HomeNewsAnalysisZetas: We are not Terrorists, Nor Guerrillas
ANALYSIS

Zetas: We are not Terrorists, Nor Guerrillas

MEXICO / 15 DEC 2011 BY PATRICK CORCORAN EN

A series of public messages seemingly hung by the Zetas in the border town of Nuevo Laredo deny that the group has any plans to confront the Mexican or US governments.

As Borderland Beat reports, the banners, or "narcomantas," appeared on Monday morning in at least 10  different spots around the city, signed with the name of Zetas boss Miguel Angel Treviño, alias "Z-40." The messages' first paragraph declares:

We do not govern this country, nor do we have a regime; we are not terrorists or guerrillas. We concentrate on our work and the last thing we want is to have problems with any government, neither Mexico nor much less with the US.

The message went on to distance both Treviño and the Zetas from a recently uncovered alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US, as well as an August attack in a Monterrey casino that killed more than 50 people. A Zetas cell has been linked to the latter incident, while the assassination plot, according to US authorities, revolved around an alleged Irani agent contracting members of the Zetas to murder the diplomat in Washington, DC.

The most recent narcomantas contradicted a series of messages left in Nuevo Laredo earlier this month, in which someone writing in Treviño’s name openly challenged the governments of the US and Mexico. As that message's authors wrote:

Not the army, not the marines nor the security and anti-drug agencies of the United States government can resist us. Mexico lives and will continue under the regime of the Zetas. Let it be clear that we are in control here and although the federal government controls other cartels, they cannot take our plazas.

This episode raises a couple of points about the current state of the Zetas. One is that the group seems to be suffering a significant amount of organizational deterioration. This is clearly demonstrated by the disdain with which the latest banners refer to the Monterrey attackers; Treviño refers to them as having “chicken brains” and emphasizes repeatedly that the attack was not ordered from above.

This conclusion is supported by the contradictory messages appearing in the same, Zeta-controlled city just weeks before. There are two possible explanations for this: either Treviño’s subordinates felt  comfortable issuing a challenge in his name and without his consent, or a rival group infiltrated a Zeta stronghold and managed to hang a handful of narcomantas around town without them knowing. Neither possibility would seem to reflect a finely tuned operation humming perfectly.

As InSight Crime has noted, this follows a pattern for the Zetas: as in the attack on ICE agent Jaime Zapata, and the massacres of migrants in San Fernando, Tamaulipas, lower-level commanders are capable of spectacular provocations that clearly go against the interest of the group as a whole, with the nominal leaders -- Treviño and Heriberto Lazcano -- unable to prevent such incidents. This paints a picture of the Zetas as a group that, as terrifying as it remains, is structurally chaotic and only stumbling along.

Assuming the banners are legitimate, they indicate that the Zetas do not represent as much of a threat to the Mexican state as is often argued. More than any other gang, analysts point to the Zetas as evidence of the national security threat presented by organized crime in Mexico, or even as proof of an insurgency. However, Treviño’s comments suggest that the group recognizes its weakness relative to the Mexican and US governments, and has no interest in replacing the state. While capable of significant mayhem, and interested in co-opting law enforcement agencies throughout the nation, gangs like the Zetas fundamentally have narrower goals than groups traditionally defined as insurgents.

Even if the Zetas have long been disinclined to challenge the state, the new willingness to proclaim this outright suggests that years of government pressure have begun to weigh on the group. The US government ramped up its pressure on the Zetas following the Zapata killing in February, and an executive order granted the Treasury Department greater powers to crack down on Zeta financing this summer. Mexico’s federal government, which has long treated the Zetas as one of the chief criminal threats in the nation, formally named them as a priority this summer, according to the Dallas Morning News.

While Treviño and Lazcano remain on the loose, many of the group’s highest ranking members have been either killed or detained, with several captured since the two governments declared the group a priority. Jesus Enrique Rejon, alias "El Mamito," a founding member of the Zetas and its third-in-command, according to the government, was arrested outside Mexico City this summer. Another alleged founding member of the Zetas, Raul Lucio Hernandez Lechuga, was arrested this week. Lower ranking commanders in the gang, including more than a dozen of those connected with the Monterrey casino fire, have regularly been nabbed. This pressure is likely a cause of the organizational disarray; chains of command become frayed with so much turnover.

This is not to forecast the imminent demise of the Zetas. Their recent incursions into Jalisco and Sinaloa suggest that they will continue to be a force in the Mexican underworld -- and a destabilizing, expansionary force at that -- for a time to come. However, Treviño’s messages show that the group’s power is limited, and is not immune from government pressure.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

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.

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

HUMAN RIGHTS / 27 JUL 2021

Reports of migrants dying and disappearing in the US-Mexico borderlands are becoming increasingly common, propelled in part by a restrictive…

GUATEMALA / 20 DEC 2022

Increased security on land borders is forcing more migrants to enter Mexico from Guatemala by sea, running the risk of…

ECUADOR / 16 NOV 2021

After yet another prison massacre, Ecuadorean authorities have doubled down on Mexico’s two biggest cartels being behind gang warfare in…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Escaping Barrio 18

27 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an investigation charting the story of Desafío, a 28-year-old Barrio 18 gang member who is desperate to escape gang life. But there’s one problem: he’s…

THE ORGANIZATION

Europe Coverage Makes a Splash

20 JAN 2023

Last week, InSight Crime published an analysis of the role of Amsterdam’s Schiphol Airport as an arrival hub for cocaine and methamphetamine from Mexico.  The article was picked up by…

THE ORGANIZATION

World Looks to InSight Crime for Mexico Expertise

13 JAN 2023

Our coverage of the arrest of Chapitos’ co-founder Ovidio Guzmán López in Mexico has received worldwide attention.In the UK, outlets including The Independent and BBC…

THE ORGANIZATION

InSight Crime Shares Expertise with US State Department

16 DEC 2022

Last week, InSight Crime Co-founder Steven Dudley took part in the International Anti-Corruption Conference organized by the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, & Labor and…

THE ORGANIZATION

Immediate Response to US-Mexico Marijuana Investigation

9 DEC 2022

InSight Crime’s investigation into how the legalization of marijuana in many US states has changed Mexico’s criminal dynamics made a splash this week appearing on the front page of…