US authorities pursue the leader of Barrio Azteca

A series of reports highlights growing ties between US gangs and Mexican drug cartels, and the corruption north of the border that helps facilitate drug trafficking -- dynamics that echo what is seen in Mexico.

In El Universal, Jose Luis Pardo and Alejandra S. Inzunza, members of the journalist collective Dromomanos, documented Mexican criminal organizations' relationship with both gangs and law enforcement in the United States.

They reported how US gangs associated with Mexican cartels -- primarily the Sinaloa Cartel and the Zetas -- flourish in Texas border counties. In the outskirts of one county, Zapata, the local sheriff told the reporters that nearly everyone in the neighborhood was involved in criminal activity and that the zone was a hotspot for drug stash houses.

Groups like Tango Blast and Texas Syndicate, as well as transnational gangs like the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) and Texas-born prison gang Barrio Azteca, serve as muscle, couriers and local drug vendors for the Mexican groups, Texas officials told the reporters. 

Mexican cartels also rely heavily on corruption in the US border region, paying off sheriffs, border agents and customs officials. Sometimes these ties go much deeper than a bribe. One notable example was that of the Panama Unit, an anti-drug police unit in Hidalgo, Texas, which became involved in guarding and stealing drug loads. Cases of drug-related official corruption have emerged in most Texas border counties, according to Pardo and Inzunza.  

InSight Crime Analysis

Official reports published this year by California and Texas discussed the increasingly close relationship between gangs in these states and Mexican cartels. In the most recent US National Gang Report, 23 percent of police surveyed said gangs with ties to Mexican organized crime were present in their jurisdiction.

Mexican groups have long maintained a relationship with US gangs, but in the past this was largely limited to drug sales. Now, the gangs carry out more sophisticated criminal activities on behalf of cartels, allowing the larger groups to reduce their operational risks in US territory. In return, the gangs receive discounts on the drugs they buy.

This is a dynamic also seen within Mexico, where some 43 gangs -- including groups like Los Rojos and Guerreros Unidos, as well as lesser-known gangs -- are now affiliated with the major cartels. This outsourcing of labor is largely a product of a fragmenting criminal landscape, in which the major syndicates no longer enjoy the hegemony they once had. 

SEE ALSO: Barrio Azteca Profile

Payoffs to officials is a common phenomenon on the Mexican as well as the US side of the border, with Mexican government officials at various levels, as well as in law enforcement, known to associate with drug groups.