Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Tracking Los Zetas - The Zeta Cross

by Samuel Logan
Southern Pulse

For months, I have continued to ask a series of simple questions to contacts around Mexico and the US who I know retain a special interest in Los Zetas.

The primary question is: "do you think Los Zetas are strategizing to cut the country in half?" This question usually surfaces within a longer conversation about Zeta activity in Mexico and, most recently, in Guatemala, where the organization's effect on society has riveted local and international observers.

The first response to my question about Los Zetas in Mexico, however, is usually physical: a quixotic look, raised eyebrows, a frown. The question is open-ended; as intended, it sparks further discussion, and an informal interview ensues. The resulting information, carefully procured over months of discussion and interaction, has fused together into what is so far a loosely tethered theory I call, simply, The Zeta Cross (see map at bottom of post).

Since what we call in our book the "War in the North" began, Los Zetas have fought for control of Nuevo Laredo. I continue to believe that they, through Miguel Treviño's own special brand of barbarism, hold on to this plaza.

The next node to the south is Monterrey. As current events unfold, it remains clear that Los Zetas are still fighting for control of the plaza. (I will discuss Monterrey in detail in a separate post.)

If you trace a finger on a map down Mx Federal highway 54, the next major stop along the Zetas Cross is Zacatecas. This is the hub and where the vertical and horizontal lines meet.

Part of my theory, while focused on strategy, breaks down the management of the organization, as it plays out between El Lazca, considered Los Zetas number one, and Miguel Treviño, considered number two. Many of us agree that Treviño remains focused on the drug trafficking side of the Zetas business enterprise, while El Lazca remains focused on other business streams, especially extortion. I would argue that for the sake of their relationship, the men do communicate, engage in profit sharing like two Sr. partners in a professional services firm, and mostly stay out of one another's business. As such El Lazca, while on the move, has made the state - and city - of Zacatecas an important hub for Los Zetas activity across Mexico, whereas Treviño remains entrenched in Nuevo Laredo.

Recent activity in Zacatecas points to what appears to be a "better late than never" move by rival groups to construct a united front to block Zeta expansion south.

The united front against Los Zetas in Zacatecas looks a lot like what we saw in February 2010, when the Gulf Cartel, elements of the Sinaloa Federation, and the Familia Michoacana - as it was then known - grouped together to force Los Zetas out of Tamaulipas. Their offensive was largely successful, pushing Los Zetas into a tactical retreat, which I believe pulled their front lines back north to Nuevo Laredo and south to Tampico. Since then, Los Zetas have pushed back into Tamaulipas, but have yet to regain position in Matamoros.

In Zacatecas, the same sort of united front has formed, though I'm not sure if it will be as strong or as effective as the first "united cartels" joint venture. The united front in Zacatecas is made up of two splinter groups, still within their own start up phase, and the Gulf Cartel. According to my friends at the Excelsior, La Resistencia, El Cartel Jalisco Nueva Generación, and members of the Gulf Cartel are all pushing back against Los Zetas' expansion south from Zacatecas into Aguascalientes and Jalisco - namely Guadalajara. The line up is interesting: we have three disparate groups formed together under a loose alliance to fight against a single paramilitary organization. Gunmen on both sides are well-armed, poorly trained, and highly motivated by pay, reward of ascension within their organizations, and the promise of loot - the perfect recipe for a blood bath.

For a review of these splinter groups, check out InSight Crime's coverage of the atomization of Jalisco in the wake of Ignacio "Nacho" Coronel's death in mid-2010.

The battle lines in Zacatecas have been drawn and mapped, thanks again to Excelcior:

Now, moving south from Zacatecas, and assuming that Los Zetas have a good chance at breaking through the Resistencia-CJNG-CDG united front, Aguascalientes and Guadalajara are the next two stops on the route south. If Los Zetas capture control of Guadalajara, the hard part is over. It would be a matter of time, I would argue, before the organization forces south to capture the port at Manzanillo in Colima. I cannot overemphasize, however, the difficult task of capturing Guadalajara. Since the days of "El Padrino" who helped El Chapo - apart from the Arellano-Felix brothers and Amado Carrillo-Fuentes - get started, Guadalajara has been tightly held by Sinaloa Federation interests. Any Zeta offensive to take this city will be a long, nasty fight.

So, back to the question: "do you think Los Zetas are strategizing to cut the country in half?"

There is still no clear answer, but if Los Zetas push into Jalisco, it would make sense for them to complete the line by taking a Pacific port and completing the vertical division. A north-south corridor, from Nuevo Laredo to Manzanillo would afford Los Zetas several important elements:

1. A secure connection from a Pacific port to a US border crossing - ideal for drugs trafficking.

2. Separate the Knights Templar from the US border and their friends in the Sinaloa Federation.

3.Contain the Sinaloa Federation to the north of their line, where the Sierra Madres west of Durango form a natural barrier to keep them on the Pacific coast.

