Stratfor will soon publish the Fourth Quarter Mexican Drug War Update. In this video, we’ll take a look at a few of the key themes that the update will cover, to include trends in violence levels, challenges to Sinaloa Federation in Sonora state and the leadership transition within Los Zetas.
With President-elect Enrique Pena-Nieto set to take office Dec. 1, we don’t foresee any significant policy shifts concerning the government’s position on the country’s drug trafficking groups before the end of the year. Pena-Nieto will continue to rely upon the military to fight the cartels with the intent to eventually train up a reliable national police force to take over the fight.
Drug trafficking-related deaths in Mexico have risen steadily since 2006, when then-President Calderon deployed the military to go after the drug traffickers. Increasing death rates have contributed greatly to public opposition to the government’s military intervention and decreasing violence is a key priority for Mexico City. So far this year, drug trafficking death rates are slightly lower than 2011’s, however the decline likely has more to do with consolidated cartel control than government efforts. Indeed, violence goes up in zones where the military is deployed, while Sinaloa's consolidation of power in Tijuana and Juarez has led to significant drops in the homicide rates in those cities. However, cartel consolidation is far from complete. Conflicts between Los Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, as well as tensions between Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion and Knights Templar could increase violence in the fourth quarter enough to surpass last year’s death rate yet again.
The Sinaloa Federation has had to fight over control of northern Sonora state recently, despite largely controlling the area since 2010. Incidents such as the July shootout in Puerto Penasco are unusual and it’s not clear who is challenging Sinaloa Federation in Sonora state. It could just be the work of local gangs trying to get in on drug trafficking flows to the U.S. But it could also be a more organized threat such as rivals Los Zetas, or remnants of the Beltran Leyva Organization. Stratfor will be watching northern Sonora state during the fourth quarter to see how serious the threat is to Sinaloa Federation there.
Finally, the Mexican navy’s killing of Los Zetas leader Heriberto Lazcano marked the end of a nearly yearlong leadership transition within Los Zetas. The transition started earlier this year, when rival cartels posted anti-Los Zetas messages targeting the groups' second in command, Miguel Trevino. In the summer, government officials started telling Mexican media outlets about a rivalry between Lazcano and Trevino. Then they started referring to Trevino as the leader and not Lazcano. What’s notable is how relatively peaceful the transition was. There was no evidence that Lazcano and Trevino fought over the transition to a point that it created more than the normal level of violence. There was also no indication that the transition affected Los Zetas drug flows. The rise of rebel plaza boss Ivan Velazquez did temporarily challenge Los Zetas on a regional basis, but he did not threaten the entire organization. Such a transition shows a high degree of institutionalization within Los Zetas, indicating it is larger than any one individual. This successful leadership change indicates that Los Zetas are well positioned to overcome military operations targeting its leaders.
For continuous awareness of the security situation throughout Mexico, Stratfor provides the Mexico Security Monitor. Contact us at [email protected] for more information.