Another postcard from sunny Mexico-A decade ago, they were a small group of elite Mexican soldiers who saw a chance to make a lot more money working as hitmen for powerful drug cartels. Today, the “Zetas” are the most feared gang in Mexico. Their vicious tactics, geographic reach and expansion into new illegal businesses presents a new kind of threat in a drugs war that has already killed 29,000 people since late 2006.
President Felipe Calderon’s government is going after the Zetas and half a dozen other major cartels moving billions of dollars worth of cocaine and other drugs to U.S. consumers each year.
While the Zetas, believed to number in the thousands, are not Mexico’s top drug runners, their size and sheer brutality makes them a high-profile target as the government struggles to shake an image that violence is slipping out of control. The drugs war is an added burden for Mexico as it slowly climbs out of recession, and Mexicans are weary of the frequent beheadings, bodies strung from bridges and other gory crimes.
The Zetas, started in the late 1990s by about 40 soldiers who deserted from army special forces to work as muscle for the Gulf Cartel, are central characters in the drama.
“Even by the standards of Mexican drug wars, they are willing to go to a level of brutality that others are not,” U.S. defense analyst Hal Brands said.
The official said the Zetas could have as many as 10,000 members across Mexico, Central America and the United States, bigger than other Mexican cartels — although the bulk are likely small-time criminal affiliates who pay tribute to the cartel rather than full-blown members.-spizzyblog.com