Reporting on the Mexican Cartel Drug War

2 Powerful Cartels Dominate in Mexico Drug War

Saturday, October 1, 2011 |

By E. Eduardo Castillo and Katherine Corcoran
Associated Press

Five years after President Felipe Calderon launched an offensive against Mexico's five main drug cartels, the nation is now dominated by two powerful organizations that appear poised for a one-on-one battle to control drug markets and trafficking routes.

The government's success in killing or arresting some cartel leaders has fractured most of the other gangs to such an extent that they have devolved into quarreling bands, or been forced to operate as subsidiaries of the two main cartels. That has often meant expanded territory and business opportunities for the hyper-violent Zetas and drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman's Sinaloa cartel.

"They are the two most successful cartels, or at least they have been able to expand in recent years," said drug trade and security expert Jorge Chabat.

Mexican federal authorities, who asked not to be named for security reasons, told The Associated Press that the Zeta and Sinaloa cartels are now the nation's two dominant drug traffickers. One or the other is present almost everywhere in Mexico, but officials are braced to see what happens next in a drug war that has already claimed an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 lives. So far, the signs are not hopeful.

In the Gulf coast seaport of Veracruz, 35 bound, tortured bodies were dumped onto a main thoroughfare during the height of rush hour on Sept. 20. The killers are presumed to be aligned with the Sinaloa cartel, while the victims were apparently linked to the Zetas, who took hold of the important seaport in 2010. In a clash in May, more than two dozen people, most of them Zetas, were killed when they tried to infiltrate the Sinaloa's territory in the Pacific Coast state of Nayarit.

When Calderon took office in December 2006, he said the drug cartels were trying to take over the country. He launched the government's first broad attempt to fight the gangs, deploying thousands of soldiers to capture cartel members and dismantle the organizations.

At the time, the Zetas were not even a separate cartel, but rather an armed enforcement wing of the Gulf cartel, a role created in the late 1990s when they were recruited from an elite army unit. Sometime around 2010, after a falling-out between Gulf and Zeta gunmen, the Zetas split off, ushering in what is possibly the bloodiest chapter of Mexico's narco wars. Within less than two years, the Zetas had taken control of the seaport and most of the Gulf's former territory.

According to Chabat, the two have survived the government crackdown because they have been more skilled than their weaker counterparts. He said the new alignment may make it easier for government forces to target the two big cartels, as opposed to fighting half a dozen of them.

"The question is whether the Sinaloa cartel and Zetas are going to break at some point or not," said Chabat.

"Right now they are very strong, but if in two or three years these cartels are pulverized, they may say that (the drug war) was a success."

Both the "mega" cartels want to control seaports for shipping drugs from South and Central America, and border towns, for getting the drugs into the United States.

Sinaloa has long been based on the country's northwest Pacific coast, with occasional incursions farther east along the border. In recent years, it has spread both east and south, reaching into Central America.

The Zetas, once confined to a stretch of the northern Gulf coast, have grown the most, pushing into central Mexico, and as far south as Guatemala.

Strategies differ. While the Sinaloa cartel is known for forging temporary alliances, officials have said the Zetas are believed to scorn them, preferring direct control of territory. There appears little chance the two groups will ever agree to split their turf; instead, Mexico may be headed into a battle between the two cartels, with each seeking to exterminate the other.

"I see the Sinaloa Federation and the Zetas as being the two polarizing forces in the Mexican criminal system ... and between the two, an array of other smaller groups aligned with one or the other, " said Samuel Logan, director of Southern Pulse, a security consulting firm.

Their operations differ too. The Zetas are involved in human trafficking and other illegal businesses, as well as the drug trade. They have committed some of the worst massacres in the Mexican drug wars and engage in a violence so brutal authorities have called the cartel "irrational." The Sinaloan hit men, on the other hand, appear to be more focused on the drug business and are less randomly violent.

Zetas often dress in fake military gear, and have erected military-style training camps. Sinaloa gunmen, like other narcotics gangs, are more discreet, favoring ski masks and black clothing.

"Sinaloa has done well by flying under the radar. They're comparatively less violent, though they're no saints," said Andrew Selee, director of the Washington-based Mexico Institute. "The Zetas have certainly gotten bigger since they split with the Gulf, but whether that will amount to a long-term ability to control and defend the territories where they have a presence is a little less clear.

"In reality, they're much thinner, where Sinaloa is hierarchical and compact."

