Mexico’s Notorious ‘Z-42’ Busted

Mexican authorities on March 4 announced the capture of Omar Treviño AKA “Z-42”—leader of Los Zetas, the ultra-violent narco-paramilitary network that has long terrorized the country. Z-42 was detained without a shot being fired by federal police and soldiers in San Pedro Garza García, an upscale suburb of northern industrial hub Monterrey, officials said. US DEA chief Michele Leonhart congratulated Mexico, saying the bust “strikes at the heart of the leadership structure of the Zetas.” The US State Department had a $5 million price on Treviño’s head, while Mexican authorities offered $2 million.

But, as always, there is a sense of deja vu here. Z-42 took over the Zetas after his brother Miguel Angel Treviño AKA “Z-40” was captured by Mexican marines in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas in July 2013. Z-40, in turn, had replaced Heriberto Lazcano AKA “El Lazca” after he was killed in a shoot-out with military forces in Coahuila in October 2012. Despite repeated blows against their leadership, Los Zetas continue their reign of terror in Mexico—especially the northeast, but their network extends throughout the country and even into Central America.

Los Zetas emerged as a paramilitary enforcement arm of the Gulf Cartel in 1999, integrating several veterans of the Mexican and Guatemalan armed forces into its command structure. They definitively broke from the Gulf Cartel in 2010, precipitating a three-way war between the Zetas, their former masters and their mutual rival, the Sinaloa Cartel. In this grim contest for narco-supremacy, the Zetas singled themselves out for spectacular brutality. They even pioneered the tactic now notoriously used by ISIS of releasing grisly videos of the execution of their captives. (See the NarcoTube website if you have a strong stomach.) They are also believed responsible for a series of massacres of abducted migrants who presumably refused to submit to slave labor as drug “mules,” sexual servants, and the like.

They say the third time’s a charm, but it remains to be seen if this third take-down of Los Zetas’ top commander will do anything to disrupt the organization or its bloody operations.

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