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Meet the drug lords

A guide to the four most notorious drug cartel kingpins in Mexico

Heriberto Lazcano

(A flier posted on a monument reads: "The Zetas want you, soldier or former soldier. We offer good salary, food and family care. Don't go hungry any longer." The photo was taken in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, April 14, 2008. Stringer/Reuters)

Aliases: The Executioner, El Lazca, Z-3

Cartel: Los Zetas (Cartel del Golfo)

Born: Veracruz, circa 1976

Reward: $2 million (Mexican PGR)

Bio: Little is known about Lazcano himself, but his bloody band of enforcers — Los Zetas — are feared across Mexico as one of the most violent groups in the whole drug war.

Born near the Gulf of Mexico, Lazcano enlisted in the military as a young man and was selected to join the prestigious and highly trained Airborne Special Forces Group.

The unit was sent north to battle drug gangs trafficking over the border into Texas. But Lazcano and 30 other special force soldiers went for the gold, and defected to work with the Gulf Cartel.

The new drug army was christened the Zetas after the radio signal the special forces had used. Lazcano was Z-3, or the third in command. However, when the two commanders above him were killed and captured, he took the reins of the merciless paramilitary force.

Under Lazcano, the Zetas recruited and trained large numbers of other traffickers, turning the Zetas into a fearsome force that stretched its tentacles throughout the east and south of Mexico.

Lazcano is said to be protected by a cadre of extremely loyal bodyguards. He reportedly keeps constantly on the move to avoid arrest. 

Arturo Beltran Leyva

Alias: El Barbas (The Beard)

Cartel: Beltran Leyva Organization

Born: Sinaloa, circa 1960

Reward: $2 million (Mexican PGR)

Bio: Another son of Sinaloa, Beltran Leyva shot to fame in 2008 for allegedly bribing and killing top officials and running fierce groups of paramilitary gunmen.

Growing up in the Sinaloan countryside, Beltran Leyva is reported to have worked closely with “Chapo” Guzman during decades of smuggling.

In 2004 and 2005, he allegedly led powerful groups of assassins, including members of the notorious Mara Salvatrucha street gang, to fight for trade routes in northeastern Mexico.

In January 2008, Beltran Leyva’s brother Alfredo “The Giant Ant” Beltran Leyva was arrested in the Sinaloan state capital Culiacan.

In apparent revenge for the detention, he sent gangs of assassins to go after top federal officials in the Mexican capital.

One group of these hitmen was captured in a Mexico City house with dozens of automatic rifles, pistols, M4 grenade launchers, 30 grenades, and bullet-proof jackets bearing the legend FEDA — the Spanish acronym for Special Forces of Arturo.

In May 2008, an assassin allegedly paid by Beltran Leyva killed acting federal police chief Edgar Millan inside his own home in Mexico City.

Later in 2008, several high-ranking federal officials were accused of taking bribes from Beltran Leyva of up to $450,000 per month.

Beltran Leyva is believed to have broken with his old ally Guzman in 2008 and fought a violent turf war against him that led to hundreds of deaths on the streets of Sinaloa.

In January 2009, there were reports the two sides agreed to a truce.

(Soldiers escort drug kingpin Hector Huerta Rios of the Beltran Leyva Organization, March 24, 2009. Huerta Rios is accused of the killing of a police chief in this industrial city. Tomas Bravo/Reuters)

More on Mexico's drug wars:

Investigation: US retailers fuel Mexico's drug wars

Analysis: Mexico a failing state?

The cross-border bullet trade

A tale of two Laredos

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/mexico/090404/meet-the-drug-lords