Americans are being told to avoid non-essential travel to one northern Mexican state after arrests of alleged Mexican drug cartel leaders in the United States prompt fears of retaliation against US tourists.
The US State Department has issued an emergency warning to US citizens following the arrest in Oklahoma of high-ranking members of the infamous Mexican drug cartel known as los Zetas.
The warning was issued by State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security the day after a raid by federal agents Tuesday on a horse ranch in Ruidoso, OK. Those arrested are suspected of using horse breeding and quarterhorse racing as part of a scheme to launder millions of dollars in Zetas drug money.
For more details on backstory behind this raid and the alleged money-laundering scheme, read this Washington Post story here.
This latest warning from State doesn’t mention los Zetas by name, saying only that:
“The U.S. Embassy alerts U.S. citizens traveling and residing in Mexico to the enhanced potential for violence related to today’s arrests of Transnational Criminal Organization (TCO) associates and family members residing in the United States.”
Once you know about the Ruidoso raid, as well as the background of los Zetas, it’s not too hard to figure out which “Transnational Criminal Organization” they’re talking about.
Los Zetas may control as many as 11 of Mexico’s 31 states, but their power base is believed to be in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas, across the border from Laredo, TX. Even before Tuesday’s arrests, the State Department war advising Americans to avoid non-essential travel to or in Tamaulipas.
They renewed that warning yesterday.
The State Department has issued plenty of travel warnings about Mexico through most of this decade, but I can’t recall another time when State came this close to saying that American tourists and expats in Mexico could be specific targets of retaliation.
Arguably the most feared of all those cartels, los Zetas was formed back in 1999 by deserters from an elite Mexican army paratroop unit. Originally hired as highly paid bodyguards for an existing Mexican cartel, they soon went into the drug business for themselves, using their military skills to train gunmen, stage jailbreaks, even set up their own sophisticated communications network.
They are known above all for their willingness to massacre rivals and civilians alike. Their victims may well number in the thousands.
And if you’re wondering if they’ve ever sent gunmen across the border to conduct drug-related “hits” in the United States, the answer is yes.
As their original members have been depleted by government arrests and assassinations from rival cartels, they are believed to have reached across their southern border to recruit new members from los Kaibiles, a Guatemalan army special forces unit with a reputation for human rights violations.
There is no mention in the State Department warning of any specific, credible threat. I suspects it’s based more than anything on the reputation of los Zetas and their new Guatemalan partners for ultra-violence. Frankly, however, that might well be reason enough to issue it — and for Americans living or traveling south of the border to take it seriously.
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