Mexico‘s arrest of 80 alleged Zetas, and confiscation of a wealth of high-tech communications material in the Gulf state of Veracruz, is a further sign that the gang is the top priority of the Calderon administration.
As Excelsior reports, the equipment, which consisted of 12 high-powered antennae, computers, UHF radios, and a number of other items, was seized in a handful of different cities over the course of the past several weeks. It allowed the Zetas to coordinate their operations throughout this populous coastal state, which is an important section of the route for transporting cocaine which arrives on Mexico’s Caribbean shores towards the U.S.
“Thanks to this network they could maintain constant contact between their mobile and fixed teams, thus coordinating their criminal activities through the state,” said Jose Luis Vergara, a spokesman with the marines. “The immediate consequence of these actions is the loss of the chain of command and the tactical control of the Zetas in the state of Veracruz,” he added.
The Veracruz arrests have been accompanied by a series of other blows against the group. Thirty-one alleged Zetas, including 16 police officers, were arrested in Hidalgo, a central state that borders Veracruz, a week previously. In Nuevo Leon, where the group has been blamed for the August arson attack that killed 52 people in Monterrey, five alleged Zetas suspected of having participated in the incident were arrested, and 18 more suspects still at large have been identified.
On Monday, the marines announced the arrest of Veronica Mireya Moreno, who they say was the group’s chief in the Monterrey suburb of San Nicolas de Los Garza. According to the marines, Moreno was the first woman known to be a Zetas plaza boss.
The group’s links to the local police have also been under attack, with one Nuevo Leon state policeman believed to have served as a lookout during the attack already in custody, and authorities forecasting further arrests of local police.
The run of strikes against the Zetas reflect a number of trends in Mexican security. One is that the authorities are increasingly setting the group as their biggest target. The Calderon administration has often referred to Zetas as the principal threat to security in the nation, and the attention from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border only increased with the murder of ICE agent Jaime Zapata in February, a crime blamed on a Zetas cell. Earlier this summer, reports emerged that Calderon’s government had formally made the Zetas the primary target of their security agencies. Weeks later, the U.S. government imposed sanctions against the group, giving its agencies greater flexibility in attacking the group’s assets north of the border.
The subsequent arson at the Casino Royale, the deadliest public attack carried out by organized crime under Calderon, which struck one of Mexico’s most vital cities, only made the authorities more determined to act. It was not initially clear whether the formal designation of the Zetas would have any significant consequences. However, the past several weeks seem to suggest that the playing field for the Zetas has indeed changed, although it’s not yet clear that the arrests and seizure represent a significant blow to the group’s operational structure.
These arrests also demonstrate the growing clout of the Mexican Marines. Although the service was largely an afterthought at the outset of the Calderon administration, they have steadily accrued influence, largely thanks to the takedowns of high-profile capos like Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas and Arturo Beltran Leyva. The marines are widely considered the most reliable security agency in the country, a fact underlined by the glowing review in a U.S. diplomatic cable revealed earlier this year.
The marines have also trained extensively with U.S. security agencies, which gives them an operational capacity that other Mexican agencies largely lack. From that standpoint, the differences between this arrest and the typical military operation are striking: the armed forces typically respond to individual tips from citizens, and attack or arrest whichever criminal elements they encounter in the course of answering the call.
However, even allowing for the possibility that the government is playing up the significance of the operation, the arrest of 80 people over in several towns over a longer time period in Veracruz suggests a coordinated investigation of the sort that has heretofore been quite rare in Mexico.