Pick your poison: Los Zetas vs. the Sinaloa Federation.
Just a few months over three years ago the chief anti-drug officer of Mexico, Noe Ramirez Mandujano, was arrested for providing aid to two of the most powerful figures in the Sinaloa cartel. Reportedly Ramirez Mandujano was paid nearly half a million dollars a month for his assistance. This type of corruption that extends from the local cop to the highest security officers is the reason today why it is possible to maintain the vast drug trafficking empire that is Mexico.
This payoff/bribery system, however, is backed up by physical intimidation. The choice of which method to use has more to do with the background of the leadership than it does the perceived tactical requirements. Some of the organizations running the drug traffic have been in existence for many years. The Sinaloa umbrella of organized crime traces its existence to the days when the “Mafia” bosses from the U.S. Northeast and Midwest States moved a portion of their operations to the West during and after World War II.
It was the connection of American crime syndicates with Mexican, Cuban and Central American governmental authorities that provided the supplier/distributor nexus on which the current immense traffic is based. The old “families” on both sides of the border have been replaced by new generations of criminals, some more business than strong-arm oriented. Mexican government sources have made a point of characterizing the current rivalry between the two most powerful illicit drug enterprises, Los Zetas and Sinaloa Federation, in terms of the difference in their methods of operation.
The idea that the use of bribery rather than violence is a less dangerous or even less criminal methodology is a very convenient public relations device for the Sinaloa connections in particular. A business that grosses billions of dollars annually eventually will develop a tendency to want to be viewed with a certain sense of benevolence. It’s quite valuable in suborning government officials on the state and federal level that they are encouraged to believe their cooperation is contributory to reducing violence — especially when that mayhem could be directed at them.
The classification of pro-bribery versus pro-violence is played out currently in an effort to characterize the Sinaloa alliance’s rivalry with Los Zetas as personified by the latter’s preference for quick violent action as their method of persuasion. By contrast, the Sinaloa leadership supposedly takes a longer and less murderous view of its ambition — an image of the Sinaloa contrived to gain it public and political support. Members of the Zetas and their affiliates tend to view the Sinaloa groupings that follow these principles as weak and even cowardly. That, too, is a convenient characterization.
Machismo plays a large part throughout the entire breadth of illicit drug trafficking, and the Sinaloa consider Los Zetas to be comparatively unsophisticated — which is a pretentious way of saying they think their rivals are dumb. It is true that Los Zetas were created from former Mexican Army special forces cadre and that may be why they have gained the reputation of “maim and kill first — gain cooperation after.” In reality the Sinaloa alliances of northwest Mexico are just as capable of brutal action but find cooperation in their part of the country over the years has been gained more easily through carefully applied corruption. Operations against aggressive rivals, however, are as bloody as required.
Violence in drug trafficking sometimes rises to the point of clear-cut paramilitary activity. When this occurs it is virtually always based initially on revenge or what might be referred to as “market maintenance and/or expansion.” In less benign terms it would be called carving out a hunk of the other guy’s business by killing off the competition. An example is the current war between the Gulf Cartel (though traditionally eastern-based, now affiliated with the Sinaloa Federation) and Los Zetas for control of the Monterrey region.
In the instances where Zeta members have been caught and successfully interrogated, the story is usually the same: A Zetas lieutenant approaches a target and demands cooperation. The target refuses to help as desired and is killed and perhaps mutilated along with some relatives and friends. If the target cooperates properly, he may be financially rewarded. Sometimes the cooperating target is killed after the cooperation is accomplished. Such action is usually for personal reasons, but the word is put out that the his cooperation was somehow inadequate. Retaliation begins and everything escalates.
The Zetas show a greater insecurity in their control of the northeast than the Sinaloa Federation does in its turf in the northwest. This along with Los Zetas’ personal psychological and/or organizational proclivity for violence as a method of intimidation and dominance influences their style of operation. In the end, the result is the same between the Sinaloa Federation and Los Zetas. The only real operational difference is that the Sinaloa mobsters play the bribery card before killing and the Zetas shoot first in order to gain cooperation afterward.
The Mexican banking, real estate, and construction industries benefit in any case, as the illegal cash from the drug traffic must be cleansed no matter how it was obtained. Reportedly the Mexican Marines and Naval Special Operations have offered to take on the responsibility of “cleaning out” northern Mexico. Unfortunately that would have to include punishing most of the Army and police there. Neither President Calderon’s party (PAN) nor his political rival (PRI) is willing to go that far.
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