Both the big cartels have also been known to launch "spoiler" attacks, aimed at making trouble on an opponent's turf, even though they have little chance of truly encroaching on it. They have sometimes even launched "poison" attacks on civilians on an opponent's turf, hoping the rival will be blamed.

In between the two giants, smaller, fragmented remains of vanquished cartels fight their own bloody battles.

On the outskirts of Mexico City, the Knights Templar cartel appears to be fighting remnants of the Beltran-Leyva gang, and the same two forces—plus the Zetas—have been battling for Acapulco, terrorizing the Pacific coast resort.

Battles among various cartels proliferate in Mexico's most violent cities, including Monterrey, where the Gulf cartel is fighting the Zetas.

But Selee notes that the Veracruz fighting may represent a new stage in which the two big gangs take each other head-on as they move deeper into each other's territory. The battle may have opened in May, when the Zetas apparently sent a convoy of fighters into Sinaloa territory in the Pacific coast state of Nayarit.

For all of the Zetas' bloody reputation—they have been known to massacre the families of police or soldiers who had already died fighting them—the incursion didn't go well: Twenty-eight presumed Zetas were found slaughtered by the side of a highway.

Soon after, in July, a group of two dozen armed men posted a video on the Internet, identifying themselves as "Mata Zetas"—literally, "Zeta Killers"—and said they were from a group allied with Sinaloa to hunt Zetas.

A Mexican military official who could not be quoted by name for security reasons said that besides the tit-for-tat aspect of the Veracruz killings, Sinaloa may also want control of the port as a link in the shipping route from Central America.

But Logan sees another reason for a group aligned with Sinaloa to attack deep into Zeta territory in Veracruz—to distract the Zetas from their next target: Guadalajara.

Mexico's second-largest city also has seen a rise in drug violence in the past year. It was long the home of Sinaloa's methamphetamine-trafficking arm run by Guzman lieutenant Ignacio "Nacho" Coronel, who was killed in a shootout with federal police in July 2010. Since then, factions of Coronel's operation have been fighting for control, including the New Generation and another group known as the Resistance.

The Zetas have taken over neighboring Zacatecas state in their push west, and are eyeing Guadalajara both for the meth trade and for extortion potential.

"The Zetas aren't good for business. They do what they have to because they don't have the distribution networks of the Gulf or Sinaloa. So they have to diversify into kidnapping and extortion," said a U.S. law enforcement official in Mexico, who couldn't be identified for security reasons.

Logan said there are rumors that some factions fighting the New Generation are ready to join with the Zetas.

"That's got to concern El Chapo," he said, of the Sinaloan leader. "Guadalajara has been a huge part of the meth trade for years, El Chapo's bread and butter. If the Zetas take that, it won't be good for El Chapo."

Both big cartels are trying to cover their actions with public relations campaigns, as is now customary. The Zetas hung banners in several Veracruz towns, accusing the military of rights abuses and favoring Sinaloa.

The Mata Zetas have come out with another video, in which they claim to have moved into Veracruz to protect the public from Zeta kidnappings and extortion. The men's demeanor and language evoked a military style more than that of a gang foot soldier, raising a specter of a paramilitary response.

"We are the armed wing of the people, and for the people," says a man with a ski mask, who is seen in the video sitting at a table reading from a prepared statement. He is flanked by four other masked associates, each with a full water bottle placed on the tablecloth. "We are anonymous warriors, faceless, but proudly Mexican."

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31 Borderland Beat Comments:

ajulio said...

Let's Get Ready To Rumble! This is gonna be WW2 Mexico. I pray that the final battle is between CDS and zetas. And I pray that the war ends afterwards. But how many people will have to pay the price for the war to come to an end?

Anonymous said...

I believe WW2 already happened some 70 years ago but I get your point

J said...

The thing I disagree with is Zeta's being a major trafficking group, when most of what we have heard disputes that. Favoritism and right/wrong cartels aside, the half ton of cocaine seized in Coahulia earlier this year was the largest drug shipment ever linked to Zetas, after the split from the Gulf Cartel. I believe they are moving product through Nuevo Laredo, maybe I should look at some of the seizures at that border, as they likely belong to the Z. Meanwhile Sinaloa loses 130 tons of marijuana, and 12 tons of coke, huge crystal labs, they are a drug trafficking organization, while Z's are organized crime, but not at Sinaloa's level of trafficking.

Anonymous said...

Supply and demand. If it doesn't come in from mexico it will come from somewere else.

J said...

