EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Twenty-nine people have been arrested in recent weeks in the El Paso area as part of a DEA-led initiative targeting violent drug gangs.
Project Safeguard also netted the seizure of 39 firearms, $467,536 in cash and half a ton of controlled substances here in the past two months, according to the El Paso Field Division of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The local arrests and seizures are part of a nationwide push to reduce violent crime associated with drug trafficking activity, local DEA officials said.
“There is no doubt that drug trafficking and violent crime are linked,” said Kyle W. Williamson, special agent in charge of the DEA’s El Paso Field Office. “We’ve seen firsthand how Mexican cartels and local street gangs have created a dangerous alliance to distribute some of the deadliest drugs on the planet to every corner of our nation.”
The initiative means to disrupt and dismantle major drug rings, work with other agencies to bring about firearms charges and capture fugitive traffickers.
In El Paso, several street and prison gangs as well as outlaw motorcycle clubs are involved in illicit drug activity, the DEA said.
They include Barrio Azteca, Sureños, Gangster Disciples, Chuco Tango, Bloods and Crips. Another group, West Texas Tango Gang has influence in El Paso and Midland counties, the DEA said.
Of those, Barrio Azteca – also known as Los Aztecas – has strong, long-standing ties to Juarez-based La Linea, one of Mexico’s most violent drug cartels.
And while Juarez hovers around 1,400 murders so far this year, including killings that involve decapitation, dismemberment and incineration, El Paso just across the Rio Grande has been spared most of that violence.
Local DEA officials attribute that to the strong partnership and intelligence work of federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to identify potential threats and preempt them. Also, El Paso is more of a distribution center than a market for the retail sale of illicit drugs.
“El Paso is a distribution center. Most drugs go to other areas of the country,” the DEA said in an email to Border Report. “Most drugs move out of the region, but there is drug use throughout the area. A wide range of individuals are involved in the sale of drugs – both gangs and non-gang related individuals.”
The cartels in recent years have rushed to capitalize on America’s opioid epidemic, which claims about 70,000 lives every year through overdoses. These groups are still sending marijuana and cocaine across the border, but their fastest-growing exports to the United States are now methamphetamine and fentanyl.