A challenge coin with an emblem and crest of a drug trafficking organization has been recovered by law enforcement officers in Mexico, reliable sources tell POLICE Magazine.
American and Mexican law enforcement agencies have recovered similar badges, patches, coins, flags and other items produced by the Mexican Drug Trafficking Organizations (DTOs). The items act as a way to build unity within cartels, according to Gary "Rusty" Fleming, an expert on the cartels who produced the documentary "Drug Wars: Silver or Lead."
The items solidify military cohesion among cartel soldiers. Other cartels, especially Los Zetas, also use these items, according to Fleming, who said he wasn't surprised by the find.
"It's what they're now using to give legitimacy to what they're doing," Fleming tells POLICE. "They're trying to build internal security."
The coin, which is affiliated with the Gulf Cartel, includes names of geographic locations and shows an altered (some might say perverted) representation of nationalist symbols appearing on the Mexican flag.
Side-by-side stripes of red and white cross a navy background behind a golden eagle holding a serpent in its talon and perched atop a prickly pear cactus. The cactus is situated on a rock that rises above a lake. The symbol refers to the county's Aztec origins and the founding of Mexico City.
The letters "C," "D," and "G" — an acronym for Cartel del Golfo, or Gulf Cartel — appear in Gothic type along the lower edge of the blue field. Lettering along the outer edge refers to the cartel's headquarters in the city of Matamoros in the state of Tamaulipas. Interestingly enough, the "H." is a historic reference to the city once referred to as "Heroica (Heroic) Matamoros."
"Panga," which can also be seen on the coin, is a Spanish word for a breed of fish common to the Mexican (South Atlantic) Coast. It refers to the name of the fishing boats used to catch them. It is also the slang name for a particular type of Machette with a hump-backed blade used in that region and in Alcapulco, according to Richard Valdemar, POLICE Magazine's gang expert.
"My guess would be that 'Panga' might be the nickname of the owner of the piece, or the particular crew of the Gulf Cartel," Valdemar said.
Using military insignias is nothing new for the Gulf Cartel. In the 1990s, Gulf leaders created the Los Zetas when they formed a hit squad of Mexican Army Special Forces deserters who may have received counter-insurgency training at Fort Benning, Ga. The Zetas ultimately split off to form their own cartel in early 2010.