June 13, 2012 -- American travelers to Mexico should beware of possible violent retaliation for this week's arrest of alleged Zetas drug cartel associates and family members inside the U.S., the U.S. State Department has warned.
Though the warning does not specify which "Transnational Criminal Organization" might engage in "anti-American" violence, on Tuesday federal authorities arrested seven alleged associates of the powerful Zetas drug cartel in New Mexico and Oklahoma for allegedly laundering millions in drug profits through breeding and racing quarterhorses in the U.S. Those arrested included Jose Trevino Morales, the brother of Zetas leaders Miguel Angel and Oscar Omar Trevino Morales, who were also indicted but remain at large in Mexico.
According to the indictment, the Zetas cartel steered drug money to Jose Trevino Morales and his wife to purchase, train and race quarterhorses. Horses owned by the Zetas' alleged front companies competed at Ruidoso Downs in New Mexico and won lucrative races, including the $1 million All American Futurity in 2010. Some of the horses, like Morning Cartel and Coronita Cartel, had the word "cartel" in their names.
The travel warning issued Tuesday, the day of the arrests and the unsealing of the indictment, urges U.S. citizens in Mexico to be on guard. "Given the history and resources of this violent TCO, the U.S. Embassy urges U.S. citizens to maintain a low profile and a heightened sense of awareness."
Miguel Angel Trevino Morales and his brother Oscar Omar, who go by the names 40 and 42, which refer to their alleged rank within the Zetas at the time of the cartel's creation several years ago, are now allegedly top leaders of an organization that controls drug trafficking in the east and south of Mexico. The Zetas began in 1999 when former members of the Mexican military signed on to work as security for the Gulf drug cartel. The Zetas went into business for themselves and are now at war with the Gulf Cartel.
The Zetas are based in Nuevo Laredo, in Tamaulipas state just across the border from Laredo, Texas. The U.S. State Department issued a Travel Warning about Tamaulipas in February, and on Tuesday noted that it "continues to advise U.S. citizens to defer non-essential travel to the state of Tamaulipas."