Mexico Security Memo: Oct. 25, 2010

9 MINS READOct 25, 2010 | 21:06 GMT
Mexico Security Memo

Los Zetas and La Familia Fight for Colima

The Colima State Attorney General's office and the 20th military zone of the Mexican Secretary of National Defense (SEDENA) confirmed Oct. 20 that the spike in violence in the small Pacific coast state of Colima over the past few months arose from a struggle between elements of La Familia Michoacana (LFM) and Los Zetas for control of the lucrative port of Manzanillo. The confirmation follows the arrest of a cell of LFM operatives detained after an Oct. 19 military raid on a suspected LFM safe-house in Tecoman, Colima. The LFM operatives confessed that they were planning to capture and execute a rival cell of Los Zetas members operating in the area that they had been surveilling. That Zeta cell attacked the LFM cell's safe-house hours before the military operation netted the LFM operatives, however, according to statements from the detained LFM cell leader. This firefight and several others between the two groups in the preceding weeks and months stem from the power vacuum created by the dissolution in July and August of the Sinaloa federation-affiliated Ignacio "El Nacho" Coronel Villarreal network, which traditionally controlled Colima and the port of Manzanillo. Along with the port of Lazaro Cardenas in Michoacan, Manzanillo's port is one of two major ports along the Mexican Pacific coast, handling large amounts of legitimate commerce from Asia and South America. Manzanillo is also a well-known entry point for illegal precursor chemicals for the production of methamphetamine, a staple source of revenue for LFM, along with other illegal drugs. The largest cocaine seizure in Mexican history occurred in Manzanillo when federal agents seized 26 tons of cocaine from an inbound cargo ship in November 2007, underscoring the strategic significance of this port in the realm of Mexican drug trafficking. LFM's core territory is based in neighboring Michoacan state. The group has been known to operate throughout the surrounding states as well, making it no stranger to Colima, where it is currently expanding operations. Los Zetas have been battling LFM throughout southwestern Mexico since 2006, and more recently in Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon after LFM became part of the New Federation. Los Zetas do not necessarily have a strategic trafficking interest in this region of Mexico. Some of their partners do, however, such as the Cartel del Pacifico Sur (CPS), headed by Hector Beltran Leyva, and the Valencia organization, also known as the Millennium cartel. Los Zetas' roots lie in enforcement and paramilitary activities, and they often are eager to contract their services in order to bring in new revenue streams. With Colima's traditional cartel power now gone and several regional organizations seeking control of the lucrative Pacific port of Manzanillo, more violence in Colima lies ahead.

134-Ton Marijuana Seizure in Tijuana

A joint law enforcement-military operation with the Tijuana municipal police along with the Baja California State Preventative Police and the Mexican army netted 134 tons of marijuana seized Oct. 18-19 from several tractor trailers and a warehouse in various locations throughout Tijuana, Baja California state. Tijuana municipal police pulled over a suspicious convoy of tractor trailers, discovering the shipment. Authorities then traced the trucks to a warehouse and other locations. The seizure is one of the largest in the history of Mexican counternarcotics operations. The total street value in the United States, the destination of the marijuana, is estimated to be in the hundreds of millions of dollars. The Mexican army reportedly incinerated all 134 tons Oct. 20. The marijuana belonged to the "El Mochomo" faction of the Sinaloa federation, and Sinaloa has announced it will kill 135 people in retaliation for the seizure. This historic bust permits a closer look at the trafficking and organized crime dynamics of the Tijuana and Baja California region, which has shifted drastically since the beginning of the year. Tijuana saw tremendous violence throughout 2008 and 2009 — with upwards of 200 people killed some weeks — as the El Teo and Sanchez Arellano factions of the Arellano Felix Organization (AFO) battled for control of the Tijuana trafficking routes into the United States. Violence in the region significantly declined after the arrest of El Teo faction leader Eduardo Teodoro "El Teo" Garcia Simental on Jan. 12 and the subsequent dismantling of the leadership of his faction by Mexican Federal Police. The Sanchez Arellano faction of the AFO, led by Fernando "El Ingeniero" Sanchez Arellano — the nephew of the group's founders, the Arellano Felix brothers — had taken several hits in its leadership and operational capability throughout the conflict. It is now a shadow of what it was in the 1990s and early 2000s. When El Teo defected from the AFO in 2008, he aligned his organization with the Sinaloa federation of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera, who always had a strategic interest in gaining a trafficking foothold in the region. With the El Teo faction removed from the equation and Sanchez Arellano faction in a very weakened state, reports began emerging that Guzman Loera and the Sinaloa federation were beginning to turn their focus away from Juarez and toward Tijuana to a limited degree. The Sinaloa federation and the AFO traditionally have been rivals, with the Sinaloa federation making several attempts over the years to take over the Tijuana region. Given its weakened state, the Sanchez Arellano faction cannot afford another conflict with a far financially and operationally superior organization. The Sinaloa federation thus is now able to traffic narcotics through the region by paying taxes to the Sanchez Arellano faction, a common practice throughout the Mexican border region. The question now is how long the Sinaloa federation will continue to pay taxes to the Sanchez Arellano faction before attempting to take control of the Tijuana region by force. The Sinaloa federation's priority remains Juarez, where they are slowly establishing their dominance. This increasing dominance in Juarez frees them up to concentrate on places like Tijuana. Though it might take several months or years to play out, Tijuana once again will be in the Sinaloa federation's crosshairs. (click here to view interactive map)

