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Saturday, April 20, 2019

Columns

Houston becoming cartel playground


When students think about the current conditions in Mexico, it is usually parallel to the images found in news stories: Brutal executions of “outspoken” Mexican journalists, mass graves plighting the Monterrey countryside, or countless batches of packaged narcotics acquired by U.S. border control agents. But all is well if one takes notice of spring break travel advisories, right?

Unfortunately, Houston happens to be a breeding ground for Mexican drug cartels, which have been more than successful in establishing narcotic rings within the Harris county area. Although the dangers of Mexico’s drug cartels appear to remain outside the Texas border, it is only a matter of time before innocent bystanders here in Houston get caught in the crossfire.

Attempts to eradicate or weaken the supremacy of drug cartels in Mexico have been futile. Mexican journalists are reluctant to cover news stories linked to them in fear of swift execution. Thus, the lack of proper coverage from formal newscasts allows drug lords to proceed with their operations without consequence. Many local police forces in Mexico have either succumbed to the power of local crime syndicates or have been “paid off” to turn a blind eye to criminal activity. More recently, drug cartels have even tracked down and decapitated Internet users posting coverage or criticism online that defaces their authority. According to Reporters Without Borders, Mexico is now listed as the second most dangerous country for journalists.

Houston has been a hub for drug and human trafficking in connection with Mexican and South American crime organizations for decades. We currently have one of the largest deposits of Los Zetas membership in the nation, a fact commonly accepted by Houston police forces.

“We’ve had drugs being produced from South and Central America and Mexico. We have had those drugs in our community,” Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia explains. “In my opinion, that crossover happened a long time ago.”

To the dismay of local law enforcement, Mexican drug cartels have taken advantage of street-level gangs in Houston by implementing them into local operations. As a result, it has been difficult to track down and identify drug activities rooted to Mexican cartels, most notably the Zetas cartel.

The Houston area alone has almost 10,000 documented gang members, and the estimated correlations between them and the  Zetas is beyond police forces.

“Our street-level gang members are being exploited, manipulated, and strategically utilized to enhance the cartel operations on this end of the border, so those are obviously concerns for us,” County Sheriff Garcia says.

With the immense success of advancing their networks across Texas, Mexican cartels are now profiting off of the recruitment of cheap labor, namely young adults or even children to assist in the local distribution of narcotics or other assignments.

Earlier this year, Houston mourned the loss of a Sugar Land-area teen named Elisabeth Mandala, who was brutally beaten to death in Mexico on what was later discovered to be a botched trip linked to the smuggling of illegal immigrants to the US. Other reports confirm that children as young as 12 have assisted in the transportation of marijuana. Less likely to be suspected by cops, they are coined by cartels as “the expendable,” and are typically lured in through a small amount of money.

It appears that despite the growing threat flourishing within our city’s border, the Houston Police Department has yet to actually address the obvious issue at hand. True, the task of eliminating or curtailing these criminal syndicates is easier said than done, but it’s best to take a jab at it before it gets worse — which it will.

From brothels disguised as cafes or massage parlors, to kids hired as drug couriers, Houston is becoming a playground for Mexican cartels.

Jennifer Pearson is a print journalism senior and may be reached at [email protected]

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