The United States has diplomatic relations with 194 independent nations. Of these, none is more important to America than Mexico in terms of trade, investment, tourism, natural resources, migration, energy, and security. In recent years, narco-violence has afflicted our neighbor to the south—with more than 50,000 drugrelated murders since 2007 and some 26,000 men, women, and children missing. President Enrique Peña Nieto has tried to divert national attention from the bloodshed through reforms in energy, education, antihunger, health care, and other areas. Even though the death rate has declined since the chief executive took office on December 1, 2012, other crimes continue to plague his nation.
Members of the business community report continual extortion demands; national oil company Petróleos Mexicanos (PEMEX) suffers widespread theft of oil, gas, explosives, and solvents (with which to prepare methamphetamines); hundreds of Central American migrants have shown up in mass graves; and the public identifies the police with corruption and villainy. A common fear of the elite and growing middle class is kidnapping. In 2012, Mexico recorded 105,000 cases; in 2013, the country led the world in abductions, surpassing such volatile nations as Afghanistan, Colombia, and Iraq.
Los Zetas, who deserted from the army’s special forces in the late-1990s, not only traffic in drugs, murder, kidnap, and raid PEMEX installations, but also involve themselves in extortion, human smuggling, torture, money laundering, prostitution, arson, prison breakouts, murder for hire, and other felonies. While consisting of only a few hundred hard core members, these paramilitaries have gained a reputation for the sadistic treatment of foes and friends—a legacy of their two top leaders, Heriberto “The Executioner” Lazcano Lazcano and Miguel Ángel “El 40” Treviño Morales, who thrived on beheadings, castrations, “stewing” their prey in gasoline-filled vats, and other heinous acts. They make sophisticated use of social media and public hangings to display their savagery and cow adversaries.
The reputation for the unspeakable infliction of pain has enabled these desperados to commit atrocities in a score of Mexican states, even as they expend their presence, often in league with local gangs and crime families, in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, and other nations of the Americas. From their bastion in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, across the border from Laredo, Texas, they also acquire weapons, entrée to legal businesses, and teenage recruits. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the fiends have contracted with such outfits as the Texas Mexican Mafia prison gang, the Houston’s Tango Blast, and the McAllen, Texas-based Los Piojos to collect debts, acquire vehicles, carry out hits, and sign up thugs to fight their foes in the Matamoros-centered Gulf Cartel for which Los Zetas originally served as a Praetorian Guard.
Washington policymakers, who overwhelmingly concentrate on Asia and the Mideast, would be well advised to focus on the acute dangers that lie principally south of the Rio Grande, but whose deadly avatars are spilling into our nation.