El Chapo. A household name that sends a paralysis of fear through many who hear it. Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman is the toppled drug kingpin who heads the Sinaloa Cartel in absentia. The notorious druglord’s capture, jailbreak, and recapture made headlines over the past year. Although the crime boss is behind bars, the dramatic and deadly exploits of Mexican drug cartels are far from over. Sinaloa’s archrival, Los Zetas, is a pillar of the narco-violence underworld. GPO makes available a U.S. Army War College, Strategic Studies Institution (SSI) publication on the evolution of the most vicious drug-trafficking organization in Mexico.
In “The Evolution of Los Zetas in Mexico and Central America: Sadism as an Instrument of Cartel Warfare,” SSI expert George G. Grayson charts Los Zetas ruthless rise to prominence. Once a counter-narcotics paramilitary outfit, core members deserted the Mexican Army in the late 1990s. They morphed into a new organization and soon built a savage reputation. Los Zetas “not only traffic in drugs, murder, kidnap, and raid PEMEX [Petróleos Mexicanos] but also involve themselves in extortion, human smuggling, torture, money laundering, prostitution, arson, prison breakouts, murder for hire, and other felonies.”
Zeta influence spans most of Central America. From its base in Nuevo Laredo, “the largest commercial portal joining Mexico to its northern neighbor,” the Zeta brand of cruelty is trending throughout Mexico and bleeding out elsewhere. Borderland bloodshed gives Los Zetas a launchpad for U.S. incursions. At this point, most criminal activity remains south of the border. Not a exactly a safe place to be an American. Grayson writes that narco-violence is tied to 684 U.S. citizen deaths in Mexico from 2002-2012—“40 percent of American violent deaths worldwide in this period.”
Other cartels are copycatting Zeta-style cutthroat tactics. Grayson calls it the “Zetanization” of Mexico’s explosive drug war. The use of retributive, gruesome practices—that include butcherings, beheadings, and stewing foes in boiling gasoline vats—advances the mafioso agenda and solidifies territorial claims. Los Zeta’s tight grip is secured with brutal leadership, publicity ploys, and fresh teenage recruits.
“The Evolution of Los Zetas” shows how the cartel has transformed itself from ragtag bandits into a cash-flush, heinous crime syndicate. The White House branded it “a unique and extraordinary threat to the stability of international economies and political systems.” Los Zetas is truly a menace. Drug enforcement agencies want to eliminate it. Adversarial cartels want to overtake it. Mexican citizens just want to stop being terrorized by it.
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About the author: Our guest blogger is Chelsea Milko, Public Relations Specialist in GPO’s Public Relations Office.