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Analysis: The Zetas, the most feared narco-gang in Mexico and Central America.

Miguel Angel Trevino-Morales is a high ranking member of Los Zetas and head of a semi-independent drug trafficking organization (DTO) controlling more than 200 operatives. Trevino-Morales is responsible for collecting “tariffs” at all drug plazas controlled by the Gulf Cartel in Mexico. From 2006 to 2007, Miguel Angel Trevino-Morales served as Nuevo Laredo “Plaza Boss” for the Gulf Cartel, and then was sent to Veracruz, Mexico in March 2007 as Plaza Boss following the death of Efrain Theodora-Torres. He reportedly is responsible for smuggling multi-hundred kilogram loads of cocaine each week from Mexico to the United States and also facilitates smuggling of cocaine through Guatemala to the United States.

A decade ago, they were a small group of elite Mexican soldiers who saw a chance to make a lot more money working as hitmen for powerful drug cartels.

Today, the “Zetas” are the most feared gang in Mexico. Their vicious tactics, geographic reach and expansion into new illegal businesses presents a new kind of threat in a drugs war that has already killed 29,000 people since late 2006.

President Felipe Calderon’s government is going after the Zetas and half a dozen other major cartels moving billions of dollars worth of cocaine and other drugs to U.S. consumers each year.

While the Zetas, believed to number in the thousands, are not Mexico’s top drug runners, their size and sheer brutality makes them a high-profile target as the government struggles to shake an image that violence is slipping out of control.

The drugs war is an added burden for Mexico as it slowly climbs out of recession, and Mexicans are weary of the frequent beheadings, bodies strung from bridges and other gory crimes.

The Zetas, started in the late 1990s by about 40 soldiers who deserted from army special forces to work as muscle for the Gulf Cartel, are central characters in the drama.

“Even by the standards of Mexican drug wars, they are willing to go to a level of brutality that others are not,” U.S. defense analyst Hal Brands said.

The Zetas have grown quickly over the past few years after gradually splitting from the Gulf Cartel and beginning an aggressive expansion, recruiting from Guatemala and Texas and co-opting existing gangs to do their dirty work.

One Mexican official called the Zetas a “franchise” cartel, controlling cells of thugs who traffic drugs, kidnap and smuggle illegal migrants and extort businesses from restaurants to dog grooming shops, and funneling profits up to the top.

Heriberto Lazcano-Lazcano is the figurative leader of Los Zetas and the security chief for the Gulf Cartel. Lazcano-Lazcano, said to be one of the most violent members of Los Zetas, oversees the management and deployment of Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas enforcement operatives. He is charged in a 2008 Federal indictment in the District of Columbia with violations of Title 21 USC Sections 959, 960, 963, and Title 18 USC Section 2. The U.S. Department of State is currently offering a REWARD OF UP TO $5 MILLION for information leading to the arrest and/or conviction of HERIBERTO LAZCANO-LAZCANO.

“One of the things that make the Zetas unique is they recruit from almost anywhere … Their focus is the gangs, that’s what makes them so violent,” said one U.S. official.

The official said the Zetas could have as many as 10,000 members across Mexico, Central America and the United States, bigger than other Mexican cartels — although the bulk are likely small-time criminal affiliates who pay tribute to the cartel rather than full-blown members.

Officials blame the Zetas for some of the most shocking recent attacks, including the murder of a leading gubernatorial candidate in June, Mexico’s worst political murder in 15 years, and the stomach-churning massacre of 72 migrants in August.

“They really pioneered this tactic of putting torture and execution videos online … they were out in front beheading people and mounting heads on pikes,” Brands said.

Mexican drug leader of The Zetas , Daniel Perez Rojas, right on the screen

With only a decade of trafficking experience, they are less sophisticated than the Sinaloa cartel, led by Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman, but their numbers and involvement in diverse criminal activities has made them a force across a wider swath of territory.

The founders of the Zetas belonged to…READ MORE HERE.