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The Cartel del Noreste (CDN), the remnant of the Los Zetas cartel that controls the lucrative Nuevo Laredo smuggling plaza, has taken actions over the past week suggesting it is preparing a push to seize control of Monterrey, Mexico's third-largest metropolitan area and a major regional business hub. Such an offensive would likely meet resistance from the groups currently in the area and so would involve significant violence — something businesses with interests in the area should prepare for.
By 2013, the long process of balkanization — or splintering — of Mexico's cartels made analyzing them much more difficult. Indeed, many of the ones we had been tracking, such as the Gulf cartel, had imploded and fragmented into several smaller, often competing factions. From the Gulf cartel emerged the notorious Los Zetas, which also subsequently split into several smaller remnants including the Cartel del Noreste (CDN). That splinter group now appears poised to make a play for control of the major Mexican business center of Monterrey. Were the CDN to proceed, foreign businesses there would feel the heat.
Over the weekend of March 16-17, a narcomanta — or banner with a message from a drug cartel — was hung in the city of San Pedro Garza Garcia, part of the Monterrey metropolitan area. The banner threatened to kill members of the Gulf cartel and "the people of El Gato" who do not leave the city. El Gato refers to Jose Rodolfo Villarreal Hernandez, a leader of a remnant of the Beltran Leyva Cartel who has established a strong presence in San Pedro Garza Garcia. The banner also threatened "people who pay a fee to El Gato" — meaning that businesses pay him extortion fees, and said that they would use murder to target businesses that do not instead pay extortion fees to the CDN. The banner also claimed that the mayor of San Pedro Garza Garcia, Miguel Bernardo Trevino de Hoyos, was working with the CDN — something the group probably would not broadcast were it true.
In response, a narcomanta attributed to "El Felino," presumably a reference to El Gato, was hung threatening the people allegedly bringing deadly violence to the area. It also said his organization was well-established in the area, and was prepared to take on the intruders.
Competing extortion demands would also present businesses in the region with a dangerous conundrum.
The CDN has also reportedly been busily threatening journalists. The publication Proceso reported March 13 that CDN has threatened at least a dozen journalists in the Monterrey metropolitan area via calls to their personal cellphones. The callers revealed knowledge of personal information about the call recipients, such as where the journalists lived and their families' activities. The threatening callers also reportedly demanded payments to allow the journalists to continue to work. Threatening journalists is not a new activity for the CDN: In December 2018 it threatened the Expreso newspaper in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas state, by leaving a message in front of the paper accompanied by a human head in a cooler.
As we noted in our 2019 annual cartel forecast, the CDN has been locked in a protracted battle for control of Ciudad Victoria with the Zetas Vieja Escuela (Spanish for the "Old School Zetas"). This battle apparently has not drained the CDN's resources such that its leadership thinks it lacks the resources to mount an offensive for control of other areas.
It is quite possible that this apparent CDN activity could be a hoax or just empty bluster. But if the CDN's threats are sincere and it actually attempts to seize control of the wealthy enclave of San Pedro Garza Garcia and the rest of the Monterrey metropolitan area, it could produce a significant escalation of violence in areas where many companies and organizations have interests — and where many of their employees live. Competing extortion demands would also present businesses in the region with a dangerous conundrum.