In the United States, some truck owners enjoy modifying their vehicles with giant tires, heavy-duty suspension kits, and exhaust systems that spew smoke, turning them into the monster trucks, or monster trucks, they haunt organized events like demolition races and mud racing.
In Mexico, drug cartels are taking the concept of monster trucks to another terrifying level. They are modifying popular trucks with battering rams, 10-centimeter-thick steel plates welded to their chassis, and turrets to fire machine guns.
Some of the most feared criminal organizations in Mexico, such as the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel, They are using this type of vehicle in intense armed confrontations with the police. Other organizations, such as the Gulf Cartel and the Northeast Cartel, use armored trucks to face each other.
Mexican security forces call these vehicles “monsters,” but they are also known as “rhinos” and “drug tanks”. Cartels mark the exterior of these vehicles with their initials or the latest camouflage patterns, sometimes making it difficult to distinguish them from official military vehicles.
The swanky interiors of the larger trucks feature front seats with a cockpit-like array of buttons and lights, metal seats from which gunmen can rest their rifles through holes and, in the middle, a tank-like hatch.
As more pickup trucks have appeared on the streets of Mexico’s violent cities and towns, vehicles they are a prism to see the evolution of the bloody war against drug trafficking in the countrywhether through fear of the cartels’ ability to overcome law enforcement efforts to impose order or grim recognition of the vehicles’ Mad Max-like post-apocalyptic spirit.
The spread of these monsters is another evidence that lthe cartels will do whatever “To try to impose their dominance against adversary groups and against the authority through violent means,” said Jorge Septién, a ballistics and weapons expert based in Mexico City.
They also highlight the country’s unremitting efforts against the brutal criminal groups that operate with apparent impunity in many parts of Mexico.
The armored trucks are One of the most visible and intimidating optimizations in the deadly arsenal available to Mexico’s most powerful cartels, according to Romain Le Cour, a security analyst.
Other weapons include Barrett .50 caliber sniper rifles that can penetrate steel, rocket launchers and rocket-propelled grenades capable of shooting down military helicopters, drones equipped with remote-controlled explosives and anti-vehicle road mines, used in an attack last month in Jalisco that killed six people.
“Monsters are the way to send the message: ‘I’m the one in charge, and I want everyone to see that I’m the one in charge,’” said Le Cour, a senior expert at the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, with headquarters in Switzerland. “These They are commando groups that seek to replicate the special forces in terms of the way they are armed, how they are trained, how they look”, he added.
Although these types of trucks are believed to have emerged in Mexico a little over a decade ago, they appear to be multiplying and becoming more sophisticated, much in the same way that narco-submarines built by criminal organizations to transport drugs have been adapted for evade capture.
The progression of the drug tanks has been taking place following the flow of elite soldiers towards the cartelsbeginning with the recruitment, in the 1990s, of special forces of the Mexican army to a paramilitary operation that ended up becoming the Los Zetas Cartel.
From the weapons they use to the vehicles they drive, the involvement of members of specialized military units in criminal organizations has led these groups to Emulate and compete with the elite forces of the country.
The seizure of armored trucks helps shed light on regions where cartel operations are flourishing or resurging, such as in the states of Michoacán and Jalisco, on Mexico’s Pacific coast or along the US border.
In June, the Attorney General’s Office in the state of Tamaulipas, on the border with Texas, announced that it had seized and destroyed 14 monster trucks, following the destruction of another 11 similar vehicles in February.
In a statement last year, the Tamaulipas prosecutor’s office said modified vehicles “represent a danger to community safety,” which criminal groups often use to protect their illegal activities, especially near the border.
Only in Tamaulipas, more than 260 armored trucks have been destroyed by authorities since 2019. Providing a national figure is difficult, as different state and federal agencies seize and destroy them.
The assembly of these vehicles, which is generally carried out in rural workshops, relies on the well-known skills of cartel mechanicswho have long focused on modifying cars to smuggle hidden loads of drugs across borders.
Armor a truck with the basics, such as steel plates, takes 60 to 70 days, requires the work of five to six welders and mechanics and costs approximately two million pesos, about $117,000, according to security experts. Additional items like turrets, bulletproof tires, and battering rams will increase the cost.
While armoring a vehicle without authorization It is a crime punishable by up to 15 years in prison, the law has done little to dent its robust output.
In Small Wars Journal, a US publication focused on interstate conflicts, an analysis asserted that “this type of armored vehicle far exceed the standard weapons of the Mexican police”.
Monster trucks are typically assembled from standard pickup trucks, but the analysis pointed to the cartels’ use of heavily armored “dump truck variants,” which they are immune to all weapons except anti-vehicle type possessed by the Mexican armed forces.
Usually monster trucks they are built from popular vehicles such as the Ford Lobo (the equivalent of the Ford F-150 in the United States) or the Ford Raptor. But criminal groups also use light-duty SUVs better known for proliferating in suburban department stores, such as the bulky Chevrolet Tahoe, as well as larger flatbed trucks, dump trailers, or heavy “double” trucks with two rear wheels on each side. .
In what no doubt underscores the arms race between the cartels and the Mexican military, some Mexican soldiers now carry portable rocket launchers capable of destroying armored trucks.
These vans came to prominence in 2020, when a video on social networks showed the leader of the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel, Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes —one of the most wanted men in Mexico and the United States—, displaying his private army on the border between the states of Michoacán and Guanajuato.
The show of force included several monster trucks, as well as armed men in camouflage uniforms, their faces hidden behind ski masks, firing weapons into the air while proclaiming their allegiance to Oseguera Cervantes.
Since then, pickup trucks have found their way into the public imagination. A video captured by a drone of an attack carried out by the Jalisco Nueva Generación Cartel with drug tanks against Police officers and local residents, was broadcast on national television in 2021.
Despite their terrifying reputation, pickup trucks they have some flaws. Unlike the fast and agile Toyota Hilux trucks with mounted machine guns used by armed groups in many parts of the world, drug tanks packed with steel plates can be slow and difficult to maneuver, especially in urban environments.
“They are very slow, they are very heavy”, said Alexei Chévez, a security analyst based in Cuernavaca, Mexico. In addition, reconditioning of vehicles results in some parts failing. “That’s why we see that they constantly break down and abandon them,” Chevez stated.
Still, its strategic and symbolic importance resonates in a country that has witnessed years of heinous violence perpetrated by criminal groups. The drug tanks often appear on TikTok and other social networks, accompanied by narco rap songs or folk ballads that extol the exploits of the cartels.
“It has to do with status symbolism,” Septién said. “The first ones we saw were pretty much cut and torched very crudely,” he recalled.
These days, he added, “You see them in the distance and it looks like a military car.”
Source: The New York Times