Sep 29, 2011 | 11:58 GMT

9 mins read

Mexico Security Memo: Zetas on the Defensive in Veracruz


Body Dumps of Zetas Members in Veracruz

The bodies of nearly 50 people with suspected ties to Los Zetas, including 35 dumped in one location along a main road, have been found since Sept. 20 throughout Veracruz, Veracruz state. The discovery of the bodies comes only a few weeks after the Mexican navy dismantled a large Zetas communications network Sept. 8 in Veracruz state. Though it is not clear at this point who was responsible for the body dumps, these incidents indicate that the cartel war is intensifying in Veracruz and that the Zetas are taking the brunt of the action from both other cartels and Mexican authorities. On Sept. 20 around 5 p.m., two flatbed trucks with 35 bodies (23 men and 12 women) were left on a roundabout near Manuel Avila Camacho Boulevard in Boca del Rio, a southern suburb of Veracruz. Most of the bodies were piled in the trucks, with a few surrounding the vehicles. Photos of the incident indicated the victims had been dead for some time. It is believed almost all of the victims were killed by suffocation. (click here to enlarge image) Some of the dead were reported to be escaped inmates from three jails in Veracruz who had broken out between 2:30 and 4 a.m. on Sept. 19, although Mexican authorities have not confirmed that any of the bodies were escaped inmates. A narcomanta left at the scene stated, among other things, "To the people of Veracruz, don't pay extortion." It was reportedly signed "G.N.," although this was not seen in photos of the banner nor has it been confirmed by authorities. On Sept. 22, 14 bodies were found in various locations in the greater Veracruz metro area. The cause of death of the majority of the victims was also suffocation and, just as in the first incident, the bodies were marked with "Por Z," which has been interpreted to mean the bodies were "for the Zetas" or "for being a Zeta." No narcomantas have been reported found near any of the bodies discovered Sept. 22, although the banner left Sept. 20 at the other location warned there were more bodies to come. It is still not clear who carried out the killing of the nearly 50 people, but there are clues that point to the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG), which previously declared war on all cartels but now is rumored to be aligned with the Sinaloa Federation. The narcomanta ordering citizens not to pay extortion is obviously an attempt by the perpetrators of these killings to announce they are on the side of the people of Veracruz. The idea that the Zetas are the most violent cartel is partially due to the perceived threat they pose to civilians. If the attackers could be seen as supporting the people against the Zetas, similar to what the Knights Templar have attempted, it could help minimize public sentiment against the group or even gain them public favor and further undermine the Zetas' position. In a video released Sept. 24, the CJNG stated it would not extort, kidnap or otherwise harm innocent civilians, fitting with the message left on the narcomanta. The CJNG also stated in the video its intention to destroy the Zetas, calling its members "Matazetas," or Zeta killers. Although the group did not specifically claim responsibility for the Sept. 20 and Sept. 22 body dumps, the message of supporting the public and a desire to crush Los Zetas is consistent with other videos and messages from the group. In fact, they have reportedly handed out business cards to locals in Guadalajara with a phone number to call if a citizen is being blackmailed or harassed by other gangs so that they can kill the offenders. Another party that may have been responsible for the killings is La Gente Nueva, the enforcement arm of the Sinaloa Federation. The Sinaloa Federation does not officially permit its members to extort civilians — although unauthorized extortion certainly happens at the street level — because, as the most powerful cartel in Mexico holding the most valuable territory, Sinaloa does not need the revenue stream from extortion. Although they are extremely violent, their violence is usually directed at other cartels and the Mexican authorities, not civilians. If the attacks were carried out by La Gente Nueva, this would be the first time they have been seen or identified this far east or in Veracruz. It is possible the Gulf cartel was responsible for these attacks, mainly because it has a stake in the battle for Veracruz, but it is not certain the Gulf cartel has the ability to pull off such brazen attacks — they have been on the defensive since losing the plaza to the Zetas in early 2010. Regardless of whether the murders were carried out by the CJNG unilaterally or on behalf of the Sinaloa Federation, they will help Sinaloa. Attacking the Zetas could allow Sinaloa to gain a foothold in Veracruz, an important smuggling hub for drugs and people and a major port of entry for precursor chemicals used in the production of methamphetamine. It would also be a significant move by the Sinaloa Federation into the eastern half of the country, which is traditionally Gulf or Zetas territory. If the Sinaloa Federation believes it is strong enough in relation to Los Zetas to make this move deep in Zetas turf, it could be a sign the Zetas are weakening. The Zetas are fighting in a substantial number of locations and with numerous enemies. STRATFOR sources also indicate they are having problems with internal fracturing as different factions fight over territory and money. The dumping of bodies is a clear sign that whoever carried out the attacks does not believe the Zetas can retaliate in force, and the next few weeks will show whether this is true. If the Zetas are unable to strike back hard to prove they can protect their territory and personnel, the competing cartels will perceive weakness and move in to crush them. (click here to view interactive map)

