BY GIL POTTS
Osiel Cardenas Jr. appeared in a Brownsville federal court last Monday to answer charges related to smuggling hundreds of rounds of military-style ammunition into Mexico.
Cardenas is the son of Osiel Cardenas who was convicted in Houston of drug related crimes after he admitted to his role as chief leader of Mexicoâ€™s Gulf Cartel. He was considered to be one of the biggest drug lords ever to see the inside of an American courtroom.
Cardenas was arrested by Customs and Border Protection officers after they searched his Cadillac Escalade as he was about to cross the Rio Grande into Mexico. The officers allegedly found approximately 500 rounds of ammunition as well as tactical weapons gear in the vehicle.
The ammunition and gear was allegedly well hidden in the dashboard and other parts of the luxury SUV, according to an affidavit filed in federal court in Brownsville. Cardenas admitted that the ammunition was his and that he hid it because he knew it was illegal to export rifle ammunition and rifle magazines into Mexico, according to the affidavit. Apparently, this apple didnâ€™t fall very far from the tree.
On Tuesday, a man described as the former leader of the same drug cartel pleaded guilty to drug trafficking and money laundering charges.
As reported in The Beaumont Enterprise, Juan Francisco Saenz-Tamez told U.S. District Judge Marcia Crone, that he smuggled about 100 tons of marijuana and nearly a half-ton of cocaine, worth about $100 million. He said he took the cash to Mexico and reinvested it into the business to buy drugs and “other things.â€ According to the Enterprise, Assistant U.S. Attorney John Craft claims the 23-year-old defendant joined the cartel as a lookout in 2007. The Drug Enforcement Administration says Saenz-Tamez became the head of the cartel after the 2013 arrest of its former leader.
Testifying in Spanish, Saenz-Tamez said he was in charge of Camargo, a small Mexican town in Tamaulipas, where he obtained, on average, more than a ton of marijuana and 700 to 900 pounds of cocaine for shipment to Houston. From there, the drugs were distributed to states as far away as New York, Michigan, and Florida.
Saenz-Tamez, a resident of the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas, could be facing life in prison. He was arrested back on Oct. 9 by U.S. authorities while shopping in Edinburg, Texas, just over the border from Reynosa, Mexico, where the cartel is based.
As U.S. officials continue efforts to disrupt the drug organizations on this side of the border, the Mexican government has seen some degree of success in its efforts to dismantle these larger drug cartels. But as they do, new smaller cartels emerge.
“Without a stronger rule of law, Mexico struggles to combat these groups and their proliferation in crime,â€ said Shannon Oâ€™Neil, senior fellow for Latin America Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. “But,â€ she said, it has also forced many to turn to other crimes, like extortion, robbery, and kidnappings “that prey more directly on the Mexican population.â€
As an example, a new cartel has surfaced in the southern part of the state of Mexico, calling itself La Empresa. The emergence of this group has caused a great deal of concern among federal officials.
As “playersâ€ experience the pressures that come with operating an international drug organization, the newer, smaller groups have avoided the drug trade in favor of extortion, theft and abductions. These are crimes that make them a ton of money, but forces constant acts of violence to keep them visible and in control.
La Empresa translates to “The Companyâ€ in English. According to Damian Canales Mena, Mexico Stateâ€™s public safety secretary, the new cartel is appearing in a region of the country that is currently seeing the comeback of the once powerful La Familia Michoacana cartel.
Canales Mena stated that La Familia Michoacana has recently been trying to regroup in the state. Four men arrested in that area were recently caught with four packages of money allegedly to be used to pay for people to rejoin La Familia Michoacana. The emergence of La Empresa and the regrouping of La Familia Michoacana follow a trend in recent years of smaller, more localized drug trafficking operations in Mexico.
What is currently happening in Mexico may in a way, emulate what transpired in Colombia during the mid-1990s and early 2000s following the death of Pablo Escobar, and the downfall of the MedellÃn and Cali cartels.
In MedellÃn, the power vacuum that was created when the cartel eroded, produced a number of smaller gangs that clashed with each other for control of the various barrios. Homicide rates escalated to obscene levels, and created virtual “no-manâ€™sâ€ lands in areas of the Colombian city.
Some experts agree with the comparison, but others say that the situation in Mexico is different given President Enrique PeÃ±a Nietoâ€™s evident unwillingness to do anything about the violence in places like the state of Mexico and Guerrero, where 43 college students disappeared back in September.
Although the Department of Homeland Security has in the past denied the cartel linked violence plaguing citizens of Mexico may extend north of the border, the people of South Texas will tell you otherwise. According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection numbers published Sunday, seizures of methamphetamine at the U.S. Mexico border surged to a new high in fiscal year 2014.
Almost all of the methamphetamine consumed in the U.S. was once manufactured domestically. Today, Mexican cartels are flooding the U.S. marketplace with a 96 to 100-percent pure methamphetamine, at a lower cost. Drug cartels now find it cheaper and easier to produce and smuggle over the border than cocaine from South America. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection figures show as much as a 300- percent increase in meth seizures from fiscal 2009 to 2014.
Smugglers have become extremely creative in their attempts to hide the drug from border agents. It is constantly being discovered in gas tanks, hidden in food cans emptied of their original contents, and in some instances, smugglers have liquefied the drug and concealed it as windshield washer fluid.
What DHS has not done, apparently in collusion with the Justice Department, is to own up to the Fast and Furious gun running scheme of sending semi-automatic weapons into Mexico. Some of those involved in the illegal activity have been praised and promoted to other Justice Department jobs. Apparently, what has filtered through the border is government corruption at the highest levels.