Update Oct. 9, 2012: The Mexican navy has reported that Los Zetas leader Heriberto "El Lazca" Lazcano Lazcano was one of two men killed in a shootout with the Mexican navy Oct. 7 in Progreso, Coahuila state.
Lazcano had previously been reported killed in a June 2011 shootout in Matamoros, and some press reports suggest that the navy does not have the body of the man thought to be Lazcano now. Nevertheless, if reports of Lazcano's death are true, it is doubtful this event will have much of an impact on Los Zetas' operations.
Media coverage over the past several months described a falling out between Lazcano and Los Zetas' No. 2, Miguel Angel "Z-40" Trevino Morales, but Stratfor has seen no evidence of that. Instead, several sources have suggested that Lazcano has been ill for some time and had transferred leadership of Los Zetas to Trevino in an orderly manner several months ago. Events on the ground have been consistent with what one would expect in such a transfer of leadership and have not appeared to support the theory of a conflict between Lazcano and Trevino.
Because of this, we do not believe Lazcano's death will have much of an impact on Los Zetas narcotics trafficking or other criminal operations unless he was carrying information that would help the authorities locate Trevino.
'Z-40' Takes Control of the Zetas
Miguel Angel "Z-40" Trevino Morales has taken over as the top leader of Los Zetas, replacing Heriberto "El Lazca" Lazcano Lazcano, according to several August media reports. Stratfor sources have said the leadership transition was due to Lazcano's failing health.
Lazcano is reportedly suffering from a terminal illness and has gradually reduced his operational role in the criminal group over the past several months, allowing Trevino to step into the top position. This purported transition may explain why recent anti-Los Zetas operations by rival cartels and law enforcement have focused on Trevino. Given Lazcano's alleged health condition, a leadership transition likely would have been inevitable at some point in the near future, and Trevino has demonstrated an ability to handle the challenges facing Los Zetas — namely internal schisms, offensives by other cartels and pressure from the Mexican military.
While Lazcano was the undisputed leader of the cartel, Trevino maintained a significant role as a presumed second in command, overseeing operations in critical locations such as Nuevo Laredo. Trevino was likely running the majority of Los Zetas' operations for months prior to the reported transition.
Although it does not appear Lazcano and Trevino have become rivals as reports suggested in July, Trevino could still face internal conflicts in the future, which could trigger increased violence in regions where Los Zetas operate. Given his near-decadelong leadership of Los Zetas, Lazcano likely retains a certain amount of control over the group, not to mention possessing extensive information on Trevino and his activities. This would make Lazcano a valuable asset for any of Trevino's rivals, inside or outside Los Zetas, should Lazcano split from Trevino's organization in the future.
Additionally, Trevino is already dealing with an internal schism in Zacatecas, San Luis Potosi, Coahuila, and Nuevo Leon led by Ivan "El Taliban" Velazquez Caballero, a regional Los Zetas boss who is challenging Trevino's authority in those territories. Should Velazquez garner additional support from other Los Zetas leaders, this regional intracartel turf war could expand.
Since Trevino has likely overseen the group's activities for some time, few operational changes should be expected. Besides Los Zetas' rivals focusing their information operations on Trevino, there have been few overt signs of any transition, suggesting Lazcano may have handed operations over without significant resistance. If the leadership transition has taken place as reported, Trevino seems fully capable of handling the group's operations as competently as his predecessor did.
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.