A local journalist confirms this.
“They do not ask. Sometimes they do it at the bridge itself. They make a spectacle of it — AR-15 automatics and ski masks, right there at the customs post — who is going to refuse them?” the journalist said.
The journalist spoke off the record as a matter of course in Nuevo Laredo, where the local paper, the Manana, is unable to report the Zetas’ crimes, having been, in effect, instructed not to do so by the murder in 2004 of editor Roberto Mora Garcia and grenade attacks against its offices followed by threats to the Cantu family that owns the paper.
Publisher Ramon Cantu defends his position: “This war is not going to be won by a newspaper. I am responsible for the lives of my employees and their families and there are other things to report in this town.”
In a recent incident when the paper was considering coverage of a murder, the Zetas kidnapped two reporters.
“What am I supposed to do?” Cantu said.
It is hard to find an answer.
The Zetas’ grip on Nuevo Laredo is so thorough, and their extortion rackets so pervasive, that they even shake down the women who deal in ropa usada — used clothes gathered at warehouses by the railway goods yards and Union Pacific depot on the Texas side and brought over for sale in front gardens. One woman said that the multinational billion-dollar gang extorts US$0.08 to US$0.16 for every 100 pesos (US$7.60) she makes.
Further downstream is Reynosa, heartland of the Zetas, where the militia’s No. 2, Gonzalez Duran, was arrested last November along with the biggest arsenal of weaponry ever seized by the Mexican army.
There the Zetas are named euphemistically as “The Last Letter of the Alphabet,” said Rebecca Rodriguez, who monitors abuses by the army, against which — to her outrage — the Zetas organize their own mass demonstrations.
“They are not a social formation any longer, they are a militia,” she said.
Just by discussing them, Rodriguez commits an act of bravery.
“Look at us, how we live. None of us dare wear jewelry any more; the army and the narcos have taken to fighting it out across school playgrounds,” she said.
The Zetas exhibit themselves in town with brazen windscreen stickers such as that on a truck parked across the access road behind Rodriguez’s office, with a crossed Kalashnikov emblem reading “Benvenido A Reynosa” — “Welcome to Reynosa.” They display the sign of the cult they worship — that of “Santisima Muerte” — Most Holy Death — a hooded skeleton with a scythe, on their cars and mobile phone holders. And they make their presence felt with their periodic demonstrations of brutal force.
Across the Rio Grande, in the burgeoning Texan city of McAllen, a businessman with family roots in the area for 150 years said that not only had the Zetas sealed off the bridges around Reynosa, but international bridges into the US as well.
“The Americans do nothing, the press says nothing, but they do it to show us all — this side and that — that they can control traffic across the border. I get a call sometimes, ahead of time, telling me, ‘Get what you need shipped over before noon, we’re shutting it down,’” he said.