Why Mexico’s Zetas Expanded Faster Than Their Rivals
The Zetas are not the only extremely violent, military-style criminal organization from Mexico. Yet, they are the only one that operates in 350 Mexican municipalities, as well as numerous others in Guatemala and Central America. Why have they been able to expand faster than their rivals?The Zetas have perfected the use of extreme violence
The Zetas’ expansion has been dizzying. A recent Harvard study** shows that since 1998, the Zetas have operated on average in 33 new municipalities every year. (See methodology for the study here in pdf.) The second most expansionist group, the Gulf Cartel, expanded by 19.7 new municipalities during the same time period. By 2010, the Zetas operated in 405 municipalities, 161 more than the Gulf Cartel, and was 2.3 times larger than the Sinaloa cartel. (See maps of the Zetas’ expansion from the study at the base of the article.)
Explaining how the Zetas were able to achieve this expansion is more difficult. Most analysts have focused on form. From the beginning, the Zetas seemed fearless and were distinctively cruel towards their enemies. They quickly became synonymous with torture and beheadings, mangled piles of bodies and horrifically bloody scenes in public spaces. They did not seek allies. They sought domination. They did not defeat their enemies. They destroyed them.
This showed in their decisions about where to expand. Unlike other cartels, the Zetas were among the first that openly challenged the traditional powers and attempt to wrest control of these rivals’ strongholds. There were, quite simply, no boundaries for this organization. Other groups have since followed suit helping create the current chaos in Mexico, but not to the extent of the Zetas.