Most of the Sinaloa Cartel’s gangbangers were from MS-13, Mara Salvatrucha. In other words, they were rough boys from El Salvador and the Honduras. With a reputation for brutal violence, MS-13 gangs were the baddest of the bad asses. Only it turned out the Zetas were badder, making the MS-13 gangbangers look like three-year olds at a church picnic. Using heavy weapons and military tactics, the Zetas chopped MS-13 into bits and pieces.
Lazcano, realizing he needed more men, initiated a new recruiting strategy. He advertised. Banners hung from overpasses and bridges got right to the point: “We offer you a good salary, food, and attention for your family.” One advertisement stated: “Join the ranks of the Gulf Cartel. We offer benefits, life insurance, a house for your family and children. Stop living in the slums and riding the bus.”
It worked. Soldiers and ex-soldiers flocked in droves to join up. Lazcano recruited heavily in Guatemala, home of the Kaibil commandos, who really were the baddest of the bad. The motto of the Kaibiles was: “If I retreat, kill me.” Recruiting wasn’t Lazcano’s only talent; he also had a head for business. Zetas troops earned money for the organization through extortion, shaking down anyone and everyone: marijuana growers, dealers, local businesses, restaurants, even car dealerships.
Somewhere in this period of time, Lazcano and his Zetas went from being enforcers for the Gulf Cartel to being their own cartel. The Zetas made their own deals and moved their own product.
The Zetas engaged in bloody, raging gunfights with the Sinaloa Cartel and its coalition members. Zetas attacked anywhere. Acapulco, long the haven of tourists, experienced rampaging violence as the Zetas left dead bodies strewn all over the beach-front city. Nearby Michoacan state began to resemble a cemetery because of all the corpses. In 2005, 1500 people were murdered by the cartels. In 2006, the statistics of cartel murders climbed to 2000.
Mexico’s President Fox ordered the army into Nuevo Laredo, which was now being called Narco Laredo. The army arrived with 800 men and immediately arrested the entire Nuevo Laredo police force, 700 officers.
Mexican pop star Valentin Elizalde Valencia – the Golden Rooster – performed in concert at Reynosa. A supporter of the Sinaloa Cartel, Elizalde sang two songs glorifying the exploits of Shorty Guzman Loera. When the concert was over, Elizalde got in his SUV, along with his manager, his driver, and a young woman. Just as the SUV started to drive off, Zetas surrounded the vehicle, raining lead on it. The young woman was the only survivor and, smartly, she disappeared. Videos of the massacre showed up on YouTube.
Then in 2006, things changed again. Felipe de Jesus Calderon Hinojosa was elected president of Mexico by the narrowest of margins. Calderon got right to work. First, he fixed the price of corn, which had been skyrocketing. Then he instituted a jobs program for young people in an attempt to lower unemployment. Finally, he declared a War on Drugs, just like Nixon had done in the U.S. in the 1970s. Four thousand Federale soldiers moved into Michoacan, the home territory of La Familia, which, previously, was in cahoots with the Zetas. La Familia’s business revolved around marijuana and cocaine trafficking. The head honcho of La Familia was known as “the Craziest.” His real name was Nazario Moreno Gonzalez. And as his nickname implied, Moreno Gonzalez was a nutcase, publishing his own “bible,” which asserted he had a divine right to kill anyone who got in his way.
Moreno Gonzalez changed his mind about working with the Zetas near the end of 2006. His men rolled the heads of five Gulf Cartel gang members out of bags onto the dance floor of a crowded disco in the city of Apatzingan. It was Moreno Gonzalez’s way of announcing his resignation. La Familia immediately hooked up with the Sinaloa Cartel, which put La Familia to work making methamphetamines. Superlabs were set up. Each Superlab produced 300 pounds of meth per day.
The Federales sent in by Calderon set up roadblocks, patrolled the main roads, and established curfews. A few minor skirmishes took place, but for the most part not much happened. Stymied, Calderon then sent troops into Tijuana, including twenty-one airplanes, nine helicopters, hundreds of tactical vehicles, and drug-sniffing dogs. The first thing the government troops did was arrest and disarmed local police officers. Then they arrested Victor Magno Escobar Luna aka “the Cop Killer,” who performed kidnappings and murders for the Tijuana Cartel. Next, two weeks later, the government troops captured Teodoro Garcia Simental, who, wounded when the raid occurred, was taken to the hospital in Tijuana. The very next day, gangbangers from the Tijuana Cartel marched into the hospital, looking for Simental. They were there to free Simental. Alarms went off and troops surrounded the hospital. Heavily armed and wearing masks, the gangbangers opened fire. A gun battle raged for three hours, before the gangsters decided to flee.
The Tijuana Cartel sent men to Mexico City, where Federal Prosecutor Jose Nemesio Lugo was preparing the government’s case against the Arellano Felixes. On his was to work in his minivan, Nemesio Lugo was ambushed, his minivan riddled with bullets. Nemesio Lugo died on the spot still wearing his seatbelt.
At the beginning of 2008, the Mexican army in company with the Federales caught and arrested Alfredo Beltran Leyva aka “the Little Ant.” The Little Ant and two his men were on their way to the Ant’s safe house in Culiacan. When arrested, the Ant had an AK-47, $900,000 in cash, and a satchel full of expensive watches with him. Drug trafficking and money laundering, as well as murder, were the primary responsibilities of the Ant. He was a Big Wheel on the axle of the cartel. The Ant’s brother, Arturo (The Beard), was pissed when he heard about the Ant’s arrest. Arturo put out a hit on Edgar Millan Gomez, the honcho of the Federales. The hit took place outside Millan Gomez’s house in Mexico City. The assassins shot him eight times. Six hours later, Mexico City’s Chief of Police was gunned down by hit men on his way to work.
Arturo was convinced that the Ant’s arrest had been set-up by Shorty Guzman and the Sinaloa Cartel. Arturo believed Shorty had tipped off the Federales about where and when they could find the Ant. So Arturo put out a hit on Shorty’s son, Edgar, a student at Sinaloa University. Edgar and two of his college friends were standing in the parking lot of a mall in Culiacan, when three SUVs rolled into the parking lot. Each SUV contained five men armed with AK-47s. Two of the three students died on the spot. The third young man was wounded. The assassins fired 500 rounds. Edgar’s funeral had 50,000 roses placed around the tomb by Shorty’s men. After the funeral was over, Shorty went to war with the Beltran Leyva Cartel, which had already switched sides to the Gulf Cartel. With this defection the balance of power between the Mexican Cartels changed.
The Juarez Cartel was now perceived as the weak sister. Both the Sinaloa Cartel and the Gulf Cartel coveted the Juarez Cartel’s territory. Both cartels sent heavily armed, psychopathic gangbanders into the city. Juarez quickly turned into a blood bath. Calderon sent 7,000 troops to Juarez.
Jacome Gamboa, a high-ranking member of the Tijuana Cartel, was arrested at a party. Gamboa was carrying a gold-plated handgun, which had Santa Muerte engraved on the handle.
The Zetas sent a helicopter and seventeen SUVs full of gangbangers to the Cieneguillas Regional Center for Rehabilitation – a prison – where the armed gangsters entered the prison. The gangsters ordered the prison guards to release fifty-three prisoners, all members of the Zetas. The guards did as they were told. The Zetas, along with their just freed members, walked out to the SUVs and drove off.
Mexico seemed to be what was called a failed state. The government had lost control of its own country.
Continued in Part 4