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Los Zetas Inc.

Los Zetas Inc.
Criminal Corporations, Energy, and Civil War in Mexico

Arguing that the Zetas effectively constitute a transnational corporation, this book proposes a new theoretical framework for understanding the emerging actors, business structures, and economic implications of organized crime in Mexico.

August 2017
Active (available)
400 pages | 6 x 9 | Hardcover has a printed case, no dust jacket | 30 b&w maps, 7 b&w charts/graphs |

The rapid growth of organized crime in Mexico and the government’s response to it have driven an unprecedented rise in violence and impelled major structural economic changes, including the recent passage of energy reform. Los Zetas Inc. asserts that these phenomena are a direct and intended result of the emergence of the brutal Zetas criminal organization in the Mexican border state of Tamaulipas. Going beyond previous studies of the group as a drug trafficking organization, Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera builds a convincing case that the Zetas and similar organizations effectively constitute transnational corporations with business practices that include the trafficking of crude oil, natural gas, and gasoline; migrant and weapons smuggling; kidnapping for ransom; and video and music piracy.

Combining vivid interview commentary with in-depth analysis of organized crime as a transnational and corporate phenomenon, Los Zetas Inc. proposes a new theoretical framework for understanding the emerging face, new structure, and economic implications of organized crime in Mexico. Correa-Cabrera delineates the Zetas establishment, structure, and forms of operation, along with the reactions to this new model of criminality by the state and other lawbreaking, foreign, and corporate actors. Since the Zetas share some characteristics with legal transnational businesses that operate in the energy and private security industries, she also compares this criminal corporation with ExxonMobil, Halliburton, and Blackwater (renamed “Academi” and now a Constellis company). Asserting that the elevated level of violence between the Zetas and the Mexican state resembles a civil war, Correa-Cabrera identifies the beneficiaries of this war, including arms-producing companies, the international banking system, the US border economy, the US border security/military-industrial complex, and corporate capital, especially international oil and gas companies.

  • List of Maps, Tables, and Figures
  • Abbreviations
  • Acknowledgments

  • Introduction

  • Section I. The Zetas: Criminal Paramilitaries in a Transnational Business
    • Chapter 1. The Zetas’ Origins
    • Chapter 2. The Zetas’ War
    • Chapter 3. A Transnational Criminal Corporation

  • Section II. Mexico’s Drug War: A Modern Civil War?
    • Chapter 4. Paramilitarization of Organized Crime and a “War on Drugs”
    • Chapter 5. The New Paramilitarism in Mexico
    • Chapter 6. Mexico’s Modern Civil War

  • Section III. Los Zetas Incorporated
    • Chapter 7. The Zetas’ War and Mexico’s Energy Sector
    • Chapter 8. Energy and Security in Tamaulipas, Ground Zero for the Zetas
    • Chapter 9. Who Benefits from the Zetas’ War?

  • Conclusion. Four Successful Business Models in an Era of Modern Civil Wars

  • Appendix 1. Energy Reform and the Zetas’ Expansion (Timeline)
  • Appendix 2. History of Organized Crime in Tamaulipas: Timeline of Key Events
  • Appendix 3. Map of Criminal Paramilitaries and Natural Resources in Mexico
  • Appendix 4. El disfraz de la guerra (The War’s Disguise): Communiqué by Residents of La Ribereña
  • Appendix 5. Organizational Charts: Constellis Holdings, LLC, and Los Zetas Inc.
  • Appendix 6. Areas of Dominant Influence of Major TCOs in Mexico, 2015

  • Notes
  • References
  • Index




Brownsville, Texas



Correa-Cabrera is an associate professor of public affairs and security studies at the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. She is the author of Democracy in “Two Mexicos”: Political Institutions in Oaxaca and Nuevo León and a frequent commentator in national and international news media on drug trafficking issues and drug violence in Mexico.




“The recent energy reform in Mexico appears to have opened exploitation to a modern network of ruthless transnational criminal organizations and their partners in business and government. This book makes a momentous contribution to understanding that process. It will be required reading for scholars and students of Mexican/border politics and energy policy, US government agencies, security consulting firms, and nonprofit organizations.”
Kathleen Staudt, Endowed Professor of Western Hemispheric Trade Policy Studies, University of Texas at El Paso, and coauthor of Courage, Resistance, and Women in Cuidad Juárez: Challenges to Militarization

“Correa-Cabrera’s book takes us inside the Zetas. Her unprecedented access to this organization and her ability to gain the confidence of her subjects provides us an extraordinary understanding of the evolution and current state of this powerful transnational criminal organization. She goes beyond the simplistic view of Los Zetas as a drug-trafficking organization and shows how they have diversified into many different sectors, including different components of the lucrative energy sector. This is essential reading for those interested in Mexican society and politics, as well as those who seek to understand the growth and development of criminal organizations.”
Louise I. Shelley, Omer L. and Nancy Hirst Endowed Chair and University Professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government, George Mason University

“When Felipe Calderón declared war on organized crime in Mexico, he did not foresee the humanitarian tragedy that this war would cause. Little by little, the consequences of this ignorance have been corrected, but many gaps and problems remain. In this book, Guadalupe Correa-Cabrera makes a critical contribution to our understanding of Los Zetas, one of the bloodiest crime syndicates of all time. Los Zetas Inc. is essential reading for all those who seek to develop a viable strategy for stopping violence in Mexico.”
Sergio Aguayo, Professor, El Colegio de México

“Correa-Cabrera presents us with a superbly researched, beautifully written, and timely new book on the Zetas organized crime group in Mexico, one of the country’s most notorious and brutal criminal organizations. She traces the Zetas from their origins as Mexican special forces, through their transformation into bodyguards for the Gulf Cartel, to their break with the cartel and their rise (and decline) as an independent and powerful criminal paramilitary band. Her analysis of the role of the Zetas in the Mexican drug trade—and their diversification into other criminal activities within the context of Mexico’s ongoing, undeclared, and extremely violent ‘civil war’—is masterful.”
Bruce M. Bagley, Department of International Studies, University of Miami

“Los Zetas Inc. is an extensively researched resource on a topic few have dared to broach. With it, Correa-Cabrera has made a singular contribution to our collective understanding of the ongoing war in Mexico.”
Dawn Paley, author of Drug War Capitalism

“Correa-Cabrera gives a cogent, deeply researched, and devastating account in her book Los Zetas Inc. about what’s really at the heart of the long, deadly drug war in Mexico. She shows us that the conflict is about much more than the illegal drug market. It’s about greed, politics, corruption, and Mexico’s dwindling natural resources. This is a must-read for anyone who wants to know the truth about the ‘war on drugs’ in Mexico.”
Melissa del Bosque, investigative reporter at the Texas Observer and author of Bloodlines