The Barrio Azteca, or Los Aztecas, is a Mexican-American gang originally based in El Paso, Texas. The violent street and prison gang was formed in 1986 and expanded into a transnational criminal organization. In the 2000s, Barrio Azteca formed an alliance with La Línea, the armed wing of the Juárez Cartel, to fight off the forces of the Sinaloa Cartel, who were attempting to take over the drug smuggling routes in the area. The control of the routes in Ciudad Juárez, known as the “Juárez plaza,” are vital for the drug trafficking organizations since they are the major illicit conduit into the United States.
The gang, which operates in the U.S. and Mexico, has morphed into a prime example of the “cross-border nature of Mexico’s drug war.” Members of the Barrio Azteca gang usually have U.S. citizenship, making them ideal cross-border killers that move back and forth across the U.S.-Mexico border.
See also: Mexican Drug War
The growth of Barrio Azteca in Mexico is due to the area’s distinctive cross-border nature. The area of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez is in many ways one community, with families, friends, businesses – and even gangs – joined in the same urban sprawl. Some illegal Mexicans arrested in the United States are imprisoned in Texan prisons and consequently join Barrio Azteca. When they are absolved from their sentences, they are sent back across the border into Mexico, where they quickly join the gang’s ranks and carry out a number of crimes. The Barrio Azteca has long sold drugs moved by the Juárez cartel. As they grew in power, they began to work directly with them and their alliance grew stronger. The gang began to directly buy large sums of cocaine from the cartel at cheaper rates, and in return the gang would buy assault rifles from Texan gun shops and then smuggle them across the border. Furthermore, if the cartel needed to intimidate or carry out an assassination in the United States, they would simply call on the Barrio Azteca. When the Sinaloa Cartel made its first incursion into Ciudad Juárez in 2008, Barrio Azteca was called to defend the plaza. They are alleged by the Mexican authorities to have committed numerous brutal assassinations in the city, although the exact numbers are unknown.
Barrio Azteca is also reported to have kidnapped people in El Paso, Texas and drive them south into Ciudad Juárez to kill them. A murder in Texas drives a huge investigation which often leads to an arrest. But in Ciudad Juárez, it is one of the more than ten corpses found dead on a daily basis. The gang also tortures and murders its victims in front of a large and cheering gang audience. According to the testimony of an alleged Barrio Azteca member, gang members torture and kill their victims by digging up holes in the ground, throwing a bunch of mesquite, and then pouring in some gasoline. The gang members then beat up their victims and throw them in the hole. Then they light the whole thing on fire.