Mar 8, 2010 | 23:30 GMT

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Mexico Security Memo: March 8, 2010

Mexico Security Memo

Gulf-Los Zetas Conflict Spreads

As Mexico's two wars continue, violence between Los Zetas and an alliance of several cartels in the northern stretches of Tamaulipas state has begun to spread. Los Zetas, the former enforcement arm of the Gulf cartel, is locked in an expanding territorial battle with the allied Gulf, Sinaloa and La Familia Michoacana (LFM) cartels, which began in Tamaulipas state and has begun to move to other parts of northeastern Mexico. The violence between these cartels and Mexican security forces has seen its most dramatic increase in Nuevo Leon's capital, Monterrey, and its surrounding suburbs. Several municipal police entities in and around Monterrey have come under attack recently from suspected members of Los Zetas, including two separate grenade attacks against municipal police in Allende and Guadalupe, Nuevo Leon, in the past week. The cartels have left numerous written messages, called "narcomantas," around the Monterrey metropolitan area over the course of the past week demanding that the Mexican military be removed from the area. There also has been a dramatic increase in vehicular theft and kidnapping for ransom in the Monterrey metro area as the conflict along the Mexico-South Texas border has heated up over the past month in the cartels' attempt to secure additional resources (i.e., vehicles used in cartel operations, funding for weapons and ammunition). Monterrey, Mexico's third-largest metro area, has been a Los Zetas stronghold for some time, although other cartels have been known to have some limited operations in the area — namely the Sinaloa cartel and the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO). Monterrey is a strategic transshipment point for narcotics and other illicit goods headed along Mexican Federal Highway 85 to Nuevo Laredo or along Highway 40 to Reynosa. While there have not been any confirmed conflicts between these two groups in the Monterrey metro area, the rural eastern portions of Nuevo Leon state, particularly along these two highways, have seen several firefights between these groups and Mexican security forces in the past week. STRATFOR sources have confirmed that Los Zetas appear to be staging a significant number of operatives west of Nuevo Leon to defend the territory and prepare for operations throughout the region. STRATFOR reported in the March 1 Mexico Security Memo that Los Zetas had recalled around 500 operatives from other regions in Mexico, but new reports suggest that Los Zetas have recalled 700 operatives to join the 500 already present in the area west of Nuevo Leon. The Gulf-Sinaloa-LFM alliance, also known as the Nueva Federacion (New Federation), has stated in blog postings, newspaper editorials and various other mediums that they will take the fight to Los Zetas. The uptick in cartel activity in Monterrey appears to indicate that Los Zetas may be preparing for a possible conflict, and given the high concentration of Los Zetas in and around Monterrey, the area would likely be a target for the New Federation. Monterrey is a large industrial hub, and any increase in violence like what we have seen in Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo could lead to similar restrictions on travel and business operations for area.

Tourist Safety Concerns

Canadian tourist Ivet Wait was shot in his left leg March 4 during an attempted carjacking in a trailer park frequented by international tourists in Mazatlan, Sinaloa state. Three armed men reportedly attempted to take control of Wait's vehicle, and Wait was shot in the left leg after putting up mild resistance. Wait was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment. The following day, several reservations were reported to have been canceled and six foreign tourists that were staying in the trailer park reportedly left abruptly after learning of the incident. Much of the recent violence in Sinaloa has not been between warring cartels but between local gangs of car thieves who are capitalizing on the weak security environment resulting from the cartel wars. While some of these gangs have ties to the larger cartels, this particular incident highlights the risks to foreign nationals and tourists throughout Mexico, but primarily in areas frequented by vacationers on the coasts ahead of Spring Break. As Spring Break season goes into full swing this week, there has been an increase in travel warnings from a variety of universities, states and the U.S. government warning college students of the degrading security situation in Mexico. While the violence that has grabbed headlines throughout Mexico is largely associated with warring cartels, more common crime such as express kidnappings, robberies and vehicular theft also have been increasing. Tourists visiting Mexico are far more likely to fall victim to these kinds of crimes rather than to be targeted by the cartels. The cartels have traditionally regulated and controlled street crime in the tourist regions of Mexico. However, as of late, the cartels in control of these regions have shifted their focus to battling rival cartels and the Mexican government elsewhere, which has led to an opening for local gangs and an increase in street crime. It should be mentioned, however, that with the escalation in conflict between cartels, the likelihood of encountering a firefight is increased and the risk of collateral damage is higher than normal for the region. While the risk is still relatively small, visitors to Mexico should be aware of their surroundings at all time. (click here to view interactive map)

