Monday, July 22, 2013
Will Mexico's 'Los Zetas' Split Apart without their Leader?
arrest of Los Zetas leader Miguel "Z-40" Treviño Morales marks the most significant capture involving a Mexican
organized crime leader since 2008. On July 15, Stratfor sources confirmed Mexican and U.S. media reports saying that Treviño
was arrested in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state, and that he was being transferred to Mexico City. Reports indicate that he
was arrested late July 14, though that has not been confirmed. At least one source claims Treviño's nephew was
Treviño became the leader of Los Zetas, one of Mexico's most prolific and most territorial organized
crime groups, sometime in 2012 shortly before then-leader Heriberto "El Lazca" Lazcano Lazcano
was killed by the Mexican navy. Treviño's arrest could change Mexico's criminal landscape substantially if Los Zetas begin to unravel in his absence.
reason behind Los Zetas' success is the group's ability to replace its leadership, even its senior-most leaders, relatively
easily. In fact, Treviño succeeded Lazcano without any noticeable internal strife -- a rare occurrence among Mexican criminal groups.
ability stems from the founding members, several of whom deserted from the highly trained Special Forces Airmobile Group unit of the
Mexican army. Because ex-military personnel formed Los Zetas, members tend to move up in the group's
hierarchy through merit rather than through familial connections. This contrasts starkly with the culture of other cartels,
including the Sinaloa Federation. However, Treviño did not originate from the Mexican military like his predecessor,
so it is possible that the group's culture may have changed somewhat.
It is unclear
who will now try to keep the group together. Treviño's brother, Omar "Z-42" Treviño, will likely
continue to maintain his role in criminal operations but it remains to be seen whether he has the capability or respect within
the organization to replace his brother.
The places where cartel-related violence
could rise as a result of Treviño's capture will depend on the ability of Los Zetas to replace their top leader
as well as the strategies of Los Zetas' rivals. Should Treviño's arrest spark an internal struggle for succession,
violence could rise in the states in which Los Zetas hold a substantial presence, including Tamaulipas, Nuevo Leon, Zacatecas,
San Luis Potosi, Coahuila, Veracruz, Hidalgo, and Tabasco states.
rivals, such as the Sinaloa Federation, the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion, the Knights Templar, and factions of the Gulf cartel, probably see this transition as a moment of weakness. They could attack Los Zetas in their strongholds or otherwise try to expel Los Zetas from their own home territories.
The intelligence from Treviño's arrest
could be a boon to U.S. and Mexican officials. Unlike Lazcano, who was killed during his attempted apprehension, Treviño
survived his arrest and thus could provide valuable intelligence either through interrogation or through the seizure of his personal belongings, including mobile phones, computers
and paper records. These in turn could lead to the arrests of other high-ranking organized crime leaders.
"Mexico: Will Los Zetas Unravel Without Their Leader?" (July 15, 2013) is republished with permission of Stratfor, a privately owned publisher of geopolitical analysis where analysts use a unique, intel-based
approach to study world affairs.