Zetas break out of prison in Mexico. Who are they?

According to Mexican authorities, the Zetas have become the biggest drug trafficking organization in Mexico. On Feb. 19 Zeta members allegedly instigated a prison riot, killing members of the opposing Gulf Cartel, and covering up their escape. Here are four questions about the Zetas, answered. 

3. Why do Mexicans care?

Drug trafficking organizations have different reputations among Mexican society. There are often regional alliances, and some are even supported for their “good deeds,” like paying for church renovations or paving roads. But the Zetas are widely feared and detested in Mexico. They resort to targeting not just rivals but regular folks, extorting small business owners and kidnapping middle class citizens to line their pockets. The security consulting firm Stratfor notes that the Sinaloa group usually resorts to bribing and paying off officials to achieve its objectives.

“It also frequently provides intelligence to authorities, and in doing so uses the authorities as a weapon against rival cartels,” Stratfor notes. “On the other hand, Los Zetas prefer brutality. They can and do resort to bribery, but they lean toward intimidation and violence. Their mode of operation tends to be far less subtle than that of their Sinaloa counterparts, and with a leadership composed of former special operations soldiers, they are quite effective in employing force and fear to achieve their objectives.”

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