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Feature 102912 Grayson

Monday, October 29, 2012

Ghoulish and Grisly Acts by Mexico's 'Los Zetas' Drug Cartel

By George W. Grayson

On October 7, Mexico's hard-charging Marines killed Heriberto "The Executioner" Lazcano, the top leader of Los Zetas, an organization originally composed of members of the Army's Special Air Mobile Forces, or GAFES (Grupo Aeromóvil de Fuerzas Especiales).

Los Zetas wasted little time before stealing the corpse of their fallen capo.

Who are Los Zetas? How did the body snatching take place? What signal does this macabre act send?

Thirty-one of the elite, highly trained GAFES went over to the dark side in the late 1990s to serve Osiel Cárdenas, the paranoid, now-imprisoned narco-boss of the Gulf Cartel. After their boss was in the slammer, Los Zetas gradually broke with the Gulf syndicate.

While Los Zetas picked up some tricks of the drug trade, they soon gained infamy for castrations, decapitations, extortion, kidnapping, murder-for-hire, immigrant smuggling, contraband, prostitution and a dozen other crimes.

After forensic experts examined Lazcano's corpse, the Marines -- at this point unaware that they had gunned down a "most wanted" capo -- left his remains in a private funeral home in Sabinas, Coahuila, 80 miles from the U.S. border.

A day after the takedown, a gang of armed thugs burst into the parlor, overpowered the staff, shoved The Executioner's cold, decaying body into a hearse, and forced the owner to drive to a yet-to-be-discovered venue.

What explains this ghoulish action?

As ruthless as they are, veteran Zetas adhere to the tradition, begun by the U.S. Marines in 1775, of trying to never leave a fallen brother behind.

In March 2007, Zeta gunmen broke into a cemetery in Veracruz, smashed open the gravestone of their comrade Roberto Carlos Carmona, and took the casket containing his body.

Los Zetas find other ways to honor their dead. Three months after the Army killed Arturo Guzmán Decenas, a lieutenant who recruited many of the original paramilitaries, a floral wreath appeared at his grave site with the inscription: "We will always keep you in our heart: from your family, Los Zetas."

Another factor revolves around the leadership of Los Zetas. For weeks, rumors have circulated that Lazcano was warring with Miguel Ángel "El 40" Morales Treviño, his despicable number two. El 40 thrives on beating to death real and supposed foes.

The Mexican Navy, of which the Marines form part, has announced that Morales Treviño masterminded Lazcano's rescue to spike reports of a clash between the Zeta leaders.

By accomplishing the derring-do theft of his dead ally, El 40 also wanted to put to rest the idea that Los Zetas had suffered a knockout blow.

After all, they have robust roots in Monterrey, Mexico's erstwhile island of peace, entrepreneurship and multinational corporations.

Even more important, El 40 and his cut throats dominant Nuevo Laredo, the principal portal for the flow of commerce, drugs, cash and weapons between the U.S. and Mexico.

They also have a presence in 21 of Mexico's 32 states, as well as in Guatemala, El Salvador and other countries.

Los Zetas will take a brief respite from terrorism to give the Executioner the burial he deserves.

From there, he merits descent to the lowest rungs of hell.


George W. Grayson, Class of 1938 Professor of Government Emeritus at the College of William & Mary, is a senior associate at CSIS and an associate scholar at the Foreign Policy Research Institute.  His latest book (co-authored with Samuel Logan) focuses on the sadistic cartel, Los Zetas: The Executioner's Men: Los Zetas, Rogue Soldiers, Criminal Entrepreneurs, and the Shadow State They Created (Transaction Press, 2012). Reprinted with permission.

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