Characters and Cartels
Series: Hart Jones, DEA
Hart Jones: at 35, Special Agent Hart Jones is at the top of his game leading an elite team of agents with Miami DEA, but it isn't enough. Domingo Santos took the lives of his brother and his best friend, and Hart won't rest until he brings the kingpin down to settle this score .
Mara Santos: Damaged and damned, she is the wife of Domingo Santos. She is willing to do anything to escape him and his world, and to help Hart Jones go after the man who will stop at nothing to destroy them both.
Domingo Santos: the ruthless Colombian cartel kingpin always plays the game to win. There is nothing and no one he cannot buy, or so he thought. Not only has Hart Jones messed around in his business, he is messing around with his wife. Dom does not respect his adversaries - he eliminates them.
Dan Cruz: the level-headed, by-the-rules FBI agent tries to keep his best friend, Hart, from crossing the line but Dan knows there are times when a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do. He'll do whatever it takes to protect the people he cares about. Alanna Torres is one of them.
Alanna Torres: a Mexican journalist who risks her life to shed light on the most vicious cartel in Mexico, Los Zetas. But the secrets in her past are a story she does not want told. It's only a matter of time before the truth comes out, and she becomes a lethal pawn in Dom's deadly game of revenge.
The basic dictionary definitions of a cartel include alliance, association, union or league. I like this definition from Funk and Wagnalls best: "an international syndicate or trust that aims at monopolistic control of a particular market." Drug cartels have evolved into something far uglier, beyond the lucrative business arrangements they once provided. A more accurate term is narco-terrorism.
When the powerful Cali cocaine cartel toppled more than a decade ago, it was a double-sided victory for law enforcement, because since then the struggle for control has been an increasingly vicious battle between the Mexican cartels. Since February 2010, the major cartels have aligned in two factions, one integrated by the Juárez Cartel, Tijuana Cartel, Los Zetas and the Beltran-Leyva Cartel; the other faction integrated by the Gulf Cartel, Sinaloa Cartel and La Familia Cartel. Here are some brief overviews.
Sinaloa: The most powerful Cartel in Mexico is led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, second only to Osama bin Laden on the FBI's most wanted list. Guzman has an estimated net worth over US$1 billion, per Forbes Magazine. Guzman is a notorious and legendary figure, able to so far elude capture and to maintain significant control over much of Mexico after escaping prison in a laundry cart. Stories abound, including one where he took over a restaurant, had the patrons hand over their cell phones and remain inside until he was done, and then he paid for everyone's meals. Sinaloa is now challenging Los Zetas for control over Guatemala over the lucrative production of meth.
The Juarez Cartel: Led by Vicente Carillo Fuentes. They were once allied with Sinaloa but have been fighting violently since 2007 over control of the lucrative border territory of Ciudad Juarez . Fuentes has been in hiding and unseen for years. Ciudad Juarez has consistently had the highest death tolls.
Beltran-Leyva Organization: This cartel split from Sinaloa in 2008. The Beltrán Leyva brothers then sought an alliance with Los Zetas. This cartel currently battles Sinaloa for control of drug trafficking transportation routes along the Pacific coast. After authorities killed kingpin Arturo Beltrán Leyva and captured his brother, Carlos, leadership fell to another brother, Hector.
The Tijuana Cartel: Also known as the Arellano Felix Organization, this once powerful cartel is in decline because numerous arrests by the authorities have decimated leadership within.
The Gulf Cartel: One of Mexico 's dominant cartels until recently. It hired a private mercenary army as enforcers. This group, known as Los Zetas, became a partner within the cartel in 2006. Then in 2010 the partnership ended violently, their battles turning several regions into ghost towns.
Los Zetas: A cartel so vicious the saying goes "even their own mamas don't love them". Currently the second most powerful cartel in Mexico and the most brutal and feared. Formed by a group of corrupt former elite military soldiers, Los Zetas helped the Gulf Cartel dominate much of the drug trade in Mexico . They have since fought to keep hold of that influence for themselves, and with their alliance to Beltran-Leyva, have influence from the Gulf to the Pacific. They rule by intimidation and violence. Their message is clear when they decapitate scores of victims then hang the bodies from highway overpasses. They presently control over 70% of the country of Guatemala, to use in their production of meth.
