Pubdate: Tue, 28 Oct 2008
Source: Monitor, The (McAllen, TX)
Copyright: 2008 The Monitor
Author: Jeremy Roebuck
Note: Jeremy Roebuck covers courts and general assignments for The Monitor.


Recent U.S. efforts to disrupt drug smuggling routes through the Rio 
Grande Valley have prompted threats of retaliation against 
authorities on this side of the river, according to an FBI intelligence report.

Vowing to maintain control over valuable trafficking corridors such 
as those in Reynosa, Matamoros and Miguel Aleman, the Gulf Cartel and 
its paramilitary enforcement wing, Los Zetas, have begun stockpiling 
weapons, reaching out to Texas gangs and issuing orders to "confront 
U.S. law enforcement agencies to zealously protect their criminal 
interests," the report states.

The organizations' encroachment north of the border marks a troubling 
shift in strategies, federal and local authorities say.

Prior to now, smugglers largely maintained a non-engagement policy 
with law enforcement here, even as they carried out hundreds of 
assassinations and violent attacks on authorities in Mexico.

"It's finally coming together - the cartels, the violence, the 
gangs," said one local law enforcement official. "It's going to get 
worse here before it gets any better."

Disturbing Intelligence

An Oct. 17 FBI intelligence report obtained by The Monitor charts the 
development of this more brazen strategy for the Zetas.

In direct response to recent arrests and seizures in Texas, regional 
leader Jaime "El Hummer" Gonzalez Duran has ordered dozens of 
reinforcements to Reynosa and urged his operatives to protect their 
turf at all cost.

"These replacements are believed to be armed with assault rifles, 
bulletproof vests and grenades and are occupying safe houses 
throughout the McAllen area," says the document, which was 
distributed to local law enforcement officials late last month.

The FBI's McAllen office refused to confirm the report's details 
Tuesday. But recent law enforcement actions seem to address many of 
its findings.

Following an attack from across the Rio Grande on U.S.  Border Patrol 
agents near Mission earlier this month, Hidalgo County Sheriff Lupe 
Trevino announced his deputies would return any fire that came from 
the other side of the border.

Last week, the FBI joined dozens of Valley police chiefs to discuss 
the growing threat of gangs in the region and their connection to 
Mexico's criminal organizations.

"Let's face it," Laredo police Chief Carlos Maldonado said at a news 
conference after the meeting. "The only people that recognize 
jurisdictional and international boundaries are us."

Law Enforcement Crackdown

This latest intelligence on the Zetas comes as a direct result of the 
recent successful U.S. and Mexican efforts.

Just last month, U.S. federal authorities swept up more than 175 
cartel operatives and associates working in the United States. The 
long-term investigation - dubbed "Project Reckoning" - netted several 
key players in cartel smuggling networks reaching from the Valley to 
states such as Georgia, New York and North Carolina.

In Starr County, 22 alleged members of a Roma-based cell - including 
its purported leader, Juan Carlos Hinojosa, and Sheriff Reymundo 
"Rey" Guerra - have been arrested since last month.

Other key operatives such as the purported top Zeta, Heriberto 
Lazcano Lazcano, and the alleged head of the Gulf Cartel, Jorge 
Eduardo Costilla Sanchez, were indicted on conspiracy and drug 
trafficking charges in a Washington, D.C., federal court. Both men 
remain at large.

These efforts north of the border come while Mexican President Felipe 
Calderon continues his two-year crackdown on his country's entrenched 
criminal organizations whose tentacles reach into local and federal 
law enforcement there.

Since taking office, his administration has extradited the former 
Gulf Cartel leader Osiel Cardenas Guillen to face criminal charges in 
the United States and has arrested or killed several of the 
organization's major players.

The Gulf Cartel and the Zetas, who control the country's northeast 
smuggling routes stretching from Matamoros to Nuevo Laredo, have 
sustained particular damage under the current campaign - so much so 
that Zetas like Gonzalez have reportedly taken over cartel 
operations. His sphere of control is now believed to stretch from Rio 
Bravo to Miguel Aleman.

Future Threat?

So far, the Gulf Cartel's dominance along Mexico's northeastern 
border has largely spared cities like Reynosa and Matamoros from the 
daily brutality suffered in places such as Ciudad Juarez - across the 
river from El Paso.

There, clashes between feuding cartels and with federal authorities 
have left a body count stretching into the thousands this year.

But law enforcement officials fear their success in thwarting 
smugglers in the Valley has already resulted in smaller - but still 
significant - forms of reprisal.

"Once we catch on to certain techniques, they get frustrated and 
adopt more aggressive ones," said Will Glaspy, a local spokesman for 
the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.

Recent federal intelligence suggests Gonzalez, the Zeta member 
purportedly running operations in Reynosa, may have recently planned 
an attack - ultimately thwarted - on the U.S. Consulate in Nuevo Laredo.

And as recently as last month, he and several alleged accomplices 
were implicated in the kidnapping of two men in Mission for debts 
owed to the cartel. Search warrants executed this month uncovered 
assault rifles, bulletproof vests and several paintball weapons at an 
alleged cartel stash house outside of the city.

To combat this threat, local and federal authorities must work 
together like never before, said Trevino, the Hidalgo County sheriff. 
And so far, he is encouraged by what he has seen.

"Ten years ago this kind of collaboration would not have happened," 
he said. "We may never have a complete victory, but I believe with 
continued cooperation we can really get a handle on the problem."
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