Tucson a hub for Mexicans' drug trade
New wave of cartels grows as Colombian role declines
By Pablo Bachelet
KNIGHT RIDDER NEWSPAPERS
WASHINGTON - Mexican drug traffickers have made Tucson one of their 14 "staging areas" in the United States as they have pushed aside their Colombian counterparts and now dominate the illegal-drug market, U.S. officials say.
The reorganization of the drug trade is the biggest since the rise of the Colombian cartels in the 1980s, officials with the Drug Enforcement Administration say.
Along with Tucson, the DEA identified other staging areas as Albuquerque; Brownsville, Texas; Dallas; El Paso; Houston; Laredo, Texas; Los Angeles; McAllen, Texas; Oklahoma City; Phoenix; Tulsa, Okla.; San Antonio; and San Diego.
Mexican groups now are behind much of the cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine on U.S. streets, the officials say, with Mexican law enforcement agencies viewed as either too weak or too corrupt to stop them.
Mexico's role as a drug-trafficking giant has been growing for some time, but its grip on the $400 billion-a-year trade has strengthened in recent years.
The DEA said that in June 2004, 92 percent of the cocaine sold in the United States came through the U.S.-Mexican border, compared with 77 percent in June 2003.
And the Key West, Fla.-based Joint Interagency Task Force South, which coordinates federal drug interdiction efforts and intelligence, has reported almost 90 percent of the cocaine heading to the U.S. market goes by boat to Mexico or other countries in Central America, and then by land to the U.S. border.
The increase has sparked several recent reports by the DEA and other U.S. agencies, as well as hearings in the House and Senate.
Members of Congress, worried that the smuggling networks could be used to sneak in terrorists, are pressing the Bush administration to spend more money on programs to intercept drug shipments before they reach the border.
Officials describe the Mexican cartels as business-savvy, tightknit family affairs that operate weblike networks of international partnerships. The Colombians cartels controlled the drug trade from its production to its wholesale distribution. The Mexicans tend to focus more on distribution, the business's most lucrative leg.
Anthony Placido, the DEA's top intelligence official, told a congressional panel in June that the Mexican gangs have links to groups from Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Jamaica, and "street gangs, prison gangs and outlaw motorcycle gangs who conduct most of the retail and street-level distribution throughout the country."
The Mexicans don't control the coca or opium poppy crops in South America but are "taking ownership of (drugs) and beginning to deliver the drug themselves to Mexican distributors in the United States," said David Murray, a senior adviser with the White House's Office of National Drug Control Policy.
U.S. law enforcement agencies have uncovered more than 30 tunnels below the border built by drug traffickers. One congressional aide described them as "industry-standard tunnels that you would find in a mining operation."
The Mexicans also offer a more varied menu of drugs than their Colombian counterparts, who traditionally dealt in cocaine and heroin. According to the DEA, Mexico is the second-largest supplier of heroin in the United States after Colombia and the largest foreign supplier of marijuana.
Mexican gangs also are becoming a major force in the burgeoning methamphetamine trade by setting up production laboratories on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border.
In 2004, a record 3,600 pounds of meth was seized along the Southwest border, a 74 percent rise since 2001, according to DEA figures.
Placido said the administration of President Vicente Fox has had some success in undermining Mexico's traditional drug-smuggling cartels and has increased its cooperation with its U.S. counterparts. But new traffickers and syndicates have risen in their place.
Officials blame a turf war among Mexican drug cartels for a wave of killings and kidnappings along the Mexican side of the border that prompted the U.S. State Department to issue three travel advisories warning U.S. citizens to stay away, including one on July 26.
Clamping down on the Mexican-U.S. drug traffic is a daunting task because the border is one of the busiest in the world.
U.S. government statistics show that last year 48 million pedestrians, 90 million private vehicles and 4.4 million trucks crossed from Mexico into the United States. Another 1.1 million people were caught trying to cross.
Then there is Mexico's police corruption, which Placido called "the single largest impediment to seriously impacting the drug-trafficking problem in Mexico."
Congress is taking note of the problem. Rep. Mark Souder, R-Ind., who oversees drug issues in the Committee on Government Reform, has warned that the lack of effective border controls could affect "the smuggling of people, terrorists and weapons."
Indiana Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has introduced legislation to improve security cooperation among Mexico, the United States and Canada.
At a recent hearing, Lugar pointed out that 3,000 people caught trying to cross the border illegally last year came from "nations that have produced or have been associated with terrorist cells," such as Somalia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.
its only gonna keep growing as more and more gangs become cartels becouse thre tired of being the middle men for the columbians.
