Mexico's Zeta Killers kill 32, revive debate about the 'good-guy cartel'

The 'Zeta Killers' have been linked to the deaths of 67 people. While they claim to be fighting the Zetas drug cartel, experts say they are likely just a criminal group adopting the guise of a 'good-guy cartel.'

Bernardo Montoya/Reuters
Suspected members of the Zeta Killers and suspected members of the Zetas drug cartel are presented to the media at the Mexican Navy's airplane hangar in Mexico City on Friday.

Mexico's Zeta Killers: a paramilitary group? Vigilantes? A “good guy cartel?” Or just another group of drug traffickers?

The group announced their existence – and intentions – in July, but burst onto the scene two weeks ago when leaving 35 bodies on a road during rush hour traffic in the city of Veracruz, Mexico. In a video of hooded men claiming responsibility, they urged residents of the eastern state of Veracruz to say “no” to extortion and intimidation by the violent Zetas group that is fighting for control of large swathes of Mexico and vowed to target the group.

They appear to be sticking to their word. Another 32 bodies were just found in three houses in the port city, reports the Mexican navy, and they place blame on the New Generation group, of which the so-called “Zeta Killers” are believed to be a subset.

The discovery comes as Mexico announced this week a new military reinforcement campaign in Veracruz. The Gulf Coast state has become one of the newest flashpoints in Mexico’s hard slog against drug trafficking.

The Zeta Killer video two weeks ago prompted a series of questions about whether paramilitaries were emerging in Mexico, or whether fed-up Mexicans would resort to vigilante justice.

"Our only objective is the Zetas cartel," a “Zeta Killer” spokesman said in the video, claiming they were “anonymous warriors” who did not resort to kidnapping or extortion.

The government has sought to downplay this Colombia-like scenario for Mexico, reiterating that the “Zeta Killers” are just another rival gang seeking their share of territory in the lucrative illegal drug trade to the US. In a press conference on Sept. 29, Mexico’s national security spokeswoman Alejandra Sota said: “These are criminal groups, and the state must combat all criminal groups.”

Gary Moore, writing for Insight Crime, says that their existence has revived the myth of the “Good-Guy Cartel.”

"The use of coy vigilante messages ("I killed them to protect you") is a fixture in the Mexican cartel conflicts. Some groups – notably the big Sinaloa Cartel (but less so the rapacious Zetas) – seek to curry public favor by claiming that hits on rivals are done to safeguard the citizenry," he writes.

La Familia in Michoacan is another group that emerged as so-called "saviors" of the people of Michoacan.

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