Two suspected members of the Los Zetas drug cartel were arrested and 18 migrants were rescued by marines in Piedras Negras, a city in the northern state of Coahuila, the Navy Secretariat said Monday.
Antonio Camacho Soria and Martin Molina Vazquez were arrested on May 5 on charges that they were holding the migrants hostage, the secretariat said.
Marines seized firearms, marijuana, a substance that could be cocaine, cash and communications gear in the operation.
Camacho Soria and Molina Vazquez confessed that they were holding several illegal immigrants at a house.
The marines went to the house and found the migrants there, the secretariat said.
The migrants, whose nationalities were not released, were handed over to federal prosecutors in Piedras Negras, the secretariat said.
Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, known as “El Lazca,” deserted from the Mexican army in 1999 and formed Los Zetas with three other soldiers, all members of an elite special operations unit, becoming the armed wing of the Gulf drug cartel.
After several years on the payroll of the Gulf cartel, Los Zetas, considered Mexico’s most violent criminal organization, went into the drug business on their own account and now control several lucrative territories.
Los Zetas has been blamed for several massacres in recent years.
The cartel was accused of being behind the Aug. 23, 2010, massacre of 72 migrants, the majority of them from Latin America, at a ranch outside San Fernando, a city in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas.
Los Zetas has also been blamed for the massacre of 27 peasants in May 2011 at a ranch in Guatemala’s Peten province, which borders Mexico and Belize.
Zetas gunmen set fire to the Casino Royale in Monterrey, the capital of Nuevo Leon, on Aug. 25, 2011, killing 52 gamblers and employees trapped inside, most of whom died of smoke inhalation.
An estimated 300,000 Central Americans undertake the hazardous journey across Mexico each year on their way to the United States.
The trek is a dangerous one, with criminals and corrupt Mexican officials preying on the migrants.
Gangs kidnap, exploit and murder migrants, who are often targeted in extortion schemes, Mexican officials say.
Central American migrants follow a long route that first takes them into Chiapas state, which is on the border with Guatemala, walking part of the way or riding aboard freight trains, buses and cargo trucks.
The flow of migrants has increased markedly in the northern and northeastern parts of Mexico since U.S. officials increased security along the border in the northwestern part of the country.
A total of 46,716 Central Americans were deported from Mexico between Jan. 1 and Nov. 30, 2011, the National Migration Institute, or INM, said in a report released earlier this year.
The majority of the migrants – 41,215 – were men and nearly half, some 23,560, were from Guatemala, the INM said.