This is the second in a 2-part series on vigilantes.
In the shadow of buildings or under dark roadways, bodies are tossed in heaps like so much garbage. This is the gruesome landscape of a violence-plagued Mexico, a country enduring a years-old civil war waged on many fronts: Drug cartels vs. the government; drug cartel vs. drug cartel; the government vs. corrupt government officials.
But this latest discovery of stacked corpses was apparently the work of a new player on the scene. Vigilantes have entered the war.
According to a disturbing Wall Street Journal story those responsible for scores of bodies dumped in the eastern state of Veracruz call themselves “Mata Zetas.” Their name (which literally translates as “Zeta Killers”) leaves little doubt that this group’s mission statement is to rid Veracruz of the country’s most notorious cartel. This violent new group already holds a darkly charismatic appeal for many Mexicans weary of cartel killings.
In a region that has seen so much drug-related violence and police corruption it is easy to see why a vigilante group such as the Mata Zetas could exist. The statistics are staggering. The WSJ reported that approximately 43,000 people have died in cartel-related violence over the last four years alone. In addition, a Trib report chronicles the endemic corruption in Veracruz’ state police force where some 1,000 officers have been fired for failing recent polygraph exams. Weeding out the remaining rotten cops will take still more time, and the cartels will use the interim to further cement their footing.
The parallels between this homicidal wasteland and the violent, corrupt and fictional city of Gotham City are obvious.
Like Gotham’s caped vigilante, the Mata Zetas have ramped up their shadowy operations in response to the violence. The Mata Zetas, like the Dark Knight, prefer their clandestine activities to remain anonymous and protect their identities in much the same manner – with secrecy and masks. But when thugs from the Zeta cartel come in their crosshairs the Mata Zetas show none of the characteristic restraint exhibited by fictional vigilantes in Gotham, Metropolis or even Dirty Harry’s San Francisco.
This, of course, is where the fictional setting for Hollywood’s vigilantes differs from the mind-numbing reality of a Mexico caught up in a cartel plague. In Gotham, there is always the understanding that the vigilante will bring the bad guy to the justice of the courts. Occasionally the methods used are outside the parameters of professional law enforcement, but typically the only time the bad guy winds up dead is when a rival makes it so.
In Mexico, where thousands of narco-terrorists run rampant through rural and urban areas, and civilians receive haphazard protection from a sometimes corrupt government police presence, the vigilantes operate under a different creed. At the moment, at least, that creed is simply to protect Mexico from the Zeta cartel.
But what happens after that? What happens if the Mata Zetas are even mildly successful in their savage repression of one of the premiere drug cartels? Now that the vigilantes have tasted blood and the power of fear, what prevents them from keeping the masks and acting in their own interests?
When the Mata Zetas finish their vigilante mission, when their role as the iconic figure seeking justice on the national stage is complete, when the time comes for them to put down their rifles, what then?
Maybe then Mexicans will have a new name to fear.