Texas Trial Sheds Light on Zetas’ Brutal Reign in Mexico

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The former Zetas leader in Piedras Negras, Mexico, went on trial this week in San Antonio, Texas, on a number of charges linking him to a reign of terror the drug cartel imposed on the state of Coahuila for years.

Marciano Millán Vásquez is charged with conspiracy to import and distribute marijuana, employing minors in a drug crime, conspiracy to distribute cocaine, conspiracy to distribute methamphetamine and conspiracy to possess firearms, and prosecutors hope to connect the alleged former hitman with multiple killings in northern Mexico from 2009-2015, reported the San Antonio Express-News.

The US government says it has evidence that Vásquez was personally responsible for 30 killings, and that the Zetas are responsible for 300 to 600 murders during this time period. These numbers track with estimates for the number killed in March of 2011, when Zetas began “cleansing” the town of Allende.

The trial comes after an investigation by the Coahuila state government revealed that between 2009 and 2012, the Zetas used a prison near Piedras Negras to kill their kidnapping victims and incinerate their bodies in diesel-filled barrels known as “ovens”. Coahuila prosecutors said that the prison was under de facto control of the Zetas. The prison served as a base and hideout for the criminal group and provided them with uniforms, bulletproof vests and cars modified to conceal drugs and weapons.

SEE MORE: Zetas News and Profile

On Wednesday, former Zetas financial operative Rodrigo Humberto Uribe Tapia took the stand to testify against Vásquez, reported the San Antonio Express-News. Uribe claimed that he personally met with Vincente Yañez, the former aide of Coahuila Governor Humberto Moreira, two times, each time giving him $2 million in cash.

Uribe added that because the Zetas paid off top officials in the state, they were able to smuggle drugs, kill, and launder money with impunity. He went on to say that state and local police would turn over rival cartel members to the Zetas and that the Zetas paid to use state-owned vehicles and helicopters. Through this network of bribery and co-optation, the Zetas were able to gain control of state prisons, where by law federal officials could not go.

InSight Crime Analysis

The trial against Vásquez showcases a brutally violent campaign waged by the Zetas, as well as the impunity and corruption that facilitated the rise of the drug trafficking organization.

This is not the first time Vásquez has been charged with a crime. He previously was tried for murder in Coahuila, but was exonerated, Sin Embargo reported.

SEE MORE: Mexico News and Profiles

Uribe’s testimony supports suspicions that the administration of former Governor Humberto Moreira was complicit with the Zetas’ barbarous crimes. Moreira was listed in Forbes “10 most corrupt Mexicans of 2013,” and was arrested earlier this year by the Spanish government on charges of money laundering.

Investigations into the attacks in Allende and the killings at the Piedras Negras prison remain open in Mexico. It is hoped that this trial across the border can shed light on those tragedies and help bring justice for the hundreds killed.

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