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Mexico Security Memo: Nuevo Laredo Police Chief Missing

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Analysis

A Police Chief's Disappearance

Authorities discovered the bodies of two men identified as brothers of Nuevo Laredo Police Chief Roberto Alejandro Balmori Garza in an abandoned vehicle Feb. 17 in Cienega de Flores, Nuevo Leon state, on Highway 85 near Monterrey. The police chief has been missing since the discovery of his brothers' bodies. Mexican organized crime elements have likely targeted him and his family.

Organized criminal groups typically target law enforcement officers to coerce them into cooperating or at least into dropping an investigation. In areas with competing criminal groups, violence toward authorities could be retaliation against officials suspected of working with rival organized criminal groups. Los Zetas have been waging a turf war in Nuevo Laredo against the Gulf cartel and other Los Zetas rivals such as the Sinaloa Federation and the Knights Templar. In acts of retaliation Mexican organized crime often seeks to harm family members of the principal target, though the principal target here remains unclear. While the culprits in the disappearance of the police chief and the deaths of his brothers are unknown, they likely belong to one of the cartels operating in both Monterrey and Nuevo Laredo.

A New Zetas Rival Emerges

Narcomantas have begun appearing on bridges in various parts of Villahermosa, Tabasco state, with anti-Los Zetas messages signed "Pueblo Unido," a previously unknown criminal group. Similar narcomantas were found previously in Cardenas and Comalcalco, Tabasco state. Most notably, in Cardenas on Feb. 10 authorities discovered two decapitated bodies accompanying a message signed "Pueblos Unidos" that threatened anyone participating in kidnappings and extortion or assisting Los Zetas. Similarly, on Feb. 11 in Hueyapan de Ocampo, Veracruz state, authorities discovered a bag containing human remains with a message signed, "Killers of kidnappers and Zs." Like the signatures on the messages discovered in neighboring Tabasco, the victim and accompanying message suggest a possible new rival to Los Zetas in the area — although the signature bears some resemblance to the Cartel de Jalisco Nueva Generacion signature of "Mata Zetas" or "Zeta Killers."

The messages suggest a new regional rival to Los Zetas has emerged along Mexico's Gulf Coast, though the challenger's origin remains unclear. The group may threaten to create a choke point for Zetas transportation routes. Los Zetas' main strongholds are located in northeastern Mexico, along the Gulf Coast, but the organization also operates widely in Guatemala and southern Mexican states like Quintana Roo, Campeche and Chiapas. The Zetas use Veracruz and Tabasco states to connect these two areas of operation.

While there have been recent violent acts directed against Los Zetas in both Veracruz and Tabasco states, it is uncertain how much of a challenge the new rivals pose to Los Zetas. Moreover, "Pueblo Unido" and/or those behind the incident in Hueyapan de Ocampo could be cover for an existing cartel. The rival organization also might be a vigilante group unrelated to drug trafficking, or even a regional split within Los Zetas operating in Tabasco and Veracruz. Regardless of the origins of the new rivals, should they present a substantial threat, Los Zetas would respond violently due to the value of the region.

Editor's Note: We now offer the daily Mexico Security Monitor, an additional custom intelligence service geared toward organizations with operations or interests in the region, designed to provide more detailed and in-depth coverage of the situation. To learn more about this new fee-based custom service, visit www.stratfor.com/msm.

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