There's a very interesting trial under way in Texas right now. Evidence introduced there implicates one of the most violent US Hispanic prison gangs, Barrio Azteca, in Mexican drug cartel violence.
Members of the Texas-born Barrio Azteca gang are receiving training from Mexico's Zetas, according to the testimony of a former gang member, a sign the group is evolving and deepening its role in organized crime beyond the border region.
Former Barrio Azteca member Jesus Ernesto Chavez Castillo -- who is serving as a witness in the Texas trial of the gang's ex-leader in exchange for protection in prison -- said the Zetas are training members of the gang for assassinations, attacks, extortion and protection, reported Informador.
Barrio Azteca sent two teams to the city of Torreon, in Coahuila state, to be trained in more efficient methods, according to Chavez Castillo. As part of the training, they were required to extort local businesses and pay off local and federal police.
Chavez Castillo's testimony also detailed the group's past role in the cartel war for control of Ciudad Juarez, in which they served as hired assassins for the Juarez Cartel.
There's more at the link. You can read more about the Barrio Azteca gang here, here and here, and about the current court case here.
I ran into Barrio Azteca members during my service as a prison chaplain. They were one of the more violent and predatory gangs on the compound, although at the time I encountered them they weren't as powerful as they've since become. Today they're a major security risk outside prison as well (recently recognized by the FBI when it designated the organization as a national security threat).
This brings up a point I made in my memoir of prison chaplaincy.
Sometimes we wish we could go to court and say bluntly, “If you let this man out, he’s going to hurt or kill others. He’s a permanent danger to society. He needs to stay behind bars.” Very sadly, we don’t have the legal right to do that, and courts in most states don’t have the authority to order permanent incarceration for such offenders. Every year we’re legally obliged to discharge inmates ... on completion of their sentences, in the sure and certain knowledge that someone out there is going to suffer, perhaps even die, because we’re doing so. It tears your guts out sometimes.
That's one of the factors that have fueled the rise of Barrio Azteca. It recruited many of its initial members among Hispanic drug traffickers who were serving sentences in state and Federal prisons. When they were released, the Mexicans among them were deported to that country according to the requirements of Federal law. They took with them their gang affiliation, and spread Barrio Azteca's influence in their homeland. The gang's alliance with the Juarez cartel was a natural evolution of this development. By releasing such hardened criminals, who had not reformed and whom the authorities must have known without a shadow of doubt would continue in their criminal ways, the crime situation outside the prison was made worse. Unfortunately, there's nothing else the authorities could have done under the law as it stands.
I think this is only one of a number of similar developments we'll see during the coming months and years. There are increasing signs of such alliances between other gangs as well. This doesn't bode well for US national and social security. We're not used to dealing with gangs and large numbers of individuals to whom human life is a commodity to be traded like drugs or guns. If they want to establish their dominance in an area, they have no problem killing anyone who gets in their way - or killing enough local residents to make the rest cower in fear and not resist their takeover. They've done that in Mexico for a long, long time - although some have pushed it too far, resulting in the current vigilante resistance movement there. I fear we'll see similar tactics imported into Hispanic communities in this country. Some say we already have . . .