Regardless of the veracity of the current rumors that Mexico's feared Zetas organization has split into pieces, the organization's breakup is a foregone conclusion given the group's local revenue streams.

In the latest of a flurry of articles, a US law enforcement source told the Associated Press that Zetas second-in-command Miguel Angel Treviño, alias "Z-40," has successfully taken over control of the entire group, displacing Heriberto Lazcano, alias “Z-3,” its long-time number one.

This fight, which InSight Crime has also chronicled, has been public for weeks. In August, police said that a Zetas commander in Quintana Roo state, Charly de Jesus Alcantara Trejo, alias “El Caricaturas,” was handed over to police by the Zetas. El Caricaturas was loyal to Z-40, and was allegedly betrayed by a faction loyal to Z-3, local media reported. A wave of violence in San Luis Potosi state has also been interpreted as indicative of a rift between Z-40 and another local Zetas commander, Ivan Velazquez, alias “El 50” or “El Taliban,” according to statements made by the San Luis Potosi state attorney general.

But the evidence is hardly definitive. The AP article cites but one US law enforcement official and various "narco-banners." These banners, however, accused both leaders of betraying several of Zeta operatives, suggesting the rift was from below, not between the top echelons. Other banners appeared in Zetas strongholds, like Tamaulipas and Veracruz, denying that such a rift has occurred.

InSight Crime Analysis

Whether the rift is real or not, the breakup of the Zetas will happen. Unlike the group's progenitors the Gulf Cartel -- who earn most of their profits from the international export of drugs, and thus concentrate their finances, the know-how and the contacts at the top levels of leadership -- the Zetas follow an entirely different financial model. According to a recent book on the Zetas, "The Executioner's Men," by Sam Logan and George Grayson, only 50 percent of the Zetas' revenue is from cocaine trafficking. (InSight Crime believes it is even less.) The rest comes from Zetas’ low-level criminal activities -- extortion, kidnapping, theft, piracy and other licit and illicit activities.

And since a large portion of the Zetas' revenue streams come from the bottom and local sources, rather than the top and international sources, this makes it more likely that local Zetas cells see how these businesses work and how much money is being pocketed by this hard work. Perhaps more importantly, the barriers to entry into these businesses are minimal: The infrastructure needed to manage them is already there; and the wherewithal to recruit and operate on the local level already exist. The result is that the a mid-level commander will be more likely to break away from his bosses simply because he can.

This is arguably what makes the Zetas’ model of organized crime different and more menacing than the older, traditional cartels. Cartels who earn most of their revenue through international drug exports essentially cannot run their business without the international contacts necessary to do so. But in the Zetas’ case, because of their revenue comes from local criminal activities that can be practiced anywhere and by virtually anyone, they have created the ultimate “democratic” model of organized crime. It is a model that can be easily replicated across Mexico, and is inherently vulnerable to suffering internal splits.

So while a dispute between top leaders Z-40 and Z-3 operates in the realm of speculation, there is no doubt that the Zetas as an organization will not last.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador's prison system is the headquarters of the country's largest gangs. It is also where one of these gangs, the MS13, is fighting amongst itself for control of the organization.

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

José Adán Salazar Umaña is the only Salvadoran citizen currently on the US government's Kingpin List. But in his defense, Salazar Umaña claims is he is an honorable businessman who started his career by exchanging money along the borders between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He does...

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The Prison Dilemma: Latin America’s Incubators of Organized Crime

The prison system in Latin America and the Caribbean has become a prime incubator for organized crime. This overview -- the first of six reports on prison systems that we produced after a year-long investigation -- traces the origins and maps the consequences of the problem, including...

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

Special Agent David LeValley headed the criminal division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Washington office until last November 8. While in office, he witnessed the rise of the MS13, the Barrio 18 (18th Street) and other smaller gangs in the District of Columbia as well...

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Olfato. It is a term used quite often in law enforcement and judicial circles in Central America (and other parts of the world as well). It refers to the sixth sense they have as they see a crime scene, investigate a murder or plow through the paperwork...

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

When violence surged in early 2015 in Guatemala, then-President Otto Pérez Molina knew how to handle the situation: Blame the street gangs. 

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces...

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

How the MS13 Tried (and Failed) to Create a Single Gang in the US

In July 2011, members of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) attended a meeting organized in California by a criminal known as "Bad Boy." Among the invitees was José Juan Rodríguez Juárez, known as "Dreamer," who had gone to the meeting hoping to better understand what was beginning to...

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

The MS13 Moves (Again) to Expand on US East Coast

Local police and justice officials are convinced that the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) has strengthened its presence along the East Coast of the United States. The alarm follows a recent spate of violence -- of the type not seen in a decade -- which included dismembered bodies and...

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

Throughout the continent, the debate on whether or not the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang is working with or for drug traffickers continues. In this investigation, journalist Carlos García tells the story of how a member of the MS13 entered the methamphetamine distribution business under the powerful auspices...