At least 14 municipal police officers from a town in Mexico State are under investigation for links to the Mano con Ojos (Hand with Eyes), demonstrating the growing clout of the shadowy group, which emerged from the fragments of the Beltran Leyva Organization.
State Attorney General Alfredo Castillo said that the officers in the town of Huixquilucan, which borders on Mexico City, have not yet been charged with any crime, reports Excelsior.
Days earlier, Castillo had promised a broad offensive against the Mano con Ojos, which authorities blame for some 25 murders across the region in recent months. Many of the victims were linked to retail drug sales, a practice known as “narcomenudeo,” or micro-trafficking, which has led to speculation that the group is trying to take over the local drug market. Castillo also revealed that the Mano con Ojos, which authorities say shares its name with its leader, had made threats against his department.
Mexico City and surrounding towns like Huixquilucan -- where the Beltran Leyvas have long had a presence -- has been largely spared by the drug violence wracking much of the country. Many say that this is due to a longstanding agreement among Mexico's biggest gangs that the capital is neutral territory; rather than compete to control the city as a “plaza,” as is the case in many northern towns, the gangs are said to be content to each have access to the city as a place to relax and do business in relative peace.
However, owing to the city’s geographic centrality and its enormous population, with growing drug consumption, the Mexico City metro area is becoming an attractive place both for drug smugglers and gangs specializing in micro-trafficking. Earlier this year, the federal government said that the country's seven principal organized criminal groups -- the Zetas, the Sinaloa, Juarez, South Pacific, and Gulf Cartels, the Familia Michoacana, and the remains of the group headed by Edgar Valdez Villarreal, alias "La Barbie," until his arrest last summer -- are all active in the capital.
The Mano con Ojos first began to pop up in and around Mexico City earlier this year; the group left notes accompanying two severed heads discovered in the capital and the suburb of Naucalpan in early March, wherein they identified the victims and threatened adversaries. One of the notes began, “My name is Ivan Cruz, and this is what happened to me for working with the Familia Michoacana...” The gang has also been blamed for the February execution of three rivals in Atizapan, Mexico State. In the subsequent shootout with local police, four gunmen from the group were arrested, and one officer was killed.
Local police officers like those in Huixquilucan are juicy targets for corruption by criminal groups. They are recruited for a variety of purposes, from looking the other way on micro-trafficking, providing surveillance on the movements of federal troops and enemy groups, to, in the worst cases, working as hitmen for the criminals.
According to Castillo, the Mano con Ojos was initially part of Arturo Beltran Leyva’s network, but since the capo’s death in December 2009 the gang has been working for one boss after another: Edgar Valdez Villarreal; Sergio Villarreal, alias “El Grande;” Gerardo Alvarez Vazquez, alias “El Indio;” and Jose Jorge Balderas, alias “El JJ,” who is best known as the alleged shooter of soccer star Salvador Cabañas.
All of these capos have been caught by federal authorities. The underworld in the region around Mexico City, which is also known La Valle de Mexico, has been further opened up by the decline of the Familia Michoacana, which declared its dissolution in January, following a series of arrests and killings of major figure in the organization. (Despite the announcement, government officials have continued to label arrestees as members of the Familia.) All of this has cleared the playing field for the Mano con Ojos to strike out on its own. Castillo told the Mexico City daily El Universal in February that, in addition to the alias “La Mano con Ojos,” the leader of the gang is also known as “El Compayito,” though his real name has not yet been publicized.
Suspicions regarding the officers were first raised by Huixquilucan Mayor Alfredo del Mazo, the scion of a powerful political family and cousin to Enrique Peña Nieto, a front-runner for the presidential elections in 2012.