Drug Cartel Kingpin’s Death May Make the Zetas Even Deadlier
When Mexican marines killed the leader of the Zetas earlier this month, they killed the only person capable of holding Mexico’s most dangerous cartel together. But instead of collapsing, the cartel could become even more dangerous. That’s the conclusion reached in an upcoming report from West Point.
“I think it will be harder to detect and determine who the heads are of these smaller groups, and by that defeat them,” Samuel Logan, the director of intelligence firm Southern Pulse and the report’s author, tells Danger Room. The reason why involves the complex and shifting allegiances and economics of Mexico’s drug trade, and the risks in killing or capturing drug lords. Like insurgent warlords, killing one can provoke more bloodshed as rivals scramble to fill the vacuum.
The report appears in the forthcoming issue of CTC Sentinel, a monthly security newsletter from the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, one of the military’s premiere think tanks on terrorism. Now, as the Afghan war winds down, it’s turning its eyes to Mexico — and specifically, to the Zeta Cartel.
Which isn’t exactly a cartel, at least not fully. Yes, the Zetas make money by trafficking narcotics from Guatemala to the U.S. border. They engage in extortion, kidnapping and smuggling. But the Zetas are structured differently from a traditional cartel, and are more like a decentralized network of criminal cells. Where a traditional cartel like the Sinaloa Federation is structured from the top-down like a pyramid, a Zeta cell may only be loosely connected to another in a nearby town, though they share the same brand name and the same distribution network. It’s the Zetas brand, and the cells are the franchises like armed and deadly fast food restaurants.