HomeNewsAnalysisArrests of Mexican Generals Offer Fodder for Conspiracy Theories

Arrests of Mexican Generals Offer Fodder for Conspiracy Theories


Last week’s arrests of three generals and a lieutenant colonel in Mexico has fueled widespread speculation over the factors at play behind the detentions, and their implications for the country's changing political and criminal landscapes.

The arrests that began with General Tomas Angeles (see photo), a former undersecretary of defense, last week have now resulted in three generals and a lieutenant colonel being placed under "arraigo" (a preliminary detention in which criminal behavior is investigated without charges being filed) for 40 days. The military officials all stand accused of working for the Beltran Leyva Organization and their allies. People subjected to the arraigo are often charged at the end of the period, but it is not a foregone conclusion; in many prominent cases, the subject of the investigation has also been cleared.

As Animal Politico reported, the accusations stem, at least in part, from the testimony of Edgar Valdez Villarreal, who went by the moniker La Barbie, who turned himself into authorities in August 2010. While drug traffickers have a clear incentive to corrupt military officials, the allegations of extensive links between the military and the BLO are a bit counterintuitive; Arturo Beltran Leyva, the group’s boss until his death in December 2009, was killed in a shootout with military forces, and his brother Alfredo was arrested by the army in January 2008. If this gang was paying millions for support from the highest levels of the army, the bribes ultimately bought them very little.

Valdez Villarreal reportedly enjoyed a turbulent relationship with Arturo Beltran Leyva, his apparent boss. According to the account that Valdez Villarreal gave to authorities following his arrest, when faced with the military assault that would ultimately end his life, Beltran Leyva called Valdez Villarreal for help, which the latter was unable to provide. Instead, Valdez Villarreal urged him to surrender.

Previous investigations have already demonstrated substantial links between the BLO and government officials. The most notorious examples were revealed in 2008’s Operacion Limpieza, or Operation Clean-up, a massive investigation which uncovered a BLO mole working in the US embassy, as well as payments of several hundred thousand dollars to a Mexican former drug czar.

The recent arrests are somewhat surprising, however, considering the BLO's decline in recent years. The drug gang rose to prominence in the 2000s as part of the Sinaloa Cartel, but split with the group after the arrest of Alfredo Beltran Levya in 2008. (Arturo blamed Sinaloa boss Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman for his brother’s incarceration.) Following the split, the BLO suffered a series of severe blows, birthed a number of splinter groups, and was reduced to a seeming shell of its former self, under the leadership of Hector Beltran Leyva.

But while the organization may be less influential than before, these arrests make clear that the gang has not disappeared. Earlier this month a group linked to the BLO engaged in a significant firefight in the Sierra Madre region of Sinaloa, a region that is typically described as controlled by the Sinaloa Cartel. The BLO has also turned into a key ally of the Zetas and the Juarez Cartel, and has continued to post mantas taunting Guzman in the Sinaloan city of Guasave ever since the split. In short, weakened though it may be, the BLO seems unlikely to disappear.

While the high profile arrests sparked a great deal of interest, the lack of clarity regarding the allegations have led to an enormous amount of theorizing and speculation. One explanation points to the July presidential election as a key factor, and posits that the arrests stem from the officials being close to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). According to this theory --which points to a recent appearance by Angeles at an event by a PRI-affiliated think tank as evidence, though there is little else to support it-- rival National Action Party (PAN) officials ahead of a likely PRI victory this summer, are looking to reduce the influence of the generals most hostile to their party. Adding to the appeal of this theory is the fact that Angeles greeted presidential frontrunner Enrique Peña Nieto at the event, and has reportedly advised Peña Nieto's campaign on matters related to public security.

Others have said that the investigations could be the product of the BLO’s enemies --namely, the Sinaloa Cartel-- filtering information to their own connections in the government. That way, even if the allegations cannot be proven, high-ranking officials perceived as unfavorable to Guzman and his organization are essentially removed from any future shortlist of influential Defense Department appointments.

Beyond the theories, these arrests undeniably diminish the patina of military cleanliness and honesty that have long persisted in Mexico. Poll after poll has shown that the military, compared to the disdain reserved for the nation’s various police bodies, is seen as one of the most reliable and respected institutions in Mexico. Indeed, this was a primary justification for Calderon having relied so heavily on the armed forces; the military may not be an ideal domestic police organization, but an imperfect yet honest force was deemed far better than a police force riven with corruption.

While the arrests of Angeles and his fellow officers don’t disprove that hypothesis, they do reveal it to be woefully simplistic. Moreover, the past week demonstrates that no institution is immune to organized crime’s corrupting power.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.


Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.


Related Content

MEXICO / 16 JAN 2013

Security analyst Alejandro Hope argues that while President Enrique Peña Nieto has presented his security policy as a break from the past,…

MEXICO / 6 OCT 2011

The 35 bodies dumped last month in Veracruz, eastern Mexico, with a note threatening to get rid of the Zetas…

MEXICO / 24 APR 2013

The government of Guerrero, Mexico, has signed an agreement with local self-defense forces to begin the process of legalizing these…

About InSight Crime


Venezuela El Dorado Investigation Makes Headlines

3 DEC 2021

InSight Crime's investigation into the trafficking of illegal gold in Venezuela's Amazon region generated impact on both social media and in the press. Besides being republished and mentioned by several…


Gender and Investigative Techniques Focus of Workshops

26 NOV 2021

On November 23-24, InSight Crime conducted a workshop called “How to Cover Organized Crime: Investigation Techniques and A Focus on Gender.” The session convened reporters and investigators from a dozen…


InSight Crime Names Two New Board Members

19 NOV 2021

In recent weeks, InSight Crime added two new members to its board. Joy Olson is the former executive director of the Washington Office on Latin America…


Senate Commission in Paraguay Cites InSight Crime

12 NOV 2021

InSight Crime’s reporting and investigations often reach the desks of diplomats, security officials and politicians. The latest example occurred in late October during a commission of Paraguay's Senate that tackled…


Backing Investigative Journalism Around the Globe

5 NOV 2021

InSight Crime was a proud supporter of this year's Global Investigative Journalism Conference, which took place November 1 through November 5 and convened nearly 2,000 journalists…