AC: "...a war that is essentially being fought by the Mexicans for America."
Michael reports on the Mexican drug cartel known as Los Zetas in a prepared piece from VeraCruz followed by a live Q&A from Mexico City. (Yes, he does say "the Los Zetas" during the location shots, but by the time he did the VO had switched to "the Zetas." Bear with him; a few more trips down there and he'll be habla'ing the espanol better!)
ERICA HILL: President Obama travels to Mexico this Sunday for a summit with North American leaders. And the trip comes with some controversy.
Today Senator Patrick Leahy announced Congress is withholding about $100 million in aid intended to help battle Mexico's drug cartel. Why? The Vermont Democrat wants to see more evidence that the Mexican government is cracking down on corrupt and abusive police and soldiers.
The drug war next door has left thousands dead, kidnapped, and as we know, the enemy is well-armed and it is very well-funded. But out of all the ruthless killers, there is one group in particular that stands out. Michael Ware reports.
MICHAEL WARE, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The dead always tell a story. And here in Mexico that story is the war raging on America's doorstep. Being fought for the right to supply America's demand for illegal drugs, a war becoming more violent, more ruthless, mostly because of one group.
(on camera) To even begin to understand that violence, come with me, here in a barrio in the southern Mexican city of Vera Cruz. Imagine, if you will, a band of Special Forces Green Beret soldier go rogue and offer their services and their firepower to the drug cartels.
Well, that's precisely what's happened in Mexico in the 1990s. Commandos from the Mexican army deserted and set up their own cartel, known as the Los Zetas. The Los Zetas, a group that the U.S. government now says is the most technologically advanced, sophisticated, and dangerous cartel operating in Mexico.
And this is an example of some of their most recent work. Until not so long ago, this was the home to a local police commander, promoted just two months before. And at 5 a.m. one morning, two cars pulled up in these streets.
Eight or nine gunmen got out armed with assault rifles and 40-millimeter grenade launchers. They blasted their way into this house, and it took him less than five minutes to execute the father, the police commander, his wife, a policewoman, and in the blaze that they started, to kill four children.
This is the drug war in Mexico. This is the war that the Los Zetas are fighting. And this is the war on America's doorstep that shows no sign of ending. And with their fearsome weaponry and military expertise, U.S. agencies consider the Zetas America's most formidable enemy in the drug war.
RALPH REYES, MEXICO AND CENTRAL AMERICAN CHIEF, DEA: The Zetas have obviously assumed the role of being the number one organization responsible for the majority of the homicides, the narcotic-rated of homicides, the beheadings, the kidnappings, the extortions that take place in Mexico.
WARE (voice-over): From this Washington, D.C., office, DEA Central American chief Ralph Reyes directs America's fight against the Zetas, a fight he says that will take years.
REYES: They continue to train new recruits through several campaigns. One of them is a very public and open narco banners that they pose around the country of Mexico, specifically tailored to the military, in that they will offer better pay and better benefits if they join the ranks of the Zetas.
WARE: With their mastery of combat, says Reyes, this organized crime network operates more like a U.S. infantry company patrolling the streets of Fallujah in Iraq than they do a street gang. And they're only getting stronger.
(on-camera) Vera Cruz is a popular tourist destination with colorful plazas just like this one. But it's actually a thin veneer for what's really going on beneath. Local newspapers almost daily have headlines of the horror of the bloody violence of the drug cartels. Cartels that here in Vera Cruz are more often than not linked to the Los Zetas.
The American Drug Enforcement Agency tells me that, whilst it was originally based on military lines, it's being built on a business structure, with quarterly meetings, business ledgers kept, even votes on key assassinations.
And now the Los Zetas are taxing businesses beyond even their drug reach. From human trafficking across the American border to, as one recent scandal shows, they've been imposing a kind of tax on the Mexican government itself. The state-run oil company, it's just been revealed, has been bleeding billions through corrupt officials linked to the Los Zetas.
And as a DEA agent told me, the American border makes little difference to the Los Zetas. To them, it doesn't matter whether their violence is being perpetrated on the Mexican side of the border or on the American side.
(voice-over) On that American side, one of their instruments of assassination was teenager Rosalio Reta. He was just 13 years old when he first killed.
"I love doing it," says Reta in this police interrogation. "Killing that first person, I loved it. I thought I was superman."
But you can be certain there are more like him. And there will be until America can defeat adversaries like the Zetas and end the drug wars across the border.
HILL: Michael, as we mentioned, President Obama is headed to Mexico on Sunday. Clearly, as you mentioned, the Zetas don't have any regard for the borders here. How much, though, do you think the drug wars and, specifically Los Zetas, will actually be on the agenda for these meetings?
WARE: Well, that's a great question, Erica. At this stage we don't know. But what I can tell you is that the Mexican drug war should be foremost on President Obama's agenda when he does come here on the weekend to Mexico.
Right now on average, 570 Mexicans are dying every month in drug-related crime, in a war that is essentially being fought by the Mexicans for America. This is a war that's fueled by America's demand for illegal drugs. And it's being fought with American weapons, on both the government side and on the cartel side.
So this is very much an American problem. And many of us in the region will be looking to President Obama to say something real about what America is about to do -- Erica.
HILL: And clearly, a problem that is not getting better any time soon. Michael Ware live for us in Mexico City. Michael, thanks.