Armed forces in Mexico arrested an alleged leader of the Zetas who was on the country’s most-wanted list, but the longstanding policy of targeting top crime bosses could be contributing to the country’s rising violence.
On February 8, Mexican marines arrested José María Guizar Valencia, alias “Z43,” the alleged leader of a Zetas faction operating along Mexico’s southern border with Guatemala.
In a statement to the press, National Security Commissioner Renato Sales Heredia said that Z43 was among the Mexican government’s 122 most sought-after criminal suspects, and described him as “one of the principal generators of violence in the southwest of Mexico.”
Z43 is a California-born US citizen belonging to the Guizar family thought to have a presence in the southern Mexican states of Tabasco and Veracruz, as well as in the United States. Officials accuse him of involvement in trafficking drugs from South America.
Z43 is likely related to Mauricio Guizar Cardenas, alias “El Amarillo,” the first Zetas commander in charge of Guatemala. El Amarillo was arrested in 2012 and accused of ordering a 2011 massacre in the Guatemalan department of Petén, a key drug trafficking region on Mexico’s southern border.
Since 2014, the US State Department has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to Z43’s arrest. According to the US government, Z43 “assumed complete command and control of his own faction of Los Zetas in the Southern region of Mexico” following the successive deaths and arrests of his predecessors.
The US government has accused Z43 of ordering the murders of Guatemalan civilians during his Zetas faction’s takeover of the Mexico-Guatemala border region in recent years, as well as trafficking cocaine and methamphetamine into the United States. Three US courts have indicted Z43 on drug trafficking charges.
InSight Crime Analysis
The Zetas have largely lost their one-time reputation as one of Mexico’s most powerful and feared cartels, in part due to the demise of a number of top leaders like Z43 in recent years. But Mexico’s crime-fighting approach of capturing high-profile cartel leaders like Z43 has proven to have little long-term success in disrupting criminal activities, and may be contributing to rising violence.
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Throughout the 2000s, the Zetas’ roots in the special forces of Mexico’s army and their emphasis on bloodshed helped the group to rapidly and relentlessly expand. But with the Zetas’ founders and subsequent leaders dead or in prison, the criminal organization is becoming increasingly fractured and weak.
Yet Mexico’s kingpin strategy of picking off leader after leader is not a sustainable or effective policy for bringing down criminal groups or reducing violence. As InSight Crime recently reported, “the problem with this approach is that ‘success’ begets more violence, as a fallen capo’s erstwhile lieutenants and rivals scramble to fill the vacuum left by his departure.”