"Los Zeta has developed into a seizable organization threatening the security of cities in the Mexican state of Tamaulipas and menacing US citizens north of the border".
This is how an unclassified FBI document entitled "Los Zetas: an emerging threat to the US" and dated July 15, 2005 defines Los Zetas' activities.
Los Zetas control the major drug trafficking corridors along the south Texas/Mexico border for the Gulf Cartel and are involved in or linked to numerous criminal activities including kidnapping, murder, and alien smuggling.
The report describe efforts from Nueva Laredo law enforcement to chase criminality, efforts undermined by Los Zetas organization.
In June 2005 as a consequence of some drug related violence, the Mexican government decide to sent some federal forces trying to restore the rule of law.
But given that several public officials were corrupted from Los Zetas the success of the Mexican officials in Nueva Laredo was limited.
The origin of Los Zetas
In the attempt to open new smuggling routes in the Tamaulipas state the Gulf Cartel's leader decide, in 2002, to hire a small group of Mexican military deserters as assassins and security specialists. As part of a special unit created in the mid 90's to contrast drug smuggling and called Grupo Aeromovil de Fuerzas Especiales (GAFE), previously sent in Chiapas to contrast Zapatista movements, they received special training both in military tactics and weapons.
The US military provided some of this instruction at Fort Benning, Georgia. This elite troops became familiar with sophisticated intelligence-gathering equipment, as well as with advanced weaponry and specialized tactics. In 1996 they arrested the Gulf Cartel's drug kingpin Juan Garcia Abrego.
At the beginning of 2002 a small group of GAFE soldiers led by Arturo Guzman Decena (Z1) deserted and joined the Gulf Cartel. In March 2002 deserters helped Gulf Cartel's kingpin Osiel Cardenas Guillen to avoid capture by Mexican law enforcement. In May 2002 the group gain control of Nuevo Laredo, killing main Cardenas Guillen's rivals: Dionicio Roman Garcia Sanchez and Juvenal Torres Sanchez.
Suddenly they became a group of specialists permanently working for the Gulf Cartel's. At the beginning Los Zetas operated effectively executing Gulf Cartel's orders according to FBI.
Since then they grown as an independent organization as a result of developments in both the Gulf Cartel and the Los Zetas leadership structure.
Guzman Decena was killed in a shooting in november 2002, and Los Zetas' leadership was gained by Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano (aka Lazca). In 2003 this second Los Zetas leader was arrested, but he was still able to run the Cartel from prison.
Los Zetas membership in the US
Although the killing of its two main leaders Los Zetas increase its membership establishing alliances with both prison and street gangs active in the US. This strategical partnership allow Los Zetas to spread their influence in the US, especially Texas. Drug related violence registered along Mexican borders between Del Rio and Brownsville is supposed to be connected with Los Zetas. Even if they are strongly associated with the Gulf Cartel mostly in their military operation, they start to run an independent drug trafficking activity particularly along the Mexican border.
It looks difficult to define the membership of the group but a few lines seem can be traced on this plot, that is three distinctive kind of approach according to intelligence. They are full membership, associates and imitators. From the original members who deserted with Guzman Decena, around 40, approximately twenty of them still work for the Cartel. At the same time they start recruiting and training new members mostly from the Mexican military and law enforcement.
FBI estimate Los Zetas membership between 300 an 350 in 1995. New members are supposed to be more violent than their leaders and seem to be connected with violence and disorders happening along Mexican borders. FBI usually defines the old members as Los Zetas opposing to the new ones so called Los Zetitas. Another abused category also connected with LZ is the so called "wannabes" that is criminal groups whose members are not officially in LZ but who are related to them in terms of modi operandi. Most of this wannabes operate in LZ territories without permission.
According to FBI sources, Los Zetas members typically receive orders directly from regional Gulf Cartel lieutenants. FBI intelligence indicates that several key Los Zetas operatives are working in various plazas along the border. These plazas are: Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Ciudad Miguel Aleman, Ciudad Camargo, Reynosa, Matamaros,
In January 2004, disguised as Mexican soldiers and federal agents in military vehicles, approximately 40 armed Zetas broke into the Apatzingan prison in Michoacan, Mexico. They freed approximately 25 prisoners, including several Zetas.
Los Zetas activities
Due to their role of protecting cartel controlled plazas Zetas are responsible for the conflict with drug kingpin Chapo Guzman's organzation.
As we said LZ established control over Nueva Laredo, Mexico. Much of drug related violence occurred around this city, which is located across the border from Laredo, Texas. According to FBI until 2005 LZ controlled Nueva Laredo city police enforcement. On June 2005 LZ killed Nuevo Laredo police chief Alejandro Dominguez Coello. But drug related violence is not the only LZ activity. US law enforcement has connected LZ with 28 of the 35 reported kidnapping of US citizens happened along South Texas border between May 2004 and May 2005. This numbers are referred only to reported kidnappings.
LZ oversees Gulf Cartel's drug shipment at south Texas border crossing.This activity include several Zetas incursions in the US. Up to 2005 in order to expand its activity LZ haven't yet established a base in the US territory according to FBI. Evidence shows Zetas activity in US states such as Atlanta, Georgia, Arizona and eastern Oklaoma, Tennesse, Arkansas. But this wasn't confirmed by the FBI.
Anyway we see how LZ established mutual relations with both prison and street gangs from Texas, in particular with a Hermanos Pistoleros Latinos (HPL) faction, the largest criminal organization in Laredo. Another HPL faction use to collaborate with El Chapo Guzman. According to FBI LZ employ both Texas Syndicate and Mexican Mafia members as contract killers. They also allowed Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13), a violent Latino gang, to transport marijuana shipments through Zetas territory without paying anything. MS-13 have to smuggle LZ-controlled drugs in exchange. When LZ tried to tax MS-13 marijuana smuggling, MS aligned with Chapo Guzman. (cm)
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