Drug Cartels Put Hit Squads in Laredo
Federal Investigations Agency agents patrol the streets in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, Tuesday June 14, 2005. Alarmed that rival drug cartels in Nuevo Laredo might spread violence across the border, federal and state politicians began this year to send money and resources in waves. (AP Photo)
The scrawny young man at the defense table was only 17, and had only a peach-fuzz mustache in his mugshot. But authorities say he was already a seasoned assassin in the U.S. for some of Mexico's drug lords.
The trial last month of American citizen Rosalio "Bart" Reta, combined with the case against a co-defendant and interviews with law enforcement officials, has cast a spotlight on a new danger along the border.
Mexican drug lords locked in a bloody fight for control of a pipeline that runs from Mexico to Dallas and up through middle America have brazenly stationed hit squads and reconnaissance teams in Laredo.
In the past two years, rival cartels have killed at least seven people in Laredo, including a victim stalked and killed near his job site and a man gunned down in the parking lot of a popular restaurant, U.S. authorities say. Nearly all the victims were mixed up in the drug trade themselves.
"That river does not stop these people," said Webb County Sheriff's Maj. Doyle Holdridge, who for the past 30 years has been working drug cases along the Rio Grande, which separates Laredo from its Mexican sister city, Nuevo Laredo. The cities have a combined population of half a million.
Over the past few years, the Mexican Gulf Cartel and its rival Sinaloa Cartel have carried out a terrifying bloodbath in Nuevo Laredo, where the traffickers have a saying: "Plata o plomo" "Silver or lead." So far, the worst of the violence has been confined to Mexico.
"Our mission is to make sure it doesn't cross over," said Jesse Guillen, a Laredo prosecutor who obtained guilty pleas from Reta and another hitman for the Gulf Cartel earlier this year. "Is it under control? Let's see."
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