Photo: AP Images
Over the past week, military operations in Los Zetas-controlled areas of Coahuila state netted large caches of narcotics, firearms — even an armoured “monstruo” truck.The first such vehicle found in Coahuila, the monstruo was discovered June 6 near Progreso, between Monclova and the border town of Piedras Negras.
An army unit found it concealed in a wooden structure built into a hillside and partially buried. Two days later, a detachment of Mexican marines conducting a raid in Villa Union, just south of the Texas border town of Eagle Pass, reportedly seized 201 assault rifles, some 600 camouflage or black uniforms with boots, several grenade launchers, three sniper rifles (one of which was scoped) and 30,000 rounds of ammunition.
Also on June 8, soldiers seized 16 AK-47 and AR-15 assault rifles in Zaragoza. Then on June 10, an army unit patrolling near Castanos, just south of Monclova, came upon an area of ground that had recently been churned up. Further investigation revealed four underground cisterns in which soldiers found 11 kilograms (24 pounds) of heroin and almost 1,000 kilograms of methamphetamine.
Combined with a munitions cache found June 1 in Nadadores and a ton of cocaine seized May 24 near Monclova, last week’s trove represents a sizable chunk of Zetas inventory. As we discussed in the last Mexico Security Memo, Coahuila has been a relatively quiet front in the cartel wars, except for occasional battles in Torreon and the capital city of Saltillo. But a buildup of military forces is continuing in the state, and large-scale operations over the past two weeks appear to be making an impact.
This is probably due to the confluence of a significantly larger military force in the state and newly acquired actionable intelligence, which enabled the military to conduct more effective operations. And what these military actions are revealing is that Los Zetas apparently have been using the rural areas of the sparsely populated state for years as a secure caching zone. With few people and no major transportation arteries leading to the U.S. border, Coahuila is not a landscape hotly contested by competing cartels. This has no doubt led to some complacency on the part of Los Zetas, and it now appears that their security has been compromised by the Mexican military presence.
According to STRATFOR sources in the region, clashes between federal troops and Zetas operatives may flare up in the near term as direct military actions against Zetas forces and support networks increase. Should Zetas operatives find themselves cornered, their reaction may be full-scale combat, but we anticipate that Los Zetas will use hit-and-run tactics, such as ambushes, sniping attacks and explosive devices, at every opportunity to try to seize the advantage. It also is likely that Los Zetas will use some of those tactics to pull military patrols away from vital caches, so that the narcotics or munitions can be retrieved and relocated — possibly out of the state and perhaps to the Nuevo Laredo area, which also is Zetas territory.
For the most part, however, we believe Los Zetas will try to avoid direct confrontation with the Mexican military whenever possible. Zetas tactics elsewhere have shown that they may fade back when the military has the advantage of numbers or terrain. What is certain, given the organisation’s known behaviour, is that Zetas surveillance of the military will be vigilant. While we do not yet know the military’s ultimate objective in Coahuila state, we expect its intermediate goals include developing intelligence on Zetas weapons caches and seizing them to undermine Los Zetas’ ability to supply arms to their forces across northern Mexico.
Declaring War on All Rivals
The dismembered remains of three men were found June 7 in Lagunillas, Guanajuato state, with a message indicating they were killed because they were associated with Los Zetas, La Resistencia, the Sinaloa cartel and La Familia Michoacana (LFM). The following day, two more dismembered bodies were found in the same location accompanied by an identical message. In both cases, the messages were signed by Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion (CJNG).
Then on June 9, outside of a bar in Apaseo el Grande, Guanajuato, a group of gunmen shot and killed one woman and two men, a shooting the state attorney general’s office initially attributed to LFM. It also has been reported that the shooting may have been tied to the CJNG, though it is not yet clear whether the gunmen or the victims were members of the cartel.
STRATFOR believes that CJNG consists of former followers of Ignacio “El Nacho” Coronel Villarreal, a high-ranking member of the Sinaloa Federation. In April 2010, Los Zetas executed Coronel’s son, Alejandro Coronel. Several months later, the Mexican army killed Ignacio Coronel himself — but the perception within his group was that Sinaloa leader Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera betrayed him. Five days after Coronel’s death, a video was released announcing that the CJNG was an independent organisation operating in Jalisco state. CJNG surfaced again on Jan. 28, 2011, targeted by the Milenio cartel in narcomantas hung throughout Jalisco. A few days later, the cartel released a video in which a spokesman said the organisation did not intend to attack municipal, state, federal or military authorities.
