How the United States Created Los Zetas

The growth of drug trafficking groups in Mexico remains a complex phenomenon. Recent academic investigations have proved that multiple factors are affecting the development of these organizations. Joe Tone describes in his book, Bones, Brothers, Cartels, and the Borderland Dream, how American policies were responsible for the evolution of Los Zetas.

The criminal group of Los Zetas is a drug cartel that became infamous for conducting massacres and mass kidnappings of immigrants from Central America. Tone argues in his book that a key element that contributed to the formation of this syndicate was the establishment of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). This economic treaty attracted thousands of Mexican workers to the northern region of the nation in the search for the maquiladora jobs. However, these factories have the tendency of hiring young women over men, which left a pool of male labor for Los Zetas. Tone also mentioned that NAFTA increased the number of trade between the nations, which provided multiple criminal groups with more opportunities to conduct their illicit activities. Moreover, maquiladora workers and unemployed males ended up living in the growing slums of the northern cities of Mexico. Javier Valdez describes in his book, Los Morros de Narco (The Narco Youth), how Los Zetas recruited children and people living on the streets in these places. The indirect collaboration of NAFTA towards this problem remains a complex subject to study for the multiple social factors that it involves.

The United States also contributed to the formation of Los Zetas by training its key members. Personal from the Grupo Aeromovil de Fuerzas Especiales del Alto Mando was trained at Fort Bragg in North Carolina as part of the School of the Americas program. The members of this agency ended up forming part of Los Zetas. The School of the Americas was also responsible for training and forming the Guatemalan Counter-Insurgency group known as the Kaibiles. After the civil conflict ended in Guatemala this group became part of the Los Zetas. During this reorganization, the criminal organization became embedded with paramilitary tactics, which were later copied by rival cartels. Thus, changing the nature of the “War on Drugs” in Mexico and the response of the national government to this issue.

“Scholars believe the Zetas’ penchant for beheadings was influenced by the Kaibiles, who favored the practice.” Tone, p. 39-40.

Another element that contributed to the growth of Los Zetas was the American authorities inability to stop their laundry money operations. Los Zetas acquired a reputation for investing money in a variety of small businesses around Mexico but also inside the American territory. In one particular event, American authorities discovered that this group was saving its drug money in Banamex USA, which is a division of Citigroup. Tone makes the argument that Citigroup should have been severely punished for accepting this transaction or for no investigating its origin. However, the penalty was insignificant for the economic power of this banking system. On the other hand, Los Zetas created the account with the name of a local cattle holder, which is a typical profession for citizens of the border region. Consequently, these economic transactions become particularly difficult to perceive and investigate.

Tone’s book presents a comprehensive argument about how the United States contributed to the growth of Los Zetas. Fundamentally, it demonstrates how influential American policies were to change the dynamics of this phenomenon. Moreover, it shows that there are multiple factors affecting the nature of drug trafficking groups and the “War on Drugs” in Mexico.



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