Brutal Gangs: Los Zetas
The shortcoming of many criminal enterprises rests in limited equipment and training. Members of street gangs might be really tough individually, but they lack heavy weapons and have never been trained to work effectively in small-unit actions. Los Zetas, however, have solved that problem by recruiting former special forces commandos from elite squadrons of the Mexican army.
Los Zetas began as the armed wing of Mexico’s already-hella-violent Gulf Cartel, as cartel members hired government-trained assassins as bodyguards. At first, hiring elite commandos was a way of gaining prestige in the violent world of Mexican cocaine smuggling, but over time, the bodyguards’ role became much more expansive. Eventually, Los Zetas emerged as the muscle of the cartel.
Special forces veterans tend to be tough, smart, and proud of their abilities. It was perhaps inevitable that Los Zetas would take a look at all the money their bosses were making in the drug trade and decide to get in on it. That’s where much of the conflict in Mexico is coming from now, as Los Zetas carve out territory for themselves in the crowded world of Latin American narcotics traffic.
What separates Los Zetas from the rest of the pack is the absurd level of brutality they bring to the job. Where cocaine smugglers have always been willing to kill police informants, Los Zetas, for example, will kill the informant, his family, and six or seven bystanders who just happened to be around. It’s gotten bad enough that Mexican marines wear masks to hide their identities, lest Zeta hit squads take revenge against their wives and children.
Next up: When a hostile takeover means steak knives…