Evidence is mounting that the Mexican paramilitary group Los Zetas has begun to infiltrate El Salvador in search of weapons. The recent seizure of 1,812 grenades is now suspected to have been destined for a group of Zetas in Guatemala. News sources have linked the stolen grenades have implicated a recently vanished army major with ties to the Zetas.
Los Zetas is a Mexican cartel that includes many former members of the Mexican Special Forces. The gang is sophisticatedly organized and brutal, and its members are intelligent and very well trained. It is estimated that about 35,000 people have died in Mexico since Mexico’s president, Felipe Calderón, started cracking down on drug trafficking and organized crime in Mexico in 2006. Calderón’s mandated closing and patrolling of spaces and territories in Mexico that were known to be dominated and controlled by drug cartels, namely Los Zeta, has been effective, and has spurred parts of the gang to migrate to locations where the can more easily operate.
Funes has explicitly stated that there is a group of Los Zetas that is exploring El Salvador, trying to form alliances or open relations with local gangs and drug traffickers. He doesn’t necessarily believe that gang members will settle in El Salvador, as they are currently doing in Guatemala, but he worries that they are arriving with the intent of acquiring assault weapons. Funes reasons that there are many weapons in the hands of Salvadoran civilians that have not be registered or legalized as a consequence of 12 years of civil war within the country. This makes weapons transfers easy and virtually undetectable, providing a prime opportunity for the Zetas to acquire arms in El Salvador.
However, others have raised the specter of a more permanent move by Los Zetas into El Salvador. In addition to its abundance of weapons, El Salvador’s use of the US dollar may make it an easy place to launder drug money. Recent seizures of large amounts of cash and the discovery of a purported Zeta training camp in the vicinity of Guazapa have added to fears that the drug war may have found a new battleground.