Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Mexican Jails are Zeta Recruitment Centers

Rio Doce


Translated by un vato for Borderland Beat

It was the second most massive jailbreak in the country's recent history. And, for some specialists, it is further proof that the war against and among drug trafficking cartels is also being fought in prisons.

In the past six years, more than 700 prisoners, many of them linked to organized crime, have escaped from jails in several cities. The majority of the jailbreaks have occurred in areas with a Zeta presence, one of the most dangerous (cartels) in the region, according to Mexican authorities.

This is not a coincidence, analyst Alberto Islas, Mexican director of the consulting firm, Risk Evaluation, tells BBC Mundo.  In many state prisons there are highly dangerous inmates mixed in with ordinary criminals. These are prisons with low levels of security that can easily be controlled by the cartels. The Zetas and other groups take advantage of this situation.

"They rescue trained people whom they already know, they know how they work and how the organization is managed.  It is cheaper for them, due to the prisons' low level of security, to get these people out (of jail) than to recruit new people. They do it because rescuing people from prison involves very little risk," (Islas) explains.


"They rescue trained individuals they already know, they know how they work and organization management," emphasizes Alberto Islas, with Risk Evaluation. In this manner, Islas emphasizes, in its dispute with other cartels, the Zetas have supplied themselves with soldiers from among the prison inmates.

Add to that the bloody dispute that is taking place between the two principal leaders in the Zetas, Heriberto Lazcano (El Lazca, or Z-3) and Miguel Angel Trevino Morales (El Z-40). In fact, the majority of the inmates that escaped from the Piedras Negras prison belong to this organization, admitted the Coahuila Attorney General Homero Ramos Garcia.

It's a strategy that has been effective for the organization. The new soldiers usually take charge of violent attacks against their rivals, and some of them are also responsible for recent massacres in the country's northeast, according to the Mexican Office of Attorney General (PGR).  

This was the case in last May's massacre of 49 persons whose torsos were dumped in Cadereyta, Nuevo Leon. One of the suspects accused of taking part in the massacre is Ricardo Barajas, known as "El Bocinas," who, along with 29 other inmates, had escaped months before from the Apodaca, Nuevo Leon, prison. To carry out the escape, the Zetas organized the slaughter of  44 prisoners who belonged to their rival, the Gulf Cartel. "El Bocinas" was recaptured in August by the Army.     

These two mass murders were part of the dispute between these groups for control of drug trafficking routes and kidnapping of migrants in Tamaulipas, in the country's northeast, as the detainees reportedly confessed to the authorities.

The Coahuila Attorney General recognized that the majority of the inmates that escaped belong to the Zetas. According to Islas, the majority of mass escapes has occurred in this state for a reason; it is territory coveted by several criminal organizations.

"The drug market continues to grow and that's why they recruit more people. It's like any other business: if you don't have the sales, you don't hire workers, and now they certainly want to take over another plaza (city), they are expanding and they need trained people," explained the analyst to BBC Mundo.


Beyond the cartel disputes, the condition of Mexican prisons represents a serious security problem, say civilian organizations and (government) authorities. Recently, the Distrito Federal Human Rights Commission (CDHDF)waned that in Mexico City prisons, for example, inmates are really in control, having formed a type of "self government."

The same situation exists in at least half of the prisons in the country, especially those located in areas disputed by drug trafficking cartels, according to the National Human Rights Commission (CNDH; Comision Nacional de Derechos Humanos.)  This has resulted, in some cases, in prisons becoming a refuge for criminals. One example was the case of Humberto Ramirez Banuelos, known as "La Rana", the former chief of sicarios for the Tijuana Cartel, who got himself into prison to escape a death sentence issued by the leaders of the organization.

Another example was Joaquin Guzman Loera, El Chapo, who according to PGR investigations, was living comfortably in the Puente Grande, Jalisco, high security prison, from which he decided to escape when he learned that he might be extradited to the United States.

The prison crisis is alarming to authorities. The (Federal) Public Security Secretariat (SSP; Secretaria de Seguridad Publica) has sent hundreds of prisoners linked to drug cartels and other organized crime groups to high security prisons. But many are still being held in low security prisons, and that is where the biggest problem lies, admits Genaro Garcia Luna, Secretary of Public Security.


  1. Good place too recruit,the mentality of most prisoners is way different too ours,being incarcerated gives a lot of prisoners thoughts in which its a "us verses them on the outside".

  2. I seen a programe with a British actor doing a documentary about some of the roughest places in the world, well in one episode he was in Venezuela & the prison system there was like the one from prison break where they're in jail in Panama, I mean there doesn't seem to be any guards, the prison seems to be run by the prisoners it's crazy to think that the criminals can do what they want in prison, in fact it's no different to the outside for them. Is this what the prisons are like in Mexico? Or in all of Latin America there were bad riots in Honduras or Guatemala I think this year. If you want to see the Venezuela episode it's called extreme world with Ross Kemp.

  3. So what does this say for all the individuals who are saying Z is on its last legs thru internal strife and attacks?It could mean they actively need bodies for various work,or,they are planning a move on something.Breaking these dudes out is a great move,it really is.The ones who are broken out,feel a kinship and a sense of belonging,they know they are expected to step up and fight for a cause,if they want to or not.Most of them will want to,they know they been broken out for a reason.If they weren't part of Z before,they are now.But for what crew?The media would have us believe that major shifts and the downfall of the Z is imminent,what is really going on inside Z?

  4. Anyone here bout el teo of cdg captured s

  5. Why do they keep suggesting the dispute is between Z3 and Z40?

  6. @10:50, exactly, I thought the rift was between Z40 Treviño and Z50 El Taliban. As far as Z3 Lazcano goes, I know the guy likes to keep a low profile but, damn, is the dude still even alive? When is the last time he was seen and/or heard from?

  7. Z40 publicly announced he's faithful to the commander Z3 Lazcano
    So I guess it's just more bs propoganda

  8. @September 20, 2012 10:50 AM

    I've been wondering the same thing. Lazcano has been a ghost for a long time now... Wouldn't they usually announce it, if one of their leaders die?
    I have no clue. If anybody has any info on Lazca's status, it would be greatly appreciated.

  9. September 20, 2012 7:39 PM .
    "I've been wondering the same thing. Lazcano has been a ghost for a long time now"
    Lazca is most definitely still alive and in charge.Should he make a public appearance to satisfy everyone?I don't think so.A plaza boss was arrested few months back and he said he reported to Lazca,it was no big deal,no mystery,he matter of factly said it.And now the manta from Z40?Sayin he is loyal to Commander Lazcano.The Mexican government know he is still alive,they got sources,they knew about the Taliban v 40 shit and mentioned it in passing.


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