Documento creado: 1 de octubre de 2009
Air & Space Power Journal - Español  Tercer  Trimestre 2009


Los Zetas: Inside Mexico’s Most Dangerous Drug Gang
Hal Brands

Los ZetasIn January 2009, retired Mexican general Mauro Enrique Tello Quiñones took command of a special police task force charged with combating drug-related violence in Cancún, the popular tourist town located in Quintana Roo state. The assignment lasted all of one week. In early February, Tello and two aides were kidnapped and killed. Before murdering Tello, assailants broke both of his arms and legs and subjected him to ghastly, prolonged torture. The incident provoked shock across Mexico; the governor of Quintana Roo called it “truly horrible.” Even by the standards of the increasingly violent drug war that has consumed Mexico of late, this crime stood out for its brazenness and brutality. In short, it bore all the marks of an attack by the notorious paramilitary group known as Los Zetas.1

It was soon confirmed that the Zetas were indeed behind the murder, making that killing the latest in a series of audacious strikes by that organization.2 Since the late 1990s, the Zetas have enjoyed a meteoric rise in Mexico’s thriving drug trade, establishing themselves as the most violent, destructive, and lethal participant in that industry. The group, which initially served as the enforcement and protection arm of the Gulf Cartel, has gradually embraced additional illegal activities and staked its own claim in the fight to dominate the Mexican drug trade. Drawing on a vast arsenal, military-style discipline and skills, and a sophisticated organizational apparatus, the Zetas have outclassed their competition and defied government efforts to defeat the group. “They are professionals,” comments one analyst. “The authorities don’t have the resources to face up to a phenomenon like this.”3 The Zetas now dominate large swaths of northern Mexico, have established a presence in cities and states throughout the country, and have even become active in Guatemala and the United States. Of all the violent gangs and cartels active in Mexico today, the Zetas have so far emerged as the most effective and the most dangerous.

Despite their undeniable criminal prowess, the Zetas remain a relatively shadowy organization and an elusive target for serious analysis. Outside of Mexico and some parts of the southwestern United States, relatively little is known about the organization, and the available information is often misinterpreted. It is commonly asserted, for instance, that the Zetas are the “armed wing” of the Gulf Cartel, despite the fact that they have left this role behind and are now a powerful drug-trafficking organization in their own right.4 Accordingly, this essay offers a detailed analysis of the Zetas. It examines their origins and subsequent evolution, their modus operandi and the traits that have made them so devastatingly successful, and their effects on internal security in Mexico as well as in neighboring countries. It also places them within the broader context of powerful gangs that, in countries throughout Latin America, have undertaken a sort of “criminal insurgency” against the institutions of order. The Zetas are perhaps the central player in the progressive deterioration of public order in Mexico; this behind the case, a proper understanding of that organization is essential to addressing and ameliorating that crisis.

Origins and Evolution

The origins of Los Zetas are to be found in the recent expansion and intensification of the Mexican drug trade. Due to U.S. interdiction successes in the Caribbean during the 1990s, Mexico has now become the single most important way-station for cocaine and heroin produced in the Andes, and is itself a major producer of marijuana and methamphetamines. The permeability of the U.S.-Mexican border allows for easy transit into the United States, and Mexico’s share of the drug trade has grown steadily over the past 15 years.5 More than 90 percent of the cocaine and 70 percent of the methamphetamines and heroin consumed in the United States now either originates or passes through Mexico.6 The total value of this trade is perhaps $25 billion annually (though estimates vary considerably), much of which is smuggled back into Mexico or laundered through front businesses in the United States.7 As one writer notes, “Mexican drug cartels generate more revenue than at least 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies, and the U.S. government’s highest estimate of cartel revenue tops that of Merck, Deere, and Halliburton.”8

Zetas leader

Translation

Líder de los Zetas: Zetas leader

Encargado regional - In charge of the region

Personal de confianza: Confidential employees

 That this commerce has turned so violent of late owes to the breakdown of the rules that once governed the narcotics industry. For much of twentieth century, Mexico’s ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, oversaw a system of “narcocorruption” that brought a measure of stability to the drug trade.9 The cartels provided bribes and kept violence to a minimum. In return, the PRI protected the kingpins and resolved conflicts between them, most notably by allocating access to the plazas, or drug corridors to the United States.10 The Mexican state, explains scholar Luis Astorga, served as a “referee of disputes and an apparatus that had the capacity to control, contain and simultaneously protect these groups.”11 As the PRI gradually lost power during the 1980s and 1990s, this system collapsed. The decline of one-party rule left the Mexican drug trade without a central, governing authority, and comparative stability soon gave way to a Hobbesian struggle for control of the plazas. According to Astorga, the cartels were now forced “to resolve disputes themselves, and drug traffickers don’t do this by having meetings.”12

