Everyone knows who the Zetas are. They dress in designer jeans and boots and drive around in new Jeep Cherokees and pickups, the butts of their guns visible through the windows. Everyone knows Nuevo Laredo’s Zeta gatekeeper by reputation, but few know him by sight. When I ask Ana [a reporter's pseudonym] his name, she refuses to say it, beckoning me to hand her my notebook. She hides it from view and scribbles “Miguel Treviño.”It's an important mitzvah for reporters to expose cartel leaders in the press, even if it sometimes places them in as much danger as the cops who're trying to capture them. I'm increasingly of the belief that in the modern era, old "intelligence" strategies used by police holding sources close to the vest have become outdated, that what's needed is a new open-sourced intelligence model that exposes drug cartels to sunlight's inevitable disinfectant even when law enforcement fails to eradicate them.
Treviño’s name has an incantatory power in Nuevo Laredo, and his sadism is notorious. He is said to be fond of employing the guiso—a word that means stew but has come to signify a form of execution in which victims are burned alive in oil drums. With Treviño’s help, the Zetas have taken on sideline operations that go beyond their Gulf cartel duties: human smuggling, extortion, and, of course, gunrunning. There are warrants out for Treviño in Mexico and Texas, but Ana has little faith that the police or army will arrest him. To her, they seem mostly inept, not to mention mendacious. Whenever she asks the police about a murder, she says, they call it a suicide. “No one tells the truth here,” she adds. Lately, the Zetas have even taken to hanging recruitment banners in public spaces. “Kids used to say that they wanted to be police. Now they want to be Zetas,” Ana says. “They think that’s the only way to get respect.”
Meanwhile, regard for the U.S. has never been lower. “The only thing the people here know about the U.S. is that it won’t give them visas,” Ana goes on. Actually, they do know something else—that the Zetas’ guns come from across the border."
Anyway, the tidbit about Los Zetas in Nuevo Laredo is just a smidgen from what I thought was a fantastic piece. It's a long one, but anyone interested in guns, Mexico or the drug war should read the whole thing.