Nuevo Leon a Key Battleground for 2011

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Gun battles have rocked Nuevo Leon during the first week of the new year. The border state is being contested by the Gulf Cartel, one of the oldest drug trafficking organizations in Mexico, and their former armed wing the Zetas.

Wednesday alone saw a string of brutal deaths. A traffic policeman died after being attacked by gunmen in Apocada. Another gun battle between Marines, police and gunmen left two people wounded in Santa Catarina. Another gun battle between rival DTOs took place earlier that day just outside San Mateo. The blanketed body of a tortured man also appeared early Wednesday morning in Monterrey.

There is some evidence thus far that some of the heavier fighting that affected Tamaulipas in 2010 will continue spilling over into Nuevo Leon in 2011. Tamaulipas was once the epicenter of the Zetas‘ power near the Texas border, but a fierce offensive from the “New Federation,” an alliance between the Gulf Cartel and some elements of the Familia Michoacana and the Sinaloa Cartel, have weakened the Zetas’ hold on the state. Nuevo Laredo and Reynosa are two of the most important ‘plazas’ to control in Tamaulipas, given their proximity to the U.S., but now Nuevo Leon’s capital Monterrey is at risk of seeing increased violence. While the Zetas remain strong in Nuevo Leon, they must continue facing almost constant onslaught from a myriad of rivals, in particular the New Federation.

A splinter group from the Federation may now exist, however, complicating an already crowded battlefield. The dissidents announced themselves in Nuevo Leon on December 31, when they distributed a note which said they were disillusioned with the “behavior and ideology” of the New Federation. They described their ideology as “zero kidnappings…zero extortions… we want to live in peace without Z [the Zetas],” and hung the naked body of a woman off a bridge in Monterrey. The woman was identified as a convicted kidnapper, Gabriela Muñiz Tamez was rescued from prison just four days earlier, with assistance from corrupt prison employees. It is possible that elements from the New Federation helped her escape in order to dispose of her later in a brutal vengeance killing.

While it is clear that the New Federation’s main stated intention remains the elimination of the Zetas from Nuevo Leon, it is unclear how much of the group still consists of elements from the Familia and the Sinaloa Cartel. 

Nuevo Leon remains a top priority of the Calderon administration, said police spokesman Jorge Domene Zambrano Tuesday, after the state security cabinet met to discuss government strategy in securing the region.

For now it appears the security forces are focused on dismantling the Zetas’ regional leadership in Nuevo Leon, which includes identifying their corrupt allies within the municipal police. The most recent success came Thursday, when the army arrested the police chief of a Monterrey district said to be on the Zetas’ payroll. According to Domene, the army previously detained three police officers who were trying to obstruct a military operation. They said the district police chief was the Zetas’ principal informant, reports EFE.

In November, the government deployed another influx of troops to Nuevo Leon in “Operation Coordinated Northeast,” a move intended to stem violence in the state after the death of Gulf Cartel leader Antonio Cardenas Guillen, alias “Tony Tormenta.”

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