Heriberto Lazcano, alias Z-3

The Mexican Navy said Zetas leader Heriberto Lazcano, alias "Z-3," was killed in a firefight with marines on Sunday afternoon -- a loss which could accelerate the group's slide into chaos -- but the navy still does not have a body to prove it.

According to an official statement, on Sunday at 1.30 p.m. the marines received reports that gunmen were active in Progreso, Coahuila. A patrol was sent to investigate, and was attacked with grenades. One marine was injured and two presumed gunmen were killed in the ensuing gun battle, one of whom was named as Lazcano.

Doubts have been raised about the report because the corpse identified as Lazcano was stolen from a funeral home by a group of gunmen, according to the Coahuila attorney general. The navy said, however, it had identified Lazcano's body by his fingerprints before it went missing. The navy also released two alleged photographs of Lazcano’s face and body.

In recent months, Lazcano has been the more evasive of the Zetas’ top leaders. There were rumors that he was in South America, or even Europe.

Meanwhile, the other top commander of the Zetas, Miguel Angel Treviño, alias “Z-40,” had a very public split with one faction of the Zetas, led by the recently captured “El Taliban,”  in Central Mexico.

There was talk that this split included a growing rift between Lazcano and Treviño, which Treviño’s camp denied, through several banners hung in select cities across Mexico.

But the split may help explain why Lazcano was in the country at all.

InSight Crime Analysis

[See video, below, for InSight Crime co-director Steven Dudley talking about what the future holds for the Zetas following the alleged death of El Lazca.]

Lazcano has proven a slippery figure, even after his supposed death. This is the third time during President Felipe Calderon’s term that Lazcano has been reported dead, which may have been what prompted the marines to release the photos of the corpse. And, as analyst Alejandro Hope has pointed out, there are a few peculiarities about the way Lazcano was allegedly killed. The Zetas leader appeared to be poorly armed, and accompanied by few bodyguards.

This is a marked contrast to the deaths of other top cartel leaders, including Gulf Cartel leader Antonio Cardenas Guillen, alias "Tony Tormenta," Familia Michoacana leader Nazario Moreno Gonzalez, alias "El Chayo," and Beltran Leyva Organization leader Arturo Beltran Leyva, all of whom were killed in dramatic gun battles that lasted several hours. 

It is also curious that the marines presented the operation against Lazcano as having taken place almost by chance: so far it is not clear whether this was a targeted attack against the Zetas leader. It does raise the question of whether the marines had identified the man as Lazcano when they killed him.

In the end, the apparent theft of Lazacano's body is an embarrassing reminder about the limits on the power of the Mexican security forces. What's more, the loss of the body takes away from what would be a big victory for the Calderon administration: Lazcano would be the highest-level capo to be killed or captured since Sinaloa Cartel leader Ignacio Coronel Villarreal in 2010.  

The question now is what this means for the Zetas and Mexico. Lazcano’s power as a Zetas leader had ebbed in recent months. He spent large chunks of his time abroad, according to reports. His death, therefore, may not have the same kind of operational impact that it would have had in 2010.

Lazcano did, however, control much of the Zetas' finances, according to Sam Logan, founder of Southern Pulse and author of a recent book on Lazcano and the Zetas, "The Executioner's Men." His ability to unite the troops will also be missed, Logan told InSight Crime.  

With Lazcano gone, Treviño is now the most visible leader of the Zetas. There are three possible developments:

- The Zetas will coalesce around Treviño

- Several factions of the Zetas will reject Treviño's leadership, leading to greater infighting

- Some combination of these two outcomes

The third option is the most likely. Treviño has already been accused by other Zetas commanders of being a “traitor” and betraying his comrades; it is possible that Lazcano’s death will give more traction to such arguments.

The result will likely be more violence, especially in the northeast where this group has concentrated its forces. Mexican analyst Hope says the group is spiraling toward "banditry."

Ultimately, as InSight Crime has previously argued, Lazcano’s death will not halt the Zetas’ split, but will accelerate it. Unlike Mexico’s traditional drug cartels, whose revenue came from the international trafficking of drugs, the Zetas have no need of international contacts to make money: much of their revenue comes from local criminal activities that can be practiced by anyone at any time.

In other words, the Zetas are a group built around collecting profits from various criminal activities -- including local drug trafficking, extortion, kidnapping, and theft -- which any criminal with weapons, infrastructure and a fierce reputation can do.

This is not a sustainable model, as it encourages local cells to split off and try to make a living by themselves. The Zetas’ bloody, violent decline is inevitable; Lazcano’s death will do little to slow it.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Colombia Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

The power of Colombia's elites is founded upon one of the most unequal divisions of land in the world. As of the early 21st century, one percent of landowners own more than half the country's agricultural land.1  Under Spanish rule, Colombia's agriculture was organized on the hacienda...

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Honduras Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Honduras is currently one of the most violent countries on the planet that is not at war. The violence is carried out by transnational criminal organizations, local drug trafficking groups, gangs and corrupt security forces, among other actors. Violence is the focal point for the international aid...

Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction

Organized crime and the violence associated with it is the preeminent problem in Latin America and the Caribbean today. The region is currently home to six of the most violent countries in the world that are not at war. Four of those countries are in Central America...

Special Report: Gangs in Honduras

Special Report: Gangs in Honduras

In a new report based on extensive field research, InSight Crime and the Asociacion para una Sociedad mas Justa have traced how Honduras' two largest gangs, the MS13 and the Barrio 18, are evolving, and how their current modus operandi has resulted in staggering levels of violence...

Bolivia: the New Hub for Drug Trafficking in South America

Bolivia: the New Hub for Drug Trafficking in South America

Transnational organized crime likes opportunities and little resistance. Bolivia currently provides both and finds itself at the heart of a new criminal dynamic that threatens national and citizen security in this landlocked Andean nation.

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

Justice and the Creation of a Mafia State in Guatemala

As Guatemala's Congress gears up to select new Supreme Court Justices and appellate court judges, InSight Crime is investigating how organized crime influences the selection process. This story details the interests of one particular political bloc vying for control over the courts and what's at stake: millions...

The FARC 2002-Present: Decapitation and Rebirth

The FARC 2002-Present: Decapitation and Rebirth

In August 2002, the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) greeted Colombia's new president with a mortar attack that killed 14 people during his inauguration. The attack was intended as a warning to the fiercely anti-FARC newcomer. But it became the opening salvo of...

The Urabeños - The Criminal Hybrid

The Urabeños - The Criminal Hybrid

The mad scramble for criminal power in the aftermath of the demobilization of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) is over. The Urabeños, or as they prefer to call themselves, the "Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia," have won.

Mexico's Security Dilemma: The Battle for Michoacan

Mexico's Security Dilemma: The Battle for Michoacan

Faced with the government's failure to rein in the criminals, communities across crime-besieged Mexico have been trying for years to organize effective civic resistance. Michoacan's vigilantes express the most extreme response by society to date, but other efforts have been less belligerent. In battle-torn cities along the...

Uruguay's Marijuana Bill Faces Political, Economic Obstacles

Uruguay's Marijuana Bill Faces Political, Economic Obstacles

If Uruguay's proposal to regulate the production, sale and distribution of marijuana is properly implemented and overcomes political and economic hurdles, it could be the most important drug regulation experiment in decades.