As a new leader rises to the top of the Zetas — one of Mexico’s most violent and powerful drug cartels — the belief that the situation across America’s southern border could not get any worse has proven to be a failure of imagination. Even by the vicious standards of the cartels, Miguel Angel Treviño Morales (pictured) stands out as a man described by experts as “extremely brutal, to the point of sadism.” As the Mexican government continues its fifth year of open warfare against the cartels — a war in which 50,000 people have already lost their lives — the rise of Morales to power illustrates a deteriorating situation which seems to drift more and more out of control.
As reported for The New American last March, the Zetas and other cartels already wield significant influence within the Mexican government. As noted at that time, entire city police departments have been arrested as agents of the cartels. And now Morales’ rise to power appears to signal that the cartels will step up the level of violence. As ABC News reported on October 13:
Treviño Morales, also known as El 40 or the Monkey, became the uncontested head of the Mexico's most feared drug cartel when former kingpin Heriberto Lazcano was killed in a shootout with Mexican Marines on Sunday. Lazcano had been linked to hundreds of murders, including the massacre of 72 civilians, but Treviño Morales is allegedly even more bloodthirsty. One of his preferred methods of dealing with enemies, say authorities, is burning them alive.
As a newly minted underboss, Treviño Morales had a traditional gangster's taste for fast cars, women, and fancy guns, and reportedly liked to hunt game imported from Africa. He also, however, developed a developed a particular reputation for brutality in a group already renowned for violence. His favored methods for dispatching enemies were dismembering them while still alive, or making them into a "guiso," or stew — stuffing them in 55-gallon oil drums, adding gasoline and burning them alive.
Morales’ designation as El 40 testifies to his early involvement in the cartel; his brother is number 42. His long-standing membership in the Zetas comes without the usual requisite military background shared by many leaders of the cartel. As ABC News noted: “Treviño Morales joined the Zetas soon after their formation. The Zetas began in the late 1990s as the security wing of the Gulf Cartel. The 14 core members of the Zetas, including Heriberto Lazcano, all had military backgrounds, and took ranks based on when they'd joined the group.”
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Photo: Members of Mexico Federal Investigation Agency, AFI, come out of a helicopter during a raid searching for members of the Juarez drug cartel near Ciudad Juarez, Mexico on June 14, 2006: AP Images