From the late 1990s onward, Mexico thus experienced a dramatic escalation of drug-related violence. The Gulf Cartel, led by Osiel Cárdenas, sought to expand its operations in northern Mexico and fight its way into the strategic southern port city of Acapulco, while a confederation under the leadership of the Sinaloa Cartel looked to displace Cárdenas from his position in the north. The bloodshed that followed was nowhere more intense than in Nuevo Laredo, the city of 350,000 that sits directly across the border from the terminus of IH-35, the chief north-south artery in the United States. To protect this valuable real estate, Cárdenas decided to form an elite paramilitary group that could protect Gulf Cartel operations and intimidate or eliminate his rivals. In the late 1990s, he induced a group of Gafes, or members of the Mexican army’s elite Airborne Special Forces Groups, to switch sides, and the Zetas (which take their name from the radio code for “captain”) were born.13

The Zetas, which initially consisted of Lieutenant Arturo Guzmán Decenas and 30 other ex-gafes, have grown considerably since their founding. While only 5-10 original members remain active in the group, the Zetas have more than compensated for this attrition by recruiting additional soldiers, policemen, and criminals. The Zetas now consist of 1000-3000 men and women, most of them in their twenties. This core group is thought to be complemented by roughly 30 Kaibiles, or Guatemalan counter-insurgency specialists who, like the original Zetas, deserted the army in search of higher pay, as well as a variety of middle-men, petty criminals, and other individuals who assist the organization in various ways.14

Cárdenas initially employed the Zetas as hired guns and maintained a firm hold on the group and its activities. He charged the Zetas with protecting his territory in Nuevo Laredo, murdering or intimidating competitors, and accompanying drug shipments to the U.S. border. He also apparently relied on the Zetas as his personal protection detail, making the group an immensely valuable commodity at a time when drug lords such as Cárdenas were increasingly falling victim to the violence they themselves had spawned.15

Members of the Mexican Army Special Forces Group
Members of the Mexican Army Special Forces Group, Aeromóbiles de Fuerzas Especiales

After Cardenas was arrested in 2003 and extradited to the United States in 2007, however, the Zetas went into business for themselves. Led by Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano and Jaime González Durán (Guzmán Decenas was killed by government forces in 2002), the Zetas violently forced their way into the upper echelons of the Gulf hierarchy and began to establish their own supply and distribution network. By sidelining internal competitors and asserting their own authority, the Zetas went from being a tool used by the Gulf Cartel to an entity that effectively controls a large portion of Gulf Cartel operations. “The Gulf Cartel created the lion, but now the lion has wised up and controls the handler,” says one U.S. official.16 Since 2007, the Zetas have also diversified their criminal endeavors, robbing casinos in northern Mexico and becoming involved in money laundering, kidnapping, human smuggling, extortion, and other illicit activities. The Zetas have simultaneously expanded their geographical reach, and now operate across Mexico as well as in the border regions of Guatemala and the United States.17

The success of the Zetas is nowhere better illustrated than in the way that this group has inspired an arms race of sorts within the Mexican drug trade. The Zetas’ exploits have spurred imitation; paramilitary groups known as Los Pelones, Los Negros, and Las Fuerzas Especiales de Arturo now serve several of the major Mexican cartels. The Zetas themselves have helped create two spin-off groups. They apparently helped train La Familia, a shadowy, Michoacan-based group that promises “divine justice” for its enemies and originally gained notoriety when its members lobbed five severed heads onto the floor of a crowded nightclub.18

Understanding Los Zetas’ Success

How has a comparatively young organization like the Zetas become such an influential player in the Mexican drug trade? The Zetas’ successes reflect a variety of factors, first and foremost their advanced training and skills. Guzmán Decenas’s initial group of Zetas came from an elite army unit created specifically for counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency purposes. The gafes received training from French and Israeli instructors, and possessed a wealth of specialized knowledge regarding advanced military tactics. When they defected, the original Zetas thus brought with them considerable expertise in “rapid deployment, aerial assaults, marksmanship, ambushes, intelligence collection, counter-surveillance techniques, prisoner rescues, sophisticated communications, and the art of intimidation,” skills they subsequently put to good use in their new profession. The Zetas have consistently proven themselves adept at a variety of complex, coordinated operations, and the original members possessed an internal discipline and a military-style esprit de corps that was unprecedented in the Mexican drug trade. These skills consistently gave the Zetas an edge on their rivals and made them extremely successful in evading or defeating government counter-measures.19