March 1

  • A suspected human trafficker identified as Gerardo Salazar Tecuapacho was arrested by police in Tlaxcala, Tlaxcala state. Salazar Tecuapacho was wanted by the FBI.
  • At least 10 gunmen in Tampico, Tamaulipas state, attacked a police van, freeing a suspect held inside. Two officers were injured in the attack.
  • The chief of police for the municipality of Choix, Sinaloa state, identified as Francisco Ivan Ibarra, was ambushed by unknown gunmen. Ibarra and a policeman identified as Fermin Berrelleza were injured in the attack.

March 2

  • Soldiers freed eight people held hostage in Guadalupe, Nuevo Leon state. One person was arrested in connection with the incident.
  • The burned body of an unknown person was discovered inside a car in the La Magdalena neighborhood of Toluca, Mexico state.
  • Four people were injured in Tierra Caliente, Michoacan state, after a shootout between members of two unidentified criminal groups.
  • Ten customs agents working for private firms Mexicana de Aviacion and Livingston were arrested for allegedly allowing a group of Chinese tourists with false passports to board an aircraft in Cancun, Quintana Roo state.

March 3

  • Federal police arrested three suspected drug traffickers from La Linea en Casas Grandes, Chihuahua state. Sixty bundles of cocaine, an unspecified amount of marijuana and three rifles were seized from the suspects.
  • Several banners demanding Mexican President Felipe Calderon pull the army out of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state, were found in several parts of Monterrey.
  • Soldiers in Anahuac, Nuevo Leon state, killed eight gunmen during a firefight. Two soldiers were killed in the incident. Four of the suspected criminals' bodies were recovered by other gunmen and taken away in a vehicle.
  • Local public security chief Juan Guillermo Ponce Leon was killed by unknown gunmen at a bakery in Mazatlan, Sinaloa state. No arrests were made.

March 4

  • The body of an unidentified police chief was found in the municipality of Cueramaro, Guanajuato state. The body was found in an abandoned vehicle near the Uribe dam.
  • Police arrested three unidentified members of a Los Zetas cell in Benito Juarez, Quintana Roo state. One of the men arrested reportedly was a bodyguard for a former Benito Juarez police chief.

March 5

  • Four unidentified people were arrested after a firefight with naval troops in the Cortijo del Rio neighborhood in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state.
  • Unknown attackers, using grenades, damaged three police vehicles in Guadalupe, Nuevo Leon state. Another group of attackers in Allende, Nuevo Leon state, threw a grenade at police headquarters, but the grenade failed to detonate.
  • Soldiers seized 12.9 tons of marijuana in Altar, Sonora state. No arrests were reported, but six vehicles and eight rifles were seized by security forces.
  • Nine suspected BLO members and five policemen allied with the cartel members were arrested by soldiers in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state, following a 20-minute firefight.

March 6

  • Three policemen were killed and one was injured by unknown gunmen in San Nicolas de los Garza, Nuevo Leon state.

March 7

  • Police found $50,000 in cash in a plastic bag found in Reynosa, Tamaulipas state. The money reportedly was thrown from a moving taxi in the Ampliacion Rodriguez neighborhood.
  • Police seized a drug lab in Rancho El Pirul, Jalisco state, and arrested four people in connection with the incident.

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