Made up of former military officers who served as strongmen for Mexico’s Gulf Cartel in the late 1990s, Los Zetas have grown into a force all their own. Using unparalleled brutality to establish their authority – beheading rivals and massacring migrants who won’t join them – the group branched out into almost every form of organized crime in Mexico.
Apart from drug smuggling, they extort businesses, school teachers, and undocumented migrants, steal oil from pipelines, and dabble in CD piracy and sex trafficking, security analysts say. The gang’s loose-knit operations and alliances with local thugs have helped them gain more territory and power, and they fully separated from the Gulf Cartel last year, the analysts say.
Reports of training camps in Guatemala surfaced as early as 2006, along with rumors of alliances with former Kaibiles, Guatemalan special ops forces, says George Grayson, a Mexico expert at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va.
The Zetas were soon spreading to Honduras and El Salvador, both of which have recently expressed concern about a rise in bloodshed in their already violent borders. The Central American countries and Mexico are in talks to form anti-cartel alliances, with Honduras and Mexico forming a commission Wednesday to prevent abuses against migrants crossing Mexico to the US border.