A recently captured Zetas leader has claimed that the group obtains all of its arms from the United States, but while the announcement is sure to fuel the debate over gun control in the U.S., the group is believed to receive a significant chunk of its armory from other countries in the region.

During an interview recorded by Mexico’s Ministry of Public Safety, Jesus Enrique Rejon, alias 'El Mamito' told officials that the feared drug gang purchases all of its guns in the U.S. In the interview (the video of which is embedded below) Rejon claims the group used to sneak the arms through border checkpoints, but stricter security measures have forced them to smuggle them across the Rio Grande. He also alleged that the Zetas’ rival Gulf Cartels have an easier time bringing weapons across the border. “It got harder, but we can still get them,” Rejon said. “Those in the Gulf Cartel get them a lot easier; we don’t know why. It’s impossible to buy them and smuggle them in a vehicle trunk, but they do it. There must be a deal somewhere. I don’t know.”

It has long been known that gun stores in the American Southwest are a significant source of weaponry to Mexican cartels, a topic that InSight Crime has covered extensively in its GunRunners report. But while Rejon’s remark can be seen as a just another indictment of the availability of arms in U.S., there is reason to view it with skepticism. In reality, evidence suggests that U.S. gun stores are only one source of weaponry for the Zetas. Much of their arms, especially heavy machine guns, high caliber rifles and grenades, come from corrupt elements in the militaries of Central America.

One known source of these weapons is the Guatemalan military. In March and April of 2009, security officials in Guatemala raided two remote Zeta training camps and recovered an array of weaponry, ranging from landmines to rocket launchers. When traced, authorities discovered that much of this deadly equipment had come from a military warehouse in the capital. Although officials in the country have only admitted to three instances in which drug traffickers were able to obtain weapons from military arsenals, connections between the Zetas and the Guatemalan army are well documented, leading some to speculate that the country could be a major provider of military grade weapons to the group.

But Guatemala is not the only culprit; the military of neighboring El Salvador has been linked to the Zetas as well. Last spring, officials in the country arrested four soldiers and three officers who were attempting to sell military equipment to criminal elements in two separate incidents. Recently, Salvadoran Defense Minister David Munguia told local press that the equipment – which included more than a thousand hand grenades, several assault weapons and military uniforms – were intended for a suspected Zeta cell in Guatemala.

So while it is likely that the Zetas get most of their common weapons, such as civilian variants of AR-15s and the AK-47s, from “straw buyers” in the U.S., Rejon’s claim is inaccurate, and should be treated as such by U.S. policymakers seeking to use it in the domestic gun control debate.

Investigations

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

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

As Guatemala's Congress gears up to select new Supreme Court Justices and appellate court judges, InSight Crime is investigating how organized crime influences the selection process. This story details the interests of one particular political bloc vying for control over the courts and what's at stake: millions of ...

The Victory of the Urabeños - The New Face of Colombian Organized Crime

The Victory of the Urabeños - The New Face of Colombian Organized Crime

The mad scramble for criminal power in the aftermath of the demobilization of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) is over. The Urabeños, or as they prefer to call themselves, the "Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia," have won.

50 years of the FARC: War, Drugs and Revolution

50 years of the FARC: War, Drugs and Revolution

The possibility of ending nearly 50 years of civil conflict is in sight. While the vast majority of the Colombian public want to see peace, for themselves and especially for their children, the enemies of the peace negotiations appear to be strong, and the risks inherent in the ...

Mexico’s Security Dilemma: Michoacan’s Militias

 Mexico’s Security Dilemma: Michoacan’s Militias

Well-armed vigilantes in Mexico's Michoacan state have helped authorities dismantle a powerful criminal organization, but now the government may have a more difficult task: keeping Michoacan safe from the vigilantes and rival criminal groups.

Uruguay, Organized Crime and the Politics of Drugs

Uruguay, Organized Crime and the Politics of Drugs

After the lower house passed the controversial marijuana bill July 31, Uruguay is poised to become the first country on the planet to regulate the production, sale, and distribution of the drug, and provide a model for countries looking for alternatives to the world’s dominant drug policy paradigm. ...

The Zetas in Nuevo Laredo

The Zetas in Nuevo Laredo

After the capture of Zetas boss "Z40," Nuevo Laredo is bracing itself for the worst. This investigation breaks down what makes the city such an important trafficking corridor, and what it will take for the Zetas to maintain their grip on the city.

El Salvador's Gang Truce: Positives And Negatives

El Salvador's Gang Truce: Positives And Negatives

Whether it is sustainable or not, the truce -- which the Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and the Barrio 18 put into place March 2012 -- has changed the conventional thinking about who the gangs are and what is the best way to handle the most difficult law and order ...

FARC, Peace and Possible Criminalization

FARC, Peace and Possible Criminalization

The possibility of ending nearly 50 years of civil conflict is in sight. While the vast majority of the Colombian public want to see peace, for themselves and especially for their children, the enemies of the peace negotiations appear to be strong, and the risks inherent in the ...

Corruption in El Salvador: Politicians, Police and Transportistas

Corruption in El Salvador: Politicians, Police and Transportistas

Since the end of El Salvador's civil war, the country's police has become a key player in the underworld. This series of five articles explore the dark ties between criminal organizations and the government's foremost crime fighting institution.

Juarez after the War

Juarez after the War

As a bitter war between rival cartels grinds to an end, Ciudad Juarez has lost the title of world murder capital, and is moving towards something more like normality. InSight Crime looks at the role politicians, police, and for-hire street gangs played in the fighting -- asking who ...