With Mexican drug lord’s body missing, his grandiose mausoleum must wait

 

McClatchy Newspapers

Even in death, drug lord Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano got no rest on Wednesday, his missing corpse the subject of a federal manhunt in northern Mexico and his elaborate mausoleum in this city locked and empty.

Navy spokesman Jose Luis Vergara took to the airwaves to persuade his skeptical countrymen that the founder of the brutal Los Zetas crime gang had indeed been slain over the weekend.

“One hundred percent sure,” Vergara told MVS Radio.

But the missing body, doubts about whether the size of the corpse was a match to Lazcano and reticence by U.S. officials to congratulate Mexico all added to suspicions about the case.

Lazcano, a 37-year-old former special forces commando, left the army in the late 1990s to form an enforcer wing of the drug-trafficking Gulf Cartel, only later to break with the group and turn his Los Zetas commandos into one of the most powerful and brutal crime groups not only in Mexico but the world.

President Felipe Calderon and Interior Minister Alejandro Poire joined the navy in assuring the public that Lazcano was gunned down Sunday afternoon near a baseball field in Progreso, a town about 70 miles south of the Texas border in Coahuila state.

Navy marines aboard two pickup trucks went to the baseball field after receiving an anonymous tip that armed men were watching a game there. They weren’t expecting Lazcano or anyone in particular, Vergara said. When the armed men opened fire, the marines fired back without knowing who the gunmen were, Vergara said, killing two and watching a third man escape.

"It was luck," he said.

By the time a fingerprint identification was made, though, masked gunmen had burst into a mortuary and hauled off Lazcano’s corpse, presumably so that Los Zetas could control what happened to their leader’s remains.

Frequently in recent years, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has congratulated Mexico following the capture or killing of drug lords. In this case, the DEA has said little.

“We don’t have any comment or confirmation,” DEA spokesman Jeffrey Scott said from Washington. Told that the posture was not quelling suspicions among ordinary Mexicans, he added: “I can’t speak to the concerns of ordinary individuals in the streets of Mexico.”

If Lazcano’s body were to turn up somewhere, it would probably be in his native Hidalgo state in central eastern Mexico. A native of Apan, a small city that is a hub for rodeo, Lazcano also considered this state capital a home. It is here where Lazcano sent money for construction of a brightly colored Catholic church and had his own mausoleum erected.

Videos of the ribbon-cutting party show fireworks exploding in the air and guests dining on abundant tamales near a big banner that noted the church was a gift from the Lazcanos. A plaque on the back of the church, Our Lady of San Juan of the Lakes, notes that it was inaugurated in November 2009. “Donated by Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano,” the plaque says. It contains a fragment of verse from Psalm 143:

“Hear my prayer, O Lord, give ear to my supplications!” the plaque reads in Spanish.

Lazcano’s desire to find respite from a criminal life in the embrace of the Catholic Church is not unusual. Colombian drug lords in the 1990s commonly built chapels in their communities.

Publicity about the brightly colored “narco” church with its soaring silver cross, built just a few hundred yards from a major army base, discomfited Mexican Catholic prelates.

“To the shame of some Catholic communities,” the Catholic newsletter Desde la Fe said in October 2010, “there are suspicions that benefactors colluding with drug trafficking have used proceeds from the most dirty and bloody of businesses to help construct a few chapels.”

Neighbors of the church were wary of talking Wednesday.

“You’re not going to get any information around here,” said one man sitting on a stoop.

Adileny Mendez, a young student at a cooking school, voiced doubt about official versions of Lazcano’s fate.

“I don’t think he’s dead. If so, where’s his body? It ought to be lying in wake here,” she said, nodding to the church.

Less than half a mile from the church is the San Francisco Ejidal Cemetery, where earlier this year workers put the finishing touches on its biggest mausoleum, ready to receive the region’s most notorious son.

The mausoleum is the size of a small chapel, with a modern silver cross about two stories tall in the front, similar to the cross in front of the church. Flowerbeds below the mausoleum’s stained-glass windows are well tended.

A watchman said no family members had visited the mausoleum in recent hours, and it remained locked.

If a body is brought there, though, some might still question whether it belongs to Lazcano. For one thing, there is the matter of Lazcano’s height.

On Mexico’s criminal database, Lazcano’s height is listed in meters as 1.6, which would be about 5 foot 3. The DEA website on Lazcano lists him as 5 foot 8. The navy said after the firefight on Sunday that Lazcano’s corpse measured 5 foot 11.

Vergara, the navy spokesman, played down the discrepancy, saying Lazcano joined the army when he was 17 and may have still been growing.

“How good it would be if we could call up criminals and ask: ‘How tall are you? How much do you weigh?’” Vergara said.

He added that the fingerprints taken from the corpse are a match for Lazcano. “On the prints, there is no doubt at all,” he said.

Email: tjohnson@mcclatchydc.com; Twitter: @timjohnson4

Read more World Wires stories from the Miami Herald

  • China cracks down on online rumors, porn

    Chinese authorities are tightening already rigorous Internet controls by cracking down on online pornography and what state media called "rumormongers" and "slanderous content."

  • Al Qaida-affiliated Syrian insurgents seize towns from U.S.-backed rebels

    Fighters from the Nusra Front, al Qaida’s official affiliate in Syria, on Tuesday seized three strategic towns on the border with Turkey in a major blow to U.S.-backed moderate rebels.

  •  
FILE - In this file photo taken July 22, 2011 a Delta Air Lines jet takes off at the Detroit Metropolitan Airport in Romulus, Mich. Delta Air Lines on Tuesday, July 22, 2014 canceled all flights to Israel until further notice, citing reports that a rocket landed near Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion Airport.

    In international flight, volatile conflicts abound

    In Libya, militias armed with shoulder-launched missiles are battling for control of the country's main airport. In Africa, the entire Sahel region is awash with weapons that include portable air defense systems leftover from the ouster of Moammar Gadhafi.

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category