What It’s Like to Lead a Team of Zetas Cartel Hitmen in One of Mexico’s Bloodiest States

BORDERLAND BEAT — The man sitting in a cheap hotel room made it clear that he would not be described physically, though there wasn’t anything remarkable about his appearance.

Nor would it be possible to reveal the exact location of the meeting, and any idea of using his real name, or usual alias, was clearly out of the question.

Instead, the chief of a cell of hitmen for the Zetas cartel in Veracruz, one of Mexico’s deadliest states, created a name for publication that he thought represents his career — El Sangres, from the Spanish word sangre, which means blood.

It is very rare to get the chance to talk to an active Zeta commander. El Sangres agreed to the interview, it seemed, because he was keen to talk about the way the influence of his notoriously bloody cartel in Veracruz has risen and fallen with the strength of its ties to the state government.

The Zetas, he admitted, have lost presence in recent years because of a turf war with the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG in Spanish) which, he insisted, have a deal with the current governor Javier Duarte. But, he added, he was sure that the Zetas will find a way of returning to dominance again.

“Duarte is a puppet,” he said. He did not sound angry. His tone suggested he was simply stating a fact, that the rules of the game have changed from the days when it was the Zetas who had the loyalty of the governor. “Duarte wants to finish off the Zetas, but that’s never going to happen. They kill one of us and three or four are coming right back at them.”

The hitman’s claims about the governor, who has been in office since 2010, are not verifiable. Even so, few serious observers of Mexico’s drug wars explain the rampant violence in Veracruz today without reference to narcopolitics.

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