The capabilities of the core group of ex-gafes were diluted as most of the original 31 members were killed or captured and many later Zeta recruits came from more pedestrian backgrounds. Still, the Zetas have found ways to maintain their tactical dominance. They continue to draw recruits from the police and the military, although it has become rarer for elite troops such as gafes to switch sides. The original Zetas established training camps for new members, where recruits are instructed in how to kill, torture, and conduct intelligence and propaganda operations. The introduction of the Kaibiles into the organization has also allowed the Zetas to maintain a level of military expertise. The Kaibiles are renowned for their military skill and toughness; the group’s motto is, “If I advance, follow me. If I stop, urge me on. If I retreat, kill me.”20

Second, the Zetas have developed a sophisticated organizational apparatus that facilitates the entire range of their criminal activities. The Congressional Research Service reports that the Zetas are now “an increasingly sophisticated, three-tiered organization with leaders and middlemen who coordinate contracts with petty criminals to carry out street work.”21 Original Zetas (Zetas Viejos) now form the top level within the organization, controlling major drug-trafficking routes in cities from Matamoros to Nuevo Laredo. Below them are operatives involved in money laundering, smuggling and distribution, enforcement, arms procurement, intelligence gathering, and other activities. At the bottom of the organization are common criminals who perform a variety of unglamorous but essential tasks.22

As this description indicates, top-level Zetas Viejos draw on the support of a range of groups that operate according to a division of labor. Los Halcones oversee trafficking and distribution. La Dirección intercepts communications and collects intelligence to be used in executions and kidnappings. Las Manosos procure weapons. Las Leopardos are information-gathering prostitutes. Las Ventanas are bike-mounted teenagers and otherwise unemployed men who provide early warning of approaching threats. Small business owners linked to Los Zetas help the group launder money. In many ways, Los Zetas look less like a street gang than a corporation.23

Even as their organization has become more complex, however, the Zetas have remained comparatively less hierarchical and centralized than many Mexican cartels. Most reports indicate that the group is divided into various cells, which take direction from Lazcano and the central command but have little knowledge of the activities of other cells. This arrangement is beneficial from a security perspective, as it impedes police efforts to penetrate the organization and limits the damage that can be done by turncoats.24

Third, the Zetas make use of an astonishingly large and powerful arsenal. The Mexican narcotics trade has progressed by leaps and bounds in terms of armaments over the past ten years. The standard AK-47 (el cuerno de chivo) is now accompanied by a range of military-grade weapons. Shoulder-fired missiles, helicopters, assault-rifles, armor-piercing ammunition, and even improvised explosive devices have all become common. The cartels acquire many of these weapons (upwards of 90 percent, according to some estimates) through arms dealers and gun shows in the United States, and then smuggle them across the border. “It is incredible, facing these weapons,” says Genaro García Luna, Mexico’s Secretary of Public Security. “It is truly astonishing, in terms of quantity, in terms of caliber.”25

The Zetas have positioned themselves at the forefront of this trend. Early attacks featured AR-15s, AK-47s, and MP-5s, as well as dynamite and plastic explosives. The group has since graduated to 50-mm machine guns, grenade launchers, and bazookas.26 More important, the Zetas’ military proficiency has allowed them to use these weapons far more effectively than their competitors. As a writer for Stratfor notes, “Assault rifles in the hands of untrained thugs are dangerous, but if those same rifles are placed in the hands of highly trained special forces soldiers who can operate as a fire team, they can be overwhelmingly powerful.”27

Operations and Methods

This combination of factors has allowed the Zetas to undertake a variety of audacious operations. The assassination of Tello had ample precedent in earlier Zeta attacks; the group killed the chief of police in Nuevo Laredo in 2005 just hours after he pledged not to be intimidated by Zeta threats. Police chiefs in other Zeta-controlled towns have met a similar fate, and the group later forced the resignation of another Nuevo Laredo police chief by killing several of his officers. The Zetas have regularly ambushed police convoys carrying captured compatriots; in one particularly brazen attack in Zacatecas in December 2007, Zeta gunmen killed seven police officials in the process of liberating two prisoners.28 More recently, groups of up to 50 Zetas have orchestrated large jailbreaks in Tamaulipas, Michoacan, Veracruz, and Durango. Throughout their existence, moreover, the Zetas have proven themselves unique in their willingness to engage in sustained firefights with the Mexican military, and they are thought to be responsible for the murders of numerous soldiers and officers.29

