In the summer of 2011, Mexican authorities exhumed 193 bodies from mass graves at a Los Zetas ranch in Tamaulipas. The condition of the bodies suggested the cause of death for most had been blunt force trauma. Testimony from captured Los Zetas operatives revealed that the victims were kidnapped from buses traveling along Mexican Federal Highway 101 under suspicion that they were Gulf Cartel recruits coming from neighboring states. Survivor accounts allege that once kidnapped from the buses, the victims were taken to the ranch where females were separated from the group and raped. The males were given clubs and sledgehammers, put in pairs, and forced to engage in gladiator-style death matches. The survivors of the games were permitted to join Los Zetas as suicide mission assassins while the losers’ bodies were dumped in the mass graves.
Los Zetas epitomizes a next-generation, hyper-violent cartel. Its organizational structure, criminal activities, and codes of conduct are unlike any other drug trafficking organization. What began as a protection force for the leader of the Gulf Cartel broke off to become a terrifying cartel in its own right; the Gulf Cartel now participates in an anti-Zeta alliance. Skilled in extortion and aimed at expanding territory, Los Zetas uses militaristic violence to exert control. The support of law enforcement has been crucial to their dominance: police aid their criminal activities, join their ranks, or cave to their plata o plomo (silver or lead) approach. With the choice between taking a bribe or a bullet, submission is the logical choice.
This case outlines the history, hierarchy, recruitment, accounting structure, weaponry, and revenue streams of Los Zetas. The end of the case explains the threats to the cartel and a vacuum of leadership. Will fear and violence sustain the leading cartel through this uncertain future?
- Understand the role of fear in power dynamics.
- Become familiar with the operations of a major cartel.
- Examine the role of law enforcement in bolstering or weakening organized crime.
organized crime, cartels, law enforcement corruption, alliances, extortion, fear, violence
Industry: Illegal Drugs
Event Start Date: 1999
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