The death Sunday of Zetas leader Heriberto Lazcano will have two major consequences in the drug world, an expert on the Zetas said: Joaquin “Chapo” Guzmán, the notorious leader of Sinaloa drug cartel leader, emerges as the big winner, and violence may increase.
George W. Grayson said Lazcano’s death would leave Guzmán with one less rival, which will affect his battle over the Juárez smuggling corridor, where the Carrillo Fuentes cartel had formed a loose alliance with the Zetas.
Miguel “Z-40″ Treviño Morales, another high-ranking Zeta and a fugitive, is considered next in line to take over the Zetas.
“Assuming ‘El Lazca’ (Lazcano) is dead, (Treviño Morales) emerges as the uncontested leader of Los Zetas,”
Grayson said Tuesday. “He is prepared to advance his interest through unspeakable violence. This infuses fear in foes and promotes discipline within the ranks of Los Zetas.”
Grayson said Los Zetas “have a line of replacements for (comrades) killed and captured. The problem is that the new plaza bosses are younger, less experienced in the use of weapons, more likely to use drugs, and seek to earn their stripes through savagery.”
Mexican authorities reported that Lazcano, 37, was one of two men whom navy marines killed Sunday near El Progreso, Coahuila. On Monday, an armed commando entered the funeral home where Lazcano’s body was being prepared for burial and snatched the body.
Officials have not confirmed whether fellow Zetas took Lazcano’s body.
In a previous body-snatching, Grayson said, Zetas gunmen broke into a cemetery in 2007 in Poza Rica, Veracruz, “smashed open with hammers the gravestone of their comrade Roberto Carlos Carmona, and carried away the casket containing his body.”
Grayson said Mexico’s marines scored a major victory with Lazcano’s death. Grayson is co-author of a 2012 book about the Zetas, “The Executioners’ Men” (Transaction Press).
Mexican President Felipe Calderón commended the marines who took down Lazcano in a firefight.
The Mexican marines responded to a tip that heavily armed men were in El Progreso area, and were fired on by the suspects.
Officials said the suspects used military-grade weapons against the marines, including grenade-launchers and assault rifles.
Authorities were able to identify Lazcano before his body was taken through fingerprints and facial features that matched his photographs. Officials had records of Lazcano from his days as a Mexican special forces soldier.
In a June 27, 2011, article for Time magazine, journalist and author Ioan Grillo said that Lazcano reportedly had received military training from Israeli and U.S. forces. Lazcano belonged to the elite Mexican Airborne Special Forces Group before he deserted in 1998 to go work for the Gulf drug cartel under Osiel Cardenas.
He and other founding members of the Zetas broke away to create an independent drug-trafficking organization that became known for brutal violence, including skinnings and beheadings, and alleged mass murders of rivals and immigrants.
The Zetas grew exponentially, expanding their influence to 11 Mexican states, to several U.S. states and to Central America, South America and Italy.
Its members are known for their military-style discipline and use of advanced technology. They recruited and trained former Mexican soldiers, police at all levels, and Guatemalan ex-special forces, known as Kaibiles.
The Zetas had maintained a small and low-key presence in the region that includes West Texas, Southern New Mexico and Chihuahua state. But that changed in June when U.S. authorities indicted 14 alleged Zetas members in connection with money laundering involving the breeding and racing of quarter horses in Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma and California.
Some of the horses that allegedly belonging to high-level Zetas leaders raced in Ruidoso. Zetas leader Miguel Treviño Morales and two of his brothers were among those indicted in the horse-breeding and racing schemes.
Authorities in Mexico and the United States together had offered a $7 million bounty for Lazcano.
Grayson said that the Lazcano’s death will make Guzmán more powerful in the underworld of drug trafficking.
Phil Jordan, former director of the El Paso Intelligence Center, said that U.S. authorities continue to investigate alleged Zetas for trafficking weapons to Mexico through El Paso and Juárez.
The Zetas, based in the state of Tamaulipas, are considered allies of the Carrillo Fuentes drug cartel, which includes La Linea in Juárez.
This week, Chihuahua state authorities linked the Zetas to the slaying two years ago of activist Marisela Escobedo in Chihuahua City.
Mexican authorities also implicated the Zetas in the 2011 shooting attack in Mexico against two U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, Jaime Zapata of Brownsville, who was killed, and Victor Avila of El Paso, who was wounded.
Jesús Enrique Rejon Aguilar, the Zetas’ alleged number three man, was extradited last month to face charges in the United States as a suspect in Zapata’s death.
Diana Washington Valdez may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 546-6140.