More than a dozen dead bodies and a message posted in Nuevo Laredo last week offer further evidence of Joaquin ‘El Chapo’ Guzman’s move into this Zetas hotbed, and promise a further bout of violence in Mexico’s troubled northeast.
As Blog del Narco reports, the bodies of 14 alleged Zetas were discovered last week in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, a long-troubled border town across the Rio Grande from Laredo, Texas. Alongside the bodies the perpetrators posted a message, or "narcomanta," explaining the killings:
To the citizens:
We have already begun to sweep Zetas from Nuevo Laredo because we want a free city so that you live in peace. We are drug traffickers and we don’t mess with honest, hard-working people or businesses.
We don’t want anyone to pay extortion quotas to these degenerates. As such, anyone who pays a quota will be considered a traitor for financing the Zetas.
I am going to show these dirtbags how to work in the Sinaloa style, without kidnapping, without cost, without extortion.
And as far as you, 40, I’m telling you that you don’t scare me. I know you sent H to toss heads here in my turf, because you don’t have the stones nor the people to do it yourself.
Don’t forget that I’m your real Daddy.
The “40” in the message is Miguel Angel Treviño, the Zetas leader based in Nuevo Laredo, and a longtime adversary of Guzman’s. The “H” is presumably Hector Beltran Leyva, the last remaining brother from the once-powerful clan. Beltran Levya, unlike the Zetas bosses, is from Sinaloa, and would presumably have an easier time attacking Guzman’s people on his turf. The comment also suggests that the alliance between the Zetas and what’s left of the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO), which was first hammered out in 2008, remains intact, despite the blows the latter group has suffered.[See InSight Crime's profiles of the Zetas and Z-40]
Alfredo Beltran Leyva was captured in 2008, an event that sparked the group’s rupture with the Sinaloa Cartel, as his brothers blamed Guzman for the arrest. Arturo Beltran Leyva was killed in 2009 in a shootout with Mexican troops in Cuernavaca, and his brother Carlos was arrested a month later. Shortly thereafter, the BLO split into a handful of different splinter groups, including the South Pacific Cartel and the Mano con Ojos.
The message from Guzman also reflects differences between the operations of the Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel. As the authors allege, the Zetas have a reputation for extracting a larger proportion of their revenue from the civilian population through robberies, extortion, kidnapping, and other activities. In contrast, the Sinaloa Cartel is known for focusing on trafficking cocaine, methamphetamine, and other illicit drugs. Neither assertion is wholly true, but they reflect a popular perception.[See InSight Crime's profile of the Sinaloa Cartel]
Nuevo Laredo is highly sought-after territory because much bilateral commerce with the eastern part of the United States passes through the city. According to the US Bureau of Transportation Statistics, more than 1.7 million trucks passed through the Nuevo Laredo crossing in 2011, more than double the figure at any other border crossing. Nuevo Laredo is also the fourth-busiest crossing in terms of passenger cars.
Guzman made an aborted play for Nuevo Laredo, one of the most significant border crossings into the US, following the 2003 arrest of Gulf boss Osiel Cardenas, but he abandoned the move after a few years of bloody fighting. The appearance of the bodies comes just three weeks after another narcomanta was posted in Nuevo Laredo, which also warned of Guzman’s arrival in the city.
A renewed fight for the city would surely bring a great deal of violence, but the circumstances have changed significantly since 2004. The biggest difference between then and now is that the Zetas, once a military wing of the Gulf Cartel, split from their progenitors in 2010. The two groups, who acted as one to push Guzman’s Sinaloa Cartel out during the middle of last decade, have been fighting openly since Gulf members killed a Zeta commander that year. Indeed, though the banner does not mention it, Guzman is presumably acting with the support of the Gulf Cartel, which has been linked to Sinaloa in the past. Such an alliance may give the Sinaloa Cartel an upper hand, especially as it relates to intelligence matters, to successfully eject the Zetas.
Controlling Nuevo Laredo could give the Sinaloa Cartel a convenient toehold to make a play for the entire northeast, as it is just a short drive from other crossings that are heavily used by traffickers, in Matamoros and Reynosa. The Sinaloa Cartel already handles much of the illicit traffic west of Nuevo Laredo and may now be making its long expected push to the east.