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Los Zetas Cartel Used Network of Ovens to Hide Mass Extermination in Mexico’s Coahuila


PIEDRAS NEGRAS, Coahuila–The Mexican Los Zetas cartel used a network of oven facilities to cover-up the systematic mass extermination of innocent people during the 2011-2013 period when the cartel had complete governmental control over most of the Mexican state of Coahuila. From the then-governor of Coahuila, down to the city jails, Los Zetas had complete control of every aspect of governmental process and of the lives of Mexican citizens–including news media. Their atrocities in Coahuila have remained largely unreported and undocumented by any governmental agencies; local, state, federal, or international.

After Breitbart Texas’ Cartel Chronicles project launched and began to see success in exposing various factions of the Gulf cartel in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, we grew increasingly aware of the need to help bring a platform to people in Los Zetas territory who had experiences of which we knew they wanted the world to hear. It seemed as if we would never break through the barrier, as we didn’t know and trust any sources in the region whom we could utilize as a starting point to build out from.


Our access to information in the Gulf Cartel territory in most of Tamaulipas grew to an unprecedented level, but Los Zetas controls the western portion of Tamaulipas around Nuevo Laredo and the state of Coahuila and getting our foot in the door seemed impossible. That changed. People from the region began contacting us and we had to take a chance and trust them. We didn’t know at the time if they were corrupted people luring us into Mexico for the cartels to capture us or if they were good people who wanted to risk their lives and help their communities. We had to take the chance. We did it and we lucked out–or we were blessed.

We traveled to the Texas border town of Eagle Pass to meet with our new sources. The Mexican border town of Piedras Negras sits immediately across the Rio Grande. We ended up in the backseat of a car with two strangers from Mexico taking us to “meet some people.” As the car traveled to a remote industrial area, we began to look at each other nervously. We ended up in a dark industrial park and we both thought we had been set up. The driver and his partner pulled us up to a warehouse and asked us to get out. We did so and walked inside, both thinking that we might be in trouble.

Instead of kidnappers, we found a group of Mexican businessmen who were afraid that meeting with us in public would risk their lives or the lives of their families. They grilled meat and warmed up tortillas for us. We smoked cigarettes and enjoyed beers until the men began telling their stories. We heard of good people who simply disappeared. We heard of towns where mass “disappearances” had occurred and no one knew why. We were later able to verify each story and find the answers the men and their communities had sought after for so many years.

Some aspects of the massacre in Coahuila have seen the light of day through some national Mexican news outlets like Proceso, though the case has been largely ignored by Mexican mainstream media as well as mainstream media in the United States and elsewhere. Some outlets like Aljazeera America and San Antonio Express News have reported on the disappearances; however, the link to the Los Zetas having complete control of the Piedras Negras prison and turning the facility into a crematorium had gone largely unreported. Breitbart Texas began to ask questions and received hard answers about the impunity with which Los Zetas operated and the horrors that took place in that prison in late October. In late January, El Diaro de Coahuila also got some answers as to what really happened inside the Piedras Negras prison. According to information provided by Mexican authorities, Los Zetas had full operational control of the prison to the point where they took more than 150 individuals to the prison who were then tortured, murdered and incinerated. Despite the brutality of the case, major U.S. TV and print outlets have largely ignored the kidnapping and murder of hundreds of people from Allende, Coahuila.

During Mexico’s unknown massacre, Los Zetas carried out a systematic extermination by killing and incinerating more than 400 people in Allende and the surrounding towns. While details about what actually happened have barely begun to see the light of day, the massacre traces its roots back to March 2011.

Before that time Los Zetas had managed to use strong arm tactics and bribery to rule with impunity in the state of Coahuila. By March 2011, Los Zetas were moving around 2,000 pounds of cocaine per month through the northern part of Coahuila into Eagle Pass, Texas. After paying for the drugs and covering their trafficking expenses, Los Zetas were making around $6-12 million in monthly profits just in the Piedras Negras and Eagle Pass corridor alone, according to witness testimony in a U.S. trial targeting Los Zetas money laundering (The case referenced later in this article.)

In early 2010, Los Zetas went to war with their former bosses in the Gulf Cartel. The brutal armed conflict skyrocketed the demand for cash by Los Zetas as the criminal organization had to get funds to pay for weapons and gunmen to continue fighting for territories in the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas and the Mexican States of Veracruz and Nuevo Leon.

