MONTERREY, Mexico – Mexico’s armed forces last year seized more than 120 armored vehicles used by narco-trafficking cartels for their operations in the northeastern part of the country.
Among them were 40 so-called “monsters,” used specifically to protect drug shipments from rival factions, said Gen. Miguel Ángel González, commander of the Eighth Military Zone of the Mexican army in Reynosa, capital of the state of Tamaulipas, where the majority of the confiscated vehicles are being held.
“Monsters” are massive trucks that have been equipped with makeshift armor in clandestine workshops, mainly located in the same state.
By the end of last year, authorities had seized 33 in Tamaulipas alone, according to González.
“They’re real monsters, capable of carrying 12 gunmen,” he said.
Authorities also seized four monster trucks in Sinaloa state, two in Nuevo León state and one each in the states of Zacatecas and Coahuila, according to the country’s National Defense Ministry (SEDENA).
The monster trucks, carrying up to 30 tons of weight and as many as a dozen gunmen, are rarely found on the country’s main roads. They often travel along rural areas and are equipped to fend off attacks from rival cartels fighting for control of lucrative drug-smuggling routes, González said.
“The main routes run through gaps in the municipality of China, in the state of Nuevo León, through Méndez and Miguel Alemán, in Tamaulipas, and the route continues toward the border with Matamoros, which is a city controlled by the Gulf cartel,” he said. “The cartels are fighting each other in order to control and protect these routes, both for trafficking drugs and people in one direction, and the reverse for smuggling arms into Mexico, as well as illegally importing a large amount of goods.”
Guadalupe Correa Cabrera, a professor at the University of Texas at Brownsville who specializes in Mexican security issues, said the monster trucks reflect a military-type strategy by the cartels.
“The Zetas came to modify and impose new forms of organized crime in Mexico,” said Correa, adding the trucks are similar to “battle tanks.”
During an operation in early June 2011, authorities seized and dismantled a workshop in the Camargo municipality of Tamaulipas where the trucks were customized.
The workshop was used to modify an array of vehicles, including semi-trailer trucks, bulldozers and tractors.
The vehicles’ chassis are covered with at least inch-thick metal plates and the windows are replaced with steel, with just small openings to allow the driver and gunmen to see. The armor prevents the vehicles from being penetrated by bullets fired by small-caliber and automatic weapons, as it likely takes heavy weapons – such as rocket launchers or anti-tank rounds – to destroy them.
At the Camargo workshop, authorities seized two completed vehicles, as well as 23 semi-trailer trucks, seven heavy trucks, three bulldozers and two tractors. Four vehicles with makeshift armor, six vehicles in the process of being armored and another six vehicles of different makes and models were also confiscated.
In another operation carried out on Oct. 24, 2011, in the city of Culiacán in the state of Sinaloa, soldiers from the Mexican Army raided another clandestine workshop, taking 10 suspects into custody.