One of the many ironies of the drug war has made itself plain in two stories published over the past two weeks, both of them worth reading in their entirety.

Over at, "Pancho Montana" writes a brief history of Los Zetas, some of the most brutal bastards involved in the Mexican bloodshed. They initially entered the drug war as a paramilitary force for the Gulf syndicate as it waged war against the Sinaloa syndicate (the oldest syndicate and most aligned with the Mexican government). They eventually realized they were the baddest asses around, so split off and have now been waging their own war against everybody and further destabilizing the drug trade.

Guess where Los Zetas got their hideously effective training? At the U.S. School of the Americas, where they were recruited and schooled in how to cut throats and smash the Zapatista uprising in Chiapas:

Los Zetas started out as an elite Special Forces unit—or GAFE—created and trained in the School of the Americas (in the USA), with counter-insurgency in mind: Specifically, to combat the 1994 Zapatista Army of National Liberation insurrection in Chaipas. A few years later, at the turn of the millennium, GAFE units found themselves with no insurgencies to fight. So they were re-trained for drug-interdiction operations and were sent to Tamaulipas to capture the capos and disrupt narcotrafficing operations in the region.

One of those GAFEs was headed by a man named Arturo Guzmán Decena, who would go on to be known as “Z-1”—the leader of the Zetas. Z-1 realized there was a lot more money helping the traffickers than trying to police them, and ended up as the personal escort of Osiel Cardenas. Nicknamed “The Friend-Killer,” Cardenas was just starting to take control of the leaderless Gulf Cartel around 1998-1999. Hiring elite soldiers was his way of consolidating power.

Now we turn to Narco News, which has just posted a story about how the Mexican military has been trained to fight the U.S. military-trained Zetas and other drug gangs by... the U.S. military!

Many of the Mexican naval forces participating in the current assault against narco leaders, according to one U.S. intelligence source, “were trained … at military bases” in the U.S.

“Their primary function,” the source adds, is “to hunt down and eliminate various ‘assigned’ targets.”

This military strategy, seemingly borrowed from U.S. counter-insurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, may prove to be effective on a tactical level, but it is a poor choice for winning the peace in Mexico, if that’s the goal, in the context of the drug war, according to some observers.

Once again, the U.S. embraces contradictions and makes its appetites—for drug prohibition and for free markets, for training foreign militaries and foreign paramilitaries—Mexico's problem.

On one side, you've got U.S. counter-insurgency trained paramilitaries. One the other side, you've a U.S. counter-insurgency trained military. And up above them (geographically), you've got U.S. consumers buying drugs by the ton, which is what fuels this entire cycle of U.S.-sponsored violence. (Plus all that stuff about NAFTA, banking deregulation, and the other U.S.-based contributing causes outlined in the second part of The Stranger's cocaine series.)

The United States—its citizens and its government—has absolutely, 100% created and exacerbated the violence in Mexico.

The longer we sit back, watch and wait, and refuse to change our own drug (and military) policy in the U.S., the longer this kind of thing (a woman decapitated for reporting the goings-on in her neighborhood) and this kind of thing (a preteen assassin saying "when we don't find the rivals, we kill innocent people, maybe a construction worker or a taxi driver") will go on.

In happier (if drop-in-the-bucket) news, The Stranger and DanceSafe and the People's Harm Reduction Alliance handed out hundreds of levamisole test kits over this weekend. For those of you with kits out there—please, please, please use them (or give them to someone who can use them), and fill out the survey (pre-stamped!) and mail it to us.

You cocaine people out there (dealers, users) are our research partners. With your help, we may be able to solve the mystery of the tainted cocaine.