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MEXICO CITY — One of Mexico's biggest drug cartels has launched a brazen recruiting campaign, putting up fliers and banners promising good pay, free cars and better food to army soldiers who join the cartel's elite band of hit men.
"We don't feed you Maruchan soups," said one banner in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, referring to a brand of ramen noodles.
The recruiting by the Gulf Cartel reflects how Mexico's fight against traffickers increasingly resembles a real war, nearly 17 months after President Felipe Calderón ordered the army into drug hot spots.
"Army and police-force conflicts with heavily armed narcotics cartels have escalated to levels equivalent to military small-unit combat," the U.S. Embassy said last week in a travel warning to Americans.
Fliers urging soldiers to defect began appearing earlier this month in the border city of Reynosa. They were pasted on telephone poles over government posters that offered rewards to drug informants.
"Former soldiers sought to form armed group; good pay, 500 dollars," the fliers read.
And a 10-foot-long banner appeared on a pedestrian bridge over Nuevo Laredo's Reforma Avenue, coaxing soldiers to join the Zetas, the Gulf Cartel's hit squad.
"Operative group 'the Zetas' wants you, soldier or ex-soldier," the banner said. "We offer you a good salary, food and attention for your family. "
It listed a cellphone number, which was disconnected a few days later. The banner was taken down a few hours after it was spotted.
Last week, another banner in the city of Tampico asked soldiers and federal agents to defect.
"Join the ranks of the Gulf Cartel," it said. "We offer benefits, life insurance, a house for your family and children. Stop living in the slums and riding the bus. A new car or truck, your choice."