I just had to find and post this on the Home Page today. I read this last night and got so thrilled that the MSM has actually written a truly horrifying story about the Zetas and MS-13, with no glossing over the facts. Maybe Time magazines readers will wake up and realize what Bush is doing, and fight to keep our country from becoming Meximerica.

Go buy this issue, and maybe the spike in readership will make Time write more articles like this!!!

Violent urban legend has always swirled around Mexican drug traffickers, but few of them have ever set out to build a reputation as vicious as that of Heriberto Lazcano, 28. As leader of the Zetas, a new and ruthless drug gang situated along the U.S. border, Lazcano has perpetrated crimes that range from the brutal to the bizarre. In one instance last summer, Mexican officials say, Lazcano murdered a prominent Tijuana publisher in his car in broad daylight as his two young children watched horrified from the backseat. In January the Zetas attempted a raid on a federal prison in Matamoros, Mexico, during which they allegedly blindfolded, handcuffed and shot six prison employees in the head. Lazcano's men--many of them former commandos in the Mexican military--have launched rocket-propelled grenades at police, and Lazcano is purported to have fed human victims to lions and tigers that he keeps on his ranches. It's little surprise that Lazcano is known as "El Verdugo"--the Executioner.

While savagery like El Verdugo's might evoke a Hollywood gangster movie, it has become a grim reality of life in some Mexican border towns. Upstart groups like the Zetas have emerged largely as a result of the Mexican government's recent crackdown on the big cartels that have long monopolized the country's $25 billion-a-year drug trade. Experts call the phenomenon "atomization": as the large Mafias decompose, more reckless "microcartels" spin off or move in. In their heyday in the 1980s and '90s, Mexico's biggest kingpins ran networks that employed thousands of people; now gangs like the Zetas, whose members number at most in the low hundreds, are waging vicious battles against one another--and against remnants of cartels like the Sinaloa Mafia--to gain a foothold in the trade. Officials in the U.S. and Mexico believe those turf fights are behind a surge in murders, kidnappings and criminal extortion in several towns along the U.S.-Mexico border. The border city of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, never known for drug violence until the Zetas moved there a few years ago, saw more than 60 gangland-style killings in 2004, and they have continued at the same bloody pace this year.

That is causing alarm among U.S. officials, who see signs that the violence is spilling across the border. About 30 U.S. citizens have been kidnapped or killed in Nuevo Laredo since last summer. A clash there between local police and gang members last month culminated in a shoot-out on the Gateway to the Americas Bridge, which spans the Rio Grande and connects the town to Laredo, Texas. U.S. officials fear that recent drug slayings as far north as Dallas have involved Zeta triggermen. Last September the Zetas allegedly kidnapped Yvette Martinez, 28, a Laredo woman, along with a friend; the women are still missing. "These criminal organizations used to have rules about women and children," says Martinez's stepfather William Slemaker. "Now they're out of control."

No one is more vexed than Mexican President Vicente Fox, who is under pressure from the Bush Administration to crack down on the flow of drugs and illegal migrants across the Mexican border, amid fears that terrorists might exploit the lawlessness to sneak into the U.S. Mexico was infuriated by a recent U.S. alert about security dangers on the Mexican border and by a State Department report last month claiming that 90% of the cocaine hitting U.S. streets comes via Mexico, much higher than prior estimates of less than 75%. Mexico disputes the report, especially since it has made strides in breaking up the large cartels. "Nobody has given us credit," Fox complained at a press conference before a meeting with Bush last month.

It's harder for Fox to trumpet his accomplishments when criminals like El Verdugo are on the loose. According to Mexican officials, Lazcano was a clean-cut Mexican army recruit from the Gulf Coast state of Veracruz when he was picked a decade ago to be part of the highly trained Airborne Special Forces Group. The unit was sent to the eastern border to battle drug trafficking. But in the late 1990s, Lazcano and more than 30 other members of the special forces began working for drug lord Osiel Cárdenas, head of the Matamoros-based Gulf cartel, which at the time controlled almost one-third of the Mexican drug trade. As Cárdenas' enforcers, protecting drug shipments and rubbing out foes, the gang members--who dubbed themselves Zetas after the radio call name of their original leader, who was killed in 2002--were paid as much as $15,000 a month, compared with their $700 army salary. Zeta bosses like Lazcano wore Rolex watches and ostrich-skin boots and imitated other famous drug lords by raising exotic animals on their ranches.

Michael Shelby, the U.S. Attorney in Houston, says the Zetas' military discipline, arsenal and wiretap capability make them more dangerous than other drug groups. Adds José Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, Mexico's deputy attorney general for organized crime: "You had soldiers from an élite force transferring all the heavy military mystique--the honor, valor, loyalty--to a drug trafficker." After the government captured Cárdenas in 2003, the Zetas had to strike out more on their own. They launched a lethal campaign against Mexican authorities and rival traffickers gunning for control over Cárdenas' former trafficking routes. Mexican officials insist that half the original Zetas have been arrested or killed, but because of intense recruitment and training of hundreds of Zetitas (Little Zetas), the gang has cells scattered around Mexico. They engage in ransom kidnappings and the extortion of businesses, from convenience stores to car dealerships. "The Zetas now victimize the general population," says Art Fontes, an FBI agent in Laredo. "Honest businesspeople are coming here from Nuevo Laredo out of fear."

Fox recently sent more than 700 soldiers and federal agents to patrol Nuevo Laredo's streets. Still, a local journalist was shot nine times last week (she lived), as she reported on an attorney's slaying--and the Zetas are top suspects in both cases.

Some U.S. officials privately complain that many Mexican police aid the Zetas. And other potential microcartels are proliferating on the U.S.'s doorstep: in the Tijuana--San Diego corridor, police are dealing with a gang known as Narco-Juniors, a group of affluent juvenile delinquents recruited as hit men in the 1990s by the Tijuana drug cartel. Authorities in the Juarez--El Paso corridor, meanwhile, report a growing presence of the Mara Salvatrucha, a machete-wielding gang that has terrified Central America in recent years. The threat from groups like the Zetas may persist for years. "This is like any instance of monopoly busting," says Jorge Chabat, a professor of international relations at the Center for Economic Research and Teaching in Mexico City. "Once the little guys are let into the business, it's hard to push them out again."
--With reporting by Cathy Booth Thomas/Laredo, Dolly Mascareñas/ Mexico City and Elaine Shannon/ Washington