Heriberto Lazcano, alias “Z3,” was a former commander in the Mexican special forces, before going on to head the Zetas’ drug trafficking operations. He was killed in a shootout with Mexican marines in October 2012.
Born in 1974, Lazcano joined the Mexican military in 1991, and became a member of the elite Airbone Special Forces group, known by its Spanish acronym GAFES.
He deserted from the military in the late 1990s, and was recruited to work for the Gulf Cartel’s security arm, the Zetas. He eventually became the group’s top security strategist.
By the time the Zetas broke from the Gulf Cartel in 2010, he was already managing several “plazas,” or drug corridors. He was known as one of the most aggressive and ruthless members of the Zetas, an extremely violent group.
He was indicted in the District of Columbia, and the United States put a $5 million reward for information leading to his capture.
The Zetas reportedly split into two rival factions around July 2012, one headed by Z3 and the other by Miguel Treviño Morales, alias “Z40.” Reports of Z3’s whereabouts during the split placed him outside of Mexico with the faction loyal to him being headed by Ivan Velazquez Caballero, alias “El Taliban.” El Taliban was captured in San Luis Potosi state on September 26, 2012.
Z3 was shot and killed by Mexican security forces on October 7, 2012 in Progreso, Coahuila.
Little was known about Lazcano, who turned his back on opulent displays of wealth and power common among other Mexican drug lords, and kept a low profile.
Under Lazcano’s command, the Zetas were organized in a cellular structure and low-ranking members know little about overall operations. They engaged in kidnappings, extortion, oil theft, drug trafficking, and also charged “piso,” or fees, on drugs transiting their territory
Known for his cruelty and brutality, Lazcano also earned the nickname “The Executioner.”
Under Lazcano, the Zetas’ operations stretched from the US/Mexico border into Guatemala and Central America. Having operations in at least 10 Mexican states, Lazcano’s operations were centered in northeast Mexico.
Allies and Enemies
Beyond having a falling out with Z40, Lazcano and the Zetas were in competition with the Sinaloa Cartel.
There were some reports from September 2008 suggesting Lazcano had an agreement of collaboration with the Beltran Leyva brothers and the Juarez Cartel’s Vicente Carrillo Fuentes.
Lazcano’s power as a Zetas leader had ebbed in the months before his death, having spent large chunks of his time abroad, according to reports. His death, therefore, was not expected to have the same kind of operational impact that it would have had several years before. Nonetheless, since his death, the Zetas have steadily declined since their peak circa 2010.