10/18/11 —Mexican drugs cartels are being accused of kidnapping and of exploiting 61 migrants and holding them hostage for ransom and forced labor in a safe house in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, a state on the U.S.-Mexico border. Intelligence work with military personnel discovered the safe house that held 64 males, three of them the alleged kidnappers. The men, which were all Mexican except one Honduran citizen, were held with the intent to make them forced laborers for a drug gang. Federal prosecutors say cartel workers found the migrants outside a bus station in Piedras Negras and lured them to go with them by falsely offering to bring them into the United States for charges ranging from $600 up to $3,000. The Mexican Army freed the 61 victims when they raided the safe house on Saturday, October 16, as part of a drug sweep that also netted six tons of marijuana, reports BBC News. The incident coincided with with the inauguration of Mexico’s National Migration Week.
Several different drugs gangs operate in Coahuila state, including the Zetas and Gulf cartels, which have been warring for control of smuggling routes into the U.S., a long used supplementary income for cartels who engage in a variety of illicit activities and economies. Due to their presence and previous actions recently, some reports have connected the safe house to the Zeta Cartel, although nothing has been confirmed. The rescue recalls the 2010 massacre of 72 foreign migrants in the northern state of Tamaulipas after they apparently refused to work for the cartel. The Zetas were also blamed for the murder of more than 100 people whose bodies were found in mass graves in Tamaulipas after apparently being kidnapped from buses. Military authorities did not confirm which cartel allegedly kidnapped the men in Coahuila, but the Zetas are believed to be in control of Coahuila. The Los Angeles Times reported last week on the capture of Zeta higher-up “La Rana,” in Saltillo, Coahuila’s capital city, after an intense shootout. The Zetas are also held accountable for the August torching of the Casino Royale in Monterrey, where 52 people died.
The Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR) opened an investigation against the three arrested for human trafficking. President Calderón spoke on the recovery yesterday, stating that immigrants are often forced to move underground in their trek, making them more vulnerable to risk. Calderón stated that in recent years Mexico has adopted legal amendments to protect the human rights of people regardless of their immigration status. The Calderón administration also purported their work in corruption sweeps of immigration officials. In October 2010, the government discharged more than 200 immigration officials throughout the country during a corruption sting. On Friday, prior to the recovery of the safe house, the government announced the layoffs of 121 immigration agents assigned to delegations from seven states.