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Jul 3, 2012 | 10:30 GMT

3 mins read

Mexican Cartels' Information Operations

Mexican Cartels' Information Operations
Ronaldo Schemidt/AFP/Getty Images

In recent months, Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Federation (and their respective allies) have engaged in tit-for-tat exchanges of narcomantas and body dumps throughout Mexico. Several of the recent narcomantas attributed to the Sinaloa Federation contained identical messages and were issued within a short period of time across a wide geographic span. The messages highlight regional coordination within cartels, as well as the broad geographic nature of the current fight between the Sinaloa Federation and Los Zetas.

On June 7, 14 dismembered bodies were discovered in a truck in Ciudad Mante, Tamaulipas state, along with a printed banner accusing top Los Zetas leaders Heriberto "El Lazca" Lazcano Lazcano and Miguel "Z-40" Trevino Morales of betraying former prominent members of their organization. Identical banners were discovered June 1 in Zacatecas and Nuevo Leon states, with some reports saying copies showed up in at least five additional states. Another body dump in Ciudad Mante on June 23 accompanied a similar narcomanta denouncing the two leaders. The same narcomanta then appeared June 25 in Chihuahua, Chihuahua state. The similarities and geographic distance between the banners point to the involvement of individuals within a specific cartel that has broad reach.

Cartels have long used narcomantas and body dumps as tools in information operations. Due to the difficulty of verifying authorship, the messages are useful for spreading disinformation. It is thus often unclear whether a body dump was conducted by locals or as part of a broader information campaign. The two Ciudad Mante narcomantas appear to have been part of an information operation against the leadership of Los Zetas organized by a mid- to high-level cartel leader overseeing multiple regions. Though we cannot be certain that a single group was behind both body dumps in Ciudad Mante, such coordination is likely.

Regionally coordinated information operations can spur violence in disparate parts of Mexico. Los Zetas responded to an incursion into Nuevo Laredo by the Sinaloa Federation announced March 26 with its own body dumps and narcomantas March 28 in Culiacan, Sinaloa state. Though the organization responsible for the Ciudad Mante body dumps and narcomantas is unknown, the city lies in a region disputed by Los Zetas and the Gulf cartel. Given the location of the June 7 and June 23 banners, and given that they were directed against Los Zetas, elements of the Gulf cartel aligned with the Sinaloa Federation likely were responsible. Continued violence as part of this information operation could occur anywhere in the group's expansive network, which at the very least includes Chihuahua, Zacatecas, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas states.

Editor's Note: As an additional custom intelligence service geared toward organizations with operations or interests in the region, we now offer the daily Mexico Security Monitor, which provides more detailed and in-depth coverage of the situation. If you are interested in learning about this new fee-based custom service, please contact [email protected].

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