Report: Zetas gang recruits new members with gladiator games

The Houston Chronicle's Dane Schiller landed an interview with a member of one of Mexico's ruthlessly violent drug gangsters, and his revelations provide a chilling look at a crime-ridden underworld that operates with impunity in the country.

The trafficker met Schiller in person in a restaurant in Texas on the condition that his identity remain entirely secret. He's referred to only as Juan, and described as wearing designer sunglasses and carrying bulging Nordstrom shopping bags.

Juan, who says he pushes more than $5 million worth of cocaine into the United States each month, explained that members of the Zetas cartel have resorted to ancient Roman gladiator blood sport in order to find new recruits for their organization. They force innocent kidnapped bus passengers in Mexico to play a game they call "Who is going to be the next hit man?"

Some of those who have not survived the fight-to-the-death gladiator matches have been found in a series of grisly mass graves along the border in recent months, Juan speculated. Authorities found 145 unidentified bodies in pits in San Fernando, about 90 miles south of Brownsville, Texas, in April. Bus companies have cancelled service on the main road between the capital of Tamaulipas and Brownsville, which is called "the highway of death" by locals, The Washington Post reports.

Juan also said that he and other gangsters bribe officials at checkpoints along the highways between Mexico and the border, so that their drug pushing meets with little resistance.

Since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the drug cartels in 2006, 35,000 people have died in the violence. At least 70 percent of the gangs' guns seized by officials in the past two years come from the United States, prompting Calderon to call for the renewal of a U.S. assault rifle ban.

The Zetas gang, which operates on the border, is among the country's most violent, and its members are suspected of killing an Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agent in February.

You can read Schiller's whole interview here.

(Zetas and La Familia cartel suspects in May: Miguel Tovar/AP)

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