NoticeAcross these various operations, the Zetas have distinguished themselves by their brutality. They torture victims for hours before executing them, and, in order to strike fear into their competition and those who might interfere with their activities, they often decapitate or otherwise mutilate their victims. As George Grayson comments, “Even mentioning the word ‘Zeta’ conjures images of castrations, decapitations, and immersion in vats of lye.”30

Yet the Zetas do not rely on brute force alone; their skill set has allowed them to undertake a variety of more sophisticated operations. Drawing on their military experience, Zetas have become experts in the arts of infiltration and disguise. In 2007, Zetas masquerading as soldiers gained access to two police stations under the guise of a routine weapons examination and murdered seven government officials. Along the same lines, Zetas disguised as police or military officials have played a key role in many of the jailbreaks discussed above.31

Zeta technological capabilities are equally impressive. La Dirección has used the electronic signatures of opponents’ cellular phones to coordinate kidnappings and assassinations, and electronic surveillance is key to many of the the group’s operations. The Zetas have also penetrated the radio frequencies used by Mexican law enforcement, eavesdropping on police communications and announcing death threats against troublesome officials.32

Similarly, the Zetas have shown themselves adept at mounting effective propaganda and information operations. They publish lists of officers to be targeted for assassination, and demand that local newspapers feature extensive coverage of their violent exploits.33 In a tactic borrowed from the Iraqi insurgents, they have also begun to post execution videos on YouTube. This perverse public relations campaign has had the desired result, disseminating Zeta exploits to a wide audience and thereby reinforcing the mystique that surrounds the organization. All told, the Zetas are now considered by DEA officials to be “the most technologically advanced, sophisticated and violent” of the drug-related organizations active in Mexico.34

The Zetas are also well attuned to the possibility of exploiting rampant corruption within the forces of order in Mexico. The Zetas thrive on the lack of professionalism among Mexico’s local and state police agencies, offering sizable payouts to officers who provide inside information or help the Zetas eliminate their enemies. In the same vein, the Zetas are constantly on the lookout for defectors from the armed forces. Banners hung by the Zetas promise “a good salary, food and medical care for your families” to soldiers who switch sides, as well as “loans and life insurance.” There is a sizable audience for these appeals; low pay and difficult working conditions led to an astounding 100,000 desertions between 2000 and 2006, and nearly 50,000 more since Calderon’s ascension.35

This combination of violence and inducement has allowed the Zetas effectively to neutralize local and state law enforcement in Nuevo Laredo and throughout much of northern Mexico. Intimidated by Zeta death threats and lured by the promise of easy money, corrupt officers leak information on upcoming anti-drug operations and offer protection in other ways as well. Since 2005, Nuevo Laredo police officials have reportedly kidnapped competing traffickers and delivered them to the Zetas to be tortured and killed. The scope of this corruption is difficult to overstate; when federal officials screened all 700 members of the Nuevo Laredo police force for drug ties in 2005, only 150 were eventually allowed to return to the job.36

Those police who refuse to collaborate with the Zetas quickly become victims of the group’s brutality. The 2005 murder of Nuevo Laredo’s chief of police was especially important in this regard; it sent the message that honest police work simply would not be tolerated. “They are openly defying the Mexican state,” comments one analyst. “They are showing that they can kill anybody at any time.”37 The group has dealt with police officers linked to rival organizations with even greater savagery. Beheadings are common in such cases, and in one instance the Zetas stuffed four Nuevo Laredo police officers inside barrels of diesel fuel and burned them to death. The result has been a drastic reduction in police effectiveness along the U.S.-Mexico border. As one observer asks, “Why would anyone want to be a cop, when no one can guarantee their safety, less so their life?”39

