It can be a little deceiving to think of Mexico’s drug cartels as simply gangsters. Instead, they’ve blurred boundaries between organized crime and quasi-military insurgents, seized swathes of territory and become some of the world’s most dangerous criminal gangs. They’ve also acquired plenty of firepower to back it up.
The Zetas are one of the most disruptive and aggressive of them all. Formed by ex-military men who became armed enforcers for the Gulf Cartel, the Zetas split with their former patrons nearly three years ago and have since become one of Mexico’s largest and most dangerous cartels. While most of those ex-military founding fathers of the cartel are now dead or in prison, they’ve retained a culture of military loyalties, if not so much the discipline and hierarchy. Or much in the way of taste. In September, Mexican police arrested Ramiro Pozos, the alleged leader of drug gang “The Resistance” and Zeta ally — with his gold- and silver-plated AK-47. Meanwhile, coming up on Saturday, incoming president Enrique Pena Nieto takes office, the first change in the presidency since the drug war exploded across the country more than six years ago. Aside from reducing the level of violence, one of his priorities will be wrenching back control of cartel territory, and putting it back under the control of the state.