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Thursday, February 4, 2016

Terror Profile: Los Zetas

Terror Profile: Los Zetas

The profile of Los Zetas is of interest to students of terror for two reasons; this group straddles the dividing line between criminals and terrorists, and they present a challenge to counteraction using conventional legal methods.

Los Zetas was introduced to the drug trade as a “group of army deserters originally conceived of as a crack-force of gunmen and bodyguards”(Corcoran, 2013, p.313).Los Zetas primary goal is domination of the trade routes for illicit goods into the market of the United States; ”The most brutal dto [drug trafficking organizations] battles are not over customers or suppliers but over ports and trade routes”. (Morris, 2013, p.31). These trade routes include more than drug smuggling activities. “Los Zetas are certainly not the only drug trafficking group involved in reaping the profits of the human smuggling business “ (Longmire, 2014, p. 110). This would nominally classify them as an organized crime group, however their objectives include methods which place them definitely within a terrorist group categorization. The tactics, strategy, organization, and even (to a limited extent) the goals of the Mexican drug cartels are all perfectly consistent with those of recognized terrorist organizations”(Longmire & Longmire, 2008, p.35). Kushner&Martin discuss the size and composition of the group; “The size of Los Zetas remains uncertain, with estimates ranging from several dozen to several thousand...there is some evidence that the organization is larger and more extensive than often suspected” (2011, p. 650). Kushner&Martin continue,“The Zetas organization has also recruited women, who are known as Las Panteras. 2011, p. 651).

Los Zetas hold a strategic position in the Mexico and present an terrorist threat. “the group has a presence in 17 Mexican states, more than half of the nation’s territory” (Corcoran, 2013, p.321). Los Zetas began an enforcement arm of the Gulf Cartel, but broke away from that group in an example of the shifting alliances in Mexico's drug war. “There were also breakdowns in what were former cartel alliances. Los Zetas, the enforcing arm of the Gulf Cartel, broke away from the Gulf cartel in 2010“(Pan, Widner, & Enomoto, 2012, p.16). Rios discusses the heightened level of violence with which Los Zetas entered the drug wars, which he presents as “clear instances in which violence significantly increased in La Familia territories and both of them are related to the entrance of Los Zetas” (2013, p.147).
Although the goals of Los Zetas make them less of an international threat than Islamist terror groups, they are still a threat to watch; Grayson and Logan “describe their expansion into Central America and the United States”(Campbell, 2013, p.246), and Morris suggests that their presence “exacerbates several of the most intractable domestic issues facing the United States“ (2013, p.31).
Los Zetas do not employ weapons of mass destruction, however their actions result in mass victimization.“Some Los Zetas members are former Mexican Special Forces soldiers and maintain expertise in heavy weaponry, specialized military tactics, sophisticated communications equipment, intelligence collection, and countersurveillance techniques”(Longmire & Longmire, 2008, p.35).
Los Zetas use these tactics to present a threat to the civilian populace of their areas of operation. “A recent narcomanía ("drug banner") posted over two bodies hanging from a highway overpass in Nuevo Laredo sent a clear message: "This is going to happen to all of those posting funny things on the Internet.... I'm about to get you." (Morris, 2013, p.31). In addition, “Los Zetas broadened its role beyond protection and enforcement, extending its activities to people smuggling, kidnapping, extortion, and arms trafficking. In 2009, human rights and church groups claimed that the Zetas dominated both
human trafficking and migrant kidnapping” (Kushner&Martin, 2011, p. 649). Not all of these activities are directed by the leadership of Los Zetas, “The killing of 52 innocent patrons of a Monterrey casino in an August 2011 arson attack,the single deadliest incident of the Calderón presidency, was also the work of local Zetas commanders” (Corcoran, 2013, p.322).
Los Zetas shares some similarities with other terror groups. Their use of publicizing brutal acts to intimidate the population and the use of narcocorridors to propagandize their public role are similar to Islamist terror groups. Guevera describes the use of the narcocorrido, “Their use of propaganda is also intended to create immense fear among rivaling cartels and public/elected officials, defend their plazas, and provide a warning sign for those who dare cross their path” (Guevara, 2013, p. 133).Where Los Zetas differ is in a profit motive as an overriding goal.
The is some dispute about appropriate countermeasures towards narcoterrorist activities. The first approach is via law enforcement. “Law enforcement – particularly against terrorists, organized crime or international syndicates – inevitably raises troublesome questions of jurisdiction”(Allard, 2010, p. 90). Law enforcement becomes even more difficult considering the effect of corruption; “Bribery and corruption help neutralize government action against the DTOs, ensure impunity, and facilitate smooth operations” (Beittel, 2013, p.7). The corruption is to the point where Grayson and Logan can “explore the ways in which Los Zetas have established 'dual sovereignty' with state and local governments while laying claim to key territory” (Campbell, 2013, p.246). Corcoran asserts that this leads to the situation in which “the danger of Mexican gangs has often been described as one in which the gangs have grown more powerful than the state” (Corcoran, 2013, p.323). Coming at the law from the other side would involve the legalization of drugs. While this would be a step towards restoring personal freedom, it would not effectively end the power of Los Zetas. Morris states that because they “are dealing in far more than just illegal drugs, the disappearance of one revenue stream would not eradicate the cartels or decisively erode their power” (2013, p.32). Currently, the US and Mexico employ a “kingpin strategy”; “A kingpin strategy is the term US law enforcement uses to refer to the targeting for arrest of the leadership of drug trafficking organizations (DTO’s). The strategy can also be applied to counterterrorism; referring to the strategy of targeting terrorist leaders in an attempt to disrupt illicit networks”(Jones, 2013, p.157). Jones concludes “Kingpin strategies can effectively disrupt and fragment an illicit network, whether it be insurgent or profit-seeking. However, the consequences of that disruption can be dire for the society in which these illicit networks are embedded. “(2013, p.170). Considering the situation in Mexico is already dire, the kingpin stratrgy should be maintained, and expanded to targeting the lieutenants and logistics experts of Los Zetas

Allard, K. (2010). Change and the American security paradigm. Orbis, 54(1), 87–96. doi:10.1016/j.orbis.2009.10.010

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Campbell, L. J. (2013). George W. Grayson and Samuel Logan: The executioner’s men: Los Zetas, rogue soldiers, criminal entrepreneurs, and the shadow state they created: Transaction Publishers, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 2012. 257 pages. Trends in Organized Crime, 16(2), 245–248. doi:http://dx.doi.org.southuniversity.libproxy.edmc.edu/10.1007/s12117-012-9162-4

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Kushner, H. W., & Martin, G. (2011). The Sage encyclopedia of terrorism. Thousand Oaks, Calif: SAGE Publications, Inc.

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Rios, V. (2013). Why did Mexico become so violent? A self-reinforcing violent equilibrium caused by competition and enforcement. Trends in Organized Crime, 16(2), 138–155. doi:http://dx.doi.org.southuniversity.libproxy.edmc.edu/10.1007/s12117-012-9175-z

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