Monday, April 16, 2007

Mexican drug gangs hiring teen assassins in Texas

While I've been focused on the Texas Legislature I've paid less attention than usual to trafficking-related violence at the Mexican border, but stories from both sides of the Rio Grande knocked me out of my reverie this week to remind me that gang wars over drug routes aren't just Mexico's problem anymore.

The Houston Chronicle has a story this morning ("Drug cartel hires Texas teens as border hitmen," April 16) about the Gulf Cartel's notorious Los Zetas - a group of US-trained special forces troops who defected from the Mexican military to work for the Gulf Cartel - hiring Texas teenagers as assassins in their war with the Sinaloa gang led by Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman. The kids are known to law enforcement as Zetillas, or little Zetas. (See an overview here of who's who in the cartel wars.) Describing allegations against one such youth, reports the Chronicle:
In all, [Gabriel] Cardona, who is now 20, was charged with killing five people in the span of 10 months, including Garcia, Lopez and the Resendezes. So far, he's pleaded guilty to two murder charges and faces three more.
The Chronicle story implies potential wrongdoing on the part of a justice of the peace who reduced bail for Cardona and an accomplice, but falls short of alleging outright corruption:
The Chronicle investigation also revealed a pattern of bail reductions by a Webb County justice of the peace, Hector Liendo, on behalf of Cardona and an alleged accomplice, a young man named Jesse Gonzalez III, who is charged with three murders — two allegedly committed while he was out on bail. Gonzalez, who spent 11 days in jail on a murder charge before bonding out, remains a fugitive.
Whether that "pattern" stemmed from payoffs or rational judicial decisions wasn't confirmed either way by the story, but certainly in Mexico the practice of buying judges (and police, and prosecutors), not to mention widespread corruption on the US side of the border, raises the question of whether that's what's happening here. It IS odd - you don't often hear of anyone granting bail in Texas on capital murder charges. Even odder, or more accurately, scarier:
The profile of the Zetillas in Laredo has startled U.S. law enforcement authorities. They're American kids, born on the north side of the Rio Grande. They range in age from 17 to 24.

At least one, Rosalio Reta Jr., a 17-year-old Houston native, was trained at a Gulf Cartel camp in Mexico, law enforcement sources said. At an age when other kids learn how to tie sailor's knots at Boy Scout camps, he learned how to toss explosives.

Law enforcement sources said Cardona and his accomplices present some of the clearest evidence yet that Mexican drug gangs are recruiting and training U.S.-born hitmen to kill on the north side of the Rio Grande, representing a brutal escalation of drug-related border violence.

These revelations put a new face on the drug war at the Mexican border - an American one, meaning the problem can't just be deported back to Mexico and forgotten. American policies ignored or contributed for decades to drug-related violence in Colombia, Central America, then Mexico, and now the chickens are coming home to roost in our own backyard. If Mexican drug gangs are hiring assassins and manipulating judges within US borders, somehow I don't think labeling them Communists or arming death squads to exterminate them is going to work this time.

Indeed, it's probable that Texas law enforcement is the least of Los Zetas' worries. In Veracruz City where Kathy and I visited last summer, AP reports that a corpse was recently found wrapped in plastic bags, apparently a victim of cartel violence.
Next to the body was a note signed by Nueva Gente, purportedly a drug gang, threatening the Zetas, a gang of enforcers for the Gulf Cartel.

"Anybody who supports the Zetas will show up like this idiot," the note said and mentioned several names of people the gang would "talk to."

As President Calderon cracks down, violence in Mexico will almost inevitably escalate. Meanwhile all this is happening at a time when Governor Perry's multi-million dollar border surge isn't communicating with Texas mainline drug intelligence operations, leaving law enforcement working at cross purposes while the drug gangs carry out their dirty little war. One thing's for sure, with the arrival of the Zetillas in Texas, the border violence that's haunted Nuevo Laredo and the Mexican side of the river can no longer be counted on to stop at the water's edge.

RELATED: A Gulf Cartel bigwig was captured in Reynosa, reports Beyond the Border blog, a whopping 112 alleged corrupt police officers have been arrested in the state of Nuevo Leon, and a gun battle erupts between rival immigrant smuggling groups in Houston.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

These kids need to be sent to a nice contract placement for rehabilitation. They are much too nice to be sent to TYC. Southwest Key will rehabilitate all of them for minimum bid. They can place them in a location near you and send them to the same school as your children.