Note: interesting analysis, but think especially in western Mexico,
several significant groups still doing their own thing. BTW, could be
wrong, but don't think el chapo's organization all that secure or
dominant, even in Sinaloa.
The Americas - WORLD
2 Powerful Cartels Dominate in Mexico Drug War
Published October 01, 2011
| Associated Press
Sep 26, 2011: Two people lie dead after unknown gunmen opened fire
killing them inside their vehicle in the Pacific resort city of
Acapulco, Mexico. Acapulco has seen a surge of crime incidents as
rival drug gangs battle for control.
VERACRUZ, Mexico -- 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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
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."
Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/world/2011/10/01/2-powerful-cartels-