A cross-border drug gang born in the prison cells of Texas has evolved into a sophisticated paramilitary killing machine that U.S. and Mexican officials suspect is responsible for thousands of assassinations here, including the recent ambush and slaying of three people linked to the U.S. consulate.Allegedly a retaliatory contract hit that killed three Americans including an El Paso Sheriff's deputy was ordered from the El Paso County Jail, the Post reported:
The heavily tattooed Barrio Azteca gang members have long operated across the border in El Paso, dealing drugs and stealing cars. But in Ciudad Juarez, the organization now specializes in contract killing for the Juarez drug cartel. According to U.S. law enforcement officers, it may have been involved in as many as half of the 2,660 killings in the city in the past year.
Officials on both sides of the border have watched as the Aztecas honed their ability to locate targets, stalk them and finally strike in brazen ambushes involving multiple chase cars, coded radio communications, coordinated blocking maneuvers and disciplined firepower by masked gunmen in body armor. Afterward, the assassins vanish, back to safe houses in the Juarez barrios or across the bridge to El Paso.
"Within their business of killing, they have surveillance people, intel people and shooters. They have a degree of specialization," said David Cuthbertson, special agent in charge of the FBI's El Paso division. "They work day in and day out, with a list of people to kill, and they get proficient at it."
The special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in El Paso, Joseph Arabit, said, "Our intelligence indicates that they kill frequently for a hundred dollars."
This week, authorities announced that Mexican soldiers, using information from the FBI and other sources, had arrested Ricardo Valles de la Rosa, an Azteca sergeant, in Juarez.
Valles's confession was obtained at a military base where he was allegedly beaten, according to his attorney, a public defender. He has not been charged in the consulate killings, though he is charged with killing rival gang members, including members of an enterprise known as the Artistic Assassins, or "Double A's," who operate as contract killers for the Sinaloa cartel. Sinaloa is vying for control of billion dollar drug-trafficking routes through the Juarez-El Paso corridor.
In his statements, Valles said he was told through a chain of letters and phone calls from Barrio Azteca leaders in the El Paso county jail and their associates that gang leaders wanted Redelfs, the El Paso sheriff's deputy, killed because of his treatment of Azteca members in jail and his alleged threats against them.
Valles said he tracked down Redelfs at the children's party and then handed off the hit to others. He said the killing of the factory supervisor was a mistake because he was driving a white SUV similar to Redelfs's.
El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles said in a statement that Valles was a career criminal and denied that Redelfs had mistreated inmates. Wiles stressed that the motives remain unknown.
There's much to say about this: Too much for a single blog post. If it's really true that gangbangers from the United States are responsible for half the killing going on in Juarez, maybe it's Mexico that should be pushing to build a wall! Unfortunately, the border economy is too intertwined for that to be a real solution. At a minimum, though, maybe TDCJ's gang unit should share its lists with Mexico's immigration authorities and enhance parole supervision for gang members in border regions.
It's become popular lately for politicians to speak of a possible "spillover" of violence from Mexico to the United States, so it's remarkable and disorienting to discover so much of the "spillover" is really in the other direction.
Relatedly, here's an excellent breakdown from Scott Stewart at Stratfor of the current who's who among the drug cartels and their shifting alliances over the last several years. In particular, he suggests the slaying of Americans may be an intentional provocation to draw us into the conflict and counter the Mexican government's alleged favoritism of a rival cartel:
the Gulf and Sinaloa cartels have joined forces with La Familia Michoacana (LFM) to form a new super cartel called the New Federation and are now allies in the struggle against Los Zetas and the BLO, which have teamed up with the Juarez cartel to fight against the New Federation. One constant in the violence of the past decade has been the aggressiveness of the Sinaloa cartel as it has sought to take territory from other cartels and organizations.
In the midst of the current cartel landscape, which has radically shifted over the past year, it is difficult for any type of balance to be found. There are also very few levers with which the Calderon government can apply pressure to help force the shifting pieces into alignment. In the near term, perhaps the only hope for striking a balance and reducing the violence is that the New Federation is strong enough to kill off organizations like Los Zetas, the BLO and the Juarez cartel and assert calm through sheer force. However, while the massed forces of the New Federation initially made some significant headway against Los Zetas, the former special operations personnel appear to have rallied, and Los Zetas’ tactical skills and arms make them unlikely to be defeated easily.
There have been many rumors that the New Federation, in its fight against Los Zetas, was being helped by the Mexican government. (Some of those rumors have come from the New Federation itself.) During the New Federation’s offensive against Los Zetas, federation enforcers have been seen driving around Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo in vehicles openly marked with signs indicating they belonged to the New Federation. While far from conclusive proof of government assistance, the well-marked vehicles certainly do seem to support the cartel’s assertion that, at the very least, the government did not want to interfere with the federation’s operation to destroy Los Zetas.
When pieced together with other observations gathered during the cartel wars, this also suggests that the Sinaloa cartel may have consistently benefited from the government’s actions. These actions would include taking out the BLO leadership after the Beltran Leyva brothers turned against Sinaloa and the government’s success against La Linea and Los Aztecas in Juarez. There are also occasional contraindications, such as the recent large-scale attacks against military bases in the northeast that appear to have been conducted by the New Federation.
Despite these contraindications, the cartels fighting the New Federation believe the government favors the group, and there have long been rumors that Calderon was somehow tied to El Chapo. The Juarez cartel may have recently taken some desperate steps to counter what it perceives to be a dire threat of government and New Federation cooperation. A local Juarez newspaper, El Diario, recently published an article discussing a Los Aztecas member who had been detained and interrogated by the Mexican military and federal police in connection with the murders of three U.S. Consulate employees in Juarez in March. During the interrogation, according to El Diario, the Los Aztecas member divulged that a decision was made by leaders in the Barrio Azteca gang and Juarez cartel to engage U.S. citizens in the Juarez area in an effort to force the U.S. government to intervene in Mexico and therefore act as a “neutral referee,” thereby helping to counter the Mexican government’s favoritism toward the New Federation.
Was the attack on Americans really bait to draw the United States more deeply into Mexico's cartel wars? It's possible. Sometimes it seems like cartel leaders are playing a complicated six-way chess game, while governments on both sides of the river are still playing checkers.