By now the world observer knows that Heriberto Lazcano, leader of Los Zetas crime syndicate, has been killed in a shoot out with the Mexican Navy. The observer also knows that his body was stolen overnight by unidentified gunmen, presumably Zetas, but the general oddities of Lazcano's death still warrant an organized account.
Known as "El Verdugo," or the executioner, Lazcano was killed on Sunday after encountering a Marine patrol in the northern border state of Coahuila. The favorable advantage of saturation enabled the discovery of his location; an additional 1,500 navy, army and federal police were deployed to the area after the October 3rd killing of José Eduardo Moreira, son of the state's former Gov. Humberto Moreira. The Navy claims that a local tipoff identified a suspicious vehicle near Progreso, Coahuila, about 80 miles west of Laredo, Texas. After a brief exchange of gun and grenade fire, Lazcano's body was found lying in or near a baseball field.
This information, unconfirmed as it remains, appears more certain that the rest of Lazcano and Los Zetas's future. After all, Zetas have built their syndicate on disinformation and fabrication to counterattack the efforts of other drug cartels and government agencies (and recruit locally, nationally and internationally). Connected to Guatemalan commandos, El Salvadorian street gangs, the Italian mafia, FARC and, more dubiously, the Taliban and al-Qaeda, Los Zetas needs ambiguity to stay operational. Many members have been "killed" only to surface again, while Lazcano himself replaced Los Zetas's founder, Arturo Guzmán Decena, after the latter was killed in a 2002 shootout.
Now everyone in the underworld and law enforcement is speculating over Lazcano's fate. Will the loss of its entire original leadership lead to a formal schism in Los Zetas, which allegedly controls over 10,000 individuals from all sorts of political and military backgrounds? Los Zetas currently oversees criminal activities down Mexico's Gulf Coast and in the states of Nuevo Leon, Coahuila and parts of Hidalgo, Puebla and Zacatecas. For the past two years, however, various media "rumors" have reported an internal competition for the group's leadership and over lucrative new territory, such as the Yucatan peninsula. This information falls in line with Los Zetas's increasing fragmentation, attributed to the systemic loss of its older leaders and the rise of their younger replacements.
Whether the new boss, former deputy Capo Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, can keep the organization in one piece will affect the entirety of Mexico's drug war. Morales is considered more rash and brutal than Lazcano and Decana, the most able of the three. If any of them is going to lose control, it's Z-40. Yet Morales should be estimated as no less militarily capable than his predecessors, and his independence was supposedly deep in progress by the time of Lazcano's death. Of the three options - unity, division and collapse - the organization is too big to fail even in a worse-case scenario. Nor has the criminal underworld been more entwined than now and many powers, national and international, need to keep Los Zetas alive. Lazcano's death could also force Morales to pursue deeper international relationships to maintain his authority.
Lastly, some Mexicans and observers still question the veracity of Lazcano's death and his body-snatching drove the speculation to new heights. The kill itself was an enormous development but the theft induces a surreal situation. New rumors of police corruption are fanning the theory that Lazcano somehow faked his death in order to undergo facial reconstruction surgery, as Amado Carrillo Fuentes infamously attempted and died from in 1997. The sequence of events resembles the overall status of Mexico's drug war: after a major takedown follows infiltration.
This war can only be managed, not ended, with a top-down approach that fails to sufficiently address government corruption and inefficiency.