According to the research conducted by Proceso’s Juan Alberto Cedillo, a Mexican journalist who has spent years investigating the massacre, it was in March 2011 that local kingpin Mario Alfonso Cuellar and his associates, Hector “El Negro” Moreno Villanueva and Jose Luis “La Guichina” Garza Gaytan were blamed by the top hierarchy of Los Zetas over missing money from the cocaine trafficking that the drug cartel never received.

It remains unclear if the drug profits were in fact stolen by the local kingpins or if the loads were lost to authorities during seizures. What is known is that Moreno Villanueva and Garza Gaytan fled to America where they sought the protection of the U.S. government as federal informants and witnesses.

“ Lots of deaths,” Moreno Villanueva testified in U.S. Federal court in a case against Los Zetas. “They even started killing families in Allende and Piedras Negras, and in Muzquiz and in Sabinas. They also wanted to kill me.”

Moreno Testimony

moreno testimony 2

Miguel Angel “El 40” Trevino Morales, one of the top leaders within Los Zetas took the betrayal to heart and ordered a systematic extermination in the area of Allende, the nearby towns called Cinco Manantiales, and also in Piedras Negras.

The order was simple—kill anyone related, associated or that in anyway had contact with Villanueva or Garza Gaytan.

According to information gathered through the Breitbart Texas Cartel Chronicles effort, some of which authorities have not yet made public or acknowledged, Los Zetas began rounding up entire families, friends, distant relatives and innocent individuals who happened to have one of those last names–even if they were not related. According to information gathered by Breitbart Texas in Allende, Los Zetas would torture and execute the victims using a variety of cruel methods. The bodies were then taken to either a ranch near Allende or to the Coahuila state prison in Piedras Negras to make the bodies disappear.

Inside the jail, Los Zetas butchers dismembered the bodies of the men, women, and children who had been kidnapped. The human parts were then placed in 55-gallon drums filled with diesel and then set on fire. After several hours, the majority of the human remains were all gone leaving hundreds of families without answers. The ashes were then dumped in a local creeks that leads to the Rio Grande. While most of the drums remain in evidence lockers at a storage facility used by the Attorney General’s office in Coahuila, some of them have been re-purposed as dumpsters in the city. Recently authorities carried out a massive search along some of the creeks to search for remains of the unknown number of missing persons–none were found. The drum shown below was one of the ones that Los Zetas had been using to incinerate the body parts of their victims inside the Piedras Negras prison. The drum was being moved out of the evidence locker by authorities as part of their ongoing investigation. Agents left it outside of the building in the back 0f a police pickup allowing journalists from the Breitbart Texas Cartel Chronicles network to photograph it and provide an image of the makeshift crematorium where several victims were “disappeared.”

Coahuila Drum

The first public glimpses into the massacre came in September 2012 when more than 130 Los Zetas cartel members were able to walk out of the state prison in Piedras Negras–a massive breakout aimed at bolstering their ranks to continue their fight against the Gulf Cartel. The federal investigation into the escape resulted in the discovery of dozens of burned out  55-gallon drums that had been used to make their victims disappear. We visited the prison.

Coahuila State Prison in Piedras Negras, Mexico

Coahuila State Prison in Piedras Negras

At a ranch near the town of Allende, instead of drums Los Zetas would use ovens to incinerate the human remains. The ranch was raided by Coahuila authorities in 2013 when the government began to look into the case. At the ranch, authorities found not only the ovens, but also ashes and bone fragments from the victims. We were able to obtain never-before-seen official photos from the case files of the oven and remains at the ranch near Allende. See below:

Ash Pile in Allende, Mexico Massacre

Suspected Human Ash Pile in Allende, Mexico

In addition to the rampant butchering and incinerating of people, Los Zetas acted with complete impunity as they drove heavy machinery into Allende and the surrounding towns in order to demolish the houses of their victims. We visited two of these homes that Los Zetas demolished in Allende and provide video below.

As reported by Breitbart Texas, Los Zetas were able to act with complete impunity in Coahuila thanks to the help of former governor Humberto Moreira, who is currently the target of a criminal investigation in Spain over laundered money. As part of that case, he has been called out as a subordinate of Los Zetas cartel by prosecutors. Moreira spent a week in jail before getting released on bond in connection with the case and has since traveled back to Mexico. The news of the arrest sparked a wave of speculation about which public officials would be named next, as former Governor Moreira has been implicated in the ransacking of public funds from Coahuila and funneling them into the U.S. While the former governor has not been criminally charged, he has been singled out in a series of civil actions where the U.S. Attorney’s office is working to seize certain assets.

