Texas Security Reports Point to Cross-Border Gang Alliances

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The latest Texas Gang Threat Assessment offers a complex picture of the local organizations’ interactions with Mexican traffickers, painting a picture of collaboration rather than the much-feared spillover violence.

As the murder rate in Mexico has soared in recent years, concern over public security in Texas has increased as well, with analysts and officials alike on the lookout for signs that the chaos is trickling north. Incidents of so-called “spillover violence” remain quite rare, however, and this latest assessment (pdf) does little to advance the predictions of the Cassandras who worry about the Sinaloa Cartel and the Zetas decapitating enemies on US streets.

There is, however, undoubtedly a link between the Texas gangs profiled in the assessment and Mexican criminal organizations. (Indeed, another report from the state government, the Texas Public Safety Threat Overview, identified the Mexican groups as the top threat to public security in Texas.) And though this has not turned Texas into Juarez-North, it does present police agencies on both sides of the border with added complications.

InSight Crime Analysis

The Texas report divides the gangs operating in the state into three different tiers, based on the danger they present. The most threatening Tier 1 gangs include Tango Blast, Texas Mexican Mafia, Barrio Azteca, and the Texas Syndicate. These groups all collaborate to a certain degree with the most powerful Mexican groups, whether buying their drugs wholesale and distributing them in the United States, or, as in the case of Barrio Azteca and the Juarez Cartel, serving as foot soldiers in their battles in Mexico.

According to the Gang Threat Assessment, the larger a Texas gang is, the more likely it is to have an ongoing operational relationship with the Mexican traffickers:

On one end of the spectrum, a gang serves as a US-based extension of the cartel. In this way, the US gang members regularly take orders from cartel leadership; facilitate the movement of people and drugs into the United States; procure weapons, vehicles and other material for the cartel; and carry out acts of violence and other criminal activity on the cartel’s behalf. This type of relationship represents the most significant threat, as it involves an ongoing exportation of Mexican cartel influence into the state.

In contrast, any relationship between Mexican traffickers and smaller groups is likely to be sporadic and a product of convenience.

Tango Blast, identified as the foremost threat, is a name that is unfamiliar to many Mexico-watchers, but the group operates in virtually all of Texas, and cooperates with Mexican organizations in transnational crimes such as drug trafficking and human smuggling. One of the group’s advantages over its rivals is that it has looser affiliations with Mexican organizations, allowing local branches to adapt to circumstance, and avoid all-encompassing and counterproductive wars with enemy groups.

Texas has emerged as one of the focal points of analysts seeking evidence of spillover violence, that is, manifestations in the United States of the bloody feuds and gruesome tactics seen in Mexico’s cartel wars. Evidence of such violence has been spotty, and this report does little to change that. There is no explicit mention of spillover violence, and though the Public Safety Threat Assessment mentions narco-blockades in Texas, there is nothing to suggest that Mexico’s gangs are interested in transferring their conflicts to the United States.

Instead, the two assessments provide evidence of a global black-market supply chain. The Mexicans dominate cocaine, methamphetamine and marijuana traffic, and the US is the world’s largest market for these drugs. As a result, criminal organizations from the two nations necessarily enjoy a business relationship. This is not so much a worrying development promising a bloody future as it is a long-existing inevitability, given the broader circumstances of the drug trade. It also squares with recent comments from Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials that Mexicans are operating deeper in the United States via “middlemen;” US-Mexican members of US-based gangs would be good candidates to fill this role.

Furthermore, the best example of a US gang collaborating with a Mexican cartel, that of the Barrio Azteca and the Juarez Cartel, reflects the reverse of violence spilling over to the US. Instead of the Mexicans coming over to wreak havoc in Texas, it was (as InSight Crime has reported) the US gang Barrio Azteca that crossed over to Mexico and helped fuel the instability in Juarez. Furthermore, throughout the fight for control of Juarez between the Sinaloa and Juarez Cartels, the Mexicans essentially respected El Paso as a haven from violence. It has remained one of the safest cities in the US throughout the past several years, with many of the higher-profile gangsters reported to be hiding out on the US side of the border.

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