Review: Los Zetas Inc. - Criminal Corporations, Energy and Civil War in Mexico

Image  via  Razon

Image via Razon

Official estimates say 150,000 to 200,000 have been left dead by the regional conflict in Mexico. Given the utter corruption, the absence of traditional media in areas such as Tamulipas (where journalists and activists are harassed, threatened and murdered by transnational criminal organisations and government officials alike) and the nature of the violence, it is certain that the death toll is higher than this. A quarter of million people, if not more, may have perished, and the world has largely ignored the carnage. How many more Mexican men, women and children must die before the world talks about the country in the same breath as Colombia, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Iraq or Afghanistan? As of writing, Mexico’s La Noche Triste or Night of Sorrows continues, a perpetual cycle of bloodshed with no end in sight.

Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera’s Los Zetas Inc. is one of the most important books written about Mexico’s current conflict so far. It is full of surprises and provides critical new information and knowledge to readers about the narratives of the Mexican Drug War. Well-researched, academic and drawing on a variety of different sources, Cornea-Cabrera delves deeply into the evolution of the so-called Mexican Drug War and how it has evolved into a civil war or ‘new war’ which typifies many conflicts of the 21st century. The author’s ability to simplify and analyse complex politics and economics, breaking them down into digestible parts while unpacking Mexico’s multiple problems and challenges in a structured way strengthens the arguments presented.

The book, while focused on the ultra-violent group Los Zetas, an organisation part-paramilitary, part-criminal and part-corporate which has emerged and changed the nature of how transitional criminal organisations operate locally, regionally and globally is a history of contemporary Mexico. The parallels between the differences between Los Zetas and traditional Mexican TCOs like the Sinaloa cartel, the Beltran-Leyva organisation and Gulf cartel and those between ISIS and Al-Qaida are fascinating.

Los Zetas, much like ISIS (despite being ideologically different and located in different areas of the world), may not survive in the long-term, but they have changed how transnational criminal organisations (TCOs) and terrorist organisations function dramatically. These aren’t family-run affairs anymore and the power of TCOs are certainly not as dependent on the personalities of the men and women running these organisations from the top such as Pablo Escobar and Joaquin Guzman. Rather, Cornea-Cabrera’s analysis of Los Zetas structure is a thorough breakdown of the TCO’s organisation, its different branches and how it has managed to survive, thrive and spread like multiple tumors across the troubled country.

It is a thorough case-study of a modern transnational criminal organisation which walks hand-in-hand perfectly with Tom’s Wainwright’s Narconomicswhich identifies that TCO’s now think like big businesses and corporations. It is about branding, it about supply chains, it is about diversification, it is about franchising, it is about social media and public relations. Los Zetas, elements of the government and the criminal corporations who have tacitly used brutal violence to achieve their economic goals are extreme examples of these common elements of ‘big business’. Los Zetas have utilised all of these to grow as an organisation adopting cyberwarfare, strengthening its military wing, spreading terror on social media and creating a horizontal structure of leadership, where different cells operate as a decentralised network across Mexico.

As Mexican President’s Felipe Calderon and Pena Nieto have discovered, much like those fighting the ‘War on Terror’ cutting off the head of criminal organisations does not work as effectively in destroying TCOs and the consequences of militarisation and securitisation of society in both the War on Terror and War on Drugs have had immediate and long-term impacts on those involved in the conflicts. The terms paramilitary soldier, insurgent, terrorist, gangster and criminal are becoming increasingly blurred and they way they function. Los Zetas incapsulate, much like other groups such as Hizbullah and ISIS, the new threat to the state’s monopoly on violence posed by modern non-state actors.

Equally as seen in Mexico, militarisation, catalysed by Calderon’s declaration of a war on drugs, has led to a surge in violence, escalating an already violent turf-war between criminal organisations for resources, power and wealth.


The military, supported by security and police forces have been complicit in and committed extra-judicial killings, torture rape, and ’forced disappearances’. Los Zetas have committed mass-killings of migrants and slaughtered rival criminal groups, soldiers and with impunity. Amnesty International have accused both sides of grave human rights violations, Open Society went further and accused both Los Zetas and the Mexican military of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The cartels have also, much like Colombian paramilitary groups, diversifiedinto new markets, tapped into human trafficking and exploited natural resources such as iron ore, oil, gas and water and avocados (green-gold). Mexico’s war is about land and power; it is about privatisation versus nationalisation of key resources; and it is about control of these resources (including drugs) and thousands have been displaced to claim the territories on which these prized assets sit.

Depressingly, the violence benefits most involved and solutions seem few and far between. The Mexican Drug War is one element of a more complex conflict and Los Zetas Inc. unpacks the other factors at play in a precise and convincing manner while laying bare the fallacy of the so-called ‘War on Drugs’ including the policies being pursued to win an endless cycle of violence. The results have been catastrophic for Mexican society.


A thorough analysis of Los Zetas and an in-depth look at the Mexican conflict and its causes while breaking down the structure of a savage enterprise tearing the country apart. ‬