[team title=”” subtitle=”” url=”” image=””]By Steve Taylor[/team]

McALLEN, RGV – A U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officer in the Rio Grande Valley says he is hopeful Mexico’s new security plan for the state of Tamaulipas will yield positive results.

Will Glaspy, assistant special agent-in-charge, said violence has flared up in Reynosa in recent weeks in part because of infighting among factions with the Gulf cartel.

“We are hopeful that the new plan the Mexican government has for the State of Tamaulipas is actually going to have a positive effect. Essentially they are sending additional troops to the State of Tamaulipas. They have divided the state up into four regions. Each region will have their own federal prosecutor, and they are going to have their own targets in each sector, they are going to go after each target,” Glaspy said.

“We are certainly going to have more drug cartel versus Government of Mexico gun battles, at least in the short term but hopefully when they have finished that, by the time they have finished this operation, there will be less people trying to ascend to these upper levels (of the cartels). There are targets they are looking for. We will see how that works.”

Glaspy gave his annual speech to members of the South Texas Manufacturers Association at a luncheon at the Embassy Suites in McAllen last week. Through a power point presentation he gave an overview on drug cartel activity in Mexico in recent years. He said that, strictly speaking, the term “drug cartel” should no longer be used. “We don’t call them drug cartels anymore. They are transnational criminal organizations. They are diversifying more every day. They are into kidnapping, they are into extortion. They are into agriculture. They have been stealing gasoline from Pemex for years.”

Glaspy then asked those in the audience to raise their hands if they travel to Mexico on a regular basis. A lot of hands went up because many STMS members are managers of maquilas. Glaspy pointed out that a travel advisory issued by the State Department is still in place for Tamaulipas.

This DEA map shows where the different transnational criminal organizations are strongest in Mexico. Los Zetas are in green. The Gulf cartel is in red.
This DEA map shows where the different transnational criminal organizations are strongest in Mexico. Los Zetas are in green. The Gulf cartel is in red.

Glaspy spoke about the various cartels in Mexico, pointing out which ones were in the ascendency and which ones were in decline. He said the Knights Templar split off from the Michoacán cartel last year. He also noted the rise of vigilante forces challenging the Michoacán cartel this past year. He said some of those working for the cartels had switched sides and were now working for the vigilante groups.

When it came to discussing Tamaulipas Glaspy said the situation had been relatively quiet, until a few weeks ago.

“Things were starting to die down a little bit across the river from us until about two months ago. What we are seeing now is cartel vs. cartel violence, and enforcement operations by the government of Mexico. But you also have to factor into the mix internal conflicts, within the Gulf cartel,” Glaspy said.

“There has been a lot of success on both sides of the river, with both governments conducting enforcement operations. It has taken its toll on the Gulf cartel. The Gulf cartel you see today is nothing like what you saw five years ago.”

Glaspy said what is happening with the Gulf cartel might be described as a game of Whac-a-Mole, with different “underlings vying for power.” He said a leader will emerge with one faction and a different faction will kill him. Then, an attack will be made at the funeral of that leader.

Glaspy had different slides to show which cartel has ruled which part of Mexico since 2007. He said the seismic shift in Tamaulipas occurred in February, 2010, when Los Zetas, the enforcement arm of the Gulf cartel, split from its masters. “There were gun battles and the scrimmage line was in Reynosa,” Glaspy said.

Through 2012, the Zetas continued to grow, Glaspy said. However to counter the Zetas, the Sinaloa cartel and the Michoacán cartel had formed even stronger partnerships with the Gulf cartel. “The hot spot right now is Tamaulipas. The DEA has the largest (U.S.) law enforcement presence there, working closely with government of Mexico,” Glaspy said. “We are having a lot of success on both sides of the border.”

One of the challenges in the Valley, Glaspy said, has come about because of the large influx of Mexican nationals.

“Here in the Valley we still have an influx from citizens coming in from Mexico. They are residing in our neighborhoods. It is becoming increasingly more difficult for us to know who our neighbors are. If you do not know who your neighbors are imagine what it is like from our shoes trying to figure out who your neighbors are. I can’t do half the things Edward Snowden says that I can do,” Glaspy said.

“We don’t know the difference between the Mexican businessman who has moved over here for the safety and security of his family – he is doing everything completely legitimately that he is required to do to be over here – or the drug trafficker or the criminal element who has moved over here to hide out from the Mexican government or from rival cartels.”

Glaspy said the DEA relies a lot on information provided by local and state police about Mexican nationals moving in to the Valley.

