Mexican Drug War Update: Third Quarter

8 MINS READJul 23, 2012 | 10:47 GMT
Quarterly Cartel Report

Editor's Note: In this interim report on Mexico's drug cartels, we assess important developments in the drug war during the second quarter of 2012 and explain what they could mean for the rest of the year.

Many of the trends discussed in the first quarter cartel update continued in the second quarter. Most significantly, smaller gangs aligned themselves with either Los Zetas or the Sinaloa Federation as the two sides continued their countrywide conflict. In the first quarter of 2012, Los Zetas came under increased attack from the Gulf cartel in the northeastern states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon. Most violence in Tamaulipas during the second quarter involved those two groups, though the Sinaloa Federation appears to be supporting Gulf cartel activities.

Mexico's Cartels April 2012

Mexico's Cartels April 2012

Los Zetas also continued their struggles against another Sinaloa Federation ally, the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion, in Veracruz state. The Sinaloa Federation in turn faced attacks from Zetas allies in Sinaloa's strongholds of Jalisco and Sinaloa states. As during the first quarter, the Sinaloa Federation and its ally the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion continued their conflict in Guadalajara against Los Zetas and the Zetas-allied Milenio cartel. In Sinaloa state, the Sinaloa Federation has faced a resurgence of assaults from remnants of the Beltran Leyva Organization, primarily Los Mazatlecos, to whom Los Zetas have provided gunmen. With the exception of Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion's arrival in Cancun, no territorial shifts in Mexico's criminal landscape have occurred.

Information Operations

Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Federation, as well as Sinaloa's ally the Gulf cartel, emphasized information operations campaigns beginning in the first quarter and continuing into the second quarter, particularly in northeastern Mexico. These campaigns have seen the display of dismembered bodies in public, a tactic that offers little operationally beyond broadcasting messages on behalf of the cartel involved. Through these operations, the cartels are striving to control the flow of information in a bid to subvert their rivals' support base.

As the focus on information operations increases, civilians have been increasingly affected. Links between victims in body dumps and organized crime have rarely been confirmed. Mexican authorities, for example, say many of the victims in the May 9 body dump in Guadalajara were simply bystanders. To maintain the shock value of body dumps, criminal groups must continue increasing their scale. This means there will likely be more body dumps like those in Nuevo Laredo, Ciudad Mante, Culiacan and Guadalajara during the second quarter.

Los Zetas

Los Zetas do not appear to have suffered significant operational losses in areas where they are engaged in turf wars with the Gulf cartel. As noted in the last quarterly, Los Zetas will defend Nuevo Laredo at any cost, since it is perhaps their most valuable plaza. The lack of activity in Nuevo Laredo may indicate that Los Zetas do not yet perceive any significant threat there.

Law enforcement operations across Los Zetas' turf in the second quarter resulted in notable arrests. Guatemalan authorities arrested Horst Walther Overdick-Mejia, a Guatemalan drug distributor working with Los Zetas, in Guatemala on April 3. Meanwhile, U.S. authorities arrested Jose Trevino, the brother of Miguel "Z-40" Trevino Morales, on June 11 in Oklahoma on charges of using a horse breeding company to launder money for Miguel Trevino. And Mexican authorities arrested Francisco Trevino Chavez, a Nuevo Laredo plaza boss and cousin of Miguel Trevino, on June 12. The arrests are not likely to impact overall Zetas operations significantly, since the group is apparently adept at finding replacement leaders.

Los Zetas carried out notable violent acts within Sinaloa Federation's stronghold in the states of Sinaloa and Jalisco during the second quarter with the help of local organized criminal groups such as the Milenio cartel in Jalisco and Los Mazatlecos and other remnants of the Beltran Leyva Organization in Sinaloa. So far, this Zetas activity has not caused any significant operational setback for the Sinaloa Federation.

Sinaloa Federation

The second quarter saw a focus on increasing anti-Zetas assaults in areas where Sinaloa operations expanded in the first quarter. The Gulf cartel is leading the assault against Los Zetas in Nuevo Laredo and the rest of Tamaulipas state, while the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion continues its assault in Veracruz state and the Knights Templar continues to confront the weakened Zetas ally La Familia Michoacana in the central region of the country.

The Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion and Knights Templar significantly increased their violent acts against one another in the central states of Guanajuato, Guerrero and Michoacan in the form of firefights and executions. Should the violence hinder the Sinaloa Federation's trafficking operations, the group might attempt to broker peace or pick a side to support. Currently, nothing suggests this conflict will end during the next quarter.

