Once bitter enemies, Zeta and Gulf Cartel members form 'United Cartels,' hitman says

A mugshot of Adrian “El Chino” Martínez Luna.

A mugshot of Adrian “El Chino” Martínez Luna.

A faction of the depleted Zetas drug cartel has joined forces with its longtime rival, the Gulf Cartel, to form the so-called “Carteles Unidos” (United Cartels), according to the jailhouse confession of the leader of a Zetas-connected hit squad.

According to Mexican papers, 26-year-old Adrián Martínez Luna, known as “El Chino” or "El Ondeado" ("The Chinaman" or the "Wavy One"), told police that members of Vieja Escuela Z – a Zetas splinter group – have teamed up with the Gulf Cartel to take down another break-off Zetas faction, the Cartel del Noreste (CDN).

Martínez – who admitted to heading up a hit squad for the late Zetas cartel boss, Javier “Bravo 1” Morales – was arrested along with 22-year-old alleged prostitute Andrea Carolina Tobar Carbajal in a hotel in the Monterrey suburb of San Nicolás de los Garza. During the raid, police also confiscated a 9mm handgun and four rifles, three AR-15s and an AK-47.

Officials in the Mexican state of Nuevo León – where Monterrey and San Nicolás are located – confirmed the existence of Carteles Unidos, but said the group operates in neighboring Tamaulipas.

“They have [Carteles Unidos] in Tamaulipas, not here,” Nuevo León’s Public Safety Secretary Cuauhtémoc Antúnez Pérez said in a statement.

Mexican security experts believe that this new alliance is most likely a regional entity that is unrelated to another Carteles Unidos that was founded in 2011 by former Zetas members with the express purpose of combating the Gulf Cartel.

The newer Carteles Unidos appears to be focussed on battling the CDN, which formed after the arrest of Zetas boss Omar Treviño Morales.

Sylvia Longmire, a retired Air Force captain and a border security expert, told Fox News Latino that this fracturing of criminal organizations and formation of smaller groups with fluid alliances is the new norm in Mexico’s decade-long drug war, now that the leaders of the larger, more-established drug trafficking organizations are either arrested or killed.

The once seemingly invincible Sinaloa Cartel has itself seen a decentralization hastened by the recapture of its chief, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán, back in January.

Experts agree that the continuing Balkanization of these organizations appears to be inevitable and will continue to be punctuated by widespread violence as the smaller groups vie for power and turf.

"Though the Sinaloa [Cartel] and Los Zetas have fought hard to resist fracturing even further and have even been able to grow because of the phenomenon, they have not been able to stop the divisions altogether, and the trend will continue into 2017,” the global intelligence company Stratfor said in an analysis earlier this year. “In fact, no criminal group will be immune to downsizing and decentralization.”

Follow Andrew O'Reilly on Twitter @aoreilly84.

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