Created in April 2001 as part of an extensive naval restructuring in the nascent six-year life of President Vicente Fox Quesada (2000-2006), the Special Forces (FES) of the Mexican Navy Secretariat (Semar) went from carrying out missions of «defense of national sovereignty, security and interests», to carrying out operations against drug trafficking organizations.
This range of missions has focused on combating drug cartels that navy FES members have hit hard, either by capturing their leaders or by eliminating them.
On December 16, 2009 in Cuernavaca, Morelos, Arturo Beltrán Leyva died in a confrontation with the Navy FES who tried to stop him at the Altitude condominium where he was hiding. On 7 November 2010 in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, Ezequiel Cardenas Guillén, aka «Tony Tormenta», brother of Osiel Cardenas, leader of the Gulf Cartel, was shot down by elements of the FES after three hours of confronting
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In Operation Gargoyle executed in Mazatlan, Sinaloa, on February 22, 2014 to recapture Joaquín Guzmán Loera «El Chapo», the feS commandos «Hurón» and «Tigrillo» achieved the capo’s apprehension.
Two years later, in Operation Black Swan held in Culiacán, Sinaloa, on January 19, the Viper, Puma and Roble commandos of UNOPES were central to Guzmán Loera’s new and definitive recapture.
The Navy Special Forces, created to support naval counter-terrorism deployments, quickly evolved to become the elite unit of the Semar responsible for carrying out organized crime operations.
They are currently comprised of 1,984 elements (about six battalions) that have constant and increasingly sophisticated training comprising direct action, close indoor combat, urban operations, jungle and desert operations.
They also develop reconnaissance actions, freefall paratrooper, combat diving, explosives handling, officer safety, military intelligence, high mountain, counterterrorism and unconventional warfare operations, among several others.
The first seniority of FES operators was formed in the course between April 2001 and June 2002, with 45 elements as a veteran foot of what is now the UNOPES (Special Operations Unit).
This unit reviewed the entrance on September 15, 2014, following the publication of the Secretariat Agreement of that date, signed by Admiral Vidal Francisco Soberón Sanz.
UNOPES appears in the Federation Egress Budget (PEF) of the Semar with allocations exceeding more than ten times, for example, resources for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights Unit (UPPDH) of the Secretariat, which, in its programmes and functions, includes the more than 60 thousand staff of the institution.
The 2019 Navy PEF allocated the Human Rights Promotion and Protection Unit a budget of 42 million,243,631 pesos, while UNOPES received a budget of 601 million, 203 billion pesos in that year, the highest figure in recent years for that operational body.
The 2020 PEF, which is being exercised this year, has 31 million 305 thousand 768 pesos for the operation of the Human Rights Promotion and Protection Unit. By contrast, for UNOPES the allocation is 507 million 935 thousand 015 pesos.
Even more so. The EPF approved for Semar in 2021 indicates that the Human Rights Promotion and Protection Unit will receive 36 million, 590 thousand 074 pesos to operate, while UNOPES will have 454 million 447 thousand 434 pesos for operating expenses, salaries, special additional remuneration and other social and economic benefits provided for its members.
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Who can enter?
UNOPES is only accessed by Marines capable of passing the exams and filter tests that are applied to advance to complete an intense preparation that can last between a year and a year and a half, depending on whether the applicant is accepted and wants to continue a special six-month course.
Initially, as Special Forces of commando groups, the sailors performed this preparation:
Duration of the Course: 7 weeks in Puerto Chiapas, Chiapas; Commando training.
This type of specialized training requires a great physical and mental strength of the students; No it is necessary to be a paratrooper, it is applied in jungle, muddy and swampy terrain with warm-rainy climate and involves execution of high-risk practices and exercises, so they are an elite force.
The course takes place in 2 phases:
First Phase: The courseer is trained in the techniques and tactics of special command operations and repetitive hands-on training is applied to achieve individual and collective dexterity.
Phase Two: The courseer enters the planning and execution phase in the field of tactical assumptions, applying the techniques and tactics of Special Command Operations, focuses on increasing leadership, encouraging teamwork and strengthening body spirit.
Before becoming UNOPES and intensifying their training in and out of the country, the sailors of this elite unit were made up of two groups: one attached to the Gulf Naval Force (FUERNAVGO), called the Gulf Special Forces (FESGO) and the other for the Pacific Naval Force, named FESNAPA.
A third group called The Center Special Forces (FESCEN), located at the Center Headquarters (CDMX), was then created in which the 29th Marine Battalion is the base unit for nurturing aspirants and already trained items.
At this stage, the FES – whose name also obeys the motto of unity: Strength, Spirit and Wisdom – were made up of 460 elements, 230 for FESGO, and 230 for FESPA. To enter, preselection course of candidates for the basic course, it is requested to be a Marine, have good behavior, pass general medical examination, a maximum age of 34 years and have excellent physical condition.
