Jan 182011

According to an article by Nacha Cattan in The Christian Science Monitor, one of Mexico’s most violent drug gangs, the Zetas, have now expanded into Central America. It is yet another instance of the shifting allegiances which require another redrawing of the “map” showing the cartels’ competing and partially overlapping spheres of influence.

The Zetas started out in the 1990s as a group of ex-military strong-arm enforcers who had previously worked exclusively for Mexico’s Gulf Cartel. The Zetas rapidly established a reputation for extreme brutality, leaving severed heads as a sign of what they would do to anyone who opposed them. By the start of 2010, the Zetas had grown into an independent force controlling ever-increasing areas of north-eastern, central and western Mexico. They were pushed further west and south by an unlikely coalition of the Sinaloa cartel, the Gulf cartel and La Familia Michoacana, known as the New Federation. The Zetas have not limited themselves to drug trafficking, but have gradually extended their field of operations into many kinds of organized crime, especially kidnapping, extortion and the sex trade.

Now it seems that the Zetas have garnered support in Central America, where they have used local former military agents to keep their brand of discipline as they snare poverty-stricken youth into their organization. In Guatemala, the Zetas accused Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom of accepting millions of dollars in drug money, and threatened a sharp rise in civilian casualties if authorities continued to target their activities.

Honduras and El Salvador are also reported to house Zeta cells. This has prompted Mexico and several Central American countries to discuss forming anti-cartel alliances. The links between the Zeta cells in Central America and the hard-line Zeta forces in Mexico remain unclear. While some analysts claim the Zetas move to the south is because of successful law enforcement efforts in Mexico, others suggest that the Zetas are expanding in order to exert complete control over supply routes that originate or cross Central America.

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