Miguel Angel Treviño, alias "Z-40"

The Mexican Navy is betting that despite the death of Zetas leader Z-3 the group will not enter a period of violent upheaval, with Z-40 rising to take full control of the gang, an assertion that misses signs the group is likely already be in the midst of irreversible fragmentation.

Following the death of Heriberto Lazcano, alias "Z-3," in a firefight with Marines on October 7, spokesman Admiral Jose Luis Vergara indicated that the navy believes that his rival, Miguel Angel Treviño, alias "Z-40," will "definitely" assume total control of the Zetas, reported El Universal. Furthermore, Vergara stated that the navy does not expect an increase in violence or infighting as a result of Z-3's death due to Z-40's "natural" ascent to leadership.

The spokesman added that the navy is "100 percent certain" that Lazcano died on Sunday, despite conspiracy theories he may not have stemming from the fact that Z-3's body was stolen from the funeral home.  According to Excelsior, Z-40 could be behind the theft of the body.

Salvador Martínez Escobedo, alias "La Ardilla," the recently captured Zetas regional boss who is accused of being responsible for over 300 murders, including the massacre of 72 migrants in 2010, was the one who actually identified Lazcano's body, reported Proceso

On October 9, two days after Lazcano's death, the Caballeros Templarios gang announced a crusade against Treviño and his followers, hanging signs, or "narcomantas," throughout Guerrero and Guanajuato states that exhorted citizens to help the Caballeros "stand up" against Z-40, reported Reforma

InSight Crime Analysis

Despite the navy's confidence that Z-40 will consolidate his control over the Zetas, there is a strong possibility that Lazcano's death will hasten the group's fragmentation rather than halt it.

First, in recent months there have been multiple reports of infighting within the group's top leadership, not only between Z-3 and Z-40, but also between Z-40 and the recently captured Zetas regional boss Ivan Velazquez Caballero, alias "El Taliban," who had sided with Z-3.

Second, and most critically, the financial and organizational structure of the Zetas makes its split inevitable. Because half or more of the group's revenues comes from low level criminal activities such as extortion rather than from international cocaine trafficking, mid-level commanders in charge of local cells have few incentives to remain under the bosses' control.

Furthermore, as the Caballeros Templarios' challenge illustrates, Z-40 must not only assert his control over dissident factions of his own group, but also hold off incursions from other gangs that may try and take advantage of the Zetas' weakness. This is the second such threat the Templarios have made against Z-40 after they hung  a narcomanta in August declaring war against the Zetas leader.