Mexico Deploys 15,000 Federal Forces, Many to Zetas Territory

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Mexico announced it would send just under 12,000 military personnel and 4,000 federal police to seven Mexican states, most of which are strongholds of the Zetas gang, which is rumored to be on the verge of a split.

In total, 15,735 federal officers will be sent to Michoacan, San Luis Potosi, Tamaulipas, Zacatecas, Guanajuato, Nuevo Leon and Coahuila. Of these, 11,835 will be from the military and the remaining 3,900 federal police, reported Proceso.

The troop surge comes in response to recent headline-making violence in some of the states in question. In Michoacan last Friday, clashes between gangs and police left 10 people dead, including four federal officers. El Informador reported that the Familia Michocana gang set fire to vehicles to try and prevent the arrival of reinforcements. As part of the new deployment, Michoacan will receive 600 federal police and two helicopters, along with radio patrol cars and armored vehicles.

North of Michoacan, meanwhile, authorities found 14 bodies in a van in San Luis Potosi on August 9. The state’s attorney general, Miguel Angel Garcia, told media that the victims had been kidnapped in the state of Coahuila before being killed and dumped in San Luis Potosi. He added that the violence was likely due to clashes between rival factions of the Zetas drug gang. Three days after the discovery of the bodies, the mayor-elect of Matehuala in San Luis Potosi was murdered by gunmen.

Earlier this month, there was a series of attacks on businesses and media organizations in Nuevo Leon.

InSight Crime Analysis

Parts of five of the states where the deployment is being carried out are considered to be Zetas territory (see map below): namely Coahuila, Zacatecas, Nuevo Leon, Tamaulipas and San Luis Potosi. One explanation for the attacks in San Luis Potosi, as Angel Garcia mentioned, could be a rumored split in the Zetas leadership.

Security forces surge vs. Zetas Aug 2012Reports surfaced towards the end of last month suggesting that the relationship between the group’s main leaders — Heriberto Lazcano, alias “Z-3”, and Miguel Angel Treviño Morales, alias “Z-40” — had fractured and that the two could be heading for confrontation. However, public banners, or “narcomantas,” have since appeared denying any such split. If the group does fracture, it could be more complicated than a simple divide between two warring factions. As InSight Crime noted last year, there are indications that the Zetas’ command structure has become fragmented, with mid-level commanders unilaterally carrying out violent acts without the approval of their bosses. Should this disintegration continue, it could mean a sustained battle between smaller rival factions over territory.

Mexican journalist Jorge Fernandez Menendez predicted that San Luis Potosi could become a a new “epicenter of violence” in the coming weeks as Zetas factions fight one another, with repercussions for Zacatecas and Coahuila.

Meanwhile, Michoacan and Guanajuato are home to the Familia Michocana and their offspring the Caballeros Templarios, which have been fighting one another for the last 18 months. Michaocan was the first state to which Calderon deployed troops after he took office in December 2006, but it remains a region dominated by organized crime.

The question is whether the government increasing military presence in these areas will succeed in bringing down gang violence. Recent history suggests that the move may be counterproductive, at least in the short term. Since taking office Calderon has made military deployments a central component of his fight against the country’s drug gangs. Though the country has been largely supportive of this approach, with 64 percent of the population in favor, a 2011 report by Nexos found that homicides had risen in the areas where Calderon sent troops, particularly in states such as Sinaloa, Nuevo Leon and Tamaulipas.

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