Sept. 20

  • During the celebration of the 415th anniversary of the founding of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state, gunmen scattered the remains of Topo Chico prison guards in Monterrey. A narcomanta was left with one of the bodies, but authorities have not released the contents of the message.
  • Mexican authorities arrested 10 federal police officers for extortion in Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua state. The arrest came after a tip by a junkyard owner who stated the police officers threatened to force him to transport drugs if he did not pay them $3,000 within a year.
  • Mexican authorities announced the arrest of a high-level leader of the Knights Templar, Saul "El Lince" Solis Solis. The leader was arrested a day prior in Nueva Italia, Michoacan state.
  • The bodies of at least 40 alleged Los Zetas members were dumped near a major road in Veracruz. Some of the bodies were suspended from a post along the road while the rest were either in two flatbed trucks or nearby on the road. A narcomanta displayed between the two trucks denounced extortion and the killing of innocent people.
  • The Mexican military arrested 19 Los Zetas members in Anahuac, Nuevo Leon state. All were shown to the public wearing camouflage uniforms.

Sept. 21

  • In four separate attacks, gunmen attacked three police stations, injuring six police officers, in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state. After one of the attacks, gunmen launched another attack against federal police sent to reinforce one of the attacked police stations.
  • Approximately 30 gunmen in five to seven vehicles assisted in the escape of two people who had been detained in a juvenile detention facility on the Zacatecas-Guadalajara highway in Zacatecas state.
  • Gunmen attempted to kidnap the Benito Juarez municipal police chief in Paseos Kabah, Quintana Roo state.

Sept. 22

  • Fifteen executed bodies were placed in various locations in Pedro I Mata, Zaragoza and Vista Hermosa, Veracruz state. The bodies were semi-nude and showed signs of torture.

Sept. 24

  • An enforcer wing of the CJNG, the Matazetas, released a video wherein they stated their intent to eradicate Los Zetas. The video states they do not intend to harm innocent individuals or interfere with the Mexican government. The video statement explained security concerns for several areas within Veracruz state.
  • An execution video was released of two individuals who claimed to be halcones for the Sinaloa Federation. In the video, the individuals were interviewed by the executioners and then beheaded with a chainsaw and a butcher knife.
  • Three narcomantas signed by the New Juarez Cartel were placed in various areas of Chihuahua City, Chihuahua state. The message was directed threats towards Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera and Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada Garcia, leaders of the Sinaloa Federation.
  • A woman was found decapitated in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state, along with a narcomanta apparently written by Los Zetas. The message blames the woman's death on negative statements she posted on social networking website Nuevo Laredo en Vivo.

Sept. 26

  • Four individuals were wounded when a grenade was thrown at a bar in Reynosa, Tamaulipas state.
  • At least five narcomantas were displayed in Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz state, denouncing Mexican senators and the Mexican military for the lack of help in the disappearance of innocent people. The banners were signed "Desperate Society."

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