‘Los Zetas’ cartel is losing its domain

Honorata Zapaśnik

Federal Police detained Martiniano de Jesus Jaramillo Silva, the boss of a drug cartel ‘Los Zetas Vieja Escuela’, suspected of killing 72 emigrants in San Fernando in 2010. It was one of the most vicious massacres of this gang.

Mariniano de Jesus Jaramillo Silva was 56 years old. He had a nickname ‘El Pata de Queso’ – ‘The Cheese Leg’. He was detained in Ciudad Victoria, in the Tamaulipas state , when the police realized his true identity. A few days later he died in hospital because of kidney failure.

Mariniano and Heriberto ‘el Lazca’ Lazcano Lazcano, were friends since the latter was a leader of ‘Los Zetas’. They were arrested by the police in 1998, but soon they managed to regain freedom. Since then, ‘El Pata de Queso’ was chased by the police because of murders, kidnapping and drug trafficking. Investigators believe that he was responsible for the massacre of 72 emigrants  in 2010 and a murder of an activist Miriam Rodriguez in May 2017.

A soldier who became the head of the cartel

Arturo Guzman Decena grew up in a poor family in Puebla and he joined the army when he was a teenager. He was talented and determined so he quickly became a member of a special unit responsible for fighting against drug traffickers and organized crime. After five years of service, the lieutenant left the army and changed the sides of a conflict –  he started to protect ‘El Golfo’ criminal group . When Juan Garcia Abre, the leader of the cartel, was arrested in January 1996, Cardenas Guillen became the new capo. He ordered Guzman to form a gang that would protect him and eliminate his enemies – mainly the members of an opposing Juarez cartel .

40 soldiers from different units escaped from the Mexican army to join Guzman, who headed the group ‘Los Zetas’. He picked up a nickname ‘Z-1’.

Guzman died in clashes with the army in Matamoros Tamaulipas state in November 2002. Other head of the gang, Antonio Lucio Morales Betancourt had been arrested a year earlier. Lazcano Lazcano ‘El Lazca’ became the new gang leader. ‘El Lazca’ expanded criminal activity of ‘Los Zetas’ when Ossier Cardenas Guillen, the head of the ‘El Golfo’ cartel, was detained. ‘Los Zetas’ were dealing with drug trafficking, human trafficking, arms trade, abduction and extortion. In 2010 ‘Los Zetas’ got separated from the main criminal organization – ‘El Golfo’ cartel –  and from now on, both gangs have been fighting against each other for power and domination in the north part of Mexico.

‘El Lazca’ was killed by the army during the clashes in 2012 in the Coahuila state . He was replaced by Miguel Trevino Morales, called ‘Z-40’. Morales’ criminal career began in ‘Los Texas’ group when he was a teenager. He had a favourite method of torturing his enemies – he put them into barrels and burnt them alive. After a year of leadership he was arrested by the police and his brother Omar took control of the cartel. Due to his violent nature he did not earned the confidence of  ‘Los Zetas’ local bosses. Internal conflicts began. The organization divided and a new cartel emerged – ‘Los Zetas Vieja Escuela’. Former soldiers were mainly its members.

San Fernando massacre

In 2010 ‘Los Zetas’ led by ‘El Pata de Queso’ stopped a truck on the road near San Fernando. The truck was carrying young emigrants from Ecuador, Brazil, Costa Rica, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. They were traveling towards the United States border. There were at least 58 men and 14 women among them, including one in late pregnancy. They were all transported to the nearby farm, where everyone was interrogated and then shot dead.

One of the emigrants was Luis Freddy from Ecuador. He managed to escape because the bullet only nicked his neck and he pretended he was killed. He told the police about the massacre. According to his testimony, the criminals demanded information about people they had kidnapped before and their families living in the United States. They wanted money in exchange for releasing the emigrants. The captured emigrants were also offered  a possibility of working in a criminal group for two thousand dollars a month. Nobody accepted it.

The Federal Police assumed that the bandits murdered the truck passengers because  they suspected them of working with the ‘El Golfo’ drug cartel.

An escape through the tunnel

Karen Alejandra was kidnapped in 2012. Two years later her body was found in the moat. After the tragedy her mother Miriam Rodriguez returned from the United States to Mexico She did not solely rely on the police in investigating the case. Thirteen people were detained and she found three of them. She was also searching for several other men who participated in the murder and she set up a support network for relatives of missing people in San Fernando. She began to get threats and asked the police for protection.

In March 2017 twenty nine prisoners escaped from the prison in Ciudad Victoria through a 40 meters long tunnel dug under the prison. Criminals who killed Miriam’s daughter were serving a sentence in the same prison. At night on May 10, Miriam’s house was shelled by unknown assailants. Miriam Rodriguez died of wounds. It is not known why there were no policemen in front of her house. They were supposed to protect her.

People who escaped from prison were involved in the murder, but the police suppose that the ‘El Pata de Queso’ helped to organize the assassination.

‘Los Zetas’ among the losers

In 2006  former President of Mexico declared war on drug cartels. During eleven years over 188,000 people died in these internecine battles. Some cartels were eliminated but they were replaced by other criminal groups. Nowadays the new ‘Jalisco Nueva Generacion’ cartel , which was previously under ‘Sinaloa’ cartel’s orders, strengthen its position in the crime market.

The ‘Los Zetas’ cartel is one of the most brutal in Mexico and Central America. However its position weakened after the police managed to arrest several former leaders. The criminal organization lost its power in much of former territory, including the coastal states of the Gulf of Mexico and the Yucatán Peninsula. Nowadays ‘Los Zetas’ operate mainly in the states of Coahuila and Tamaulipas and in the north-east Mexico, where they have to face their former ally – ‘el Golfo’ cartel. They are also active in Campeche and Tabasco in the south of the country and control Quintana Roo, where Cancun is located, the most popular tourist resort in Mexico.

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