“We continue to have that problem in law enforcement in the Valley just because there are so many people who are moving in. Despite everything that has gone on in the Valley, the overwhelming majority (in law enforcement) are professionals. Please do not have any reservation in calling law enforcement if you see something that needs reporting or if you have any questions.”

Glaspy was then asked for questions from those in the audience. One question was about the safety of Monterrey. “Monterrey used to be safe because everyone had family there,” Glaspy said. He said that changed when the Zetas emerged and wanted control of a key trading route. Now, he said, U.S. consulate staff cannot be posted in Monterrey if they have children.

It was put to Glaspy that there is not much of an operational government in place in Tamaulipas and certainly not in Reynosa. He was asked if the U.S. government was providing much help to the Mexican government in that state.

“We are helping the Mexican government as much as they allow us to help. There were concerns a year and a half ago when the new (Peña Nieto) administration came in that maybe they weren’t going to have an emphasis on attacking the criminal element. That has proved not to be the case,” Glaspy said.

“They may not talk about it as much, they may not talk about the violence as much but they certainly have been very active targeting the cartel leaders. In the law enforcement area we are providing them with as much Intel as we can. We are trying to help them in their daily operations, short of having boots on the ground and working side by side, and that is not something either government will go for.”

Glaspy then made a point that was welcomed by Valley economic development leaders in the audience. “On this side of the river, our border communities remain very safe places to be. They continue to be,” Glaspy said. “Despite the occasional article that is written, published almost exclusively by press that does not reside in the Rio Grande Valley, this is a great place to have a business, a great place to raise a family. The violence is on the other side of the river.”

Glaspy was then asked why cartel violence had dropped so sharply in Juárez. He said there were 3,000 to 4,000 murders a year in Juárez just five years ago. This year to date there has been less than 200. Glaspy said it helps that a “good cop” has been appointed who has started police academies and brought in law enforcement officials who are properly vetted. “There have been some things the U.S. government has done to help target some of the assassins, identifying them, finding out what their roles were in Mexico and then finding crimes they have been involved in or conspiracies they can be charged in on this side, charging them with drug conspiracies or RICO indictments. That way they cannot go back across,” Glaspy said. He was asked if such a strategy could be implemented for Tamaulipas. “It is being talked about,” Glaspy said.

It was then put to Glaspy that if security does not improve in Tamaulipas in the next five or six years, the large multi-national companies that operate maquilas there will leave. Asked what his predictions are, Glaspy said:

“Again, I am hopeful that the plan that the Mexican government is putting forth, that they are starting to enact, is going to have a positive effect. Two, the Gulf Cartel is going to continue to change in one manner or another. They may end up like the Arellano Félix cartel did in Tijuana, become completely irrelevant. They are certainly not irrelevant at this point but they could be swallowed by the Michoacáns or the Sinaloa cartel. That may or may not necessarily help the violence. If the Sinaloans can keep the Zetas out then certainly the violence would decrease. You still have problems with transnational criminal organizations, whether it is drugs or extortion or kidnappings, whatever the case may be. You have still got that problem.”

Glaspy said there is no doubt the citizens of Mexico are tired of the violence associated with the drug cartels. “But, you cannot just turn a blind eye and say we are not going to address the issue. They did not address the issue for 71 or 72 years, that is why the cartels got as powerful as they did. Long term, I still remain hopeful that the violence is going to subside. But you have got to have a rule of law. Otherwise you have got this creature lurking in the darkness over there that no one is addressing.”

Glaspy was then asked about the Zetas taking over the plazas in Guatemala. He said it was all about getting their product to market, that they have to have a route they can control for the drugs coming from Colombia and Peru. “They are still there. The Zetas are not as strong as they were last year and it is primarily because of their top leadership has died unexpectedly or been arrested. Now, that being said, they are not going to dry up and blow away; they are still a very active and formidable criminal organization.”

Glaspy was also asked about kidnapping. He said people used to say that the criminal element was only interested in kidnapping tourists, not business men and women. He said his view is that it makes no difference, that the cartels’ only concern is whether those kidnapped have money. “Traffickers make no distinction. If you look like you have got money, that’s even worse.” Glaspy said it is best to blend in.  “You do not want to look like you have got money; you don’t want to put a target on your back.”

Asked whether it is best for business men and women travel to Mexico together, say ten or 12 at a time, rather than individually, Glaspy responded: “My recommendation is don’t go.” Asked if U.S. companies should hide their logos on their vehicles, Glaspy said: “Don’t go.”

Next time, the South Texas Manufacturers Association will need a new DEA agent to give them an update on cartel activity. Agent Glaspy is being transferred to El Paso.