HomeNewsAnalysisHow the US Govt Gets It Wrong with the Zetas
ANALYSIS

How the US Govt Gets It Wrong with the Zetas

MEXICO / 20 MAR 2015 BY ARRON DAUGHERTY AND STEVEN DUDLEY EN

A US government cable that reportedly speculates who would replace the Zetas’ recently captured leader misses the point when it analyzes the criminal organization: it’s not about who runs the group, it’s about how the group makes its money. 

United States intelligence agencies named four possible replacements for former Zetas’ leader Alejandro “Omar” Treviño Morales, alias “Z42,” Reporte Indigo reported, citing an internal cable. Two of these are more prone to violence and two to more conciliatory tactics, the report said.

Z42’s older brother, Juan Francisco Treviño Morales, and Rogelio Gonzalez Pizaña, alias “El Kelin” or “Z2,” were named as replacements that could steer the Zetas away from extreme violence. 

Juan Francisco spent nearly 20 years in US prison prior to his release in 2014. Consequently, he missed Mexico traffickers’ adoption of extremely violent tactics. Should he assume power, this could move the Zetas towards what the Reporte Indigo report terms “old school” organized crime methods, which include refraining from involving civilians or targeting the families of rivals. 

15-03-19-mexico-elkelinzetas

Alleged Zetas leader Rogelio Gonzalez Pizaña, alias “El Kelin” or “Z2”

El Kelin, the alleged leader of a Zetas faction known as the Zetas Unidos, would also likely take the Zetas on a less violent path, the report noted. According to a joint statement circulated last year, El Kelin is part of a proclaimed truce between Zetas Unidos and rival criminal organization the Gulf Cartel.  

15-03-19-mexico-uszetaswrong

Zetas lieutenants Sergio Ricardo Basuro Peña and Maxiel Barahona Nadales

On the other side of the equation, Z42’s principal lieutenants Sergio Ricardo Basuro Peña, alias “El Grande,” and Maxiel Barahona Nadales, alias “El Contador,” remain at large and could take control of the Zetas, making them an even more violent organization, the report claims.

According to Reporte Indigo, citing Mexican intelligence reports, the Zetas are now more focused on kidnapping and extortion than drug trafficking. Should the Zetas fall under the control of El Grande or El Contador, the group would be expected to fight even more violently for control of northern Mexico, one of the Zetas’ few remaining strongholds, the report said. 

Insight Crime Analysis

The Zetas are not just violent because their leaders have a penchant for aggression — they follow an economic model that relies on controlling territory in a violent way… The Zetas are, in essence, parasites.

The US cable cited by Reporte Indigo is focused on individual leaders, which is only part of the reason why any group would be violent or choose a more statesman-like path.

The Zetas are not just violent because their leaders have a penchant for aggression — they follow an economic model that relies on controlling territory in a violent way. Within that territory, they extract rents from other criminal actors and move only a limited number of illegal goods via some of their own networks. (Mexico’s intelligence services say as much when they talk about the group’s increasing dependence on kidnapping and extortion.) 

Without that territory, they have no rent (known in Mexico as “piso”). The Zetas are, in essence, parasites. Their model depends on their ability to be more powerful and violent than their counterparts, so they can extract this rent.

Contrast this with a more service-oriented approach of a criminal group that is distributing illegal drugs, managing prostitution rings, or moving contraband. These groups need muscle, to be sure, but they do not depend on it for their revenue.

What’s more, violence is bad for business for these kinds of criminal groups. They need alliances and partners in order to function, not a hyper-violent approach that isolates them and shrinks their business opportunities.

The Zetas’ model also makes it harder to maintain a cohesive, unified organization. This is because it is easier for the smaller Zeta factions to make their own money once they have the infrastructure and wherewithal to do it. They are not beholden to international revenue streams, but rather live off of local criminal economies.

This process accelerates when violence or arrests take out the leadership, something that happens constantly in areas controlled by the Zetas. The results of this process are clear in Tamaulipas, the Zetas’ stronghold where, as a recent report by El Universal showed, the group has splintered into at least eight different organizations. (See list below from El Universal)

15-03-17-mexico-zetas-groups-tamaulipas

“The last 12, 18 months of fighting in Veracruz and Tamaulipas has shown the extent of the Zetas fragmentation and atomization,” Antonio L. Mazzitelli, the UNODC representative to Mexico, told InSight Crime.

These factions of the Zetas are fighting an equally disparate and fractured Gulf Cartel, which El Universal says has as many as 12 different organizations.

Thus, any leader assuming Z42’s place would be taking over an arguably declining organization with less resources and a more fractured structure. And in the end — whoever takes of Z42’s former faction — the decision on whether to take the Zetas on a more violent or a more diplomatic path may not even be his choice to make. 

Compartir icon icon icon

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Tags

Related Content

FEATURED / 21 JUN 2019

Mexico crime groups are targeting Australia, where high methamphetamine prices are attracting traffickers willing to negotiate the long and difficult…

COLOMBIA / 23 DEC 2010

A U.S. government cable from Madrid, Spain, released by the whistle-blower site WikiLeaks and republished by InSight, says…

MEXICO / 20 FEB 2013

A community police group in Mexico’s Guerrero state has handed over a group of criminal suspects to the authorities, demonstrating…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

We Have Updated Our Website

4 FEB 2021

Welcome to our new home page. We have revamped the site to create a better display and reader experience.

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Events – Border Crime: The Northern Triangle and Tri-Border Area

ARGENTINA / 25 JAN 2021

Through several rounds of extensive field investigations, our researchers have analyzed and mapped out the main illicit economies and criminal groups present in 39 border departments spread across the six countries of study – the Northern Triangle trio of Guatemala, Honduras, and El…

BRIEF

InSight Crime’s ‘Memo Fantasma’ Investigation Wins Simón Bolívar National Journalism Prize

COLOMBIA / 20 NOV 2020

The staff at InSight Crime was awarded the prestigious Simón Bolívar national journalism prize in Colombia for its two-year investigation into the drug trafficker known as “Memo Fantasma,” which was…

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – From Uncovering Organized Crime to Finding What Works

COLOMBIA / 12 NOV 2020

This project began 10 years ago as an effort to address a problem: the lack of daily coverage, investigative stories and analysis of organized crime in the Americas. …

ANALYSIS

InSight Crime – Ten Years of Investigating Organized Crime in the Americas

FEATURED / 2 NOV 2020

In early 2009, Steven Dudley was in Medellín, Colombia. His assignment: speak to a jailed paramilitary leader in the Itagui prison, just south of the city. Following his interview inside…