Here is an excerpt from Tim Johnson's article for McClatchy Newspapers:
"The gruesome discovery of 32 bodies scattered in houses in the port city of Veracruz this week is the latest sign that Mexico's drug-fueled violence is entering a new phase in which murky paramilitary-style squads are carrying out mass exterminations... It was the latest ghastly event to send shudders through Veracruz. Two weeks ago, gunmen dumped 35 semi-nude, mutilated bodies along a freeway underpass in Veracruz in broad daylight. Authorities said at least some of the victims in both instances were members of Los Zetas, a violent crime group whose reach now stretches beyond Mexico's borders... The Zeta Killers group, which also calls itself New Generation, first came to light in a YouTube video in late July... The manner in which four vehicles maneuvered along the highway, blocked traffic and dumped the bodies led some experts to see a unique style to the recent killing spree... 'These were people who had military training,' said Alberto Islas, a security analyst and chief of Risk Evaluation Ltd... A public security specialist at the Mexico Institute of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, Eric L. Olson, said too little evidence exists to draw conclusions that the killings are anything but violence between rival gangs." Link to Full Article
Analysis: Just the mere speculation that paramilitary groups may exist inside Mexico is exasperating. It makes me wonder what some people define as a paramilitary group, and how much knowledge those people have of paramilitary groups in another drug trafficking capital, Colombia.
Back in the 1980s when Pablo Escobar ruled Colombia, he started seeing a threat being posed to his territory and operations by leftist guerrilla groups - the FARC and the ELN. He formed a personal army, called MAS for Muerte a Secuestradores, or "death to the kidnappers." Soon, other drug lords started doing the same thing. In 1997, three men - brothers Carlos, Fidel, and Vicente Castaño - started an umbrella group to sort of unite these various paramilitaries, under the name Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia ("United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia"). Over the next decade, the AUC racked up more murders than the FARC and ELN combined, and displaced hundreds of thousands of Colombian citizens in an effort to thwart their support to the FARC and ELN.
There is no doubt that many members of the Colombian government secretly supported the AUC's efforts because they had a shared goal - the elimination of FARC and ELN terrorists. But where things got complicated was when the United States designated the AUC a foreign terrorist organization in 2001, despite the fact that the AUC had no political or religious ideology; they existed solely as the private armies for Colombian drug lords. Well, technically they did try to straighten out in the mid 1980s before becoming the AUC and formed a political party called the Union Patriotica. But after several of their members were killed or kidnapped by the guerrillas, they gave up and went back to paramilitary action - that is, defending their employers' turf and operations, and getting into the drug trade themselves. This is actually what led to several cracks in the AUC before they started to disintegrate - and partially disarm - in 2003; the fact that some groups were getting into the drug trade, and some were opposed to that.
Now let's move over to Los Zetas. They were recruited and created by Gulf cartel capo Osiel Cárdenas Guillen in the late 1990s to defend his turf and operations from the Mexican authorities and rival cartels. They soon started racking up an impressive body count, and introduced beheadings and dismemberment as the new drug war norm in 2003-2004 during the battle with the Sinaloa Federation over Nuevo Laredo, and the battle over control of Acapulco. Just like the AUC, Los Zetas come from former military stock (many some members of the AUC were also former Colombian police officers). Also like the AUC, Los Zetas have no ideology to speak of. While they were still working for the Gulf cartel, they existed to fulfill Cárdenas Guillen's wishes. Now, they exist to serve their own.
Moving to the present day, I'm speechless when the Mexican government says no paramilitaries exist in Mexico, and when the media even speculates as to their existence; especially since Los Zetas weren't the only private army working for the TCOs. The Sinaloa Federation has Los Pelones and Los Negros, run by Edgar "La Barbie" Valdez Villarreal before his arrest, and the Beltrán Leyva Organzation has La Linea, made up almost exclusively of former police officers. What does the Mexican government and the media think these groups are?
Here are a couple of definitions of paramilitary groups: "A group of personnel with military structure functioning either as a civil force or in support of military forces," and "A force with military structure conducting armed operations against a ruling or occupying power." I think a strong argument can be made that Los Zetas (in their former iteration under the Gulf), Los Pelones, Los Negros, La Linea, and the latest version of the Mata Zetas are operating with a military structure and conducting armed operations against an occupying power - their rivals that are occupying a desired piece of territory. The Mata Zetas aren't some vigilante group; they're working for the Jalisco Cartel/New Generation, so they're no different than the other private armies.
And who knows how they Mexican government feels about these groups? Los Zetas are a different animal now because they're their own TCO, and fighting the Mexican army and police like everyone else. But the other groups are primarily killing rival TCO members; something that inadvertently helps the Mexican government's cause.
So let's move beyond the silly question of whether or not paramilitaries exist inside Mexico; we need to move more towards the question of what the Mexican government wants to do about their growth and expanding activities.