The Zetas have used the same formula of plata o plomo (“money or lead”) to co-opt segments of the population as a whole. While Zeta violence provides a reminder of what awaits those who oppose the group, the organization also uses proceeds from drug sales to buy citizen loyalties. The Zetas have been known to donate food, bicycles, clothing, and toys to Nuevo Laredo residents, and some members apparently style themselves in the image of a 19th century bandit known as “The Angel of the Poor.” Given the pervasive poverty that afflicts Mexico, these tactics can be quite effective. Young boys proclaim that “I want to be a Zeta,” and recipients of the group’s largesse have said that “we are all Zetas.” The group uses similar methods to stoke citizen anger at police corruption and the military brutality that has occasionally accompanied the government crackdown launched in 2005. One Nuevo Laredo resident concisely expressed this dynamic, declaring, “I trust the Zetas more than the thieving police and soldiers.”40 The Zetas are not just using violence to batter the Mexican state; they are exploiting poverty, corruption, and longstanding institutional failures to weaken it in more subtle ways, as well.

The Extent of the Threat and the Regional Context

These activities have made the Zetas an immense threat to public security and internal stability in Mexico. As a result, the group has often been a focal point of the anti-drug crackdowns launched by Vicente Fox and now Felipe Calderón. Calderón has likened the Zetas to a terrorist organization, and his government has inflicted numerous blows on the group. As mentioned above, most of the original Zetas have been killed or captured, and in early 2009 a top Zeta lieutenant, Gregorio Sauceda Gamboa, was apprehended. Mexican federal police and soldiers have arrested numerous public officials and local police commanders linked to the group, and the government has made large seizures of drugs, money, and weapons held in Zeta caches. Several individuals thought to be local cell leaders within the Zetas Organization were apprehended in 2008 and early 2009, and in one instance Mexican authorities nabbed 30 men thought to be members of the group.41

Far from giving ground in the face of these intensified government offensives, however, the Zetas have simply responded in kind. The murder of Tello was merely one stroke in a recent Zeta campaign against soldiers and military officials. A month earlier, Zetas captured and killed eight soldiers in the southern state of Guerrero and proceeded to display their headless bodies on YouTube. Since then, they have assassinated additional military officials. Calderon is betting that the army can restore order where the police cannot; the Zetas, in turn, are seeking to show that even trained military professionals are no match for their skills and ruthlessness.42

Indeed, while Calderon’s offensive may have injured the Zetas, it has hardly tamed or defeated that organization. The Zetas continue to dominate much of the territory along Mexico’s northern border, and their arrival in a new city or state invariably produces a dramatic spike in gruesome, drug-related violence. The group has acquired a quasi-mythic status through its exploits, commanding a mix of fear, respect, and revulsion. And despite the fact that the Zetas are relative newcomers to the Mexican drug trade, informed observers generally agree that they are the most dangerous participant in that industry. According to Raul Benitez of the American University in Washington, D.C., “The Zetas have clearly become the biggest, most serious threat to the nation’s security.”43

That threat does not end at Mexico’s borders. There are numerous indications that the Zetas have moved south, into Guatemala, in an effort to dominate the land-based smuggling routes running from Colombia to Mexico. High-ranking Guatemalan security officials have warned that the Zetas “are preparing to defend their territories inside Guatemala” and may be setting up bases in secluded jungle areas. In one indication of the group’s growing presence in that country, it is widely believed that the Zetas were behind a recent death threat made against President Álvaro Colom.44

Zeta activities are also increasingly spilling over into the United States. The group has long recruited among teenagers and young adults on the U.S. side of the border, and the Zetas are active in numerous American states. Zeta affiliates are thought to be responsible for murders in Dallas, Birmingham, and other U.S. cities, a grenade attack in a small Texas town, and several other incidents. Zetas are also suspected of mounting armed incursions across the border in order to protect drug shipments.45 In perhaps their most brazen U.S. attack, Zetas posing as a police SWAT team in Phoenix murdered a rival trafficker and exchanged fire with real police arriving on the scene. The Department of Justice warned in late 2007 that “law enforcement agencies in Texas, Arizona, and Southern California can expect to encounter Los Zetas in the coming months”; subsequent events have born this prediction out.46 The Zetas have established themselves as a threat not only to Mexican security, but to the security of Mexico’s neighbors as well.

