Mexico Security Memo: In Nuevo Laredo, Killings May Herald a Sinaloa Incursion

6 MINS READMar 28, 2012 | 19:08 GMT

Ideal Circumstances

Mexican authorities found at least seven dismembered bodies on display March 26 in the Los Zetas stronghold of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state. The displays were accompanied by three narcomantas, ostensibly signed by Sinaloa Federation leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera, claiming the Nuevo Laredo plaza as his own. The messages openly challenged Los Zetas' two senior leaders, Miguel "Z-40" Trevino Morales and Heriberto "El Lazca" Lazcano Lazcano, and intimated that further assaults can be expected against Los Zetas in the northeast Mexican city.

If they were authentic, the narcomantas would suggest that Sinaloa has resumed operations against Los Zetas in Nuevo Laredo, one of the most valuable border towns for illicit drug trafficking along the U.S.-Mexico border. While the messages alone do not indicate the extent to which Sinaloa will encroach upon Los Zetas' northeastern stronghold, Sinaloa certainly has the resources to undertake the challenge. Were Sinaloa to try to reclaim the Nuevo Laredo plaza, Los Zetas would defend their territory with all available resources, and violence in the city would likely intensify.

There are several factors that make this an ideal time for Guzman's criminal organization to strike its eastern rival in Nuevo Laredo, not the least of which is that the Mexican military has recently stepped up operations against Los Zetas in the plaza. On March 1, Los Zetas plaza boss Gerardo "El Guerra" Guerra Valdez was killed in a firefight with the army. Then on March 13, authorities captured Guerra's alleged replacement, Carlos Alejandro "El Fabiruchis" Gutierrez Escobedo. Perceived weakness in Zetas leadership may have motivated Sinaloa to undertake operations before Los Zetas can recuperate.

New alliances among Los Zetas' rivals also make current conditions ripe for incursion. Following the 2003 arrest of Gulf cartel leader Osiel Cardenas Guillen, Sinaloa moved a large group of enforcers into Nuevo Laredo and began a violent turf war with the Gulf cartel. After five years of intense fighting, Los Zetas, enforcers for the Gulf cartel at the time, pushed Sinaloa out of Nuevo Laredo. But Los Zetas quickly assumed control of the plaza after splitting with the Gulf cartel in 2010, and residual Gulf elements have fought intermittently with Los Zetas ever since.

In 2011, two rival factions within the Gulf cartel — Los Metros and Los Rojos — began fighting for absolute control of the cartel. Though weakened, these factions retained control of various areas of Tamaulipas state, such as Reynosa, Matamoros and Miguel Aleman, posing a significant threat to Los Zetas. Los Metros, led by Jorge Eduardo "El Coss" Costilla Sanchez, appeared to have consolidated control over the Gulf cartel by the end of 2011. But according to a Stratfor source and other unconfirmed reports, Costilla has since been forced out of the cartel by Mario "X-20" Ramirez-Trevino, who has assumed control of the Reynosa plaza. The source said Costilla has now been fully brought into the Sinaloa Federation's fold. If the report were true, Costilla would appear to be facilitating Sinaloa's incursion into Nuevo Laredo.

Another factor may also be creating ideal circumstances for Sinaloa's moves: control over transport routes. In September 2011, the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG) commenced operations against Los Zetas in the important port city of Veracruz, Veracruz state. Allegedly conducted at the behest of Sinaloa, these assaults helped CJNG establish a presence in previously uncontested Zetas territory. Then in January 2012, reports surfaced that Los Zetas had begun operations against an alleged Sinaloa-Gulf cartel alliance in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state, a valuable transport hub linking Veracruz to Nuevo Laredo. Meanwhile, renewed violence between the Gulf cartel and Los Zetas erupted in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas state, located between Veracruz and Nuevo Laredo. Taken together, these events suggest Los Zetas are being confronted along a crucial supply line to Nuevo Laredo.

It is unclear if or to what degree Sinaloa will escalate its assaults on Nuevo Laredo, but given the plaza's importance, Los Zetas would respond with all available resources to defend it. This may require diverting manpower and resources from areas in which Los Zetas are encroaching on Sinaloa, such as Jalisco, Durango or Zacatecas states. Los Zetas would also have to defend against strikes on transport routes leading to Nuevo Laredo. In any case, security in Nuevo Laredo can be expected to degrade rapidly if Sinaloa and Los Zetas engage in all-out turf war.

March 20

  • Authorities discovered the body of an executed man in Cancun, Quintana Roo state.

March 21

  • Masked individuals identifying themselves as Los Guerreros de Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion ("The Warriors of CJNG") sent a video to a Mexican media agency. The individuals said CJNG would clean Guerrero and Michoacan states of all ills, threatened the Knights Templar and said former La Familia Michoacana leader Nazario "El Mas Loco" Moreno Gonzalez was alive and acting as a Knights Templar leader.
  • Six members of the Mexican military were injured in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas state, when a grenade thrown from a nearby bus station exploded, flipping their vehicle.
  • Authorities discovered the bodies of three executed men next to a narcomanta addressed to a gang in Apodaca, Nuevo Leon state.

March 22

  • Gunmen executed seven people, including three taxi drivers, in Acapulco, Guerrero state.
  • State police detained eight Gulf cartel members and three Los Zetas members in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state.
  • Gunmen executed a municipal police chief outside a bar in Chihuahua, Chihuahua state.
  • Gunmen left a narcomanta accusing the police chief of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, of supporting the Sinaloa Federation.

March 23

  • Gunmen shot and killed seven people at a fuel vendor's stand in Angostura, Sinaloa state.
  • Authorities found four severed heads in a truck in Acapulco, Guerrero state.
  • The Mexican military seized 9.5 metric tons of marijuana from a warehouse in Culiacan, Sinaloa state, while responding to reports of an explosion. The warehouse was being used to install secret compartments for illicit drug transportation.

March 24

  • Gunmen shot and killed a man in Acapulco, Guerrero state. The gunmen left a narcomanta with the body, but the message's contents have not been released.

March 25

  • An explosive device was detonated near a TV studio in Matamoros, Tamaulipas state. No injuries were reported.

March 26

  • Two grenade attacks injured one person in Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas state. Authorities attribute the city's recent rise in grenade attacks to fighting between rival gangs.
  • A firefight with state police left 10 gunmen dead in Temosachi, Chihuahua state.

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