For at least a year, the Mexican border city of Nuevo Laredo has lived in the shadow of a violent band of defectors from the Mexican Army??¢â???¬â???¢s Special Forces.
Known as ??¢â???¬?????Los Zetas,??¢â???¬ the band is comprised of 31 rogue paratroopers from an elite Mexican Air-Mobile Unit (GAFE is its Spanish acronym) that was assigned to counter the drug trade during the 1990s.
In January 2003, Mexican authorities announced that the 31–who may have received training from the U.S. Army at Fort Bragg, N.C., along with hundreds of other GAFE troopers–had deserted and joined forces with the powerful Gulf Cartel.
Since their desertion, the Zetas–who take their name from the radio code-name for ??¢â???¬?????captain??¢â???¬ –have used military weapons and training to terrorize other drug gangs and, in some cases, the civilian population. Armed with technology that allows them to listen in on law enforcement, they have so far proved impossible to capture or kill.
Before their daring raid on the Michoacan state prison last month, the Zetas reportedly had been waging a bloody war for control of Nuevo Laredo–a community of 300,000 directly across the border from Laredo, Tex.
??¢â???¬?????The violence has created much fear amongst the people in Nuevo Laredo,??¢â???¬ said Daniel Rosas, editor of the daily newspaper El Ma???? ±ana in Nuevo Laredo. ??¢â???¬?????Particularly because we are at the border, and we depend on a lot of visitors and tourism. Some people might not come just because of that information.??¢â???¬
In June 2003, El Ma???? ±ana published a grimly humorous ??¢â???¬?????Citizen??¢â???¬â???¢s Guide,??¢â???¬ which said: ??¢â???¬?????Most residents of Nuevo Laredo have seen armed men dressed in black on the streets of their city and were unable to decide if the paramilitaries were law enforcement or cartel enforcers.??¢â???¬ The guide attempted to differentiate the police and the criminals, but acknowledged that in many cases the two are indistinguishable.
When questioned about the Zetas, Drug Enforcement Agency spokesman William Grant said, ??¢â???¬?????DEA is not going to comment.??¢â???¬ But according to a 2003 DEA report on Mexico, the U.S. Consulate in Nuevo Laredo reported that ??¢â???¬?????18 active and former police officers were murdered, kidnapped, or wounded in shootings in 2002.??¢â???¬ The report went on: ??¢â???¬?????Violence perpetuated by Mexican drug trafficking organizations persists with relative impunity because of law enforcement corruption, a scarcity of resources to properly investigate these crimes, and a lack of resolve due to the threat of retaliation.??¢â???¬
Between 2002 and 2003, the Zetas??¢â???¬â???¢ war with other drug syndicates–including ??¢â???¬?????Los Talibanes??¢â???¬ and??¢â???¬?????Los Texas??¢â???¬ –resulted in 87 deaths in Nuevo Laredo alone.
Michael Yoder, spokesman for the U.S. Consulate in Nuevo Laredo, told HUMAN EVENTS that the city has been relatively calm ever since federal authorities sent in 700 federal police to keep the peace.
Rosas, however, was not optimistic. ??¢â???¬?????Since the Federales came to Nuevo Laredo, the rate of the murders has dropped, but we think that as soon as they go, the problem will rise again,??¢â???¬ he said. ??¢â???¬?????I don??¢â???¬â???¢t think that the Zetas are gone. I think they are working here, and they are going to continue here until they are caught.??¢â???¬