La Familia: “They decapitate, torture, and extort. Then they pray, and donate to charity.” This cartel is a paradox. They produce and sell meth, but their members are discouraged from taking drugs or alcohol, part of the group's semi-religious ideology. They are based out of the state of Michoaca, along the south Pacific coastline, where the main ports receive huge shipments of the necessary precursor chemicals for meth production from China. They have allied with the Gulf Cartel against Los Zetas and the Beltran-Leyva cartel. Over the past year, a number of arrests by authorities have considerably weakened La Familia. When leader Nazario Moreno was killed by security forces in late 2010, the cartel splintered and a rival cartel, the Knights Templar, was formed.
The Knights Templar: The other co-founders of La Familia, Enricque Plancarte Solis and Servando Gomez Martinez formed the Knights Templar. Their belief is to “fight and die” for their vision of social justice. They are driven by their hatred of Los Zetas. They took over many of the meth labs in west and southwest of the country. Their was an attempt by a member of La Familia to regain control of these labs by seeking an alliance with Los Zetas, which failed. They announced their arrival and their purpose by hanging large banners on highway overpasses in 2011. They promised to keep order in the region and protect the people, preventing robbery, kidnapping, and extortion, as well as the intrusion of rival groups.
There are a lot of very good books detailing the rise and history of the Mexican cartels. I highly recommend "Gangland" by Toronto author Jerry Langton, which lays out a fascinating chronology of the people, places and events involved. There are also a couple of websites I read daily, to keep track of things. One is Borderlandbeat.com, which serves up a full array of local headlines and has a rich repository of news items I can search through. The other is Mexico's Drug War, by Cynthia Longmire. She has also written a book, Cartel, based on her work as a consultant and analyst with military law enforcement experience.
An ABC of Acronyms
There are a whole lot of agencies fighting the war on drugs across both sides of the border. As Hart would say "This gets real confusing, real fast" especially when everything gets abbreviated to a bunch of letters. Here are some of the key players:
ATF: the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, under the DOJ. Their stated mandate is to "protect our communities from violent criminals, criminal organizations, the illegal use and trafficking of firearms, the illegal use and storage of explosives, acts of arson and bombings, acts of terrorism, and the illegal diversion of alcohol and tobacco products".
DEA: the Drug Enforcement Agency.They are "the largest law enforcement presence in Mexico with 11 offices, and a decades-long history of working with the Mexican government". For my purposes, they take the lead via Hart.
DOJ: Department of Justice. Major agencies report to them, thus they are involved in everything.
The is the DEA's national tactical intelligence center based in El Paso.
FBI: Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Bureau is "taking proactive measures to assess and confront this heightened threat to public safety on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border, by creating a Southwest Intelligence Group (SWIG), which will serve as a clearinghouse of all FBI activities involving Mexico." They are partnered with numerous agencies in numerous task forces, which keeps Dan very busy.
ICE: Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or as Diego likes to say "We're the boys with the toys." They operate under the Department of Homeland Security DHS.
) Their mandate is to be "responsible for identifying, investigating, and dismantling vulnerabilities regarding the nation's border, economic, transportation, and infrastructure security."
OCDETF: Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force. As per the website:
"OCDETF combines the resources and expertise of its member federal agencies which include: the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the U.S. Marshals Service, the Internal Revenue Service, and the U.S. Coast Guard – in cooperation with the Department of Justice Criminal Division, the Tax Division, and the 93 U.S. Attorney's Offices, as well as with state and local law enforcement. The principal mission of the OCDETF program is to identify, disrupt, and dismantle the most serious drug trafficking and money laundering organizations and those primarily responsible for the nation's drug supply". It's one giant umbrella.
USMS: US Marshall's Service. They provide witness protection under WITSEC.