WASHINGTON – U.S.-trained Mexican commandos are conducting a bloody war for control of the entire southern border in an effort to secure a monopoly on drug-smuggling and people-smuggling routes, according to law enforcement officials.
Hundreds have been killed in recent months in a wave of violence waged by the Zetas gang, headed by reputed drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, said Mexico’s Attorney General Daniel Cabeza de Vaca.
Among the victims of the U.S-trained Zetas have been other suspected smugglers, hit men, police, soldiers and civilians on both sides of the 2,000-mile border.
“Definitely, he is the most active man in his group,” said Cabeza de Vaca. “He is trying to fight for the border corridors, trying to control places like Culiacan just like the rest of the communities of Sinaloa (state), and the border cities.”
The Zetas were trained as elite commandos by U.S. forces to combat the drug cartels, but they have switched sides and are working for the drug smugglers in the border area posing a special hazard to American law enforcement and Border Patrol agents, according to a U.S. Justice Department memo.
There are widespread reports of the commandos making cross-border runs into U.S. territory in military-style vehicles, armed with automatic weapons.
The U.S. government has spent millions of dollars training Los Zetas to intercept drugs, some of them coming from Mexico’s southern border, before they could reach the U.S. The U.S. government has also sent U.S. Border Patrol agents to Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala to train law enforcement and military forces to intercept human smugglers destined to reach the U.S.
Guzman, whose nickname means “Shorty,” bribed guards to escape from prison in 2001. He is one of Mexico’s most-wanted fugitives. U.S. authorities have offered a $5 million reward for his capture.
“We are looking for him,” Cabeza de Vaca told reporters Friday. “We are behind him. Many times we have been close. We will continue searching very intensely.”
The spike in killings and kidnappings in northern Mexico in recent months has made headlines and prompted federal agents and soldiers to patrol the streets of Nuevo Laredo, across from Laredo, Texas.
On Thursday in Matamoros, across from Brownsville, Texas, a federal agent was killed in a shootout with two men who Cabeza de Vaca said were members of the Zetas, a group of military deserters believed to be loyal to Cardenas.
Police in Nuevo Laredo Friday found the bodies of two men who had been shot several times and killed inside an Oldsmobile. No arrests have been made in that case.
The attorney general also said investigators suspect that large drug gangs sometimes rely on hit men from other countries, who slip into Mexico using false travel documents and carry out professional killings before disappearing.
His comments came a day after Guzman’s son, Ivan Archivaldo Guzman Salazar, was transferred to a maximum-security penitentiary west of the capital amid reports of a planned attempt to break him out of jail.
Guzman Salazar is awaiting trial on money laundering charges.
About 500 people have died in gang shootings across Mexico this year — many slain execution-style, with their hands tied behind their backs. Nine were killed this week in Sinaloa alone.
Cabeza de Vaca, formerly a legal adviser to President Vicente Fox, took over as attorney general this month, replacing Rafael Macedo de la Concha, who was forced out over charges against Mexico City’s populist mayor.
Mexico is a major transport site for cocaine from Colombia to the United States and also produces heroin and marijuana.