If the Zetas are the most dangerous drug-related organization in Mexico, they are also part of a broader—and immensely disturbing—trend at work throughout Latin America. The past two decades have seen sophisticated, internationally oriented, and extremely violent gangs become a source of growing instability in countries from Mexico to Brazil. Often referred to as “third-generation gangs,” these organizations are involved in a wide range of criminal activities—drug smuggling, arms dealing, money laundering, kidnapping, human trafficking, among others—and use violence and bribery to neutralize state institutions and gain a free hand in pursuing their illegal enterprises. Such groups now dominate the favelas of Brazil and the barrios of Central America, which now constitute “no-go” zones for law enforcement and government officials.47 Their activities have had a devastating effect on the region, driving down economic activity, helping to give Latin America the highest homicide rates in the world, and dramatically lowering popular confidence in government. Third-generation gangs go beyond normal criminal or gang activities; in sowing intense internal violence and undermining the authority of the state, these groups represent a “new criminal insurgency.”48

The Zetas fit firmly within this trend. The group has carved out niches in a variety of criminal activities, and its violence has destabilized large swaths of Mexican territory and cast the competence of the central government into doubt. In Nuevo Laredo and elsewhere, the Zetas have badly corroded the effectiveness of the police and other government institutions and thereby contributed to what Vanda Felbab-Brown of the Brookings Institution calls “the hollowing out of the state.”49 While the Mexican police have long been relatively ineffectual, the Zetas’ success in corrupting or debilitating local law enforcement agencies has deprived these institutions of even a scintilla of popular credibility. In this sense, the Zetas are dangerous not simply because of the level and intensity of their violence, but also for their ability to undermine those institutions that represent the authority of the Mexican state. This characteristic is deeply troubling, and one that puts the Zetas at the forefront of a trend that is sweeping Latin America.

Conclusion

The Zetas exemplify many of the threats posed by the Mexican drug trade. They are a well-armed, well-trained group that uses its unique skills to sow violence and fear throughout the population. They boast a large war chest funded by international smuggling and a variety of other illicit activities. They ruthlessly exploit the failures of the Mexican state, using violence and bribery to undermine government institutions and destroy them from within. The Zetas are active throughout Mexico, and the group has taken on an international dimension with its recent operations in Guatemala and the United States. Their unmatched capabilities and sophisticated organizational structure have made them the most dangerous player in the Mexican drug trade, the foremost threat to the Mexican state, and a prominent example of the third-generation gang phenomenon at work in so much of Latin America. The Zetas are, quite simply, a nightmare for the honest officials who seek to check them.

While outlining a counter-narcotics strategy for Mexico is beyond the scope of this paper, it is evident that the Zetas—and the Mexican drug trade more broadly—will be tamed only via a comprehensive, patient approach that addresses all of the relevant factors. The Zetas and their competitors are so effective not simply because of the relative weakness of the Mexican security forces, but also because they take advantage of the profound corruption, poverty, and institutional debilities that plague Mexico as well as the constant flows of cash and weapons from the United States. The Mexican government and its international partners must therefore devise a holistic strategy that partners enforcement and interdiction programs with a wide range of measures—anti-corruption initiatives, economic and social development, institution-building, and efforts to restrict U.S. domestic demand and lessen arms trafficking into Mexico—that attack the drug trade from all angles. Implementing such a strategy will be difficult and expensive, but it is nonetheless essential to meeting the challenges of the Mexican drug trade and defeating Los Zetas.50

Notes

 1. William Booth, “Warrior in Drug Fight Soon Becomes a Victim,” Washington Post, February 9, 2009.

2. See Gustavo Castillo García, “Procesarán a los presuntos asesinos del general Mauro Enrique Tello Quiñones,” La Jornada, 8 de mayo de 2009.

3. Catherine Bremer, “Once-Quiet Towns Engulfed by Mexico Drugs War,” Reuters, July 17, 2007.

4. See, for instance, Patricia Mercado Sánchez, “Los Zetas: Al Servicio del Narcotráfico,” BBC Mundo, 23 de enero de 2008; “Desde México, los ‘Zetas’ amenazan de muerte al presidente guatemalteco Álvaro Colom,” El Tiempo, 11 de junio de 2009; “Mexico Arrests ‘Drug Gang Boss,’ BBC News, April 30, 2009.

5. Adam Isacson, “The U.S. Military in the War on Drugs,” in Coletta Youngers and Eileen Rosin, Drugs and Democracy in Latin America, Boulder: Lynne Rienner, 2005, p. 45; Antonio Nicao and Lee Lamothe, Angels, Mobsters, and Narco-Terrorists: The Rising Menace of Global Criminal Empires, Ontario: John Wiley and Sons, 2005, p. 196.