With the exception of the Baja California Peninsula, which is fully under Sinaloa Federation control, the Sinaloa Federation and its allies continue to deal with rivals in all of the states in which they operate. Just as Los Zetas are being confronted but not damaged in their stronghold, Sinaloa's rivals do not appear to be able to damage Sinaloa's operations in its strongholds.

Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion

The Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion continued to expand its operations by confronting Los Zetas in Cancun, Quintana Roo state. Executions involving members of Los Zetas known as Los Pelones, a local gang involved in local criminal enterprises such as drug sales and extortion, and the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion began in March in Cancun. Though still less violent than other popular tourist destinations in Mexico, drug-related deaths in Cancun more than doubled during the first half of 2012 compared to the same period in 2011.

The Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion appears to be continuing its turf war against Los Zetas in Veracruz city, where executions attributed to the cartel continue. But the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion appears more focused on its turf war with the Knights Templar in Guerrero and Michoacan states.

Knights Templar

Since its split from La Familia Michoacana in January 2011, the Knights Templar has asserted control over La Familia Michoacana's former territories, a trend that continued in the second quarter. La Familia Michoacana has become a shadow of its former self; the Knights Templar appears more active in Guanajuato, Guerrero, Mexico, Michoacan and Morelos states.

The Knights Templar's main focus shifted during the second quarter toward its interstate turf war with the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion as it defends against the latter's expansion into Knights Templar territory. This turf war accounted for the most intense intercartel violence in Guerrero and Michoacan states.

Beltran Leyva Organization

A resurgence in activity has been reported from remnants of the Beltran Leyva Organization, primarily in Sinaloa state. Some remnants of the former Beltran Leyva Organization, in particular Cartel Pacifico Sur and Los Mazatlecos, appeared to maintain a working relationship. The second quarter of 2012 saw a resurgence of reported activity by Los Mazatlecos in Sinaloa state.

Firefights between gunmen affiliated with organized crime and the Mexican military occurred April 28 in the northern Sinaloa municipality of Choix. Some of the gunmen likely belonged to Los Mazatlecos, allied with the Cartel Pacifico Sur, and others may have belonged to another ally of Los Zetas. After the fighting subsided, military patrols discovered dead bodies from an unrelated conflict, revealing an ongoing intercartel battle in the vicinity. Media reports indicate that the same organized criminal groups engaged in conflicts in Choix are operating in rural towns in southwestern Chihuahua state. If true, this would indicate that remnants of the Beltran Leyva Organization under the organization of Los Mazatlecos are fighting for control of a lucrative region in several states where marijuana and opium poppies are grown.

Gulf Cartel

The Gulf cartel saw a continued resurgence through the second quarter of 2012. According to several reports, Eduardo "El Coss" Costilla Sanchez, a Gulf cartel leader, led the group's violent acts against Los Zetas in Tamaulipas with the apparent backing of Sinaloa Federation leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera.

The most public of the Gulf cartel's recent activity occurred March 26 in Nuevo Laredo, when authorities discovered 14 dismembered bodies along with a narcomanta ostensibly signed by El Chapo. While the message implied that the Sinaloa Federation was responsible, corroborated reporting shows that Gulf cartel members at least assisted. Whether the Gulf cartel has taken over any smuggling routes or undermined Los Zetas' support structure remains unclear. However, Gulf cartel activity is not likely to subside during the next quarter, with narcomantas and body dumps likely to continue in its conflict with Los Zetas. A few Gulf cartel members have been arrested recently, which could undermine its renewed assault against Los Zetas.

Vicente Carrillo Fuentes Organization

Little suggests that the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes organization will regain its former position as one of the dominant cartels in Mexico. The organization has splintered into various criminal groups such as the New Juarez Cartel. The New Juarez Cartel has shown less tactical sophistication compared to other offshoots of the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes organization, such as La Linea. Reports of activity attributed to the New Juarez Cartel have dropped significantly. Indeed, it seems intercartel violence has decreased altogether in Ciudad Juarez. The drop can be attributed to the Sinaloa Federation gaining further control over Juarez.

La Linea, the enforcement arm of the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes organization, has continued to show little activity in the Vicente Carrillo Fuentes organization's former territory since it suffered significant losses in leadership in 2011. Authorities captured a top leader and his replacement during the second quarter.

Editor's Note: We now offer the daily Mexico Security Monitor, an additional custom intelligence service geared toward organizations with operations or interests in the region, designed to provide more detailed and in-depth coverage of the situation. To learn more about this new fee-based custom service, visit

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