Oct. 18

  • Police in the municipality of La Barca, Jalisco state, discovered the body of a man in the trunk of an abandoned car.
  • The body of an unidentified man was discovered in the municipality of Cadereyta, Nuevo Leon state. The victim's body bore signs of torture; investigators concluded that he may have been beaten to death.
  • Federal agents freed a kidnapping victim during a raid on a house in the San Rafael Chamapa neighborhood of Naucalpan, Mexico state. Five suspected kidnappers were arrested during the incident.
  • Tamaulipas state authorities announced the kidnapping of the mayor of Cruillas, Tamaulipas state. Unidentified attackers reportedly seized the mayor and two others Oct. 13.

Oct. 19

  • Four suspected members of LFM were arrested in Ecatepec, Mexico state, for allegedly participating in the robberies of armored vehicles.
  • Unidentified attackers fired more than 700 rounds of ammunition at the City Hall in Cuencame, Durango state; no injuries were reported.
  • Unidentified attackers threw a grenade that failed to detonate at a police station in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state.

Oct. 20

  • Two burned bodies were discovered in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state. One of the victims' bodies had its hands bound.
  • Soldiers seized three suspected meth labs in the municipality of Tamazula, Durango state.
  • Suspected Gulf cartel gunmen injured two police officers in a firefight in Poza Rica, Veracruz state.

Oct. 21

  • Police announced the arrest of Fernando Contreras Meraz, who is believed to be responsible for activating a car bomb in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state, on July 15. Meraz was arrested along with 13 other people, all of whom are believed to be members of La Linea.
  • Unidentified gunmen killed a municipal policeman in Huixquilucan, Mexico state. A message was discovered near the body attributing the crime to Gerardo Alvarez Vasquez.
  • Police arrested a suspect believed to have ordered the killing of Martires de Tacubaya Mayor Antonio Jimenez Banos on Oct. 8. The suspect allegedly previously had threatened Jimenez Banos.
  • One soldier was killed and two were injured during a firefight with suspected cartel gunmen in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state.

Oct. 22

  • Police arrested Oscar Manuel Bernal, the suspected leader of Los Zetas in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state, during a raid in the Santa Clara neighborhood of Monterrey.
  • The decapitated bodies of two men were discovered in the municipality of Epazoyucan, Hidalgo state. A message attributing the crime to Los Zetas was found near the bodies.
  • The bodies of six men were found in Tuncingo, Guerrero state. The victims had all been shot to death.
  • Thirteen people were killed and 15 were injured when gunmen attacked a party in the Horizontes del Sur neighborhood of Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state.

Oct. 23

  • Unidentified gunmen killed a state police investigator in Tepic, Nayarit state.
  • Police arrested three suspected members of Los Aztecas in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state. One of the suspects held is allegedly linked to the killing of two policemen.
  • The body of an unidentified man was found in the trunk of an abandoned car in the Valle Dorado neighborhood of San Nicolas, Nuevo Leon state. The victim bore signs of torture and had his hands bound.

Oct. 24

  • One person was killed and three others were injured in an attack by unidentified gunmen in the municipality of Leonardo Bravo, Guerrero state. The victims were ambushed by attackers hidden in underbrush as they drove.
  • A firefight between police and unidentified gunmen was reported in the Zacatecas neighborhood of Torreon, Coahuila state. One policeman was injured and three suspects were killed.

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