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

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Following Guatemala's long and brutal civil war, members of the military were charged, faced trial and sentenced to jail time. Even some members of a powerful elite unit known as the Kaibil were put behind bars. Among these prisoners, none were more emblematic than Captain Byron Lima...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

  Drugs Extortion Criminal Cash Flows Millions of dollars in dirty money circulate constantly around Bajo Cauca, flowing upwards and outwards from a broad range of criminal activities. The BACRIM are the chief regulators and beneficiaries of this shadow economy. Unlike their paramilitary and drug cartel predecessors, the BACRIM maintain a diversified...

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.

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

  Life of a Sicario Anatomy of a Hit   The BACRIM's control over territories such as the north Colombian region of Bajo Cauca comes at the point of a gun, and death is a constant price of their power. In rural sectors, uniformed BACRIM armed with assault rifles still patrol in...

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

When someone is murdered in Guatemala, police, forensic doctors and government prosecutors start making their way to the crime scene and a creaky, antiquated 20th century bureaucratic machine kicks into gear. Calls are made. Forms are filled out by hand, or typed into computers, or both. Some...

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...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

  The Bajo Cauca Franchise BACRIM-Land Armed Power Dynamics The BACRIM in places like the region of Bajo Cauca are a typical manifestation of Colombia's underworld today: a semi-autonomous local cell that is part of a powerful national network. The BACRIM's roots lie in the demobilized paramilitary umbrella group the United Self-Defense...

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and...

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...