The monsters, as the armored vehicles used by the various criminal groups or civilians who have taken up arms in Mexico in the last 15 years are known, have evolved to adapt to the technological changes of the armed conflicts being waged around the country.
With these 12 photographs we seek to illustrate how they have evolved: they have ceased to be rustic trucks with layers of homemade armor to become true narco tanks with anti-drone and anti-mine protection, which the authorities now describe as the "third generation" of vehicles for combat, according to the newspaper Milenio.
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Although the first references in the press to the narcos' armored vehicles date back to at least 2008, there are few photographs documenting it. The image below shows a reconditioned dump truck with a metal plate at the height of the windshield and a keel on the front to go through obstacles.
A dump truck modified for armed combat, seized by the Mexican Army in Camargo, Tamaulipas, in June 2011.
It was seized by the Mexican military in 2011 near the U.S. border, when Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel were fighting for control of the area.
In the decade and a half since the start of the war on drugs, begun in 2007 by then-President Felipe Calderón with a bloody operation in Apatzingán, Michoacán, several civilian groups took up arms to defend themselves against criminals and the government. This is the handmade armored truck of one of these self-defense groups in the state where it all began.
Members of a self-defense group in a pickup truck modified with homemade armor, in Las Yeguas, Michoacan, on Jan. 11, 2014.Eduardo Verdugo/AP
In the years following the conflict in Michoacán, a powerful criminal organization emerged in the neighboring state of Jalisco, dubbed the Jalisco New Generation Cartel.
This is what one of their powerful monsters looks like with advanced armor, loopholes to shoot from the inside without being exposed, and skid plates for the tires.
An armored truck used by the Jalisco New Generation Cartel and seized by Mexican authorities in December 2019.
Next, a truck modified with heterogeneous materials to turn it into a monster, seized by the authorities in Michoacán: the replacement of the windshield with steel plates and a small window for visibility, as well as coating of the vehicle with metal sheets, stands out.
A narco tank seized by the National Guard in Michoacán, in September 2020.National Guard
Below, another monster used by a Michoacán self-defense group to block roads, with the legend "mobile barricades" written in black letters with a white background on the front defense.
A 'monster' or artisanal tank in Aguililla, Michoacan, on Jan. 14, 2021.Armando Solis/AP
Drug traffickers have not only modified self-propelled vehicles to use them in their struggles for territory, they have also armored trailers, as shown in this image captured by the Tamaulipas state police, who discovered it next to an abandoned pickup truck in a property near Reynosa.
An armored trailer secured by Tamaulipas authorities in the ejido of Cándido Aguilar, on February 5, 2021.Milenio
In the photograph below, a pickup truck for the transport of valuables modified for the use of a Michoacan self-defense group, which guarded a road in Nuevo Urecho at the end of November 2021.
Members of the self-defense group Pueblos Unidos in Nuevo Urecho, Michoacan, on Nov. 27, 2021.Armando Solis/AP
The first armed civilian groups of this type in Mexico appeared in Michoacán in 2013 to combat the Templar Cartel.
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Authorities in Tamaulipas, one of Mexico's most violent states, last year destroyed several armored vehicles that had been seized from criminal groups last year.
Several vehicles with handmade armor seized in Tamaulipas by the Attorney General's Office between March and June 2022.FGR
Most were pick-up trucks with some kind of modification, including gun-mounted turrets on the rafts.
Armored vehicle seized by the National Guard by the National Guard, in the municipality of Jamay, Jalisco, in April 2022.National Guard
In addition to the more sophisticated armor shown in this image, the monster seized by the National Guard in Jalisco last year has a steel rope to tow other vehicles or remove obstacles.
It is a truck clad in layers of steel, painted with military green camouflage and fitted with loopholes and a turret for added firepower.
Armored vehicle seized by the Secretary of the Navy on the borders of Jalisco and Colima, in March 2023.Semar
Military experts consulted by Milenio warn that the turrets of this type of vehicle are conditioned for the use of Barret 50-caliber rifles, capable of piercing armor and with enough power to shoot down a helicopter.
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Narcos have also implemented layers of military-grade steel in their vehicles to make them more resistant to explosives and heat, a response to the use of bomb-dropping drones, a common tactic on Ukraine's battlefields that has become increasingly prevalent in Mexico.
A 'monster' of unknown manufacturing date, in a corral of the Attorney General's Office in Tamaulipas before being destroyed, in September 2023.FGR
Finally, the new monsters feature a kind of sunroof that protrudes from the ceiling to protect against drone explosions and metal plates hooked to the suspension to detonate anti-personnel landmines, another common weapon on Ukraine's battlefields but banned by dozens of countries due to their lethality for civilians who activate them without warning.
Armored vehicle seized by Mexican authorities in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, in 2023, with steel plates to protect against drone explosion. Millennium
Many of these improvements in monsters are achieved thanks to the importation of specialized automotive parts for the war that are quietly imported from the United States, according to Milenio.
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"We're no longer talking about repairs in machine shops. Or hitmen playing welder. This is something else. It is specialized knowledge of a technical and tactical war," said a member of the National Guard interviewed by the aforementioned media.