Mexico Security Memo: Splits Within Los Zetas

3 MINS READAug 22, 2012 | 12:00 GMT

A Battle Between Top Zetas Leaders

Unidentified actor(s) hung a narcomanta on a bridge Aug. 18 in Chihuahua, Chihuahua state, denouncing top Zetas leaders Heriberto "El Lazca" Lazcano Lazcano and Miguel "Z-40" Trevino Morales. The top of the unsigned banner contained a picture of Ivan "El Taliban" Velazquez Caballero, also known as "Z-50," a high-level Los Zetas leader operating primarily in Zacatecas and San Luis Potosi states. The bottom of the banner read "to all My Friends and Deceased Companions" followed by pictures of former Zetas leaders. The text of the banner implies Velazquez is engaged in a territorial conflict with Trevino, whom it denounces along with Lazcano as a traitor to Los Zetas. The narcomanta goes on to claim that the Zetas are more divided than ever.

A recent increase in violence in San Luis Potosi and Zacatecas states, local media reports and Stratfor sources suggest Velazquez is indeed at war with Trevino. According to Mexican media outlets, a lone survivor among 14 corpses discovered Aug. 9 in San Luis Potosi said that the victims belonged to Los Zetas and were killed by members of a rival faction within Los Zetas. Stratfor sources indicated Velazquez is in charge of that rival faction.

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As Zetas leaders adjust to this new dynamic, violence will likely escalate in areas where Trevino and Velazquez operate. In addition to increased violence, Los Zetas' rivals, such as the Sinaloa Federation and its allies the Gulf cartel, Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion and the Knights Templar, will likely attempt to capitalize on the split. This could involve either aligning with Velazquez's faction or expanding their pre-existing anti-Zetas operations in territories where the main faction of Los Zetas operate. This opens the possibility that the conflict within Los Zetas could become widespread.

Just how seriously the rivalry between Velazquez and Trevino threatens Los Zetas as an organization remains unclear. Lazcano will probably have to choose sides, since the conflict will weaken the organization and its lucrative criminal enterprises. For his part, Trevino would face a significant threat should Velazquez align with the Sinaloa Federation or with other prominent criminal bosses within Los Zetas.

Los Zetas' Rivals in Chihuahua

The Aug. 18 banner is the second narcomanta in the city of Chihuahua since June 25 to denounce Trevino and Lazcano. The first banner was similar in message and in design.

Los Zetas have maintained a low profile in Chihuahua, with most of their activity in the area consisting of trafficking weapons from the United States. Given the similar design and message of the last two narcomantas along with the infrequency of anti-Zetas messages in Chihuahua, it is likely that the June 25 and Aug. 18 banners were authored by the same criminal group. While authorities have not attributed either Chihuahua messages to a specific group, those who posted it probably belong to the Sinaloa Federation or to one of its allies.

The information operations campaigns of authors of the Chihuahua narcomantas clearly have a wide geographical reach. Given the proximity in time and virtually identical designs of the two narcomantas, they probably were placed at the behest of the same criminal group. Los Zetas' internal rivalry probably will be reflected in further anti-Zetas propaganda by the Sinaloa Federation and its allies in multiple states, perhaps accompanied by body dumps like the one that appeared two days after the June narcomanta in Ciudad Mante.

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

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