By William Booth
Sunday, May 30, 2010
ZAPATA, TEX. -- Falcon Lake is famous for its monster bass and for the maniacal obsession of the fishermen who come from all over Texas -- and the world -- to stalk them. Now this remote reservoir that straddles the international boundary is known for something else: pirates.
In the past month, crews of outlaws in a small armada of banged-up skiffs and high-powered bass boats launched from the Mexican shore have ambushed bass anglers from the Texas side innocently casting their plastic worms over favorite spots. The buccaneers have struck in Mexican waters but within sight of the Texas shore.
Dressed in black, the pirates brandish automatic weapons, carry radio cellphones and board the anglers' boats. They demand weapons or drugs from their captives, but finding neither, seem satisfied with taking $400 or $500 as booty, according to law enforcement officials and victims' accounts.
There is a saying about not messing with Texas, and the idea that criminals are preying on American anglers is raising already-high temperatures along the southwest border. Answering calls for help, President Obama last week ordered 1,200 National Guard troops to the region.
The pirates claim to be "federales," or police, but instead are brigands -- with the letter "Z" tattooed on their necks and arms -- from the notorious drug cartel Los Zetas. The Zetas are on a rampage of killing and extortion along the Mexican border as they fight gun and grenade battles against the military and the rival Gulf Cartel.
"Within the last month, with all the feuding going on over there, the dope smuggling has dropped off and it is starving them. This water is Zeta central. They controlled the whole lake. They distributed everything. Now they're desperate and diversifying," said Jose E. Gonzalez, the second in command of the Border Patrol's Zapata station, which operates an around-the-clock maritime patrol.