For the degree of violence and criminality and the seemingly expanding presence of Los Zetas (also known as La Letra or La Compania) in Mexico, much of their structure and operations remain clouded in mystery.
Its presence has been detected to varying degrees, according to the PGR, in Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Coahuila, Sonora, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, Hidalgo, Veracruz, Tabasco, Chiapas, Quintana Roo, Yucatan, Guerrero, Michoacán, Puebla, Oaxaca, Mexico State and DF. (and we can certainly add the states of Guanajuato, San Luis Potosi, Jalisco, the Lagunera region of Durango and Central America, especially Guatemala)
All these states have or have had problems of insecurity due to the presence of Los Zetas, ranging from official corruption to infiltration of government institutions (especially at the municipal and state level), high levels of violence, killings and executions, extortions, disappearances, kidnappings, money laundering, petroleum theft and black market sales and commercial piracy.
In recent months, federal authorities and military leaders have denounced the entry of Los Zetas into the business of illegal migrant trafficking after the massacre of 72 Central and South Americans in Tamaulipas and recent mass kidnappings of migrants in Tabasco and Chiapas.
Many Central American migrants are also forcibly recruited into Los Zeta ranks.
The Army and the Attorney General's Office (PGR) consider Los Zetas the most dangerous cartel.
According to official reports of both Mexican federal agencies, since its first public appearances a decade ago in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, only 11 of the 34 former special forces soldiers and deserters who comprised the original Los Zetas (also known as Zetas Viejos) remain at large and active. The cartel is named after this original group.
The other 23 original Zetas have been detained or killed.
However, although only a third of the original group still remains at large, its operations have expanded over more than 10 years as they recruit entire gangs and hundreds of members, including many more ex-military and police officers, both Mexican and Guatemalan (kaibiles), and deserters.
The Zetas Viejos that still remain active and at large are:
Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, el Lazca, el Verdugo or Z-3
Carlos Vera Calva, el Vera, Z-7
Daniel Enrique Marquez Aguilar, el Chocotorro
Galdino Mellado Cruz, el Mellado, Z-9
Gonzalo Geresano Escribano, el Cuije, Z-18
Jesus Enrique Rejon, el Mamito, Z-8
Lucio Hernandez Lechuga, el Lucky, Z-16
Rogelio Guerra Ramirez, el Guerra,
Prisciliano Ybarra Yepis
Eduardo Estrada Gonzalez
Jorge Lopez, el Chuta
Deceased Zetas Viejos:
Among the nine members of Los Zetas that have been killed are its first leader and founder, Arturo Guzman Decena, Z-1,
Gustavo González Castro, el Erotico
Luis Alberto Guerrero Reyes, El Guerrero,
Efraín Teodoro Torres, el Efra, la Chispa, Z-14
Braulio Arellano Dominguez, El Gonzo, Z-20
Oscar Guerrero Silva, El Winnie Pooh,
Alberto Trejo Benavides, el Alvin,
Ernesto Zatarín Beliz, el Traca
Victor Nazario Castrejón Peña
Zetas Viejos in custody:
The detainees total 14 men and they are
Flavio Mendez Santiago, el Amarillo
Miguel Angel Soto Parra, El Parra
Sergio Enrique Ruiz Tlapanco, el Tlapa, Z-44
José Ramón Dávila, el Cholo
Omar Lormendez Pitalúa, el Pita, Z-10
Jaime Gonzalez Duran, el Hummer
Mateo Díaz López, Comandante Mateo
Eduardo Salvador López Lara, el Chavita, Z-48
Isidro Lara Flores, el Colchon
Alfonso Lechuga Licona, el Cañas, Z-27
Nabor Vargas García, El Debora
Luis Reyes Enriquez, el Rex, Z-12
German Torres Jiménez, el Tatanka, Z-25
Daniel Perez Rojas, el Cachetes
The Zetas Viejos were initially recruited by Osiel Cardenas Guillen to serve as his bodyguards, paramilitary force and execution squad for the Gulf cartel in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s.
The late Arturo Guzman Decena, Z-1 and the current head of the criminal group, Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, El Lazca were placed in leadership positions early on by Cardenas Guillen.
Since early 2010 the Los Zetas organization, now numbering in the thousands, split off from the Gulf cartel and are now locked in a bloody struggle with the Gulf, Sinaloa and La Familia for control of drug trafficking and other criminal activities in the states where they have presence.
Los Zetas Viejos were first recruited from a core of former soldiers and deserters who belonged to the Mexican army’s first Special Forces Airmobile Group (GAFES) that was transferred to a unit in the Attorney Generals office (PGR) for use in counternarcotics operations.
The advanced military training that most of these ex-soldiers received gave them a common identity and bond. To this day code designations with a Z are usually reserved for ex-military members of the organization.
Currently, a protected witness identified as Paco has testified that there are now several generations of Zetas that operate in different states of Mexico, where they are trained and climb up the hierarchy depending on the skills that they possess.