An alleged leader of the Zetas drug cartel is on trial this week in San Antonio, Texas, where he stands accused of killing and incinerating dozens of inmates from a prison in the border town of Piedras Negras, in the northern state of Coahuila.
Marciano Millan Vazquez is expected to confess to participating in the extrajudicial killing of hundreds of people by the criminal group, which was formed by former Mexican soldiers and built ovens from 2009 to 2015 in order to destroy the bodies of their victims.
Millan Vasquez and other Zetas leaders “gave orders to kill persons in the course of the conspiracy... and... the defendant himself shot, dismembered and burned bodies in furtherance of the conspiracy,” assistant U.S. Attorney Russell Leachman wrote in one court document.
In the document, Leachman points to “multiple homicides committed by the Defendant” but investigative work by Mexican and international media calculate that at least 400 bodies were disappeared in the case known as the “Coahuila Ovens."
The defense of Millan Vasquez argues he was previously exonerated of all charges in Coahuila, where he is alleged to have committed the crimes. However, the accused was arrested in San Antonio last year on charges of conspiracy to distribute and import various different types of drugs while also employing minors.
The U.S. attorney claims the U.S. government is allowed to prosecute Millan Vasquez for crimes that took place in Mexico as long as the acts were committed as part of a conspiracy connected to the United States. If found guilty, he will be sentenced to life in prison.
The Zetas drug cartel have long operated with impunity in Coahuila due to the help of former Governor Fernando Moreira, who was arrested for a short period on charges of embezzling state funds. He is also accused of having links to drug trafficking.
Moreira served as governor from 2005-2011. Before ending his term, he resigned as a result of a scandal involving illegal financing. A year after he left the post, his son was killed on the U.S. border, in what local press and analysts consider an act of revenge by drug cartels.
When he stepped down, the debt of Coahuila amounted to US$2 billion, making it one of the most indebted states in the country. Once very close to President Enrique Peña Nieto, according to Mexican state media, Moreira is now considered unprotected due to his flagrant and continued acts of corruption.