« Flushing out 'bajadores' and 'rip crews' | Main | The beauty Mexico has to offer »


Jail breaks and cartel manpower woes

Mexico Drug War_Nost-2
In terms of news, sometimes when it rains, it pours. Last Friday was one of those days in Mexico. The big story was the horrendous killing of a grieving mother up in the Chihuahua capital who had been campaigning for justice in the murder of her daughter. Click here to read the story and see a chilling video.

That same day, widely overshadowed in the media, was the escape of 191 inmates from a prison in Tamaulipas. Turns out the criminal syndicate known as Los Zetas was behind the prison break.

Grupo Savant, a security analysis firm run by former DEA agent Gary J. Hale, has come up with some interesting interpretation of what that jailbreak signifies about Los Zetas, which he said “orchestrated and approved the escape plan.” The jailbreak has repercussions that range from a likely increase in carjackings in Tamaulipas state to manpower shortages for the Zetas in their blood battle with the Nueva Federacion, the alliance between Sinaloa, La Familia, and Gulf cartels that is trying to snuff out the Zetas. Here’s more from a report I received from Savant this morning:

The escapees were, according to reliable Grupo Savant sources, immediately taken to Zeta safe houses in northeast Mexico where they were fed, clothed and armed to serve as a sort of "escapee battalion" of fighters that were brought forth as reserve force so that they could be placed into the fight against the Nueva Federación.  

These inmates have traded their incarceration, a life in prison that required self-financed sustenance in order to survive, for a conditional freedom that requires Zeta Cartel servitude and grave risk of death. The fact that Zetas reached into a prison population speaks to the levels of attrition they are suffering and the obvious difficulty they are having finding ready and willing fighters on the streets of the contested territories. The need to recruit fighters in Tamaulipas itself, instead of bringing reserve forces from other parts of Mexico demonstrates that the Zetas have equally important priorities elsewhere. 

The Zeta organization mobilizes its forces in convoys of 3-20 vehicles. These convoys are commonly referred to as “commandos” with each vehicle carrying 4-5 cartel gunmen. Since the Gulf Cartel and Zeta split in early 2010 they have had several incidents of mistaken identity that led to “friendly-fire” casualties among members of the same cartels. As a result, the traffickers have begun to identify their vehicles with cartel affiliation placards or hand-painted initials that are clearly visible on the doors of the vehicles. The Zetas typically have a large “Z” emblem on their vehicles while the Gulf cartel uses the markings of “C.D.G” which stands for Cartel del Golfo.” 

While the Zeta cartel likely has the weaponry needed to outfit this latest crop of fighters, it is believed that the majority of the 191 prison escapees will be pressed into service in the fight against the Nueva Federación in northeast Mexico. At the ratio of 4 fighters per vehicle, we assess that the Zetas will require an additional 50 vehicles to enable these troops to mobilize for the fight. 

While it is only conjecture, the thesis constantly put forth by President Felipe Calderon that some of the cartels have suffered so many casualties from inter-cartel turf wars that they suffer manpower shortages may be bolstered by Savant’s analysis. At some point, potential recruits may consider a well-paid but short life ending in violent death may not hold allure.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Jail breaks and cartel manpower woes:


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

sean hanny

thanks, Tim, for reminding me of that, but I think that anybody with eyes and reading ability has seen those words "Islam terrorist" and they often use it without having any real knowledge as to what it really means...merry christmas to all

Tim J

Thanks for the suggestion. I see he's got an 80-minute lecture up on the Santa Fe website on The Future of Terrorism. By the way, I hope I never implied that the drug cartels do things randomly. Actions may be vicious and seemingly inexplicable, but I think on deeper probing there is a logical thread to what they do -- as you suggest -- much of it explained by efforts to maintain income streams versus competition that is equally vicious.

Expats Anonymous

@ Sean Hanny

Los Zetas, at least, pay close enough attention to terrorism and terrorists that, last spring, they accused La Familia Michoacana of adopting the "practices of fundamentalist Islam." This accusation was so widely reported in Mexican and international news media that I'm surprised you missed it.

@ Tim Johnson

If you're interested in Grupo Savant's analysis of Mexican cartels, you should take a look at the work that physicist Aaron Clauset is doing in the "physics of terrorism" at the Sante Fe Institute.

For as much as many people would like to believe that organized violence is a matter of unpredictable personality types and inscrutable motives, Clauset's research appears to suggest that all violent groups behave in ways that can be measured, analyzed, and, perhaps eventually, predicted.

Although Clauset is a strict empiricist who avoids sociological speculation, he does go so far as to venture that even terrorist groups inevitably face the same constraints and challenges that legal business enterprises must deal with, such as cash flow issues and the availability and training of a viable workforce.

If the behavior of terrorist organizations is observable and measurable, then the activity of Mexico's cartels is all the more vulnerable to statistical scrutiny and analysis.

Unlike terrorist organizations, the cartels are mercantile in nature. Instead of hiding their products or keeping them secret, the cartels want people to know about their products and buy them.

The successful sale of any product, even an illegal one, inevitably requires regular contact with the world outside factories and corporate headquarters. And this regular and necessary contact with the public entails countless instances, large and small, of self-disclosure that can be directly observed, counted, and measured.

sean hanny

all the pundits and experts and ex CIA and think tanks, etc, they are usually wrong...I don't think anyone can really talk with authority about the cartels and what is going on with them, their tendencies unless you are Chapo...in the course of history, most "expert analysis" is quite often wrong, way wrong, so yes, the cartels in Mexico have inranicine spats and yes they go for turf, etc, but to pretend that we as ordinary people know the score, well, no, we don't...it is all speculation...also, Mr Randolph, regarding your post about the cartels hooking up with "al qaeda", no way....Mexican narcos loathe such terrorist jive and they don't even really pay attention to such stuff...one must ask "what exactly is al queada"?...what do we know about them?...why would the cartels associate with them?...hired guns?...no way...

John Randolph

Thank you Tim!

Makes me wonder if the cartels would or could import hired guns with al qaeda training or jihadist intentions.

The comments to this entry are closed.



This blog is written by Tim Johnson, the Mexico bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.

Send a story suggestion or news tip.

Read Tim's stories at news.mcclatchy.com.

Follow Tim on Twitter: @timjohnson4

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner


    Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
        1 2 3 4 5
    6 7 8 9 10 11 12
    13 14 15 16 17 18 19
    20 21 22 23 24 25 26
    27 28 29 30 31