These points are all important, though number three is the most interesting. I believe that Los Zetas are the number two criminal organization in terms of staying power - a summation of their size, revenue generation, territorial control, and several other, minor details about training, force strength, and political penetration.

The number one group undoubtedly remains the Sinaloa Federation, which Los Zetas can only contain, not destroy. The Zetas Cross theory assumes that Los Zetas seeks to contain the Sinaloa Federation, while isolating the Knights Templar and the Gulf Cartel.

The east-west, horizontal line of the Zetas Cross completes that isolation. Stretching from Tampico, Tamaulipas, and passing west through Ciudad Valles, San Luis Potosí (SLP), Zacatecas, and ending in Durango, the horizontal line of the Zetas Cross, if completed, isolates the operational hub of the Gulf Cartel in Matamoros from the rest of the country.

Currently, I would argue that when considering the points along this horizontal line, Los Zetas do not control Durango - traditionally a stronghold of the Sinaloa Federation. Part of the complication with pushing their forces into the city is the ongoing battle for complete control of the Torreón-Gomez Palacio plaza on the Durango-Coahuila border. Los Zetas continue to battle for control of that plaza. If they win that battle, we would almost certainly watch Los Zetas push their influence south into Durango, pressuring El Chapo's people from the north in Coahuila and from the south in Zacatecas.

Today, on 19 September 2011, I would argue that Los Zetas have completed approximately 60 % of this cross, give or take about 10 %. Most of the fighting between Los Zetas and the organization's rivals will undoubtedly be at the Zacatecas-Jalisco border. And if Los Zetas break this alliance, we'll see them push into Guadalajara - though not an operation likely initiated until after the Pan American games.

The recently announced Zeta alignment with rogue segments of the Milenio Cartel is interesting because it implies, at least, that Los Zetas have lured defectors to their ranks, possibly improving local knowledge, intelligence gathering, and recruiting capabilities from within rival organizations. This alliance, if true, also grants Los Zetas a small beachhead in Guadalajara, from where the group may be able to attack the united cartels from behind the battle lines drawn in southern Zacatecas…

I'll continue to report on The Zeta Cross as events unfold. As I learn more from colleagues on the ground, I'll focus on some of the points along the cross, including: Monterrey (Saltillo), Tampico, Ciudad Valles, SLP, Zacatecas (Fresnillo), Durango, Aguascalientes, Guadalajara, and Manzanillo.

Meanwhile, Guatemala hovers as an item of high interest. Reporting on this blog will ensue as we confirm rumors.

Zetas Cross map legend:
Yellow is Sinaloa Federation; Green, CDG; Blue, the Knights Templar


  1. yes the zetas who have a combined iq in the low 20's have come up with ingenious plans to take over the world.

  2. Thanks, Ovemex! Interesting.

  3. monte escobedo is misplaced. it is actually a a bit to the west, closer to mezquitic.

  4. "do you think Los Zetas are strategist to cut the country in half?"

    I think the only thing is going to happened is half of the Zetas are going to be dead and the other half in jail. Maybe is only me but I see the Zetas falling like flies killed or capture.

    I read and article that said the Zetas sicario training is only 15 days, they do physical training, shooting and other things, and in only 15 days you are a professional killer.

  5. yeah and in only 15 more days are dead with shit in your pants...jajjajaa..zeta retirement...a bag

  6. It could be that they are strategizing and if you think about it, they begin to embed themselves by first taking over narcomenudeo and then recruit from local gangs for that daily operation while maintaining an overall strategy. Very astute, Ovemex. Nice observation.

  7. Thanks Jesus the Moose, but I didn't write this..

    I saw the report, found it incredibly interesting, and sent them an email requesting permission to repost with credits and linkback.

    It is Samuel Logan's work from Southern can enter his site by clicking the link up top under his name.


  8. i wonder how many fearless zets's know that their jefe and his scumbag brother are informants for I.C.E? Alejandro trevino was under the supervision of a I.C.E task force in Laredo TX and was feeding information on specific targets of interest. Word is that 40 was allowed to cross into the U.S for an unspecified amount of time to deal with what was said to be a serious medial issue and was granted so through high ranking officials in the u.s government after notification from his brother Omar to his handlers in Immigrations and customs enforcement. Z40 was in turn was feeding info on massive shipments of coke getting into 2 specific U.S cities through zetas controlled routes.

    One key date: April 26, 2010

  9. the only thing that is lacking in this report is no consideration is given to the Zeta alliances that help coplete this "cross" because without the BeltranLeyva FM and Carrilo Fuentes cells that operate to the west and south east and north the full spectrum and th complexity that this conflict poses is ignored.

    I would argue that in fact the east west fractioning would entail the incursions by Z in Nayarit to complete a coast-to-coast line.

