Mexico Kills Zetas Founder As Cartel’s Decline Continues

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Police have killed an original member of Mexico’s vicious Zetas drug cartel, marking the latest loss among the group’s Special Forces founders, who ushered in an era of brutal violence and the militarization of Mexican organized crime.

Galindo Mellado Cruz, alias “El Mellado” or “Z-9,” was killed in a gun battle on May 9 in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, reported Excelsior. Mellado was one of the original 30 ex-special forces members that criminalized to form the Zetas, which was originally the paramilitary wing of the Gulf Cartel.

The shootout took place after a raid on Mellado’s hideout and also resulted in the death of four other gunmen and a Mexican solider. A Tamaulipas state official said Mellado — who had been on the run after escaping from prison — no longer occupied a command position within the Zetas, reported Excelsior.

In 2012, “narcomanta” banners signed by the Zetas labeled Mellado a traitor and an informant and some unconfirmed reports suggest he had defected to the Gulf Cartel.

Mellado’s death comes amid a recent spike in violence in Reynosa as the remnants of the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas battle for the city.

InSight Crime Analysis

The Gulf Cartel’s hiring of former military members to serve as bodyguards and armed enforcers was a game changer for Mexico’s underworld, prompting rival drug cartels to follow by militarizing and focusing more on territorial control.

The original 30 members of the Zetas defected from the Mexican Army’s elite Airborne Special Forces Group, transferring their military training into a newly disciplined and sophisticated approach to organized crime, involving previously unseen levels of intelligence gathering and military style tactics. The Zetas became famed for their ruthless violence, and in 2010 struck out on their own after a fall out with the Gulf Cartel’s leadership. They expanded rapidly throughout Mexico, and into Guatemala and Central America. 

SEE ALSO: The Zetas in Guatemala

Yet over time, as the original core members were killed or captured, the military base of the Zetas has become diluted. Their opponents began to mimic their tactics, and there is now arguably little setting the Zetas apart from their rivals. 

The loss of leadership has contributed to the fragmentation of the group into isolated and territory based factions, which, in turn, has opened a power vacuum in Mexico’s northern regions. As the bloodshed in Reynosa shows, the resurgent yet similarly fractured Gulf Cartel has reinserted itself in territory previously contested or controlled by the Zetas. 

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