I skimmed the article before going on that tirade, I missed where they kind of addressed my point. I'd like to see the second largest group of traffickers, the whole Zeta 'largest diversified criminal group' is known and tired (by me). I'd like to see where Sinaloa stands against the competition, as they all seem to be in apparent disarray.

Anonymous said...

Z are just like the cribs and bloods. No real hierarchy but a bunch of nationwide chapters. The reason they are so big is bc every little gang is being absorbed by the Z.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with kidnapping for ransom being a major cash cow for Los Zetas or any cartel, all of the big kidnapping cases have been of independent criminal groups and some claiming to be part of Los Zetas to install fear on the victim's family. Human trafficking and piracy play a bigger role on Los Zetas profit aside from extortion and drug trafficking, a lot of people don't realize that Los Zetas play a mayor role in human trafficking in North America. Sure there are rouge Zeta cells that will kidnap for ransom for extra profit but as a whole group I don't think they practice it(kidnapping for ransom).

Anonymous said...

I don't understand...On one hand we read that all the violence is because of splintered groups and lack of leadership....Now we read there's 2 dominant groups. I mean back in the day before the violence, wasn't it just a few groups anyway.....so where's the progress in it all?

Anonymous said...

Most of zetas drug sales are retail. They are barely traffickers.

Anonymous said...

Sinaloa has contacts and is moving drugs, chemicals for Meth. from different parts of China, Africa, Latin America, India, and Europe. The US isn't their only market. I don't think the Zetas are as extensively entrenched in the world as Sinaloa is. That could be why they are seemingly losing more loads (occasionally but big) because they are constantly moving more.

Anonymous said...

Very good article, but there're two descrepencies.. Firts, El Chapo's "bread n butter" is not meth, it's cocaine coming from South America and Marijuana from El Triangulo Dorado. Second, the 28 or so sicarios killed on the rural highway in Nayarit were mostly Chapo's "Comando X".. One of his arm wings.. They were supposedly ambushed by Zetas and Beltran-Leyva's. A small convoy of Zetas came into a small town and kidnapped some CDS people and a persecusion insued by around 15-20 truck/suv convoy from Comando X, As they were marked with "X" on the windows and windshields, but it was all a planned out trap by Zetas and Beltran-Leyvas, once on the rural highway they convoy got ambushed from the front and both sides from higher level ground to avoid crossfire. Mostly all the dead were found inside their cars still, didn't even got a chance, a few bulletproof SUVs didn't stand a chance against .50 cal snipers and granade launchers. After te massacre, the Zetas and Beltran-Leyvas took their enemies weapons, ammunition and bulletproof vest.

Texcoco said...

@ J ... You know what men, I agree with you. I never look at it like that but you are right, the zetas trafficked drugs but never on the same level as Chapo Guzman.

Anonymous said...

Dumb ass WWII ended in 1945, you must work for the cartels...
dumbshit!

Anonymous said...

The very idea that a country MEXICO is dominated by criminal gangs is an indictment of whatever government exists there. The fact that the Govt has been unable to kill these gangs is yet another strike against the Govt. The universal corruption of what Govt does exist is an indictment of the voting citizens of Mexico. The war between CARTELS is yet another comment on the weakness of the Mexican govt or the weakness of the Mexican people, or the complacency,passive,unwillingness to engage. In any event it is a sorry state of affairs, in need of supervision of a more agressive,organized, group, I.E. new managment NON MEXICAN MANIGMENT

Anonymous said...

Oh Lord. All we like sheep have gone astray. Everyone to their own way. Yet, you have laid upon Him the iniquity of us all. How these men, in Mexico's drug wars die in vain, including women and children. How I pray that they would come to the knowledge of your Son, who died for them.
Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both body and soul.
Only God can save Mexico! And that is the truth.

Anonymous said...

Mexico's presidential election is next year...who ever next president will come with an agreement with the cartels ending the war...Mexico should of took care of this problem in the early 90s...cartels are to powerful now

Anonymous said...

6:30

Haha, the dead people we're zetas they kidnapped some CDS members and escorted them in a huge convoy. The zetas we're about to execute them but then they we're ambushed by CDS and got their asses kicked. The zetas also usually these kinda of camo vests in nayarit/jalisco.

Anonymous said...

6:30 Yeah ive seen that video too,suppposibly the story behind it is that after H2 kidnapped and killed his main rival in the area.that worked for the CDS,the CDS sent the convoy to kill H2,But he already knew they were gonna do that,so he and his people some of them being Zetas prepared an ambush that worked out at the end.Recently it was rumored that H2 was killed in Nayarit but thats already been cleared up,the guy who died was a high ranking commandante for los Zetas,he had 2million pesos,and thats why some ppl thought it was H-2.@12:12 You should get better informed.

