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Mexico Security Memo: Los Zetas' Incursion Into Puerto Vallarta

3 MINS READOct 17, 2012 | 10:16 GMT
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Los Zetas in Puerto Vallarta

The morning of Oct. 15, a group of armed men threw a grenade and opened fire on the vehicle in which Puerto Vallarta Police Chief Roberto Rodriguez Preciado was traveling. Rodriguez was able to escape the attack, but three individuals, including one of his escorts, were injured. The same day, Mexican media reported that at least four narcomantas were posted in several locations around Puerto Vallarta, Jalisco state, addressed to Rodriguez and signed "Z" — a signature commonly used by Los Zetas.

Puerto Vallarta's location on the Pacific coast makes it a strategically important maritime smuggling route for illicit drugs. In addition, the city historically has been a popular tourist destination, bolstering the town's value for local criminal enterprises such as retail level sales of illicit drugs and extortion of tourist businesses. Because of this, several organized criminal groups, including the Sinaloa Federation, the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion, the Knights Templar and Los Zetas, maintain a presence in the city.

Los Zetas' Incursion Into Puerto Vallarta

121017 Hot Spots in Mexico

Typically, law enforcement becomes the target of violence in order to coerce authorities into cooperating with organized criminal groups or to pressure officials to cease investigations. In addition, in areas with competing criminal groups, violence toward government and law enforcement officials can increase in the form of retaliation against officials suspected of working with rival organized criminal groups.

It is not certain whether this recent violence directed against security officials is part of a greater push by Los Zetas to take complete control of Puerto Vallarta. But it is apparent that recent events affecting Los Zetas, such as the death of former top Los Zetas leader Heriberto "El Lazca" Lazcano Lazcano, have not caused the group to abandon efforts to expand its geographic reach. Before Lazcano's death, Los Zetas had been attempting to establish drug-trafficking operations in Jalisco state, according to Jalisco state Gov. Emilio Gonzalez Marquez, who warned in August that Los Zetas were seeking inroads into the state. Should Los Zetas continue their campaign to establish operations in Jalisco state, violence could increase throughout the state, including in Puerto Vallarta.

The Knights Templar Increase Anti-Zetas Rhetoric

At least seven narcomantas ostensibly signed by the Knights Templar were hung in different locations in the Toluca Valley of Mexico state Oct. 10. The narcomantas asked citizens to provide any information that could lead to the capture of Los Zetas leader Miguel "Z-40" Trevino Morales. The banners follow a recent trend of the Knights Templar directing their public messages against Los Zetas and its top leader, Trevino.
 
Los Zetas have been in an ongoing conflict with the Knights Templar in several states (primarily Guanajuato, Guerrero and Michoacan) since the Knights Templar split from La Familia Michoacana in 2011. Therefore, it is not surprising to see the Knights Templar focus on Los Zetas in their information operations. However, the information campaign has been increasing since August 2012, when a video was posted to social media outlets of top Knights Templar leader Servando "La Tuta" Gomez Martinez reaffirming the group's war against Los Zetas.

Currently there are no clear indications that increased violence between Los Zetas and the Knights Templar has followed the recent rhetoric. However, the narcomantas and the video demonstrate an increasing focus on Los Zetas by the Knights Templar. These messages suggest the Knights Templar are confident in their operational capabilities and their ability to engage in additional battlefronts, since they must expect some retaliatory violence.

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 www.stratfor.com/msm.

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