Los Zetas, a Cartel of Former Military Personnel That Is Exporting Its Model of Terror
By Dialogo May 18, 2011
The killing of twenty-seven people on a rural property in northern Guatemala
has been attributed to Los Zetas, a group that was created by former Mexican
military personnel who deserted in order to work with the cartels, but that now,
according to experts, has become a dangerous militia with tentacles in several
The presence of Los Zetas has been documented by authorities from Texas (in
the southern United States) to Venezuela, where in March the Venezuelan government
revealed the extradition to the United States of the Colombian Luis Tello and his
wife, considered liaisons for the organization.
However, its bastion is considered to be the northeastern Mexican states,
where it has been accused of massacring hundreds of migrants.
In April, the authorities discovered 183 corpses in forty clandestine graves
in a town in the state of Tamaulipas, 160 km from the border with the United States.
According to the authorities, Los Zetas kidnapped bus passengers in order to extort
money from them or collect ransom. When they failed to obtain money, they killed
The group was originally recruited by then-first lieutenant Arturo Guzmán
(alias Z-1, for his military code) among members of the Mexican Army’s special
forces, in order to provide security for Gulf cartel boss Osiel Cárdenas
However, after Guzmán’s death, Cárdenas Guillén’s detention, and his
extradition to the United States, where he was convicted in early 2010, internal
disputes led Los Zetas to separate from the Gulf cartel.
Eduardo Pequeño, head of the anti-drug fight at the Mexican Security
Secretariat, said last year that intelligence reports indicated that the Gulf cartel
had sought alliances with other cartels in order to get rid of Los Zetas, in
response to their growing power.
In 2008, according to a dossier from the Mexican public prosecutor’s office,
Flavio Méndez (‘El Amarillo’ [‘The Yellow One’]), arrested in January, was sent by
Los Zetas to expand their operations in Guatemala.
Los Zetas, who have a major presence along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico
(in eastern Mexico), have sought in recent years to gain a foothold on the Pacific
Ocean, now the route for the majority of drug shipments.
“The largest drug-trafficking routes are by way of the Pacific Ocean, and Los
Zetas know it,” AFP was told by Raúl Benítez, a researcher on security topics at the
Autonomous University of Mexico and director of the Security with Democracy Center
In Guatemala, Los Zetas operate primarily in departments in the northern part
of the country, on the border with Mexico, such as Petén and Alta Verapaz. In
December, the Guatemalan government declared a state of emergency in order to deploy
troops in that region, where eighteen alleged members of the group were
According to the Guatemalan government, that country has become a center of
operations for Los Zetas, who recruited dozens of Kaibiles, members of a group of
The presence of Los Zetas has spread into other Central American
In June, Nicaragua confiscated a weapons stockpile near Managua from alleged
members of the gang, while Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes affirmed in April
2010 that his administration was tracking hitmen from Los Zetas who had entered that
country to “explore” alliances with local gang leaders.