from Coal Mining Along Border
They may be known for flashy cars and state of the art weaponry, but Mexican drug lords have found an earthy new source of wealth: dirty old coal.
They are mining it themselves in a coal-rich area along the US border or buying it from small mine operators, then reselling it to a state-owned company at fabulous margins that can see them make a profit 30 times greater than their initial investment.
Along the way, besides the earth's black bounty, the drug lords are seeking to reap credibility as legitimate business people.
First word of the Zetas drug cartel's presence in mining-heavy Coahuila state came in October from a former governor, Humberto Moreira, who blamed the notoriously violent group for his son's death.
The Mexican Mining Association says Mexico produces 15 million tonnes of coal a year, worth $3.8 billion. About 95 percent of it comes from Coahuila.
Reforma newspaper says the Zetas produce or buy 10,000 tonnes of coal a week. Selling it at their inflated prices, that means yearly revenue of $22 million to $25 million.
The Zetas were created for former Mexican military special forces operatives who worked for the Gulf cartel. But they broke away from that group to control lucrative drug trafficking routes to the United States and engage in other crimes such as extortion, people trafficking and fuel theft.
"The Zetas are the first Mexican cartel to diversify from drugs into other areas," said Tomas Borges, author of a book on the cartels.
Zetas leader Heriberto Lazcano was shot and killed by authorities October 7 in the coal mining town of Progreso. Hi body was later stolen by armed men.
Moreira says the drug lord had his own coal pit in the region.
But the Zetas presence is not new. Raul Vera, bishop of Coahuila's capital Saltillo, said drug traffickers have been digging coal for years and doing it in areas where it is illegal.
"It is an open secret that drug traffickers are infiltrating the coal mines. But since Moreira spoke out, we have seen police and military around and we know they arrested several people," a coal industry businessman in Agujita said on condition of anonymity.
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Editor's Note: Pres. Obama better hurry up and send the EPA and Lisa Jackson down there to regulate the industry into oblivion...
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