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Column 080513 Wall

Monday, August 5, 2013

The Mexican Navy Downs a Cartel Leader but Loses an Admiral

By Allan Wall

The Mexican Navy is on the frontlines of the Mexican government’s war against the drug cartels, and has received high marks from analysts for its work.  In the month of July, the Navy enjoyed a great victory against one cartel and suffered a great defeat from another one. 

The victory was the capture of Miguel Treviño, leader of the ruthless Zetas.  This organization was originally formed as an enforcement arm of the Gulf Cartel.  The Zetas’ original operatives were recruited from Mexican Special Forces.  (Treviño, however, did not have a military background, but had joined the organization as a young man and worked his way up.)  The Zetas later broke with the Gulf Cartel and the two groups are now enemies.  The Zetas have branched out and have their tentacles in migrant smuggling, kidnapping, extortion, prostitution and product counterfeiting, and the group is thought to be responsible for the killings of illegal aliens passing through Mexico, including a mass slaughter of 72 Central and South American illegal aliens in 2010.

Treviño (known as Z-40, or el Cuarenta) was captured by the Mexican Navy on July 15th, in the pre-dawn hours, on a dirt road near Anahuac, Nuevo Leon, near the U.S. border.  This indicates that the Navy had very good intelligence, they knew where he was and when he was passing through the area.  Treviño was travelling in a vehicle with his bodyguard and accountant,  and he was captured by vehicles on the ground and by a Mexican Navy Blackhawk helicopter which swooped down.  The Zeta leader attempted to escape and run into the brush, but to no avail. 

The capture of el Cuarenta is thought to strengthen the hand of el Chapo Guzman, enemy of the Zetas.  As for infighting within the Zetas, that’s happened before, pitting Treviño against Heriberto Lazcano, who was killed by security forces in October 2012.  That left Treviño as the main leader of the Zetas, although that  same month a splinter group, Los Legionarios, split off to fight him.  

Treviño’s successor is his brother Alejandro (known as Omar) and the question  is, can he keep a lid on things? 

In any case, the Treviño capture constituted a real coup for the Mexican Navy, as well as being the most high-profile capture for President Peña Nieto’s administration to date.

In the southern state of Michoacan, the violence has worsened.  Michoacan is a beautiful state but  the very geographical features that make it beautiful (mountains, valleys, forests, rivers, winding roads, coastline) make it an effective area for criminals to operate in and conceal themselves.

The most powerful gang in the state call themselves the Caballeros Templarios, or Knights Templar, naming themselves after the medieval crusader order.  Besides drug smuggling, the Templarios use violence to extort money from farms, sawmills and others businesses.

But the Templarios aren’t the only force in the state. Their main rivals are the Jalisco Cartel - New Generation (CJNG) and much of the violence is on the border with the state of Jalisco.  And there are other groups, even the Zetas (enemies of the Templarios)  have been moving in.

And, to resist the cartels, self-defense organizations have sprung up in the state.  This is understandable, given the situation, but some of the self-defense groups have been accused of links to cartels.  

Late July in Michoacan saw coordinated ambushes  attacking security forces and an attack on a local self-defense force.

On July 28th, Mexican Vice Admiral Carlos Miguel Salazar, commander of a Puerto Vallarta naval base, was travelling in an unmarked SUV with his wife, his bodyguard and the driver.  The vehicle encountered what appeared to be a protest and thus detoured onto an unpaved road.  It was on that road that the vehicle was ambushed by gunmen, who killed the admiral and the bodyguard.  The killing has been attributed to the Templarios and three suspects were detained. 

Once again, there was effective intelligence work here.  The Templarios must have known where the admiral was, what vehicle he was traveling in, and what route he was taking.  Does that mean that the Mexican Navy has a security leak? 

The complex violence continues, and the Mexican Navy has its work cut out for it.


Allan Wall, an educator, resided in Mexico for many years.  His website is located at

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