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Drug Threat Overview

Mexican DTOs have established sophisticated and far-reaching drug transportation and distribution networks along the U.S.-Mexico border in South Texas. Most of these networks incorporate operational cells based in communities within South Texas HIDTA counties. These expansive trafficking networks extend from the South Texas HIDTA region to all other regions of the United States and supply drug distributors in virtually every state in the country.

Law enforcement officials regularly seize multikilogram quantities of cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine from drug traffickers in South Texas. In fact, law enforcement officers in South Texas typically seize significant quantities of marijuana and methamphetamine and even more cocaine and heroin than officers in other areas along the U.S.-Mexico border. Most of these drugs are intended not for local distribution but, rather, for transportation to and distribution in other areas of the United States. Recently, law enforcement officials in South Texas have reported a noticeable decline in the quantities of cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine that they are seizing in the area. However, this decrease has not translated into any significant shortages of these drugs in South Texas drug markets.

Illicit drug production in the South Texas HIDTA region is limited--small quantities of powder methamphetamine, marijuana, and crack cocaine are produced in South Texas, primarily in San Antonio and throughout Bexar County. South Texas' proximity to Mexico and the abundance of illicit drugs available there mitigates the need for large-scale drug production in the area; drug production in this region generally supplies local or limited regional distribution.


Drug Trafficking Organizations

Mexican DTOs and their smuggling operations are firmly entrenched in border communities along both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border and throughout the entire South Texas HIDTA region. Their influence over and control of drug trafficking in South Texas is unrivaled by any other trafficking group. Mexican DTOs operate sophisticated and widespread drug smuggling, transportation, and distribution networks that extend from Mexico and South Texas to all other regions of the United States and facilitate the transportation and nationwide distribution of large quantities of cocaine, heroin, marijuana, and methamphetamine. In addition, many Mexican DTOs produce drugs themselves or maintain direct connections to organizations that produce illicit drugs in Mexico or South America. These connections provide a continuous and virtually unlimited supply of illicit drugs for distribution in the United States.

Drug Trafficking Organizations, Criminal Groups, and Gangs

Drug trafficking organizations are complex organizations with highly defined command-and-control structures that produce, transport, and/or distribute large quantities of one or more illicit drugs.

Criminal groups operating in the United States are numerous and range from small to moderately sized, loosely knit groups that distribute one or more drugs at the retail level and midlevel.

Gangs are defined by the National Alliance of Gang Investigators' Associations as groups or associations of three or more persons with a common identifying sign, symbol, or name, the members of which individually or collectively engage in criminal activity that creates an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.

Drug-related violence remains a constant threat to the South Texas HIDTA region. Large-scale Mexican DTOs, particularly the Gulf Cartel and the Sinaloa Cartel, control drug trafficking activities in the South Texas HIDTA region through violence, corruption, and intimidation. These traffickers, often using violent enforcement groups, target rival drug traffickers and law enforcement officers. As such, drug-related violence is widespread. The Gulf Cartel and Sinaloa Cartel have battled for control of smuggling routes in the northern Mexico states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon since approximately 2004. The level of violence between these competing cartels appears to have decreased in some areas of northern Mexico, primarily Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, because of a reported truce between the Gulf Cartel and Sinaloa Cartel as well as several Mexican counterdrug operations. However, violence directed at Mexican law enforcement and military personnel continues unabated, with shootouts between the Gulf Cartel and Mexican law enforcement officers having recently occurred in Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas (across the border from Donna, Texas).

Gatekeepers2 assist the Gulf Cartel and Sinaloa Cartel in maintaining control over drug trafficking activities along the U.S.-Mexico border in South Texas. They tax and protect illicit drug shipments transiting their specific areas of responsibility. Gatekeepers are typically high-ranking members of a cartel or are local traffickers who work, either forcibly or voluntarily, for larger DTOs. The Gulf Cartel has been able to maintain control of drug smuggling routes through northeast Mexico, despite competition from the Sinaloa Cartel and Mexican counterdrug operations, through the use of gatekeepers in border cities such as Matamoros, Reynosa, Miguel Alemán, Nuevo Laredo, Piedras Negras, and Ciudad Acuña.

Texas-based street gangs and prison gangs also are actively involved in drug distribution within the South Texas HIDTA region. Street gangs and prison gangs generate most of their income from criminal activities, including drug production, transportation, and distribution. Gangs such as Mexikanemi (Texas Mexican Mafia), Tri-City Bombers, Hermanos de Pistoleros Latinos (HPL), and Texas Syndicate transport and distribute illicit drugs throughout the South Texas HIDTA region. Mexikanemi is the most powerful and influential gang operating in the South Texas HIDTA region. This gang controls much of the wholesale, midlevel, and retail drug distribution in San Antonio and maintains a network of distributors throughout South Texas. In some instances, Mexican DTOs have established connections with gangs or individual gang members to facilitate drug trafficking activities. The Gulf Cartel and Sinaloa Cartel reportedly use members of HPL, Mara Salvatrucha (MS 13), Mexikanemi, and Texas Syndicate for smuggling, transportation, and enforcement purposes. Connections to large-scale DTOs enhance the gangs' reputation and trafficking capabilities throughout the South Texas HIDTA region.

Drug traffickers in the South Texas HIDTA region use sophisticated surveillance, countersurveillance, and communications techniques and technology to aid their trafficking operations. Many Mexican DTOs maintain cells that monitor law enforcement activities and the smuggling operations of rival traffickers. Information obtained through these intelligence-gathering operations is used to plan the timing and routes of smuggling attempts. Traffickers also employ various communications technologies to conduct business. The use of cell phones remains prevalent; traffickers often maintain multiple phones and rotate or drop telephone numbers on a regular basis to avoid law enforcement detection.

End Note

2. Gatekeepers are individuals who manage specific entry points, or plazas, typically Mexican border communities, along the U.S.-Mexico border on behalf of large-scale Mexican DTOs. They control plazas through bribery, extortion, and murder.

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