A coal miner in Coahuila, Mexico

A former governor and PRI leader in Mexico has claimed that the Zetas have broadened their activities to include coal mining in the northern state of Coahuila, although evidence for this allegation is scarce.

In an October 26 press conference, former governor and ex-leader of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) Humberto Moreira told reporters that recently-killed Zetas leader Heriberto "Z-3" Lazcano had run illegal coal mining ventures in Coahuila before his death. 

According to Moreira, who served as governor of Coahuila from 2005 to 2011, Lazcano's involvement in illegal mining has been an "open secret" in the state for years, and the Zeta leader even sold coal to the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE). Moreira also claimed that Lazcano was well-known for mining in the municipality of Progreso, where he was killed.

"[Lazcano] would go to the store to buy soda and chips. He did not walk around armed or anything; he was a miner. It may seem unbelieveable, but there it is," the former governor said.

InSight Crime Analysis

Moreira's statements come less than a month after his son was murdered, allegedly by Zetas hitmen.

The claims about Heriberto Lazcano's mining ventures fit with increasing concern in Mexico about the influence of organized crime on mining. With the government cracking down on drug trafficking, Mexican cartels are looking to the country's growing mining industry for revenue. Much of this has taken place in Coahuila, as it is Mexico's top mining state. In May, authorities discovered that criminal gangs had been directly running illegal coal mines in the state.

Moreira's theory would explain Lazcano's apparent lack of concern for his security when he was killed. As crime analyst Alejandro Hope has pointed out, the fact that he was relatively lightly armed and had only minimal protection when he was killed is puzzling. But if he had long been passing himself off as the owner of a mining company in Coahuila, he may have been in the habit of traveling with little security.