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Mexico's most powerful drug cartels

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Rich Clabaugh/Staff

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Los Zetas

Los Zetas is a group of former Mexican Army special forces and used to be a part of the Gulf Cartel, but broke off in 2010 after years of feuding within the cartel. It controls almost the entire east coast of Mexico and their territory stretches into the interior of the country in some spots (see map here).

Los Zetas has taken a few hits since the beginning of 2011, losing territory and some of its leaders, but its operations so far seem unaffected. It remains in control of its strongholds in Monterrey and Nuevo Laredo and in the port city of Veracruz, according to STRATFOR. However, as less experienced recruits step in to fill posts left vacant after the deaths of Los Zetas leaders, the cartel could struggle.

The cartel was responsible for the February attack on two US Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents. STRATFOR reports that the attack, which doesn’t align with Zeta’s priorities, is an indication that that Los Zetas’ leadership is having trouble controlling its many operational cells and that the attack likely happened without the permission of top leadership.

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