The candidate is asked to make 40 lizards and 40 sit-ups, run 3.2 kilometers in 12 minutes and swim 50 meters. Failing any of these tests immediately eliminates the aspirant.
Once accepted into the basic course, the contender to enter the Special Forces will train for 11 months, learning advanced shooting techniques, self-defense, reconnaissance activities, specialized weapon handling, paratrooper, combat diving, aquatic infiltration, explosives and demolition management, psychological strengthening, teamwork, patrol tactics, first aid, urban combat, equipment and communication strategies , rappelling techniques and survival techniques in adverse conditions, in jungle, mountain or desert.
Only between 15 and 20 percent of admitted manage to finish the course to become elements of the Navy Special Forces. Then there is the possibility of doing another six-month course. From that course are the elements that will be part of UNOPES, the elite of the elite.
As active elements of UNOPES, mariners receive advanced, specialized military training in U.S. Northern Command units and U.S. Navy facilities located at the Coronado, California Amphibious Operations Base, where the 234th course is taught for American Marines and US Navy SEALS teams.
They are also trained by military forces from France, Israel, Canada, Guatemala and Colombia. In Guatemala they receive training and special courses of Kaibiles commandos.
In Colombia they receive advanced training and specialized in the program called Chosen Shooter on Air Platform (TEPLA), in which select UNOPES shooters, already chosen at SEMAR, learn the most advanced techniques for firing automatic and semi-automatic machine guns from helicopters.
The armament used is integrated with M-82 Barret semi-automatic rifles, M2 Browning automatic machine gun, .50 caliber, Vulcan 134 Minigun automatic machine guns, 7.62 mm caliber M60 machine guns.
Members of the Marine FES have been attending the Course of Chosen Shooters (CTE) for more than 10 years, taught at the Center of Marine Marine Specialists (CEIM) of the Colombian Navy, located in Coveñas, Colombia.
In 2010, already in the government of Felipe Calderón and with Admiral Francisco Saynez at the head of the Semar, two snipers were sent to the CTE of the Colombian Navy. One of them, Master Pedro, took first place in competition against 24 naval shooters of armed forces from countries such as Brazil, Ecuador, Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica and Peru.
In 2012, the Navy sent a group of 10 elements of the FES to the international competition «Command Forces 2012», held at Fort Tolemaida, in Colombia. This group included Master Fidel, the other UNOPES sniper who attended the CET course two years earlier, and Lieutenant Angela Tabares, the first Navy woman admitted to naval FES.
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Paradoxically, their high degree of effectiveness and lethality would also have led them to be used as an executing arm in the same combat dynamic to drug trafficking, this in the north of the country.
Between May 2017 and November 2018, elements of the Navy belonging to UNOPES operated in several municipalities in the states of Nuevo León, Coahuila and Tamaulipas with the mission of acting against the Gulf, Zetas and Northeast cartels.
The objective was to combat operators and regional leaders of these groups to obtain sensitive information and then to be able to act in broad and formal operations against each of these organizations.
In that period, it is estimated that the UNOPES members involved would have been involved in the disappearance of persons who were identified or suspected of belonging to the dominant cartels in northeastern Mexico.
For these events, the National Commission on Human Rights (CNDH) issued Recommendations 35VG/2020 and 36VG/2020, addressed to Admiral José Rafael Ojeda Durán, for offences of enforced disappearance and alleged extrajudicial executions.
The CNDH claimed to have evidence showing serious human rights violations committed by naval personnel on 11 October 2016, when a commando of between 20 and 25 Navy elements aboard official vans entered a Camargo City motel without legal justification and headed to two rooms to detain four people staying there and another person of U.S. nationality, without filing a warrant or crediting flagrance of any crime.
The CNDH established that the arrests were illegal and arbitrary and during these naval personnel ripped the video surveillance cameras from the reception of the motel where they were staying to prevent the facts from being known and that there was evidence of what happened.
The detainees were uploaded to Navy vans «and departed to an unknown destination, without their whereabouts being known to date, thus violating the human rights to the freedom and personal safety of the victims, provided for in the fourth constitutional article 16», is indicated in a CNDH communiqué on this case and the Recommendation issued.
During the events, the sailors also arbitrarily arrested a person they illegally held and released until the next day. His testimony was instrumental in advancing the investigation of the case so that almost four years later Recommendation 035VG/2020 was sent to the Navy.
It requests the current holder of the Semar, four years after the disappearances, «to register the victims in the National Register of Missing and Non-Localized Persons; carry out an effective search to locate and present them alive or, if applicable, their mortal remains (sic) are located and delivered to their relatives, and the latter must be registered in the National Register of Victims, in order to have the damage fully repaired, provided with medical and psychological care and given fair compensation and/or compensation.»
He is also asked, as has always happened in other recommendations sent to the Semar a or the Mexican Army, «to give a human rights training course to Navy personnel and to implement in their operations, on a regular basis, the use of cameras and video recording and audio recording, in order to have evidence that their performance is respectful of human rights».
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