Friday, March 15, 2019

Audio True Crime: "Wolf Boys" by Dan Slater

Audio True Crime: Wolf Boys: two American teenagers and Mexico's most dangerous drug cartel by Dan Slater, 2016, downloaded from Wisconsin Digital Library.

Holy Shit.  I always knew the Mexico drug wars were horrid. I did not know that the Zetas used prisoners as training aids to teach murder. I also know that thousands of people have been killed but not that the Zetas would have day long killing sprees that would hit as many as 10 locations and commit at least one murder per location. Never mind all the people who have disappeared. The Zetas used to abduct people, question them under torture, and burn the bodies to ash.

Freely joining this fucking disaster were Gabriel and Bart, a couple small time teenage crooks in Laredo, TX who would steal cars and then sell them in Nueva Laredo, Mexico to the cartels. They get recruited into the Zeta organization in 2005, go to a two month training camp in Mexico, and start working as sicarios during assassination trips in Mexico and the U.S.Slater focuses on these two American teenagers and the Laredo homicide cop who finally stopped them.

Slater gives a introduction and summary of drug war history and Mexican politics. Aerial crop eradication of marijuana and poppies fields in the 70s. Cocaine smuggling start-ups of the '80s. The economic disaster to Mexico of NAFTA and the 1985 Mexico City earthquake. Decades of one party rule across all levels of Mexican government and the endemic corruption. How the new cartels of the 1990s evolved into the hyper violence of the Zetas and Knights Templar and all the other groups.

The Zetas are mostly gone now (2019) but were created by an initial core of graduates from the School of the Americas. The School has received plenty of righteous condemnation over the years for the murderous work of their graduates.  The Zetas were not just graduates of that school but were trained and experienced Mexican Special Forces soldiers who started working for the cartels and then formed their own organization.

Those soldiers took all the combat training, organizational skills, communications skills, and secrecy and applied it to the Zetas. Every Zeta leader used a code name. Zeta recruits were trained in weapons, driving, torture, radio communications, etc. The Zetas accelerated the drug violence in Mexico and man oh man they were awful.

Gabriel and Bart worked under the command of Zeta leader Z40. I'd read about Z40 before and Slater tells stories of Z40 bragging about murdering over 800 people. Even if Z40 was exaggerating by two or three or four times that is a incomprehensible number. Where previous cartels would threaten or bribe the Zetas seemed - to my reading - to be more inclined to go straight to murder. And they would murder entire families.

The saying of plata or plomo (silver of lead) still applied of course. Money (silver) bought most everyone.  I've read heroic stories of underpaid journalists daring to write about the violence of the drug wars and the complicit or active involvement of government officials. But, news people were under the same gun as the cops. If journalists wanted to survive they did not write about massacres, missing people, corruption or anything else. The news stories were limited to restaurant openings, tourism, and puppy dogs. Police chiefs promising honesty and reform would - literally - be murdered the day after winning election.

All the millions of U.S. dollars floating South bought everyone in Mexico so you can figure there is no way the cash has not been paying off thousands of people in the U.S. as well. A major part of the Mexico problem is the corruption at the top and the poor wages at the bottom. Some underpaid Mexican cops could look the other way. When the Mexican economy went bad post-NAFTA so did police wages. Cops stopped ignoring trouble and started actively working for cartels. (Don't forget how many of the kidnappers working today seem to be in the police or working hand-in-hand with officers.)

Anyhoo. I am getting way off track. Slater has to tell the wider story to make sense of the smaller story. Gabriel and Bart are not good kids. By Laredo standards they are not bad kids either. But, 18-year-old Gabriel has been stealing cars in Laredo and taking them across the border. On one trip Z40's group catches him and Gabriel starts working for them. He attends their rural murder school for a couple months. He makes lots of money and dresses in designer duds. He spends long nights at bars and clubs. He goes out and murders whoever he is told and kidnaps others for torture.

Most of the violence was still in Mexico but the American Zetas started using their citizenship to easily cross the border for murders and drug trafficking. Gabriel and others would stay in Laredo safe houses and go after competing drug workers and former Zetas who defected to another cartel. A lot is made nowadays about how safe El Paso is. But, the smaller city of Laredo had plenty of new murders in 2005 and beyond. How many more murders were never reported because bodies were hidden or burned?

Against this insanity of teenage sociopaths was Detective Garcia of Laredo. Garcia is the kind of guy who pisses off all his co-workers but does excellent work. He spends several years at part of a DEA task force and gradually loses all faith in the drug war. Upon return to regular duty in Laredo he becomes a homicide detective and  helps convict the two teen assassins.

The story of Gabe and Bart really hit the news. Neither one of them thought they got a fair shake in the press. What did they fucking expect? They committed mass murders. Both of them did not like the way the press portrayed them but Slater was able to connect with them somewhat and get their versions of the story.

1. Reading about all this craziness makes me want to pack heat and I am a 1,400 mile drive away from Laredo.
2. Slater wrote that former US Drug Czar Barry McCaffery was at one point in command of the unit or area that ran the School of the Americas.
3. Laredo murders peaked in 2003 and 2006 at 29 and 22 respectively. 2017 had 10 murders.
4. Cutting deals with drug heads - evidence that a Zeta brought $60M into the U.S. to lower his sentence. That info was kept out of court records but leaked to the author.

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