How Did Two Texas Boys Turn into Hit Men for the Zetas Drug Cartel?

Dan Slater explores their journey in his new book.

By Laura RiceSeptember 29, 2016 11:45 am

Wolf Boys” explores how a couple of Texas teenagers went from playing under the Friday night lights to working as assassins for Los Zetas, one of Mexico’s most dangerous drug cartels. The book reads like fiction, but it’s a true story written by former Wall Street Journal reporter Dan Slater.

Slater came across the story in the New York Times, after he was laid off in 2009 during the recession. He says mainstream coverage of the cartel wars didn’t depict the realities of the drug war – it’s not just about the front-page cartel bosses.

“The more I learned about the drug war, the more I learned that those stories, as fascinating as they were, really had nothing at all to do with the reality of the drug war,” he says. “The reality was more about young men, and often boys, slaughtering each other.”

On how Gabriel Cardona and Rosalio “Bart” Reta got into the drug business in the first place:

“It happens slowly and then it happens all at once. It begins with juvenile crime, especially in a border city like Laredo that is impoverished. Then you kind of graduate, step by step. It starts with some drug smuggling, weapons smuggling, vehicle smuggling and then, at some point, you meet someone who knows someone and you’re speaking to a cartel boss.”

On the dichotomy between learned societal values and criminal activity:

“They went to school, they got values, they read books. But in these neighborhoods that they came from in Laredo, they were surrounded by smugglers – uncles, parents, almost everyone was involved in some aspect of the black market. So it was more a matter of role models normalizing a lot of this behavior.”

On the young men feeling comfortable enough to tell U.S. homicide detective Robert Garcia about their exploits in Mexico:

“They were used to a culture of total impunity in Mexico. Not just impunity, but the cops actually helping them with a lot of their assassinations. So when they get arrested in Texas, they know that there’s no way that they can be touched for anything that they’ve done in Mexico. That’s why a lot of the interrogations … take on this almost surreal quality.”

On the permeability of the border:

“The border has always been a very ephemeral thing. These boys grow up in Laredo moving back and forth across the border freely. We have never had such a thing as a secure border. That is a myth. … So the border is nowhere and it’s everywhere at the same time.”

Post by Beth Cortez-Neavel.