The recent arrest of a top Barrio Azteca leader in Mexico offers additional insight into the criminal and drug trafficking dynamics along the US-Mexico border at a time when US President Donald Trump continues his rhetorical onslaught against the MS13.
On June 26, members of the Mexican army and a special investigative unit arrested Eduardo Ravelo Rodríguez, alias “El Tablas,” in the city of Uruapan in the Pacific state of Michoacán, according to a press release from the US Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), which named Ravelo to its "Ten Most Wanted Fugitives List" in October 2009.
Ravelo is allegedly the "captain" of the Barrio Azteca gang, whose stronghold is the adjacent border towns of Ciudad Juárez in Mexico and El Paso, Texas. The group first emerged as a prison gang in Texas’ penitentiary system in the late 1980s before later becoming a key ally of the Juárez Cartel.
SEE ALSO: Barrio Azteca Profile
Ravelo was indicted in 2008 and 2010 on various charges ranging from racketeering and drug trafficking to money laundering and murder. According to the 2010 indictment, he was responsible for ordering Barrio Azteca members to commit murders across the border in Ciudad Juárez, in addition to conspiring to import cocaine, heroin and marijuana into the United States for distribution.
Ravelo was also wanted by authorities for his alleged involvement in the March 2010 murder of a US consulate employee and two other US citizens in Ciudad Juárez.
The United States has reportedly requested his extradition.
InSight Crime Analysis
While President Trump has focused intensely on the MS13 gang in support of his "zero tolerance" approach to immigration and security along the US-Mexico border, other groups like the Barrio Azteca also pose a significant challenge.
Unlike the MS13, which has struggled to assume a major role international drug trafficking, Barrio Azteca has long assisted Mexican cartels with trafficking people and smuggling drugs across the US-Mexico border.
“The Barrio Azteca has a longstanding, very close relationship with the Mexican cartels,” Mike Vigil, the former Chief of International Operations at the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), told InSight Crime. “They’re trusted by the cartels, and they act as the intermediary between the cartels and the MS13.”
SEE ALSO: Coverage of US-Mexico Border
The MS13 is undoubtedly reeking havoc in some US cities with brutal acts of violence, primarily along the East Coast of the United States. But gangs like the Barrio Azteca are the ones at the forefront of drug trafficking and other criminal activities along the US-Mexico border.
According to Vigil, “The Barrio Azteca may pose a bigger threat to national security than the MS13.”
Still, as InSight Crime previously detailed in a multi-year investigation into the MS13, the Trump administration has used the gang as a “bogeyman” and exaggerated the group’s threat, in part by making it a “priority target” of the US Justice Department’s Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Forces (OCDETF).