    Either way, for individuals on this forum to fantisize about a quick Z demise and an inevitable Sinaola Cartel hegemony and then to espouse it as "manifest destiny" is naive at best and at worst just exposes their complete lack of objective knowledge of Mexico from within its borders...or they are just bandawagoner jumpers rooting for their favorite new Cartel since both the NFL and Pro Boxing are just to damned boring.

    The fact of the matter is that behind the scenes of this bloody public conflict is a sinister private political struggle that for many outsiders is very easy to superficially analize and then discard as an aspect of this "Cartel War" but it is in reality at the heart of this chaos that has devastated millions of Mexican lives. I will leave it at that because the know-it-alls in this blog will never allow themselves the blow to their egos that objectivity would represent and those that are not aware of the whole picture but are enlightened by this little piece of ignored information might reconsider how they look at this conflict and consider every aspect of it impartially before deciding what is what.

  10. To the first comment...You cant be that ignorant and stupid can you yes the zetas are so dumb starting from a enforcement wing of 30 members to the 2nd most powerful cartel and they ALONE have changed the cartel game for worse and for good. They are ex military and are applying. Go ahead and generalize about the IQ of the expendable sicario because they are the ones running the show...dumbass

    and brito read a book every time you respond it looks like a 3rd grader wrote it.

  11. If you come out with your AK-47 what do you think I will do? but if you come out with your AK-47 and I do too come out with my AK-47 what do you think will happen? all what I mean is that if my Mexicans co-national would have the same kind of weapons this climate of violence wouldn`t be part of Mexico right now.

  12. Lets not forget who the zeta boss is el lazcano highly trained in the military of course his strategizing he was trained in that field he's making the blue prints for the zetas to follow he's the general and has his zeta soilders battleing to take over territories

  13. I think the writer of this article is giving these Z scumbags a little too much credit for strategic genius..

  14. @September 22, 2011 4:53 AM

    Z's footsoldiers are nowadays what they are, but you better believe their top guys have got some training in tactics and strategies.

  15. @04:53
    If you underestimate an enemy you do so at your own peril.

  16. excellent ove!

    and commenters keep selling this highly organized higly intelligent transnational org short and you fall into their wishes. those you see killed, the young and the hapless are nothing but attrition recrutited as attrition..

  17. the poster above talking about z40 or omar being a snitchs for the united states border enforcement... who are your sources? are you involved in border law enforcement in anyway? I have heard whispers coming from Laredo big shots on somthing similar but it was very vague. I mean really what america wants more than having one idiot at the top taken out and having him replaced immediately is having a rat at the top of the pyramid who is constantly feeding info back. The U.S doesnt give a rats ass if Mexicans are executing left and right but you better believe they care about whats going on in the routes that feed america its drugs.

  18. Oh, Ardent:

    A better question is what concoction, brew, or whatever, have you been drinking?

  19. This from a guy who calls himself Jesus the Moose?

  20. "What would make someone join the Zetas?" Dumb question.

    Well, mmoney is one reason. Blackmail could be another. Power could be a reason, blackmail might be a factor, revenge perhaps, thrill, lot's of women and drugs.
    Fear could be a reason. Food, the enjoyment of killing others, safety (in numbers), joing a gang, reputation, immaturity, "nothing-to-lose,"

    These are just SOME "reasons" why can you people think of more reasons?

    And do you think ther will ever be a SCARCITY of recruits?
    Never, until the Gov't imprisons for life, restarts the death penalty, removes corruption (too late), greed, and fear.
    Cannot be done. KISS US of Mexico "goodby."

  21. You call yourself, Ardent? I guess you found your sense of humor, which for the most part, you present in your writing as an ill-tempered narcissist full of infantile omnipotence and, in you, it manifests itself in a very clear and palpable arrogance. I wouldn't doubt that you become very sensitive or enraged even if slightly criticized. You have a very thin skin over your grossly inflated self. To take yourself too seriously is not healthy, Ardent. And also, lay off the drugs.

  22. Very good article. Foot soldiers may be dumb?? but commanders have military suave and are very tactical thinkers. I believe that they would think like this--and this is a war, even though of a new kind. A hold in Guatemala would prepare for the push north. They are also in Quintana Roo..soo..Mexico City surrounded?? Is this when someone from the outside becomes involved?? Interesting.

  23. The hit squads are not the smartest folks around, but the orginals were trained right here in the good ole USA, and our military is not exactly stupid. Our border crossings have gotten alot tighter,making it harder and harder to get the money back to Mexico or the drugs to our streets like it use to be. The article has a lot of ifs in it but, does it not make sense for the Zeta's to have plans for an easier route to the U.S.? We all wish that they would go away but they are not and I don't think the Mexican gov't has a plan how to stop them. Thank you for an informative article.

  24. Expecting your household goods to appear in New York three days after leaving Oregon is not realistic. Expect to allow up to three weeks for your cross country mover to deliver your items.


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