This undated image taken from the Mexican Attorney General’s Office rewards program website on Aug. 23, 2012, shows the alleged leader of Zetas cartel, Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, alias “Z-40.” A split in the leadership of Mexico’s violent Zetas cartel has led to the rise of Trevino Morales, elevating him to the status of public enemy number one for both his friends and his enemies. (AP Photo/Mexican Attorney General’s Office website) — AP
MEXICO CITY — A falling out between the leaders of the hyper-violent Zetas cartel appears to have put the gang in the hands of a brutal and feared gangster who has been blamed for an eruption of bloodshed in Mexico’s once relatively calm central states.
Miguel Angel Trevino Morales is a former cartel enforcer who apparently won a showdown with Zetas founder Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano for leadership, law enforcement officials say.
Lawmen and even competing drug capos picture Trevino as a brutal assassin who favors getting rid of foes by stuffing them into oil drums, dousing them with gasoline and setting them on fire – a practice known as a “guiso,” a Spanish word for “stew.”
That could be a worrisome turn for the Zetas, which already was the hemisphere’s most violent criminal organization. It has been blamed for a large share of the tens of thousands of deaths in Mexico’s war on drugs, though other gangs too have repeatedly committed mass slayings.
“There was a lot of talk that he was pushing really hard on Lazcano Lazcano and was basically taking over the Zetas, because he had the personality, he was the guy who was out there basically fighting in the streets with the troops,” said Jere Miles, a Zetas expert and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement special agent who was posted in Mexico until last year.
“Lazcano Lazcano, at the beginning he was kind of happy just to sit back and let Trevino do this, but I don’t think he understood how that works in the criminal underworld,” Miles said. “When you allow someone to take that much power, and get out in front like that, pretty soon the people start paying loyalty to him and they quit paying to Lazcano.”
The rise has so alarmed at least one gang chieftain that he has called for gangs, drug cartels, civic groups and even the government to form a united front to fight Trevino Morales, known as “Z-40,” whom he blamed for most of Mexico’s violence.
“Let’s unite and form a common front against the Zetas, and particularly against Z-40, Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, because this person with his unbridled ambition has caused so much terror and confusion in our country,” said a man identified as Servando Gomez, leader of the Knights Templar cartel, in a viedo posted Tuesday on the internet.
A Mexican law enforcement official who wasn’t authorized to speak on the record said the video appeared to be genuine.
“He is the main cause of everything that is happening in Mexico, the robberies, kidnappings, extortion,” Gomez is heard saying on the tape. “We are inviting all the groups … everyone to form a common front to attack Z-40 and put an end to him.”
Trevino Morales has a fearsome reputation. “If you get called to a meeting with him, you’re not going to come out of that meeting,” said a U.S. law-enforcement official in Mexico City, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the topic.