In This Review

The Evolution of Los Zetas in Mexico and Central America: Sadism as an Instrument of Cartel Warfare
The Evolution of Los Zetas in Mexico and Central America: Sadism as an Instrument of Cartel Warfare
By George W. Grayson
Strategic Studies Institute and U.S. Army War College Press, 2014, 104 pp

Grayson, an expert on Mexico’s underworld, offers a quick primer on the murderous Zetas criminal organization, combining many gruesome anecdotes with informed analysis and detailed policy recommendations. In the late 1990s, the Zetas emerged from elite military units determined to get a piece of the action in the burgeoning drug-trafficking business. Grayson attributes the Zetas’ startling success to various techniques, including creating a brand based on extreme violence, which intimidates rivals and victims but also facilitates recruitment and personnel retention; diversifying the group’s business activities beyond drug trafficking to include extortion, petroleum theft, and the illicit sale of organs; entering into pragmatic, ad hoc alliances with other gangs and corrupt law enforcement units; employing attractive women known as panteras (panthers) to seduce or kill opponents; and, most alarming, penetrating the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Border Patrol. To better counter the Zetas, Grayson advocates the increased use of intelligence-collecting drones; tougher anti-money-laundering measures; more training for Mexicans by non-U.S. security forces, such as Spain’s Guardia Civil; and grass-roots community-based programs to prevent at-risk youths from falling under the sway of traffickers.