Friday, December 16, 2011

On the Zetas' Breakdown in Authority

Here's a new piece at InSight:
As Borderland Beat reports, the banners, or "narcomantas," appeared on Monday morning in at least 10 different spots around the city, signed with the name of Zetas boss Miguel Angel Treviño, alias "Z-40." The messages' first paragraph declares:

We do not govern this country, nor do we have a regime; we are not terrorists or guerrillas. We concentrate on our work and the last thing we want is to have problems with any government, neither Mexico nor much less with the US.

The message went on to distance both Treviño and the Zetas from a recently uncovered alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the US, as well as an August attack in a Monterrey casino that killed more than 50 people. A Zetas cell has been linked to the latter incident, while the assassination plot, according to US authorities, revolved around an alleged Irani agent contracting members of the Zetas to murder the diplomat in Washington, DC.

The most recent narcomantas contradicted a series of messages left in Nuevo Laredo earlier this month, in which someone writing in Treviño’s name openly challenged the governments of the US and Mexico. As that message's authors wrote:

Not the army, not the marines nor the security and anti-drug agencies of the United States government can resist us. Mexico lives and will continue under the regime of the Zetas. Let it be clear that we are in control here and although the federal government controls other cartels, they cannot take our plazas.

This episode raises a couple of points about the current state of the Zetas. One is that the group seems to be suffering a significant amount of organizational deterioration. This is clearly demonstrated by the disdain with which the latest banners refer to the Monterrey attackers; Treviño refers to them as having “chicken brains” and emphasizes repeatedly that the attack was not ordered from above.

This conclusion is supported by the contradictory messages appearing in the same, Zeta-controlled city just weeks before. There are two possible explanations for this: either Treviño’s subordinates felt comfortable issuing a challenge in his name and without his consent, or a rival group infiltrated a Zeta stronghold and managed to hang a handful of narcomantas around town without them knowing. Neither possibility would seem to reflect a finely tuned operation humming perfectly.

More broadly, the insistence on linking capacity to violence to the strength of the group behind bloodshed is one of the frequent problems in analysis of Mexico. We all have a tendency to exaggerate the size the enemies about which we know relatively little, but so much of what we've seen from the Zetas in the past year strikes me as the behavior of a headless chicken, not a stalking lion. Of course, that distinction matters little to the people who are victimized, so perhaps the proper comparison is a stalking lion to an epileptic lion attacking people willy-nilly without any clear plan. Or maybe animal metaphors aren't really the proper approach to this issue.


Burro Hall said...

The phrase "We concentrate on our work" packs about 12 different kinds of awesomeness into half a sentence.

pc said...

Yeah it sounds like a small business owner, like Kobe Bryan in the workout room, a bit like the scientists at Los Alamos...

Burro Hall said...

With a touch of Joan Didion for good measure.