Update: Oaxaca’s Hidden Drug War Revealed in Two Additional Murders

Two shooters, pistols, motorcycles: eight days after the deaths of Catarino Torres and Heriberto Pazos in Oaxaca, three thugs linked to the PRI and Governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz (URO) were assassinated in front of the temple of Santo Domingo de Guzman, a major tourist attraction. On October 29 the university gang members were standing outside on the south side of Santo Domingo at 1:30 o’clock when two men approached. In view of aghast sightseers, they fired and fled, assisted by two others waiting on motorcycles. All the men involved were in their twenties.

Rubén Maldonado Marmolejo, called El Dragón, served Alejandro Barrita Ortiz, the former PABIC commander who was murdered on January 25, 2008. El Dragón has been identified many times, including in photos, during the commission of the crimes inside in the Autonomous University Benito Juarez of Oaxaca in the past ten years, including assaults on students and faculty. His impunity can only be attributed to the government. According to police, Maldonado also participated in the “seizure” of the Las Noticias Voz y Imagen de Oaxaca newspaper and the retention of 31 of its workers in June and July, 2005 while in the pay of Jorge Franco Vargas and by extension Vargas’ boss, the governor.
In 2006, the Assembly Popular of the People of Oaxaca (APPO) charged Maldonado, along with Gonzalez, with participation in the “caravans of death” allegedly run by then Secretary General Jorge Franco Vargas. The caravans attacked barricades established by citizens in various sections of the city. On October 11, 2006, El Dragón and other members of death squads fired on an APPO mobile brigade and wounded three.
In 2010, Maldonado announced he had retired from the university to work as a lawyer. [!] He was recently involved in the leadership of an organization directed by Guadalupe Diaz Pantoja dedicated to workers in various city markets, i.e., eliciting payments for protection, and stations for stalls and vendors.

Maldonado was accompanied at Santo Domingo by José María González Porras. Gonzales, called El Chema or El Guero, a member of the National Council for Productivity (CNP) which works with taxi organizations and transport businesses. He was considered the “strong-arm” of that organization. A third gang member was El Talibán, reportedly taken in an ambulance to the hospital Clínica 2002. It was reported first that El Taliban died en route; later news did not confirm his presence, his death, or his real name. Another mini-mystery.

The two dead thugs sprawled in blood on a sidewalk in front of the domed colonial church for some time after the attack. Tourists gawked. Governor Ruiz rejects that four assassinations within eight days muddy the end of his term of office. Investigations, he says, are underway.

The motive for the last two murders was revealed two days later in a flier posted on the wall in a section of Oaxaca, and in bars. It was not a revenge by ordinary people, but the revenge of the Zetas, the narco-cartel based in the south and west of Oaxaca. The Zetas wrote that Rubén Marmolejo nicknamed el “Dragon” and his friend “Chema” were doing bad things without belonging to the Zetas, and using the Zetas’ name.

“That will not be tolerated. What happened yesterday to El Dragón and his buddy El Chema is going to happen to everyone who steals, kidnaps, extorts and assassinates in the name of the organization “Los Zetas” without belonging to them, we assure you.

“After today no damned, unfortunate evil person will be able to sleep in peace, no functionary, politician or delinquent who lends his collaboration to the brothers Diaz Pantoja, will be pardoned.

“To the honest citizens, the decent and hardworking people, we say that our organization does not tolerate any extortion or kidnapping or theft against the people and honest businesses and we will not permit more, here there is going to be order.

“Listen carefully: everyone who deals with the brothers Diaz Pantoja is going to get the same as El Dragon.

“The deeds of yesterday [the two thugs killed] should be respected.

“We had nothing to do with the executions of social leaders.

“The organization “Los Zetas”

The allusion to the Diaz Pantoja family has two aspects: the recent incorporation of El Dragón into the leadership of a group of vendors managed by Guadalupe Díaz Pantoja, niece of narcotraficker Pedro Díaz Parada; and the reported (by Proceso magazine) presence of chemical drug manufacturing in the Mixteca region, by the Diaz family. Note that the Mixteca is home to the Triqui indigenous people.

José Díaz Pantoja, linked to organized crime, was investigated by the Special Investigative Office for Organized Crime and detained in June of 2010. He was captured by the Mexican Army, which acts as the law enforcement arm for the federal government in narcotic dealings, and taken to Mexico City to the federal Attorney General’s office. Diaz family homes in and around Oaxaca City have been searched several times.

Díaz Pantoja is the nephew of Pedro Díaz Parada, known as “the cacique de Oaxaca”. According to the Federal Attorney General, Díaz Parada controls the “Cártel del Istmo”. That organization traffics in marijuana and cocaine, and is considered to be the most important producer of marijuana in the Oaxaca Isthmus. Pedro Díaz Parada began his career in narcotics in the 1970s in San Pedro Totolapa. He was sentenced to thirty-three years in prison, but escaped. He is the only narcotrafficker who escaped from prison twice. He lives peacefully in Oaxaca presumably protected by powerful politicians and business associates. One could assume that among his protectors has been the out-going governor, URO, and probably Jorge Franco Vargas who carried out URO’ orders until very recently when Ruiz chose another candidate to succeed him as governor, a campaign which failed when Gabino Cue was elected.
On September 27, 2010 an operation was carried out by the Federal Police who freed one person and arrested four members of “La Banda del Chaparro”, a group which operates in the service of the Zetas. The safe house was located in Colonia Reforma, on the north side of Oaxaca City. Also seized were a Dodge van, two bullet-proof vests, eight cell phones of various makes and models, two phone cards for them, a set of Federal District license plates, a 9mm pistol, three AR-15 weapons, and assorted cartridges.
This group of kidnappers is also associated with the snatch of two businessmen last August and a driver, in April.
The Oaxaca print media have thus far neglected the Zetas’ claim to the murders of the two thugs; both the national newspaper La Jornada and the internet published the information. Oaxaca’s tourist industry, especially for Day of the Dead on November 2, remains fragile because of the violence in 2006, as well as because of the global economy. The very public shooting has made it impossible to pretend, as Ulises Ruiz claimed in the 2006 context, “No pasa nada.”

The Zetas deny killing Catarino Torres and Heriberto Pazos; those deaths thus far remain unsolved. Perhaps the social leaders were killed by the rival drug cartel of the Diaz family. Or perhaps they were killed for unrelated motives. Meanwhile, the drug violence which dominates many sections of Mexico has now moved out of the shadows in Oaxaca.