REPORTING FROM MEXICO CITY -- Soldiers have freed 61 men held against their will at a safe house in the northern state of Coahuila, the army said in a statement (link in Spanish).
The men, who included one Honduran citizen, were held with the intent to make them forced laborers for a drug gang, the military said. The rescue on Saturday recalls the case of 72 mostly Central American migrants who were massacred in August 2010, after being kidnapped and reportedly refusing to work for the Zetas cartel.
Military authorities did not say which cartel allegedly kidnapped the men in Coahuila, but the fearsome Zetas are believed to be in control of wide areas of the state. Last week, soldiers captured a high-ranking Zetas figure known as "La Rana," or "The Frog," in Saltillo, Coahuila's capital city, after intense gun battles. Carlos Oliva Castillo is said to have ordered the August torching of the Casino Royale in Monterrey, where 52 people died.
In Coahuila, Mexico's military just days ago launched "Operation Northeast," an offensive against organized crime. In the municipality of Piedras Negras, where the 61 men were found, military authorities said they also confiscated six tons of marijuana and arrested three men believed to be the prisoners' kidnappers.
According to one news report, the Zetas use a triangle of cities in Coahuila to control trafficking northward, an area also used as a staging ground to fight against the Gulf cartel for control of Monterrey, the large industrial city located just across the border in neighboring Nuevo Leon state (link in Spanish).
Few other details on the 61 freed men were made available over the weekend.
In June, authorities announced the arrest of a 22-year-old military deserter and Zetas member who allegedly led the kidnapping and massacre of the 72 migrants in Tamaulipas state. Edgar Huerta Montiel told authorities the migrants were found in two freight trucks and that he also ordered the kidnapping of six busloads of travelers in Tamaulipas.
-- Daniel Hernandez
Photo: Soldiers escort Carlos Oliva Castillo, alias "La Rana," or the "The Frog," as he is presented to the press in Mexico City on Thursday. Credit: Alexandre Meneghini / Associated Press