When we published a special drug issue last year, the Mexican cartels were intensifying border violence as the scrabbled for territory in urban hubs like Ciudad Juarez and Nuevo Laredo. Nearly a year later, the landscape has changed dramatically. The once-small splinter group called Los Zetas is now a cartel in their own right, and a powerful one. The Zetas are growing so dominant that the long-time rival Gulf and Sinaloa (and according to some reports, La Familia Michoacana) cartels have actually joined forces to fight them, merging into a super-cartel known as the New Federation. Last month, the New Federation put a message to the Mexican people on YouTube, saying that "Without the 'Z' you will live without fear... If you are a Zeta, run because the MONSTER is coming... the new alliance have raised their weapons to fuck the Zetas because they have undermined the drug trafficking business with their kidnappings, extortions, etc. To sum it up, they don’t give a shit about the freedom and tranquility of the Mexican people."
I'm not sure exactly how the New Federation thinks they're such guardians for the Mexican people's peace, but it's kind of amazing they've come together as the Gulf and Sinaloa's heads have (allegedly) been behind the murders of each other's family members, dons, and foot soldiers. Desperate times call for desperate measures and Los Zetas, known for gruesome incidents like when they beheaded 12 people at a Yucatan ranch in 2008, have become too powerful to be ignored, controlling a territory that now goes down into Central America with training camps in Guatemala.
As STRATFOR reports, the cartels' escalating and continued gun battles, including the recent Gulf-Sinaloa alliance against the Zetas, is having economic effects on Mexico, from discouraging tourism to the "willingness of foreign companies to invest in Mexico's manufacturing sector." STRATFOR writer Scott Stewart makes the valid point that in attempting to break up the cartels, Felipe Calderón may have broken them but with the result of increased violence as the organizations react to structural changes:
This weakening of the traditional cartels was part of the Calderon administration’s publicized plan to reduce the power of the drug traffickers and to deny any one organization or cartel the ability to become more powerful than the state. The plan appears to have worked to some extent, and the powerful Gulf and Sinaloa cartels have splintered, as has the AFO. The fruit of this policy, however, has been incredible spikes in violence and the proliferation of aggressive new drug-trafficking organizations that have made it very difficult for any type of equilibrium to be reached. So the Mexican government’s policies have also been a factor in destabilizing the balance.