Date of Award


Degree Name

MA in History




College of Liberal Arts


Andrew D. Morris

Advisor Department


Advisor College

College of Liberal Arts


Los Zetas are considered by security analysts to be a transformative force within transnational criminal organizations (TCO), exporting their unique model throughout Mexico. Los Zetas’ idiosyncratic interventions include their diversification of criminal operations, professionalization of TCO security, sophisticated use of media and technology, extreme forms of violent coercion, and decentralized command structure. This project aims to complicate the narrative that Los Zetas emerged because of top leaders’ sadistic tendencies or due to an inherently violent culture in Mexico by reframing the group’s evolution within historical processes. Moving beyond Los Zetas, this project examines how persons affected by Los Zetas’ indiscriminate use of violence are forces of activism and social change, connecting opposition culture in Mexico to criminal impunity and resistance movements in Guerrero. Examining Los Zetas in connection with Cold War militarization in Latin America, processes of democratization in Mexico, and the neoliberal order, this analysis views Los Zetas as products and agents of structural inequities, destroying spaces of community cohesion to create spaces of elite economic growth.