Drug 'War Zone' Rattles U.S.-Mexico Border

A few weeks ago, five men were shot to death in a car repair shop in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico.

In any other city, it might be called a massacre. In Nuevo Laredo, it's called business as usual.

Across the river in Laredo, Texas, the sheriff called it something else.

"It's a war zone," said Webb County Sheriff Rick Flores. "We've got level three body armor. They've got level four. We've got cell phones. They've got satellite cell phones that we can't tap into.

"We're being outgunned," Flores added. "And that's the reason why we're concerned on this side."

The border cities of Laredo and Nuevo Laredo share four bridges across the Rio Grande, thousands of extended families and, now, the suffering caused by drug violence that, at least on the Mexico side, is out of control.

Last year in Nuevo Laredo, a city of about 500,000, the same size as Tucson, Ariz., more than 170 people were killed. Only a handful of those killings led to any arrests.

Among those slain were a city councilman, 13 police officers and the city's police chief, who had been in office seven hours when he was shot more than 50 times.

Now truckloads of federal police, similar to the U.S. National Guard, have been shipped in from across Mexico to restore some semblance of order. Last June most of the local police force was fired for being in the pockets of the drug cartels.

Drug Corridor

The federal show of force has calmed the city since a wave of particularly horrific violence last summer. But the cartels are so rich and local authorities so corrupt that no one is under any illusions that the Mexican government has them on the run. After all, they're fighting over the most lucrative drug corridor in North America, the border at Laredo, Texas.

"You have a number of the drug cartels that are in an all-out war to gain control of this area," said John Montoya of the U.S. Border Patrol. "The Laredo area is the key ingress into the United States. It's called a gateway city, not only into Mexico but into the United States as well. They use Interstate 35 to transport their illegal narcotics. They attempt to set up their infrastructure and their bases of operation not only on the Mexican side but on the U.S. side."

Each day it is estimated that more than 6,000 trucks carrying 40 percent of all Mexican exports come through Laredo. The cartels use the trucks, the warehouses and the interstate to move most of the cocaine, marijuana and methamphetamine that reaches the United States. It's a booming business worth $10 million a day, according to a senior agent at the Drug Enforcement Agency.

"By latest estimates, 92 percent of the cocaine coming into the U.S. comes in through the Southwest border," said the DEA's Rick Saldana.

The sheer viciousness of the border drug trade was made clear in a video, presumably made by one of the cartels, showing captured members of a rival gang who describe how their hit men tortured and killed those who got in their way by pouring combustibles over them and burning them with gasoline.

Saldana sees more of the same, for now.

"I think the violence will go down when one or the other cartel gets control of the area or there's a truce between the two," he said.

The area has become so traumatized with fear that the drug cartels have become the dominant institutions. They have more money, better weapons and a stronger organization than any group but the Mexican army.

  • 1
  • |
  • 2
  • |
  • 3
Join the Discussion
blog comments powered by Disqus
You Might Also Like...