The discovery of a truck converted into an armored vehicle has raised alarms about escalating firepower in Guerrero, Mexico, though the "narco-tank" may be nothing more than a show of force.
The massive truck -- still under construction -- was discovered August 13 in Mexico's southwest state of Guerrero, stationed at the entrance of the town of Heliodoro Castillo, Vanguardia reported.
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Photos of the vehicle show large steel plates welded to its exterior, and two small squares cut into the cabin to provide occupants with a way to view the road with their weapons drawn. A perch on the roof was positioned for heavy weaponry.
Behind the tank's construction was Santiago Mazari Hernández, alias “El Carrete,” who authorities say led a drug trafficking gang called Los Rojos, according to Vanguargia.
Mazari Hernández was arrested by Mexican authorities on August 1 in the municipality of Leonardo Bravo in Guerrero. Los Rojos has been linked to crimes of extortion, drug trafficking and kidnapping in the states of Guerrero and Morelos, where levels of violence are extremely high.
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Seemingly out of an action movie, the "narco-tank" has a history of use in Mexico.
The Gulf Cartel and the Zetas first deployed the armored trucks in 2011 to protect the movement of drugs and smuggling routes under their control. But the vehicles' slow speed and lack of true bulletproof armor made the so-called “monsters” easy targets for authorities.
Los Rojos leader Mazari Hernández was seemingly going to use his tank to move through the Filo de Caballos corridor, an area currently controlled by a local self-defense force called the United Front of Guerrero Community Police (Frente Unido de Policías Comunitarias del Estado de Guerrero - FUPCEG), according to Vanguardia. Militia members discovered the tank.
Los Rojos emerged after the fragmentation of the Beltrán Leyva Organization in Guerrero, gaining territory and visibility through violence. In this sense, the gang's use of a narco-tank seems to be more of an intimidation tactic and a demonstration of power.
Guerrero has long been one of Mexico's most violent regions. Various armed groups are present, and all are battling for for control of drug smuggling corridors, such as the route between Cuernavaca and Chilpancingo, which connects Guerrero with Morelos.
Between January and June of 2019, Guerrero tallied 919 homicides, making the state the 6th deadliest in Mexico -- behind only Guanajuato, Mexico State, Jalisco, Baja California and Chihuahua, according to statistics from Mexico's National Public Security System (Secretariado Ejecutivo del Sistema Nacional de Seguridad Pública -- SESNSP).