by Mark Stevenson
The Mexican government said it is investigating videos posted on the Internet in which a gang of masked men vow to exterminate the violent Zetas drug cartel, and said it opposes such vigilante methods.
At least two videos have been posted by a group believed linked to the powerful Sinaloa cartel that calls itself the "Mata Zetas," or "Zetas Killers." The Zetas were founded by deserters from an elite military unit and are known for their brutality.
In the most recent video, posted over the weekend, the group says it is attacking the Zetas because people are tired of the gang's kidnappings and extortion.
"We are the armed wing of the people, and for the people," says a man with a ski mask, who is seen in the video sitting at a table with four other masked associates and reading from a prepared statement. "We are anonymous warriors, with faces, but proudly Mexican." The speaker said his group was prohibited by its ethical code from carrying out kidnappings or extortion.
No group has formally claimed responsibility for that video, but the language and style of the declaration were similar to a video released in July, in which about two dozen armed men claimed to be "Mata Zetas" from the Jalisco Nueva Generacion cartel, or New Generation cartel, a group linked to the Sinaloa cartel.
The Interior Department said in a statement Monday night that the Attorney General's office "has opened an investigation into the videos that express the aforementioned ideas and are circulating on the Internet."
"While it is true that the criminal organization known as the Zetas should be defeated, that must occur by legal means and never by methods outside the law," the statement said.
While Mexican video-sharing sites and blogs frequently feature alleged statements by cartels, the "Mata Zetas" videos are being taken more seriously after a gang dumped 35 bound, seminude, tortured bodies on a busy avenue in front of horrified motorists in the Gulf coast city of Veracruz.
All 35 victims, who included 12 women and two minors, were linked to the Zetas cartel, and the killers were believed to be from the New Generation gang, said an official of the Mexican armed forces who couldn't be quoted by name for security reasons.
Local media reported that other banners appeared in Veracruz state over the weekend, accusing the Mexican Navy, which has been active in the anti-cartel offensive, of favoring the Sinaloa cartel, and of kidnapping local people.
While the Interior Department statement did mention those banners, it stressed that "any group or organization that operates outside the law and with violence, is being combated through (government) institutions, and without any favoritism."
However, security expert Edgardo Basucaglia has expressed fears that Mexico might be spiraling into a situation where paramilitary style organizations spring up, taking one side or another in the war between cartels, with the aid, cooperation or tacit tolerance of parts of the police or military forces.
Such a situation occurred in Colombia in the 1980s and 1990s, when officials allowed illegal far-right militias to spring up to fight leftist rebels. Those Colombian militias become deeply involved in killings and drug trafficking.
"In every country that has been studied throughout history, when they have faced this kind of institutional decadence, society has adopted private mechanisms of protection that give rise to paramilitary forces," Basucaglia wrote in a recent article. "Mexico today finds itself in the initial stage of the situation they went through."
The Interior Department, which is responsible for domestic security, rejected any vigilante or paramilitary action.
"In Mexico, there is no room for any person, group or organization to violate by word or deed the rule of law, for whatever reason or end," the statement said. "The federal government rejects any action that would stray from the path of legality."