The Mexican Navy (Secretaría de Marina, SEMAR) shot and killed Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, “El Lazca,” the alleged leader of “Los Zetas” organization during a shootout in the municipality of Progreso, in the Northern state of Coahuila on Sunday October 7, officials say. According to news sources, Navy personnel were driving nearby a baseball stadium where they noticed the presence of suspicious-looking men inside a vehicle. When the Navy members tried to stop them, the men attempted to escape and opened fire against the SEMAR vehicle using both guns and grenades; one Naval participant was injured. The Navy team managed to stop the vehicle and killed Mario Alberto Rodríguez, the driver, as two other men attempted to flee on foot while still shooting at the officers. One of them escaped, while the other, who has now been identified as El Lazca, was killed. This killing follows the successful capture of the Zeta’s third-in-command, Ivan Velazquez Cabellero, on September 26 as well as Salvador Alfonso Martínez “La Ardilla”, a top regional leader, on October 8, by the Mexican Navy, which is believed to be Mexico’s most proficient force and has played a significant role in combating drug violence and cartel warfare.
However, what could have been seen as a huge victory for the Mexican Government was overshadowed by the later event during which a group of armed assailants arrived at the funeral home in Sabinas, Coahuila, housing the bodies of both Lazcano and Rodríguez, and stole the corpses. Sources say that the act leads SEMAR and state authorities to believe that the victims were highly ranked members of the cartel.
SEMAR spokesman, José Luis Vergara, said that the military team did not realize that one of the victims of the shootout was El Lazca until the body was later identified by the State Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado, PGJE). Mexican news source El Universal stated that Lazcano’s body was found baring no identification papers, and his identity was discovered only after running fingerprints through a national database. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) records and Mexican Navy show differences in birth years of 1974 and 1975, respectively, leaving El Lazca’s true age a mystery. Discrepancies also arose among the databases regarding the height of El Lazca and the actual height of the victim’s body. However, the Ministry of the Interior Alejandro Poiré confirmed that there was no doubt that the man killed was El Lazca.
Lazcano, who was founder of Los Zetas organization, was wanted by U.S. law enforcement for drug trafficking and other similar charges, and a five million dollar bounty was in place for any successful arrest. In addition to rewards and bounties set up by U.S. officials, the Attorney General of Mexico had previously offered 30 million pesos for any information that would have led to Lazcano’s capture. A deserter of an elite unit of the Mexican Army, Lazcano had ascended to the role of kingpin of the Zetas in 2002, while they were still operating as part of the larger Gulf Cartel. He remained in leadership when the two gangs split in 2010, and in addition to “El Lazca,” has many aliases including “Z-3,” “Snowman,” and commonly “El Verdugo,” which is Spanish for “The Executioner.”
Los Zetas is considered to be one of the largest and most dangerous drug trafficking organizations in Mexico, with far-reaching ties that have led to many headaches for security officials, exemplified by a prison break in Coahuila last month. However, a recent crackdown by Mexican law enforcement has seen major consequences for the cartel, with 17 arrests of leaders so far this year. Eduardo Guerrero, a security consultant who researches cartel developments throughout the nation, reports that the organization is beginning to split into two distinct groups, scattering leadership already-fragmented by this most recent assassination. As the Justice in Mexico Project reported on August 28, Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales, or “Z-40, had been steadily gaining authority and ascending the ranks within the organization over the past few years, and was the alleged creator a rival faction within Los Zetas. SEMAR believes that after the killing of El Lazca, Treviño Morales will become the top leader of the organization.