6. Colleen Cook, Mexico’s Drug Cartels, Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, February 25, 2008, p. 4; “‘La Barbie’ Part of New Gang Generation,” El Universal, December 5, 2005.

7. National Drug Intelligence Center, National Drug Threat Assessment 2007, October 2006, www.usdoj.gov/ndic/pubs21/21137/21137p.pdf, accessed December 2, 2008; Council on Hemispheric Affairs, “Does the Merida Initiative Represent a New Direction in U.S.-Mexico Relations, or Does it Simply Refocus the Issue Elsewhere?” December 14, 2007, www.coha.org/2007/12/does-the-merida-initiative-represent-a-new-direction-for-us-mexico-relations-or-does-it-simply-refocus-the-issue-elsewhere/, accessed November 2, 2008.

8. Manuel Roig-Francia, “Mexican Drug Cartels Move North,” Washington Post, September 20, 2007.

9. Richard B. Craig, “Mexican Narcotics Traffic: Binational Security Implications,” in Donald J. Mabry, ed., The Latin American Narcotics Trade and U.S. National Security, Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1989, pp. 28-30, 33-34.

10. George Grayson, “Mexico and the Drug Cartels,” Foreign Policy Research Institute E-Note, August 2007, www.fpri.org/enotes/200708.grayson.mexicodrugcartels.html, accessed September 14, 2008.

11. Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, “The Long War of Genaro García Luna,” New York Times, July 13, 2008.

12. Ibid.

13. “Mexico’s Internal Drug War,” Power and Interest News Report, August 14, 2006; Ray Walser, “Mexico, Drug Cartels, and the Merida Initiative: A Fight We Cannot Afford to Lose,” Heritage Foundation Backgrounder #2163, July 23, 2008, www.heritage.org/Research/LatinAmerica/bg2163.cfm, accessed July 31, 2008.

14. “Drug Cartels and Regional Integration,” The New American, October 31, 2005; George Grayson, “Los Zetas: The Ruthless Army Spawned by a Mexican Drug Cartel,” www.fpri.org/enotes/200805.grayson.loszetas.html, accessed July 17, 2008; Sam Logan, “The Evolution of ‘Los Zetas,’ A Mexican Crime Organization,” March 16, 2009, mexidata.info, accessed June 19, 2009.

15. Logan, “The Evolution of ‘Los Zetas.’”

16. Alfredo Corchado, “Cartel’s Enforcers Outpower Their Boss,” Dallas Morning News, June 11, 2007; Alejandro Suverza, “‘Los Zetas’ se salen de control,” El Universal, 12 de enero de 2008.

17. Author’s Interview with DEA Official, July 23, 2008.

18. See Cook, Mexico’s Drug Cartels, pp. 10-11.

19. Grayson, “Los Zetas”; David Freddoso, “Mexican Deserters Cast Shadow on Border City,” Human Events, February 9, 2004.

20. Author’s Interview with DEA Official, July 24, 2008; Alfredo Corchado, “Drug Cartels Operate Training Camps near Texas Border Just inside Mexico,” Dallas Morning News, April 4, 2008; Grayson, “Los Zetas.”

21. Colleen W. Cook, Mexico’s Drug Cartels, Washington, D.C.: Congressional Research Service, October 16, 2007, p. 8.

22. See “Los Zetas por dentro,” El Universal, December 31, 2008.

23. Grayson, “Los Zetas”; “Los Zetas por dentro.”

24. Grayson, “Los Zetas.”

25. Kurtz-Phelan, “Long War”; Luis Acosta, “Mexico: The Cartels Adopt Improvised Incendiary Devices,” Stratfor Today, July 16, 2008; Council on Hemispheric Affairs, “Mexico’s Drug War: A Society at Risk,” May 22, 2007, www.coha.org/2007/05/mexicos-drug-war-a-society-at-risk-soldiers-versus-narco-soldiers/, accessed July 28, 2008.

26. See the sources cited in the previous note.

27. Fred Burton, Stratfor Today, October 26, 2006.

28. Sean Matteson, “Commando Attack Leaves 7 Officers Dead,” San Antonio Express-News, December 29, 2007.

29. “‘Los Zetas’ imprimen sello en irrupciones carcelarias,” Diario Rotativo de Querétaro, 18 de mayo de 2009; “Inside Los Zetas,” Security in Latin America, January 14, 2009.

30. Grayson, “Los Zetas and Other Mexican Cartels Target Military Personnel,” Foreign Policy Research Institute E-Note, March 2009, www.fpri.org/enotes/200903.grayson.loszetasmilitary.html, accessed July 1, 2009.

