Mexican Drug War Update: The Polarization Continues

While there has been a reshuffling of alliances among Mexican drug cartels since our July cartel update, the trend discussed in the first two updates of the year continues. That is the polarization of cartels and associated sub-groups toward the two largest drug-trafficking organizations, the Sinaloa Federation and Los Zetas. Meanwhile, the three primary conflicts in Mexico’s drug war remain cartel vs. cartel, cartel vs. government and cartel vs. civilians. Operations launched by the military during the second quarter of 2011, primarily against Los Zetas and the Knights Templar, continued through the third quarter as well, and increasing violence in Guerrero, Durango, Veracruz, Coahuila and Jalisco states has resulted in the deployment of more federal troops in those areas.

The northern tier of states has seen a lull in violence, from Tijuana in Baja California state to Juarez in Chihuahua state. Violence in that stretch of northern Mexico subsided enough during the third quarter to allow the military to redeploy forces to other trouble spots. In Tamaulipas state, the military remains in charge of law enforcement in most of the cities, and the replacement of entire police departments that occurred in the state during the second quarter was recently duplicated in Veracruz following an outbreak of violence there (large numbers of law enforcement personnel were found to be in collusion with Los Zetas and were subsequently dismissed).

The battles between the Gulf cartel and Los Zetas for control over northeastern Mexico continue, though a developing rift within Gulf leadership may complicate the cartel’s operations in the near term. While Gulf remains a single entity, we anticipate that, absent a major reconciliation between the Metros and Rojos factions, the cartel may split violently in the next three to eight months. If that happens, alliances in the region will likely get much murkier than they already are.

In central and southern Mexico, fighting for control of the major plazas at Guadalajara, Acapulco, Chilpancingo and Oaxaca continues to involve the major players — Sinaloa, Los Zetas and the Knights Templar — along with several smaller organizations. This is particularly the case at the Jalisco and Guerrero state plazas, where there are as many as seven distinct organizations battling for control, a situation that will not likely reach any level of stasis or clarity over the next three to six months.

Though our last update suggested the potential for major hurricanes to complicate the drug war in Mexico, the region has avoided the worst of the weather so far. Though the hurricane season lasts until the end of November, the most productive period for major storms tends to be September and early October, so the likelihood of any hurricanes hitting Mexico’s midsection is fairly remote at this point.

Looking ahead toward the end of 2011, STRATFOR expects high levels of cartel violence in the northeastern and southern bicoastal areas of Mexico to continue. The military has deployed more troops in Guadalajara for the Pan-American Games, which run Oct. 14-30, as well as in Veracruz and Coahuila, and any flare-up of violence in those areas will likely be influenced by the military’s presence.

2011 drug trafficking routes

View more on Mexico’s Cartels »

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