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Mexican Cartels Go Underground—to Mine Coal

The infamous Zetas are diversifying, by muscling in on a business that can be "more lucrative than selling drugs."


Coal miners in Coahuila. Photo via

By May Wilkerson


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Mexican drug cartels seem to be getting their hands dirty in a new trade: illegal coal mining. Evidence of criminal mining activity has been traced to the State of Coahuila in Mexico, which produces 95% of the country's coal—mostly from small, unregulated roadside mines that can easily be exploited. Humberto Moreira, Coahuila's ex-governor, tells Al Jazeera that the power-hungry Los Zetas have been taking advantage of this chance to diversify. "They discover a mine, extract the coal, sell it at $30, pay the miners a miserable salary," says Moreira. "It's more lucrative than selling drugs." Although many have contested Moreira's claims, the federal government has found evidence of organized crime activity in the mines, and they've dispatched 200 government inspectors to the region to investigate. Samuel Gonzalez, former chief of Mexico's Anti-Organized Crime Unit, says that Los Zetas—now seen as Mexico's most powerful cartel—will seek out any opportunity to turn a profit. "The Zetas are interested in any type of illegal business, from prostitution to extorting business, to mining coal," says Gonzalez. "They’re capable of analysing where they can earn money from any type of illicit dealings." Coal miners in Coahuila reportedly confirm that organized criminals have infiltrated their industry, but refuse to comment on the record. Mexico's federal human rights agency has said that criminal involvement in the mines poses a threat to miners' lives, by stripping them of basic safety protocols.

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