31. Laruence Iliff, “Violence Erupting Throughout Mexico Linked to Drug Cartels,” Dallas Morning News, February 6, 2007; “‘Los Zetas’ imprimen sello en irrupciones carcelarias,” Diario Rotativo de Querétaro, 18 de mayo de 2009.

 32. Kurtz-Phelan, “Long War.”

33. Manuel Roig-Franzia, “Mexican Drug Cartels Making Audacious Pitch for Recruits,” Washington Post, May 7, 2008.

34. National Drug Intelligence Center, National Drug Threat Assessment 2008 (Washington, D.C.” NDIC, 2007), www.usdoj.gov/ndic/pubs25/25921/25921p.pdf (accessed July 24, 2008); Hal Brands, “Mexico’s Narco-Insurgency,” World Politics Review, December 22, 2008.

35. Roig-Franzia, “Mexican Drug Cartels Making Audacious Pitch for Recruits”; Alberto Najar, “Desertaron 100 mil militares con Fox,” Milenio, 20 de Julio de 2007; “Mexico’s Internal Drug War,” Power and Interest News Report, August 14, 2006.

36. Cook, Mexico’s Drug Cartels, p. 9; Burton, Stratfor Daily Report.

37. “Border-Town Killing Sends Message,” Los Angeles Times, June 10, 2005.

38. Corchado, “Drug Cartels Operate Training Camps.”

39. Alfredo Corchado, “In Nuevo Laredo, Death Becoming a Way of Life,” Dallas Morning News, May 23, 2006.

40. Roig-Franzia, “Mexican Drug Cartels Making Audacious Pitch for Recruits”; Dan Keane, “Mexican Military Losing Drug War Support,” Washington Post, July 25, 2008.

41. Grayson, “Los Zetas”; Mercado Sánchez, “Los Zetas: Al Servicio del  Narcotráfico”; “Capturan en México a dos hermanos supuestamente miembros de Los Zetas,” Terra Noticias, 29 de mayo de 2009; “Los Zetas, de ex militares a sicarios en México,” 26noticias.com.ar, 11 de junio de 2009.

42. Grayson, “Los Zetas and Other Mexican Cartels Target Military Personnel.”

43. Corchado, “Cartels Enforcers Outpower Their Boss.”

44. Jason Beaubien, “Mexico Drug Violence Spills Into Guatemala,” National Public Radio, June 1, 2009; “Guatemala: Expanding Influence of the Cartels,” Stratfor, March 2, 2009; “Desde México.”

45. Author’s Interview with DEA Official, July 23, 2008; Immigration and Customs Enforcement, “Statement of Marcy M. Forman, Director, Office of Investigations, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Homeland Security, before the Committee on the Judiciary, United States Senate,” March 1, 2006, www.ice.gov/doclib/pi/news/testimonies/060301homeland.pdf, accessed July 18, 2008; Logan, “Evolution of ‘Los Zetas.’”

46. Corchado, “Drug Cartels Operate Training Camps.”

47. Max Manwaring, Street Gangs: The New Urban Insurgency, Carlisle Barracks, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, March 2005; idem, A Contemporary Challenge to State Sovereignty: Gangs and Other Transnational Criminal Organizations in Central America, El Salvador, Mexico, Jamaica, and Brazil, Carlisle Barracks, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, December 2007.

48. See Hal Brands, “Third-Generation Gangs and Criminal Insurgency in Latin America,” Small Wars Journal, July 2009.

49. Vanda Felbab-Brown, “Tackling Transnational Crime: Adapting U.S. National Security Policy,” July 18, 2008, www.brookings.edu/articles/2008/spring_latin_america_felbabbrown.aspx?p=1, (accessed July 18, 2008).

50. On the difficulties of counter-drug policy in Mexico, see Hal Brands, Mexico’s Narco-Insurgency and U.S. Counter-Drug Policy, Carlisle Barracks, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, May 2009.


Contributor

Hal Brands Hal Brands holds a Ph.D. in History from Yale University. He is the author of Mexico’s Counter-Insurgency and U.S. Counter-Narcotics Policy (2009), as well as From Berlin to Baghdad: America’s Search for Purpose in the Post-Cold War World (2008). He has written widely on drug trafficking and organized crime in Latin America. He currently works as a defense analyst in Washington, D.C.

Disclaimer

The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force


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