Profits driven by the prohibition of drugs and other criminal enterprises have enabled the Zeta cartel to become "a parallel government," according to a Mexican lawmaker quoted in a Sunday report by The Washington Post.

The Zetas, founded by former Mexican military commandos, are a prime player in the theft of over $1 billion of Mexico's crude oil, according to the report.

"Oil theft has been a persistent problem for the state-run Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, but the robbery increased sharply after Calderón launched his war against the cartels shortly after taking office in December 2006," the Post noted.

Oil stolen by Mexican cartels is often smuggled into the U.S. and sold for obscene profits. Pemex said that it lost over $715 million to theft in 2008 and expects to lose over $300 million in 2009.

Eduardo Mendoza Arellano, a Mexican lawmaker charged with energy policies, reportedly claimed the cartel has become so powerful thy could be considered "a parallel government."

"They practically own vast stretches of the pipelines, from the highway to the very door of the oil companies," he said.

Officials told the Post that the cartel works in conjunction with Pemex employees to steal oil, then takes cuts or "taxes" from others who rob the pipelines in Zeta territory.

The Mexican drug war has claimed over 16,000 lives, the report noted.

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