Anonymous said...

Why is the goverment so scared to put Zetas as the number one cartel in Mexico? .... zetas have been contesting that tittle for a while now.The reason Zetas are stronger is because chapo and mayo are already getting too old,and Juan Esparragoza already died.Its only a matter of time before chapo and mayo meetS the same fate.Heriberto Lascano,Miguel Trevino Morales are still considered young for being a Drug Kingpings,also Hector Beltran Leyva.The time is ticking and most likely Mayo could die sooner since he is older.

Anonymous said...

9:13

Should get better informed? jaja i have reports here that shows that these dead people are zetas. The kidnapped CDS members we're beaten with sticks etc They we're ordered to kill them but then el chapo's agents ambushed them among the death zetas we're central american. The zetas Usually wear these kind of camo vests.(look at the trainingcamps over there) So you should get better informed

Anonymous said...

What reports????? everything you said was Bullshit.@11:21.In case you didnt know Sinaloa Cartel is practically kicked out in Nayarit.They lost to BL & Z.

Anonymous said...

@12:21
The dead central Americans that were found were found of the sides of the road and they were Zetas, but thy were part of the group that ambushed chapo's convoy. Then why would all the the cars, like the white Tacoma, ford pickup, jeep Cherokee and the rest of the cars riddled with bullets had "x" on their windshields? Obviously you don't know what u are talking about, because that's how chapo's "commando x" mark their vehicles.

Armando said...

@11:21
You are a dumbass "reports" haha
look at this video on youtube you dumbshit a government official is more credible than you and he said sinaloa sicarios were ambushed.
watch?v=HfqxrdM-QHQ

Anonymous said...

Can anyone translate what is written in the photo of the message stabbed into the guy's chest?

Anonymous said...

Ok read this you fucking pinches beltran supporters


ittle over half a mile were scattered the bodies of a group of gunmen, some of them from Guatemala, most wearing clothing military style, no doubt an operation planned to perfection. The massacre occurred in broad daylight.
Oscar Herrera, state prosecutor, said, ” Initial investigations show that it was a clash between organized criminal group’s known as the Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel. “

Authorities said that after the slaughter that killed 30 gunmen, they found a camp nearby where members of Los Zetas had been holding 2 young men from the Sinaloa Cartel.

The boys were held for three days as they were interrogated. , ” When we got there, the 12 hostages were together. We were hit a lot, in the body, in the face, sometimes with sticks.” said one of the hostages.

The witness said the gunmen tried to convince some of them join the ranks of Los Zetas, and they offered a payment of 20 thousand pesos a month.

During the afternoon of Wednesday a gunman told the Zetas to “Kill Them” and all the hostages were laying face down and preparing to die.
Before the gunman’s fired they to heard loud explosions, and the ambush was underway. Everyone ran for cover.

Elements of the Federal Police and Mexican army managed to find six of the youths who had been held by Los Zetas, the rest of their whereabouts are unknown. http://www.zimbio.com/Sinaloa+Cartel/articles/O0q9kDvNq8h/Narco+Blog+Sinaloa+Cartel+Ambushes+Zetas+30

Anonymous said...

10:36 Officials are already admit that they we're zetas oh god you douche bags are complete retards 3:45 LOL commando x on the cars? i have seen the video i dont see anything so stop talking shit fu

Ovemex said...

@10:37 pm It says: This is going to happen to all those who disrespect and snitch on the "company"...

Anonymous said...

They guys are full of shit here. The Z and El Chapo will get their ticket punched like Osama and Saddam did when they went up against us. Give it time and drones will be dropping boms on you asses. Along with cutting into you comminication network.

Awarning to th caretels and Z. You time is running out to commit crime and extortion to te Mexican people. We will find you you and Bring you to justce. You will not see or hear anything but feel tje presence of 100 men in you face.
We trained you and wie will take you out like Noriega, sadddam, ad Osama.

Leave the innocent people alone.

Attente: Team 6

Anonymous said...

Zetas = #1 Puro Tamaulipas!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

For the people who think the Zetas are not trafficking drugs, just last week, a Zeta was arrested in Argentina with 50 kilos of cocaine, and there are reports that Zetas are working with Italian Mafia to ship drugs to Europe.
Its safe to say, though, that not all Zetas cells are traffickers.

Anonymous said...

its the CDS & the CDG morons. Z's are just a bunch of hiding bitches.

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