Estrada Luna.jpg
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According to Mexican authorities, Martin Omar Estrada Luna is responsible for killing more than 200 migrant workers and burying them in mass graves.

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Martin Omar Estrada Luna: Alleged Los Zetas Cartel Leader and Mass Murderer Was Once a Washingtonian

Estrada Luna.jpg
Image source
According to Mexican authorities, Martin Omar Estrada Luna is responsible for killing more than 200 migrant workers and burying them in mass graves. They say the 34-year-old Luna, nicknamed El Kilo, is also a leader of the notoriously brutal drug cartel Los Zetas, whose war with their rivals in the Gulf Cartel has plunged much of eastern Mexico into chaos and lawlessness in recent years. But El Kilo did not grow up hard on the streets of Juarez, Culiacán, Tijuana, or some other bloody Mexican enclave. Rather, he reportedly hails from a small town in central Washington called Tieton.

Earlier this week, the Yakima Herald-Republic recounted Luna's story in riveting detail. What's fascinating isn't so much the events of Luna's childhood--he was, police in Tieton say, a petty criminal and gang member who racked up 16 felony and misdemeanor convictions--but the question of how he ended up leading one of Mexico's most feared criminal networks.

Here's what the Yakima paper had to say about it:

Estrada was ultimately sentenced to 41 months for returning to the United States a third time after being deported twice before.

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement said Tuesday that he was deported in 2009 from Reno, Nev., after completing his sentence.

The ICE database shows no contact with Estrada since that last deportation.

However, the friend of Estrada said the last time they had contact, Estrada was living in Laredo, Texas, just across the border from Nuevo Laredo.

Nuevo Laredo has long been a drug-smuggling hub. It used to be the turf of the powerful Gulf Cartel, controlled by Osiel Cardenas Guillen. In the late '90s, Guillen recruited a team of 31 deserters from the Mexican special forces to be his personal hit squad. The idea backfired when Los Zetas broke off and formed their own criminal network, which developed a reputation for beheadings, random slaughter, and all-around nastiness. Today, Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel are still battling for control of border towns like Nuevo Laredo.

Los Zetas are, according to ISN Security Watch, "a network comprised of isolated cells that all maintain control over a certain slice of turf between the US/Mexico border from El Paso east, moving south along Mexico's eastern coast." Part of their operation includes extorting workers who travel through their territory and/or smuggling them into the United States for a fee.

In 2010 and 2011 there were two separate massacres of migrants in northeast Mexico's Tamaulipas state. Los Zetas were allegedly responsible for both. The first involved the deaths of 72 illegal immigrants and in the second 145 people were slaughtered.

Luna and 22 others were arrested earlier this week by Mexican marines and accused of committing the atrocities. Mexican officials say Luna is the head of the San Fernando, Tamaulipas cell of Los Zetas. There is some doubt as to whether this is actually the case, however, as Luna was not widely known as a Zetas kingpin prior to his arrest, and the Mexican government has a history of finding scapegoats for high-profile drug crimes like the Tamaulipas massacres.

Interestingly, the Yakima-Herald reports that Luna still has family residing in Washington in the Yakima area. Tieton is located about 20 miles northeast of Yakima, and is home to a large number of migrant Hispanic workers, some of whom may have had to pass through Tamaulipas on their way to the orchards of Washington. Here's hoping they didn't have to tangle with Luna or Los Zetas during their trip.

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