The cinematic nature of one reporter's take on violent new extremes in Mexican drug wars begs for scrutiny. Prefacing a Senate call to reduce arms trafficking to Mexico by a few hours, the Houston Chronicle's Dane Schiller described the chilling account of a member of the Zetas cartel who asked only to be referred by the apparent pseudonym "Juan" that combines Scarface, Saw and, unexpectedly, Gladiator:
If what he says is true, gangsters who make commonplace beheadings, hangings and quartering bodies have managed an even crueler twist to their barbarity. Members of the Zetas cartel, [Juan] says, have pushed passengers into an ancient Rome-like blood sport with a modern Mexico twist that they call, "Who is going to be the next hit man?"
"They cut guys to pieces," he said.
The victims are likely among the hundreds of people found in mass graves in recent months, he said.
Over the past few weeks, authorities have discovered a number of mass graves in and around San Fernando in the northern Mexican state of Tamaulipas. The road between the state capital Ciudad Victoria and Brownsville, Texas runs through San Fernando, and locals now call it either "the highway of death" or "the devil's road." The highway is often empty now as many bus companies cancelled routes after repeated kidnappings from buses hijacked by the Zetas and other cartels. According to Juan's account and local authorities, the kidnappings served as a means for recruiting new gang members, but intimidation techniques have gotten out of hand.
"It would be more for amusement," Peter Hanna, a retired FBI officer who investigated Mexican drug cartels, told the Chronicle. "I don't see it as intimidation or a successful way to recruit people." He added, "The stuff you would not think possible a few years ago is now commonplace … It used to be you'd find dead bodies in drums with acid; now there are beheadings."