Occupation: Supplying the bulk of the United States’ appetite for cocaine, heroin, marijuana and methamphetamine; extortion; kidnapping; robbery; murder; rumored international political assassination.
Crime: Inflating the body count of Mexico’s long-running drug war with gruesome and indiscriminate panache; killing rival cartel members, police officers, citizen activists and ordinary civilians with equal aplomb.
Zetas gunmen snarled traffic in the popular Mexican tourist destination of Veracruz by dumping 35 bodies under an overpass filled with motorists.
Origin: In the late 1990s, Gulf Cartel kingpin Osiel Cárdenas Guillén recruited deserters from the Mexican Army’s Airborne Special Forces Groups (Gafes) to form the core of Los Zetas. Cárdenas Guillén was captured and deported to the United States in 2007, and Los Zetas stepped forward to secure control of the cartel. Matamoros, Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo were the first cities to buckle under Los Zetas’ brutal reign.
Spread: Los Zetas is a controlling force along the U.S.-Mexico border. Its grip now extends the length of the Gulf Coast, into the southern states of Tabasco, Yucatan, Quintana Roo and Chiapas, the Pacific Coast states of Guerrero, Oaxaca and Michoacán, and into Mexico City. Los Zetas is also at work in Texas and is suspected of activity in other U.S. states.
Calling Card One: Mexican blogger Maria Elizabeth Macias’s decapitated body and head—accompanied by a note denouncing her postings on an anti-crime website—were found September 24, 2011, in the border city of Nuevo Laredo. The note was signed “zzz.” In August 2011, two other bloggers, a man and a woman, were tortured, killed and hung from a Nuevo Laredo bridge. A sign near their corpses (the woman had been disemboweled; the man was lacerated to the bone) read: “This is going to happen to all of those posting funny things on the Internet.”
Calling Card Two: Zetas gunmen snarled traffic in the popular Mexican tourist destination of Veracruz on September 20, 2011, by dumping 35 bodies under an overpass filled with motorists. The bodies appeared to have been tortured, and at least 11 were reported to have been women.
Calling Card Three: An August 25, 2011, arson attack intended to “scare” the owners of the Casino Royale in the northern city of Monterrey killed 52 people, primarily middle-aged women. Terrified of the Zetas gunmen, many of the casino’s customers hid inside the building and perished when the structure was torched.
Fatal Blow to Nemesis One: Carlos “the Frog” Oliva Castillo, the supposed No. 3 man of Los Zetas and alleged mastermind of the Casino Royale massacre, was arrested October 13, 2011.
Fatal Blow to Nemesis Two: Jésus Enrique Rejón Aguilar, also the supposed No. 3 man, and a cofounder, of Los Zetas was arrested July 4, 2011.
Fatal Blow to Nemesis Three: Albert González Peña, alleged Los Zetas boss in the Gulf state of Veracruz, was arrested June 25, 2011.
Fatal Blow to Nemesis On and On: Nine alleged Zetas were killed and 11, including supposed boss Marco Garza “El Chabelo” de León Quiroga, were arrested in Vallecillo, Nuevo León, October 15, 2011. Nineteen alleged Zetas were arrested in Anahuac, Nuevo León, September 22, 2011. Five accused Zetas were arrested and a weapons cache seized in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, September 4, 2011. Thirty-one purported Los Zetas associates, including 13 municipal police officers, were arrested in Pachuca, Hidalgo, September 3, 2011. Five alleged Zetas were arrested in Monterrey, Nuevo León, August 29, 2011. Eleven supposed Los Zetas enforcers—including presumed top Zetas boss for Tabasco state, Lazaro Vazquez Rodriguez, and presumed Xalapa boss Juan Alfredo Choc—were arrested in Cardenás, Tabasco, May 22, 2011. Sergio Antonio “El Toto” Mora Cortes, the presumed Los Zetas boss of San Luis Potosi, and five accused Zetas associates were arrested February 27, 2011. Tomás Ochoa Celis, the supposed Los Zetas boss in the Gulf State of Veracruz, was arrested December 10, 2009. ... And on and on.