Banners signed by the Gulf Cartel

Two large Mexican drug cartels -- once thought to be reeling due to infighting, pressure from authorities, and constant assaults by rivals -- appear to be on the rise again, according to law enforcement and independent crime analysts.

The Gulf Cartel and the Beltran Leyva Organization have surged in various parts of the country, including critical, strategic drug production and trafficking corridors in northeast and western Mexico.

After a prolonged battle, the Gulf Cartel has taken control of most of the industrial hub of Monterrey, which was under the Zetas' domination since until at least 2010, when the latter broke from the Gulf and the two began a pitched battle across the northeast of the country.

Mexican and foreign government intelligence analysts, as well as the independent crime-watching service Southern Pulse, say at least three-quarters of Greater Monterrey Metropolitan -- which includes the municipalities of Apodaca, Garcia, General Escobedo, Guadalupe, Juarez, Monterrey, San Nicolas de los Garza, San Pedro Garza Garcia, Santa Catarina, and Santiago -- is under Gulf control now.

This dramatic and somewhat surprising assessment comes after years of pinpoint assaults on Zetas' drug distribution points and safe houses by both the Gulf and their allies, the Sinaloa Cartel.

Monterrey is important for many reasons. The city lies along an important trafficking corridor leading to Nuevo Laredo, where more commercial vehicles cross into the United States than at any other point along the 3,169 km border.

The Zetas remain the power in Nuevo Laredo, and it is the de facto headquarters of the organization following the death Zetas leader Heriberto Lazcano , alias "Z-3," at the hands of Naval forces in October. The Zetas' new leader, Miguel Treviño, alias "Z-40," has long been based in the Nuevo Laredo area.

Monterrey also has numerous sources of local revenue, which the Zetas, more than many other large Mexican criminal groups, use to sustain their forces and expand into new territories. The plethora of money-making operations in the city include local drug peddling, kidnapping, extortion and theft.

(For a more complete accounting of the Zetas' history and revenue streams in Monterrey, see The Zetas and the Battle for Monterrey)

The steady erosion of the Zetas' stranglehold in the city has coincided with a drop in homicides. According to state government statistics, homicides in the municipality of Monterrey, for example, dropped to 11 in November, compared to 73 in August. (See statistics for all Greater Monterrey here)

The resurgence of the Gulf is even more surprising considering the recent arrest of the group's top leader Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez , alias "El Coss." Security analysts consulted by InSight Crime speculated that this resurgence in Monterrey may also be related to the deterioration of the Zetas, who, in addition to losing their top leader, have suffered from infighting in recent months.

In this fratricidal struggle, real and symbolic figures make for legitimate targets. In January, 17 members of the Vallenato group Kombo Kolombia were intercepted and killed after playing at a private party. Vallenato, the Colombian music named for its birthplace Valledupar, is reportedly a favorite of the Zetas. The way the music group was tracked and massacred suggests the victims were more of a bloody message than an attack of any operational value.

Still, the situation in the northeast remains in flux. In January, InSight Crime, and other media, reported the death of David Salgado, alias "Metro 4," a top level Gulf member, in a firefight between the cities of Matamoros and Reynosa. Authorities did not confirm his death, but one intelligence official in the area told InSight Crime that Metro 4 was betrayed by his own men.

Meanwhile, the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO), a Zetas' ally that was also thought to be in decline, has recovered and is threatening its former boss, the Sinaloa Cartel, in other parts of the country. The latest blow came with the reported death of Felix Adolfo Jauregui Meza, alias "El Paletero," a Sinaloa Cartel lieutenant in Sonora where the BLO and Zetas have been steadily reclaiming territory.

Coupled with repeated blows the BLO has delivered to the Sinaloa group in their namesake and the emergence of a new strongman tied to their loose, nationwide alliance with the Zetas and the Juarez Cartel, it appears the BLO has returned to the form that once made it one of the most feared cartels in Mexico.

In January, the US government said Fausto Isidro Meza Flores, alias "Chapito Isidro" -- a longtime BLO ally who hails from the same area as the Beltran Leyva brothers, as well as Sinaloa Cartel heads, Joaquin Guzman, alias "El Chapo," and Ismael Zambada, alias "El Mayo" -- plays "a significant role in international narcotics trafficking." 

Chapito Isidro has a strong presence in Sinaloa and Sonora, two longtime BLO areas of operation. To be sure, Isidro reportedly organized a brutal 2010 ambush in Sonora of Chapo Guzman's men, which left some 29 dead and many others wounded.

The BLO seems to be winning legal struggles as well. The case against five high-level retired military officials, who were allegedly part of their structure, is falling apart, the Attorney General's office told a judge

Perhaps more importantly, one of their top leaders, the infamous Alfredo Beltran Leyva, alias "El Mochomo," has not been extradited to the United States and by some accounts continues to operate the organization from prison. 

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
Prev Next

Counting Firearms in Honduras

Counting Firearms in Honduras

Estimates vary widely as to how many legal and illegal weapons are circulating in Honduras. There are many reasons for this. The government does not have a centralized database that tracks arms seizures, purchases, sales and other matters concerning arms possession, availability and merchandising. The laws surrounding...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Power

  The Bajo Cauca Franchise BACRIM-Land Armed Power Dynamics The BACRIM in places like the region of Bajo Cauca are a typical manifestation of Colombia's underworld today: a semi-autonomous local cell that is part of a powerful national network.

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Murder

  Life of a Sicario Anatomy of a Hit   The BACRIM's control over territories such as the north Colombian region of Bajo Cauca comes at the point of a gun, and death is a constant price of their power.

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

The department of Nariño in southwest Colombia is the main coca-producing area in the country and in the world. It is a place scarred by poverty and years of armed conflict between guerrillas, the state and paramilitary groups. Perhaps nowhere else in the country are the challenges...

Trafficking Firearms in Honduras

Trafficking Firearms in Honduras

The weapons trade within Honduras is difficult to monitor. This is largely because the military, the country's sole importer, and the Armory, the sole salesmen of weapons, do not release information to the public. The lack of transparency extends to private security companies, which do not have...

Trafficking Firearms Into Honduras

Trafficking Firearms Into Honduras

Honduras does not produce weapons,[1] but weapons are trafficked into the country in numerous ways. These vary depending on weapon availability in neighboring countries, demand in Honduras, government controls and other factors. They do not appear to obey a single strategic logic, other than that of evading...

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

Homicides in Guatemala: Introduction, Methodology, and Major Findings

When violence surged in early 2015 in Guatemala, then-President Otto Pérez Molina knew how to handle the situation: Blame the street gangs. 

Closing the Gaps on Firearms Trafficking in Honduras

Closing the Gaps on Firearms Trafficking in Honduras

As set out in this report, the legal structure around Honduras' arms trade is deeply flawed. The legislation is inconsistent and unclear as to the roles of different institutions, while the regulatory system is insufficiently funded, anachronistic and administered by officials who are overworked or susceptible to...

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

InSide Colombia's BACRIM: Money

  Drugs Extortion Criminal Cash Flows Millions of dollars in dirty money circulate constantly around Bajo Cauca, flowing upwards and outwards from a broad range of criminal activities. The BACRIM are the chief regulators and beneficiaries of this shadow economy.