• Connect with us on Linkedin

What Follows Zetas Leader's Takedown in Mexico

Zetas leader Miguel Angel Treviño Zetas leader Miguel Angel Treviño

The takedown by Mexican marines of Zetas uber-thug Miguel Angel Treviño offers crime fighters on both sides of the border encouraging signs that Mexico can still hope to bring its vicious and avaricious gangsters to heel.

Linkedin
Google +

Treviño's capture suggests that President Enrique Peña Nieto remains willing to work closely with US agencies in waging the anti-gang war. It indicates that the most violent gangsters may be given highest priority. It confirms that, for all the talk about dialing back the military's role in the fight, troops will stay in the front trenches.

Monday's pre-dawn arrest, made as Treviño traveled with just two henchmen on a dirt back road about 20 miles from the South Texas border, underscores the key role still played by Mexican Navy special forces, who have been nurtured and favored by Washington.

But Treviño's sunset brings these hard truths as well: there are plenty more where he came from, and their scramble for power, wealth and fame will unleash bloodletting as surely as night follows day.

SEE ALSO: Zetas Profile

"There's definitely going to be a fallout given that the Zetas organization is very vindictive," says Mike Vigil, onetime DEA chief in Mexico City who now is a private consultant specializing on Mexican organized crime groups. "There will be retribution."

Treviño's supposed successor is his younger brother, Alejandro, called Omar, who leads the gang's operations from Piedras Negras, upstream on the Rio Grande from the gang's stronghold in Nuevo Laredo. Vigil notes that Omar, also known as "Z-42," has publicly boasted that while Miguel Treviño may have killed 2,000 people, Omar has slaughtered 1,000 others.

"Omar is as ruthless and violent as his brother," Vigil says. "I don't think he's as intelligent. But he's capable enough to control the Zetas. He learned from Miguel."

Still, the Treviño brothers have faced recent rebellion by Zetas lieutenants who suspect them of betraying rivals within the organization. Among the betrayed are Jesus Enrique Rejon, "El Mamito," captured two years ago and now a US government witness; Ivan Velasquez, called "El Taliban," arrested in September 2012; and former Zetas boss Heriberto Lazcano, "Z-3," killed by Mexican marines in northern Mexico last October.

Loyalists to all three men may have it in for Omar, who is also likely on the radar of US and Mexican security forces. Should Omar fall, lesser Zetas -- whose names are known only to those towns and villages they're tormenting -- will surely go at one another in hopes of replacing him.

That's what happened in Acapulco and other areas once in the grip of the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO), which largely unraveled after US-supported Mexican marines killed family kingpin Arturo in December 2009 and police quickly scooped up his principal lieutenants. Smaller gangs have emerged from the Beltran Leyva remnants, dedicated to kidnapping and extortion and even more brutal than the gang that spawned them.

Internal Zetas feuding, as well as offensives by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the Gulf Cartel, and other rivals could spark bloody battles throughout the gang's territory, particularly the northeastern border states of Coahuila, Tamaulipas, and Nuevo Leon.

Guzman, now allied with former enemies in the once dominant Gulf Cartel, is already making a renewed play for Nuevo Laredo, a key smuggling point he tried and failed to capture from the Zetas between 2004 and 2005. The Gulf Cartel, which lost its leaders last fall, have regained lost ground from the Zetas in metropolitan Monterrey and moved into western Zacatecas state, a Zetas stronghold.

"We're giving all the support to the [Gulf Cartel] to clear Zetas from Mexico," vow banners that appeared Monday in Tamaulipas purportedly signed by Guzman, who portrays himself as a less bloodthirsty mobster who leaves innocents in peace.

SEE ALSO: Coverage on the Zetas

InSight Crime Analysis

Peña Nieto has long promised to dial back the military-heavy strategy of his predecessor, Felipe Calderon, who emphasized going after kingpins and displacing gangs from their territory. Instead, Peña Nieto has pledged to emphasize attacking the social roots of Mexico's gangster culture and focusing on those crimes, such as extortion and kidnapping, that most affect average Mexicans. Meanwhile, critics on both sides of the border have expressed fear that Peña Nieto might try to reach some kind of agreement with the gangs in exchange for less bloodshed, echoing the approach once adopted by his party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

But the Zetas' brutality and territorial reach -- they operate in 20 of Mexico's 32 states, as well Central America -- have made them impossible to ignore. Their preference for violently preying on communities, rather than simply trafficking drugs to the US, makes it essential for Mexico to vigorously pursue them.

Treviño's capture has now undeniably boosted Peña Nieto's anti-crime credentials. It's also reaffirmed the value of the Mexican Navy's special forces, who led the fight under Calderon but whose operations had been curtailed, at least publicly, under Peña Nieto.

