A new group of armed vigilantes, Los Mata Zetas (the Zeta Killers), has surface in Mexico to combat Los Zetas, arguably the most violent and ruthless of Mexico’s five major drug cartels, all of whom are waging a bloody battle for turf to control the drugs trafficked from Central and South America to consumers in the U.S. Some have argued that Los Mata Zetas are not a paramilitary group simply out to defend innocent and unarmed Mexicans, but rather another drug cartel looking to exploit the population’s fear and loathing of Los Zetas and win popular support.
Nevertheless, the rise of a group like the Mata Zetas raises troubling questions for ordinary Mexicans and the government: Is it a good thing when members of a bloodthirsty cartel known for murders, extortions, and kidnapping are themselves summarily killed by other criminals?
While Mexico’s federal government has condemned the killing, the response by Veracruz Gov. Javier Duarte was widely seen as more equivocal.
“It’s lamentable the assassination of 35 people, but it’s more so that these people had chosen to dedicate themselves to extortion, kidnapping and murder,” the governor wrote on his Twitter account a day after the event.
Forty-three thousand Mexicans have been killed in this drug war since 2006, and every tactic of the federal government to turn the tide has thus far fallen short. Would the government welcome this, or at least look the other way? What about the civilian population?
Jorge Chabat, a security analyst at the CIDE think tank in Mexico says that the emergence of illegal groups such as the Mata Zetas—perhaps with some help from local or national government authorities—wouldn’t be a surprise, given the level of violence inflicted by the Zetas on the Mexican population and the Mexican state’s inability to provide its citizens with protection.
Officials “would never tell you openly, but I wouldn’t be surprised if some sectors of government look the other way, and I fear that parts of the civilian population would also see this with approval,” he said.
It is an unfortunate measure, but will it be seen as necessary? Perhaps, at least until the U.S. ends the drug war by legalizing drugs.