February 10, 2014
MEXICO CITY – The Zetas drug cartel is the most violent and diversified criminal organization to appear in Mexico in the past two decades, creating illegal businesses in 24 areas, including drug trafficking, extortion, kidnapping and people trafficking, writer Ricardo Ravelo said in an interview with Efe.
“Los Zetas put a new twist on violence, turning massacres into a means of intimidating society and gaining turf by making beheadings and the dismemberment of bodies fashionable,” Ravelo, author of the recent book “Zetas, la franquicia criminal” (Zetas, the Criminal Franchise), said.
Ravelo, who has written six books about Mexico’s organized crime groups, said the Zetas turned their bloody work into news events, putting images of death on the front pages of newspapers and defeating the government’s media strategy of trying to keep reporting of violent incidents under wraps.
The Zetas gang started out as the armed wing of the Gulf cartel in 1997, when the drug trafficking organization was led by Usiel Cardenas, and later grew, becoming a stand-alone cartel in 2006 and spreading across Mexico and into Guatemala, Costa Rica, Panama and Colombia, the writer said.
The Zetas organization has grown to become Mexico’s second-largest cartel in less than 10 years, overshadowed by only Joaquin “El Chapo” (Shorty) Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel, Ravelo said.
Unlike other cartels, which have a pyramidal organizational structure, the Zetas employ a horizontal structure based on cells, giving the
gang greater flexibility, with each cell made up of hitmen, informers and accounting personnel, the writer said.
“Los Zetas have planted terror in every territory they arrive in, kidnapping businessmen, ranchers, merchants, (and) extorting money from all kinds of businesses, charging protection money to brothels, cantinas, bars, shops, restaurants, even the shoeshine guys,” the journalist and writer said.
The gang also made it fashionable to seize land, ranches, mines and houses, Ravelo said, adding that cartel employees often register titles legally to make the seizures appear to be sales.
Other drug cartels try to keep a low profile and maintain the peace on their turf, but the Zetas prefer to impose terror and employ violence, the writer said.