations of drug trafficking in shipments of frozen sharks.
At the March conference, the head of the FIU drew attention to the highly suspicious movements in the bank accounts of the group of companies related to those shipments.
According to the official, the MVC companies “have recently had withdrawals for 554 million pesos .”
“The fishing company receives resources through transfers for $ 139 million and triangulates resources with the other members of the business group,” he said.
” Cash operations record deposits for $ 272 million and withdrawals of $ 1,783 million in Yucatan , while income for $ 2,650 million and deductions for $ 2,629 million are declared for tax purposes.”
“This also shows that it is a company that buys invoices in order to increase its expenses and reduce its percentage of payment to the treasury.”
The Hong Kong connection
He added that in addition to shark shipments, the companies sell sea cucumbers to the United States and Hong Kong .
For this concept, in a given period, “exports amount to $ 781 million, sea cucumber exports and sea cucumber traffic for $ 674 million and remittance of resources to Hong Kong and the United States for $ 417 million, and the United States for $ 250 million. “
“The freezing company receives operations in cash for $ 38.7 million and withdrawals for $ 413 million in cash, which are extracted from the financial system and reported in cash for the purpose of the acquisition of various assets.”
“Once again we found transfers to Hong Kong for $ 253 million and the United States for $ 73 million,” Nieto Castillo said in his message to the press.
Tax losses, again
However, he added that despite the profits of these companies, in 2017, the company reports tax losses of $ 1.9 million pesos.
“Once again we are in a drug money laundering scheme, more fraud of a fiscal nature,” he says.
“The fishing company, finally, has cash operations for $ 75 million and withdrawals for $ 554.1 million .”
The explanation of the head of the FIU is tangled and does not clarify the mechanics of money laundering nor does it elaborate on drug trafficking in sharks, says Razur Antonio.
Drug trafficking in Progreso
But it is striking that this statement, made at a press conference, has gone almost unnoticed: the official denounced a serious drug trafficking in the middle of Progreso’s maritime customs, surely carried out for years, with the usual money laundering, the opening of front companies and the purchase of phantom invoices, an activity in which Yucatán occupied the first places in the country. “
“It will be interesting to follow what happened with the arrest warrants against Calderón León and the Progrso businessman because they could be the point of something much more serious, involving not only local businessmen but also foreigners and Mexican officials. “
Things must be so tangled that Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s team has responded with the militarization of customs and the port administration, says Ratti Fernández.
Indeed, since the first days of this month, the new administrator of the Progreso Customs is Rear Admiral Armando Caballero Vázquez and the general direction of the Integral Port Administration is in charge of Vice Admiral Jorge Carlos Tobilla Rodríguez.
“It is clear that civilians could not with that package. Hopefully, the sailors eradicate corruption and document the black and hidden history of the port and customs of Progreso, ” says Víctor Ratti.