Los Zetas are using smaller affiliate groups to attack their rivals in the west, and in doing so, they are revealing their larger strategic interests — and the value of these affiliate groups. On Dec. 24, a group of as many as 30 gunmen executed nine people in a small community in Concordia, Sinaloa state. According to the Sinaloa state attorney general's office, the culprits belong to an alliance of Los Zetas and the Beltran Leyva Organization. But the organization disintegrated into various competing groups after its leader, Arturo Beltran Leyva, died in December 2009. Therefore, the gunmen most likely belong to one of these splinter groups — probably a group called Los Mazatlecos.
Four of the victims, including the son of a municipal council member, were kidnapped before being shot in a public area. Gunmen meanwhile killed five other individuals at a nearby grocery store. Mexican cartels frequently use public displays of violence to discourage residents from supporting their rivals, so the murders, specifically kidnapping and public execution, were probably meant to intimidate the local population.The Sinaloa Federation dominates Sinaloa state, but Los Zetas have been known to operate there — as has the Beltran Leyva Organization, whose founding members hail from the state. In fact, Los Mazetlecos, an offshoot of the organization, have demonstrated their ability to attack the Sinaloa Federation throughout the state, including in Mazatlan and Culiacan.
Los Zetas appear to have maintained working relationships with many Beltran Leyva Organization splinter groups, including Los Mazatlecos. These relationships have benefited Los Zetas in their nationwide fight against the Sinaloa Federation because several splinter groups continued to operate in western Mexico after they broke from the Beltran Leyva Organization. Through their ties with these groups, Los Zetas can attack Sinaloa strongholds and force Sinaloa into fighting a two-front war. In return, groups like Los Mazatlecos receive military personnel, training and weaponry.
The use of such groups points to a larger strategic objective: challenging the Sinaloa Federation's control of drug production in the west. This may explain why nine people were killed in Concordia, which lies on Highway 40. The highway connects Mazatlan on the pacific coast to Reynosa, Tamaulipas state, which the Gulf cartel and the Sinaloa Federation use to smuggle illicit drugs into the United States. Before reaching Reynosa, the highway traverses some of the most hotly contested territory in Mexico, including Gomez Palacio, Torreon, Saltillo and Monterrey.
It is unclear how successful Los Zetas will be in their forays into Sinaloa state, but at the very least these attacks could compel Sinaloa to deploy military assets to defend its territory rather than to deploy them for offensive operations in Los Zetas territory. In any case, public displays of violence, kidnappings and executions will increase in Sinaloa if Los Zetas likewise increase their efforts for control.
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