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Sunday, 13 March 2011

Los Zetas has used family and personal connections to make the Dallas area into a sophisticated distribution point, moving cocaine, pot and methamphetamine to other U.S. markets


05:33 | , ,

Los Zetas has used family and personal connections to make the Dallas area into a sophisticated distribution point, moving cocaine, pot and methamphetamine to other U.S. markets, weapons, ammunition and millions of dollars in bulk cash back to Mexico, authorities say.
Recent developments underscore the region’s role in an increasingly dangerous criminal network. On Feb. 15, Texas-based U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jaime Zapata was fatally shot and his partner wounded after their armored vehicle was forced off a busy highway in central Mexico. The gunmen were members of the Zetas, investigators said, and one of the weapons used came from a North Texas gun shop.
In response to the shooting, U.S. law enforcement officials led a massive sweep throughout the country and Latin America against Mexican cartel suspects. Dallas-based agents arrested 57 people and seized more than $2 million in cash, gold and other property.
“Dallas is no longer a world away from the border,” said Jeffrey Stamm, assistant special agent in charge of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Dallas office, describing the Dallas area as a key base for the Zetas and other cartels. “We are close enough to be the command-and-control center.”
Over several months, a team of Dallas Morning News journalists examined the Zetas’ role in the multibillion-dollar illegal drug trade, interviewing dozens of law enforcement officials and others with knowledge of the group in Mexico, Colombia, Guatemala and Texas. Among their findings, presented in a three-day series of reports beginning today:
The Zetas have built alliances with gangs in Central America, particularly Guatemala, adding to the violence and corruption afflicting that region and further empowering those groups to spread lawlessness and terror among the population. The Zetas also have gained control of large pieces of land in Guatemala, compromising border security and facilitating smuggling, and have made inroads into Colombia, gaining direct access to producers and smugglers.
The Zetas have become one of the most brutal and powerful criminal organizations in Mexico, wresting territory from rival groups and corrupting, intimidating and co-opting law enforcement authorities, politicians and others, especially along the border with Texas.
The impact of the Zetas and other criminal groups in North Texas is on display daily in Dallas drug courts, where addicts struggle to repair their damaged lives and step away from the criminal lifestyle that almost always accompanies their drug use.
Dallas connections
The Zetas’ presence in Dallas, first documented in The Dallas Morning News in 2005, has continued to grow because of the area’s confluence of bustling highways, a busy international airport and the familiarity of a large Hispanic immigrant community. Its leaders are known to have relatives here, authorities say.
But the organization is hardly local. Over the years, through violence and networking, it has extended its reach throughout Mexico and into Central and South America. In 2009, President Barack Obama named the Zetas a Specially Designated Narcotics Trafficker Kingpin organization, reserved for the world’s most dangerous drug organizations.
“The reach of Mexican organized crime spreads across the globe,” said expert Edgardo Buscaglia, who has advised the United Nations on drug policy and teaches at the Autonomous Institute of Technology of Mexico in Mexico City. “They’re powerful, deadly and have proven they’re capable of paralyzing governments, including regions throughout Mexico. Calling them [simply] drug traffickers is no longer accurate. They’re some of the world’s most powerful organized crime members.”
The Zetas are known for bringing an especially brutal brand of violence to the borderlands just south of Texas. In August, after gunmen massacred 72 migrants, mostly from Central America, a survivor of the bloodbath said the killers identified themselves as Zetas.
“You have Mexican cartels, and then you have terrorists,” said a U.S. federal agent with expertise in gathering intelligence on the Zetas, speaking on condition of anonymity. “The Zetas are terrorists, not a cartel.”
The Zetas have transformed two Mexican states bordering Texas, Tamaulipas and Nuevo León — including the key industrial city of Monterrey — into a bloody war zone as they have battled their former employers, the Gulf cartel, for control of the territory, law enforcement officials say.
Journalists have been killed or intimidated into silence. Police officers have been killed and corrupted. Politicians have been slain. Entire communities have been evacuated as residents flee for their lives.
Such wholesale bloodletting doesn’t yet characterize the Zetas’ presence in North Texas, although several recent killings carried the hallmarks of cartel violence. But here, as in Mexico, competition among cartels could take a turn for the worse, authorities say.
“I’m not going to predict street violence and turf battles on the streets of Dallas,” said Stamm of the DEA. “There is a fair bit of caution with … these organizations to not mess where they eat in the U.S. distribution markets. But certainly there is a power struggle. … It’s anybody’s guess how that’s going to end, and how much more violence will occur along the way.”
Currently, the Zetas are pitted against a confederation of rival groups, known as Narcos Unidos, which joined forces in an effort to counter the growing power of the Zetas, authorities say


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