Defending an Important Point of Entry
On March 1, a firefight in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state, left 13 gunmen dead and three Mexican soldiers wounded. The shootout began when a multi-vehicle convoy opened fire on a Mexican army patrol, the third such firefight reported in the city that day. Among those killed was Gerardo "El Guerra" Guerra Valdez, the Nuevo Laredo plaza boss for Los Zetas. Guerra reportedly replaced Jorge Luis "Pompin" de la Pena Brizuelas, who was killed in August 2011.
Such violence is hardly a new development in Nuevo Laredo. Shortly after the Sinaloa Federation began its encroachment on the city in 2003, Nuevo Laredo became one of the most violent plazas in Mexico's drug war. This trend continued in 2010, when Los Zetas split from and began a bloody turf war with their former patron, the Gulf Cartel, but tapered off when they solidified their control of the city. Los Zetas remain firmly entrenched in this important border city. In fact, it is the city's importance to the drug trade that makes it so coveted by criminal organizations.
Commercially, the corridor at Nuevo Laredo is invaluable. The point of entry there sees more trucks pass through to the United States than any other border crossing. Around 135,000 trucks enter the United States from Nuevo Laredo every month. To put this in perspective, some 60,000 trucks enter the United States at El Paso each month. This huge flow of vehicles and goods provides added opportunity for criminal organizations to conceal and transport drugs and other contraband. While marijuana more often is smuggled in the southwestern United States between such points of entry as Nuevo Laredo, more valuable drugs -- cocaine, methamphetamine and heroin -- are moved through these larger hubs, where criminal organizations have more oversight of their product. They also get a cut of the profits derived from other contraband.
Several important Mexican highways, including Federal Highway 85, which runs directly through Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state, pass through the city. In addition, Laredo, Texas, located opposite Nuevo Laredo on the U.S. side of the Rio Grande, connects directly to Interstate Highway 35. From there, I-35 connects to important distribution hubs, including Interstate Highway 10 in San Antonio, Texas, and interstate highways 20 and 30 in the Dallas/Fort Worth metroplex.
It is little wonder that Los Zetas have so fiercely defended their territory in Nuevo Laredo for the past several years. Since fending off the Sinaloa offensive, Los Zetas' most active adversary has been the Mexican military, specifically those deployed as part of Operation Noreste in 2008. Tamaulipas state houses roughly 8,000 troops for the express purpose of countering Los Zetas, but so far this force has proved inadequate in dislodging the criminal organization. The military may have its share of token successes -- the death of Guerra, for example -- but Nuevo Laredo is too valuable for Los Zetas not to replace such leadership losses quickly. Indeed, Guerra's loss is unlikely to significantly disrupt Los Zetas operations through the Nuevo Laredo corridor.
Knights Templar Propaganda
On March 2, storeowners and shoppers at a business center in Zihuatanejo, Guerrero state, reported seeing individuals handing out Knights Templar propaganda to passersby. According to witnesses, the individuals were giving out pamphlets containing the cartel's code of ethics.
Based in Michoacan state, which borders Guerrero state, the Knights Templar and the organization from which they split, La Familia Michoacana (LFM), are unique among Mexico's cartels in that they participate in aggressive propaganda campaigns that portray themselves as protectors of the people. The Knights Templar's 53-point code of ethics, which all members must follow, states that the group's mission is to enforce social justice in Michoacan state. Such propaganda serves as a recruitment tool and helps to indoctrinate the group's members, incorporating an ideological component into its operations. Perhaps more important, the propaganda helps form the basis of an ideology that justifies their criminal actions.
(weapons captured in Tamaulipas)
Despite their posturing, the Knights Templar, like all of the Mexican cartels, thrive on the production and distribution of drugs. The Knights Templar are a significant producer of methamphetamine in Michoacan and Jalisco states and have been engaged in a turf war in Michoacan with other cartels, such as Los Zetas and LFM. As the March 2 reports may indicate, the group has ambitions to boost its share of the drug trade by expanding outside of Michoacan into Guerrero, Mexico, Jalisco and Guanajuato states, among others.
Three gunmen, including a Los Zetas leader with the alias "La Papa," were killed in a firefight with Mexican military in Cadereyta, Nuevo Leon state.
Gunmen shot and killed three individuals on a street in the Infonavit Alta Progreso neighborhood of Acapulco, Guerrero state.
Mexican authorities discovered the bodies of three executed victims in Juarez, Nuevo Leon state.
Mexican authorities discovered a woman's decapitated head in a bucket that was left in the middle of a road in Mazatlan, Sinaloa state.
Mexican authorities discovered an unmarked grave containing three bodies in Culiacan, Sinaloa state.
Gunmen in a vehicle ambushed a group and killed six men in Texcoco, Mexico state. The gunmen left a message with the bodies stating a similar fate would happen to "Chapulines," likely a reference to Sinaloa Federation members. The message was signed La Familia Michoacana.
Federal authorities announced the arrest of Marcos "El Comandante" Fernandez Martinez. According to Mexican authorities, Fernandez is the leader of La Mano con Ojos in Mexico City.
Gunmen killed a chief of the State Preventive Police in Zacatecas, Zacatecas state, while he was traveling in his personal vehicle.
Thirteen Los Zetas members were killed in several firefights between gunmen and military in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state, including the alleged Nuevo Laredo plaza boss, Gerardo "El Guerra" Guerra Valdez.
Mexican authorities discovered the body of a state police officer in Eduardo Neri, Guerrero state. The victim appeared to have been shot to death.
Gunmen killed a patient in a medical clinic in Culiacan, Sinaloa state, and four other individuals outside the clinic.
Two to four gunmen killed the head of the San Pedro State Investigative Agency in Benito Juarez, Nuevo Leon state. Gunmen intercepted the police commander as he was traveling in a vehicle and opened fire.
Ten bystanders were injured when a grenade detonated during a firefight in front of a Wal-Mart store in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state.
Gunmen opened fire on a truck carrying four police officers in Apodaca, Nuevo Leon state. Two of the police officers were injured by gunshots, while the other two were injured after the vehicle rolled over.
Federal authorities captured Juan "El Casas" Rodriguez Rodriguez in Mexico City. He had assumed leadership of La Mano con Ojos after the arrest of its former leader a few days prior.
George Friedman is the founder and editor of STRATFOR, from where this article is reprinted.