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Mexican Zetas ENSLAVING engineers to run crimelords' radio net

Non-technicians simply shot as being useless

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Engineers are being kidnapped in Mexico, not for ransom but to build and maintain Los Zetas' radio network, as criminal gangs need reliable connectivity just like everyone else.

InSight Crime reports on the spate of kidnappings, which haven't resulted in the usual ransom demands and do seem to have been targeting engineers capable of setting up and maintaining the extensive radio network run by Los Zetas. Meanwhile, the Mexican security forces keep trying to take it down again - destroying more than 400 operating base stations this year alone.

In December last year the Mexican Army found, and dismantled, a single network connecting more than 4,000 devices across Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas and San Luis Potosi, with 167 antennas and 155 relay stations, and that was in addition to networks found in Jalisco, Coahuila and one spotted by the navy in Veracruz - though none were on the scale of the December operation.

Finding operational radios is easy - triangulation can locate any radio with great accuracy - but getting to the location and dismantling the kit when the gangs are so integrated into the local administration is much harder, and of limited value when more engineers are always available.

The targeting of engineers seems to have started in 2009, with the abduction of an entire installation team who were setting up relays in Guasave, Sinaloa, just inland of the California Gulf coast. All nine were marched out of their apartment at gunpoint and never seen again, with no ransom demand ever received. The United Forces for the Disappeared in Mexico reckons about a quarter of the kidnappings are of professionals, and Senator Felipe Gonzalez reports one occasion when armed men abducted two bus passengers, selected because they worked for a communications company, only to kill them when they turned out to be operators rather than technicians.

There's no confirmation that the engineers are being forced to build mobile networks, though the lack of ransom demands would suggest another motivation. For the families, the idea of slave labour suggests their children might still be alive so one can understand why they'd find it attractive: as the father of Jose Antonio, also kidnapped in 2009, puts it:

"In Mexico there is a violence which is so primitive, so aggressive, so murderous, that even though some of the captives are initially used by the criminals, employed by them, I think that after a while the prisoners would get in the way. After they have been exploited, they become a danger... I hope they have him working somewhere, but I think that organized crime doesn't need to hold them indefinitely. When they need specialists they catch them, use them, and discard them; and when they need specialists again, well, they take more."

InSight Crime has a lot more quite-scary-if-you're-an-engineer details. ®

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