Los Zetas had a falling out with former Governor Moreira and ended up killing his son in revenge over the death of a close relative of Trevino Morales. That is around the time when the current governor of Coahuila, Ruben Moreira Valdez, who is also the brother of Humberto Moreira, decided to take on Los Zetas head on. Coahuila’s new stance against Los Zetas called for the creation of a special police unit known as Los GATES. They were created to root out Los Zetas.

Breitbart Texas' Ildefonso Ortiz and Brandon Darby with Coahuila's GATES

The new Governor Moreira ordered the creation of a special task force by the Coahuila Attorney General’s Office (PGJE) in order  to investigate and solve the hundreds of cases dealing with “missing persons” which is the legal classification that the victims in Allende fell under. Under Vice-Attorney General Juan Jose Yanez Arreola, the PGJE began working to document the cases since many of the families never reported that their loved one was missing. Yanez has also been the driving force aimed at investigating and bringing to light the unknown horrors that Los Zetas brought to Coahuila. Over time, Yanez’s investigators with the PGJE began to provide answers to some of the families and began to earn the trust of the community as more and more individuals began to come forward in order to notify authorities that they too had a loved one who was also taken.

Legally the cases are called missing persons cases because the bodies of the victim’s have not been recovered; however, investigators continue to try to quantify the number of cases and try to bring answers to the families. The number of cases continues to grow as more people have begun to put their fears aside and added the name of their loved one to the list of missing person cases.

While Los GATES had been able to suppress most of the violence brought up by Los Zetas, towards the end of 2015, the criminal organization reignited its violence by beheading four informants and spreading their remains around the border city of Piedras Negras, as Breitbart Texas reported. The rash of murders has been linked by investigators to a group of former police officers who were abruptly released by a panel of judges in Coahuila–even though they were convicted of having worked for Los Zetas.

The release of the cartel associates made clear that the cartel still retains a grip on Coahuila society. Many who spoke with us felt that Los Zetas could still “get them” even though the cartel no longer retains physical control of territory in Coahuila. Other suggested that the GATES might not always be around and expressed fears that Los Zetas would return to open control of governmental agencies and then kill anyone whom they deemed as having worked against them or as having helped the Coahuila attorney general.

On a visit to Allende, a courageous woman whose daughter was taken and disappeared by Los Zetas spoke to us and agreed to a video interview. Like other residents of Coahuila, she insisted that we refrain from naming the cartel. She was willing to talk about what the cartel did and about the victims, but she was afraid to say their name. The mother, Olga Lidia Saucedo, runs a nonprofit in Allende called Alas de Esperanza or Wings of Hope for the families of the disappeared. The kids heard in the background of the video have parents who were disappeared and Saucedo cares for them. At one point in the video, viewers can see that we almost said “Los Zetas,” but caught it before we completed speaking their name. The mother addressed the hundreds of victims and said that no one really knows how many are missing because people are afraid things will return to how they were from 2011-2013; a time when going to the police was the same thing as going to Los Zetas.

Editors Note:  Olga Saucedo, the woman interviewed for this story did not mention the criminal organization by name during the interviews done for this story. The name of the criminal organization was obtained through independent research done by Breitbart Texas

Even if the GATES stay and keep the ground they’ve taken from Los Zetas, the cartel still operates in the state. They still have their scouts and spies. They still have the ability to send their hit squads after enemies. The only difference is that they don’t have the physical territory they once controlled in Coahuila where they could retreat to and live openly. Now, Los Zetas members have to hide. They are a clandestine criminal group in the state, rather than operating openly as before.

At the entrance of the town, the Coahuila government erected a monument to honor Allende’s victims. The monument not only helps to keep the memory of the  massacre from fading away, but it also helps some of the citizens begin the long and difficult process of healing. Some of the citizens, like Mrs. Saucedo, cling to the hope of one day being reunited with their loved ones. They hope that, in the most unlikely of all scenarios, their loved ones avoided the drums and the ovens.

Oven in Allende, Mexico, Used to Burn Bodies

Editors Note:  Olga Saucedo, the woman interviewed for this story did not mention the criminal organization by name during the interviews done for this story. The name of the criminal organization was obtained through independent research done by Breitbart Texas

Follow Breitbart Texas Managing Director Brandon Darby on Twitter: @brandondarby

Follow Breitbart Texas’ award-winning journalist Ildefonso Ortiz on Twitter: @ildefonsoortiz

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