The video did, however, go on to list the names of specific law enforcement personnel who the spokesman claimed were known to be involved with La Resistencia and LFM. According to the video, the named individuals had until Feb. 10 to resign or CJNG would begin hunting them down. Little appeared in the media concerning CJNG from the time the video was released until this month, and we have seen no reports that CJNG has followed up on its ultimatum.
What STRATFOR finds significant in these events is the scope of CJNG’s hit list. The cartel appears to have declared war on virtually all of the other cartels operating in Mexico rather than align itself with either Los Zetas or Sinaloa, as most of the other cartels have done purely for survival’s sake. Another smaller regional cartel that appears to have taken the same step is the Cartel Independiente de Acapulco (CIDA). As for CJNG, its primary motive for going it alone (which may also be the case with CIDA) is probably its institutional distrust of both Sinaloa and Los Zetas.
- Police in the municipality of Pabellon de Arteaga, Aguascalientes state, found the decapitated body of a man near the La Huerta ranch. The victim’s severed head was found near the body, along with an undisclosed message from an unidentified drug cartel.
- Unidentified gunmen in the San Jeronimo neighbourhood of Cuernavaca, Morelos state, shot and killed Ulises Martinez Gonzalez, a suspected associate of arrested cartel member Edgar “La Barbie” Valdez Villarreal. It appears that Martinez Gonzalez was killed while trying to take over a house belonging to a rival cartel.
- Soldiers in the municipality of Veracruz, Veracruz state, shot and killed eight suspected cartel gunmen during at least four separate firefights.
- Unidentified gunmen shot and killed 13 people at a drug-addiction treatment centre in Torreon, Coahuila state. Gunfire was reported at the scene for at least 30 minutes.
- Unidentified gunmen shot and killed a federal police officer and a civilian male in the La Mancha neighbourhood of Naucalpan, Mexico state.
- Military authorities announced that soldiers on patrol in the municipality of Tancitaro, Michoacan state, discovered approximately 450 kilograms of methamphetamines at a suspected drug lab.
- Unidentified gunmen reportedly kidnapped Marco Antonio Ortiz Lopez, news editor of the newspaper Novedades, in Acapulco, Guerrero state.
- The bodies of 21 people were found in separate parts of Morelia, Michoacan state. The victims all bore signs of torture and had been shot to death.
- Security personnel discovered the bodies of eight men and two women in a grave in El Veladero National Park near Acapulco, Guerrero state.
- Federal police officers arrested two suspected members of the Sinaloa cartel in Acapulco, Guerrero state. The suspects are believed to have participated in an attack on the Tabares II nightclub on May 28.
- An unidentified drug cartel reportedly paid citizens of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state, 500 pesos (about $40) each to block two international bridges.
- Nayarit state police officers arrested two suspected members of Los Zetas after a firefight in the Ojo de Agua neighbourhood of Tepic.
- Soldiers in Cuernavaca, Morelos state, arrested Kineret Orozco Gonzalez, the suspected successor to Jesus Radilla Hernandez, a Cartel Pacifico Sur chief believed to be responsible for the murder of poet Javier Sicilia’s son.
- Soldiers arrested 20 police officers from Pesqueria, Nuevo Leon state, for their alleged cooperation with criminal groups.
- Unidentified attackers threw a grenade at the State Investigative Agency headquarters in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state. No injuries were reported.
- The Mexican Prosecutor General’s office announced the seizure of 32 tons of ethyl phenyl acetate at the port of Manzanillo, Colima state. The seizure brought the total amount of chemical precursors seized at the port since June 1 to 145 tons.
- Municipal police officers in El Cuchillo in Mazatlan, Sinaloa state, discovered the body of a soldier who had been stabbed to death.
- Authorities discovered the severed heads of three suspected members of the Gulf cartel near a memorial at the entrance to the municipality of General Teran, Nuevo Leon state.
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