The well-coordinated operation, which Mexican officials say came off without a shot being fired, also suggests close cooperation with US intelligence services, likely involving the surveillance drones that patrol the borderlands.

Because of the surveillance, gang bosses have largely abandoned their practice of traveling with well armed but easily identified SUV convoys. Last October, Mexican marines killed Lazcano, Treviño's predecessor as Zetas boss, as he attended a village baseball game in Coahuila accompanied by only two bodyguards.

Even as Treviño's capture is a coup for Peña Nieto, past removals of kingpins have often sparked even more violence. Few of the Zetas' current recruits have the levels of military training and discipline as those who founded the criminal group in the late 1990s. Now unleashed, these unhinged killers remain deeply embedded in many Mexican towns and villages.

"This can well finish off the Zetas as an organization, but not as a culture, as a method of operating, as a cursed means of obtaining money at the cost of indescribable suffering of others," crime analyst Alejandro Hope writes in his blog, Plata or Plomo. "This will still accompany us for a good while."

Faced with that truth, Peña Nieto and his security team now must hold firm, and push to finish off the Zetas once and for all.

Linkedin
Google +

---

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We also encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, provided that it is attributed to InSight Crime in the byline, with a link to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

InSight Crime Search

The Complete Organized Crime Database on the Americas

InSight Crime Social

facebooktwittergooglelinkedin

InSight Crime Special Series

The Zetas in Nuevo Laredo

Los Zetas in Nuevo Laredo

After the capture of Zetas boss "Z40," Nuevo Laredo is bracing itself for the worst. This investigation breaks down what makes the city such an important trafficking corridor, and what it will take for the Zetas to maintain their grip on the city.

See entire series »

 

Uruguay's Marijuana Bill

Uruguay: Marijuana, Organized Crime and the Politics of Drugs

Uruguay is poised to become the first country on the planet to regulate the production, sale, and distribution of the drug.

See entire series »

El Salvador's Gang Truce

El Salvador's Gang Truce

The truce between El Salvador's two largest gangs -- the MS-13 and the Barrio 18 -- opens up new possibilities in how to deal with

See entire series »

Juarez After The War

Juarez After The War

As a bitter war between rival cartels grinds to an end, Ciudad Juarez has lost the title of world murder capital, and is moving towards something more like normality.

See entire series »

The Zetas And The Battle For Monterrey

The Zetas and the Battle for Monterrey

InSight Crime delves into the Zetas' battle for Mexico’s industrial capital, Monterrey, getting to the essence of a criminal gang that defies easy definition.

See entire series »

Slavery in Latin America

Slavery in Latin America

InSight Crime coordinated an investigation into modern slavery, looking at how Latin America’s criminal groups traffic human beings and force them to work as slaves.

See entire series »

FARC, Peace and Criminalization

FARC, Peace and Possible Criminalization

The possibility of ending nearly 50 years of civil conflict is being dangled before Colombia. While the vast majority of the Colombian public want to see peace, the enemies of the negotiations appear to be strong, and the risks inherent in the process are high.

See entire series »

Displacement in Latin America

Displacement in Latin America

InSight Crime coordinated an investigation into the new face of displacement in Latin America, where organized criminal groups are expanding and forcing people to flee.

See entire series »

Target: Migrants

Target: Migrants

The growth of organized crime in Mexico and Central America has led to an increase in violence and insecurity across the region, posing challenges to citizens, public security forces, and travelers.

See entire series »

Zetas in Guatemala

The Zetas in Guatemala

Mexico's Zetas have taken Guatemala by storm, and they are testing this country and the rest of the region: fail this test, and Central America sinks deeper into the abyss.

See entire series »

Most Read

Alleged Salvadoran Kingpin 'Chepe Diablo' Clears Tax Debt

Alleged Salvadoran Kingpin 'Chepe Diablo' Clears Tax Debt

Alleged Texis Cartel founder "Chepe Diablo" has nearly completed paying off his tax evasion debt to the government, and there is still no sign that the Salvadoran government intends to bring drug charges against the...

Read more

Who is Behind Honduras Morgue Massacre?

Who is Behind Honduras Morgue Massacre?

The massacre of eight people at a morgue in Honduras' most dangerous city serves as a brutal reminder of the violence that continues to plague the country, often committed by organized crime groups.

Read more

Pijarbey

Pijarbey

Martin Farfan Diaz Gonzalez, alias "Pijarbey" is a powerful criminal operative in Colombia's Eastern Plains region. He is the leader of the Libertadores del Vichada, a splinter group of the Popular Revolutionary Anti-Terrorist Army of...

Read more

Latest Criminal Profile