So wheres the party this weekend? I wanna get fucked up.
bush knows about all this crap and his solution is going to be to make
all the illegals legal, so no business can be fined for hiring them.......
and he is never going to secure the border
if I had known about this, I would not have voted for him
he still would have won, but I wouldn't have felt so betrayed
Looks like it is anywhere within a days ride of our "partners to the south"
Hey, bush, no hurry on that border enforcement thing...........
Mexican mercenaries expand base into U.S.
By Jerry Seper
THE WASHINGTON TIMES
August 1, 2005
A renegade band of Mexican military deserters, offering $50,000 bounties for the assassination of U.S. law-enforcement officers, has expanded its base of operations into the United States to protect loads of cocaine and marijuana being brought into America by Mexican smugglers, authorities said.
The deserters, known as the "Zetas," trained in the United States as an elite force of anti-drug commandos, but have since signed on as mercenaries for Mexican narcotics traffickers and have recruited an army of followers, many of whom are believed to be operating in Texas, Arizona, California and Florida.
Working mainly for the Gulf Cartel, one of Mexico's most dangerous drug-trafficking organizations, as many as 200 Zeta members are thought to be involved, including former Mexican federal, state and local police. They are suspected in more than 90 deaths of rival gang members and others, including police officers, in the past two years in a violent drug war to control U.S. smuggling routes.
The organization's hub, law-enforcement authorities said, is Nuevo Laredo, a border city of 300,000 across from Laredo, Texas. It is the most active port-of-entry along the U.S.-Mexico border, with more than 6,000 trucks crossing daily into Texas, carrying about 40 percent of Mexico's total exports.
Authorities said the Zetas control the city despite efforts by Mexican President Vicente Fox to restore order. He sent hundreds of Mexican troops and federal agents to the city in March to set up highway checkpoints and conduct raids on suspected Zeta locations.
Despite the presence of law enforcement, more than 100 killings have occurred in the city since Jan. 1, including that of former Police Chief Alejandro Dominguez, 52, gunned down June 8, just seven hours after he was sworn in. The city's new chief, Omar Pimentel, 37, escaped death during a drive-by shooting on his first day, although one of his bodyguards was killed.
Authorities said the Zetas operate over a wide area of the U.S.-Mexico border and are suspected in at least three drug-related slayings in the Dallas area. They said as many as 10 Zeta members are operating inside Texas as Gulf Cartel assassins, seeking to protect nearly $10 million in daily drug transactions.
In March, the Justice Department said the Zetas were involved "in multiple assaults and are believed to have hired criminal gangs" in the Dallas area for contract killings. The department said the organization was spreading from Texas to California and Florida and was establishing drug-trafficking routes it was willing to protect "at any cost."
Just last month, the department issued a new warning to law-enforcement authorities in Arizona and California, urging them to be on the lookout for Zeta members. An intelligence bulletin said a search for new drug-smuggling routes in the two states by the organization could bring new violence to the areas.
The number of assaults on U.S. Border Patrol agents along the 260 miles of U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona known as the Tucson sector has increased dramatically this year, including a May 30 shooting near Nogales, Ariz., in which two agents were seriously wounded during an ambush a mile north of the border.
Their assailants were dressed in black commando-type clothing, used high-powered weapons and hand-held radios to point out the agents' location, and withdrew from the area using military-style cover and concealment tactics to escape back into Mexico.
Santa Cruz County Sheriff Tony Estrada in Nogales said his investigators found commando clothing, food, water and other "sophisticated equipment" at the ambush site.
Since Oct. 1, the start of the fiscal year, there have been 196 assaults on Border Patrol agents in the Tucson sector, including 24 shootings. During the same period last year, 92 assaults were reported, with five shootings. The sector is the busiest alien- and drug-trafficking corridor in the country.
U.S. intelligence officials have described the Zetas as an expanding gang of mercenaries with intimate knowledge of Mexican drug-trafficking methods and routes. Strategic Forecasting Inc., a security consulting firm that often works with the State and Defense departments, said in a recent report the Zetas had maintained "connections to the Mexican law-enforcement establishment" to gain unfettered access throughout the southern border.
Many of the Zeta leaders belonged to an elite anti-drug paratroop and intelligence battalion known as the Special Air Mobile Force Group, who deserted in 1991 and aligned themselves with drug traffickers.