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08 Jan 2010

Beltran Leyvas Down but Not Out

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Mexico’s veteran organized crime family, the Beltran Leyvas, has suffered significant setbacks, but the organization, which still counts on assistance from Los Zetas, is far from destroyed, Samuel Logan comments for ISN Security Watch.

By Samuel Logan for ISN

Mexican authorities arrested Carlos Beltran Leyva in Sinaloa on 30 December. He is the younger brother of the late Arturo Beltran Leyva, who was killed in a shootout with Mexican troops two weeks earlier, and the third Beltran Leyva brother to have been either killed or arrested since early 2008.

With a fourth brother, Hector Beltran Leyva, still at large and considered the head of what remains of the organized crime family, the Beltran Leyvas' significantly weakened position suggests that it will soon lose its footing in the Mexican underworld. Much of its future, it seems, depends on continued support from the Los Zetas organized crime network.

The Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO) has worked closely with Los Zetas since a negotiated agreement in 2008.

Arturo reached out to the Zetas in the wake of his falling out with Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, a leader of the Sinaloa Federation cartel. Arturo had blamed El Chapo for his older brother’s arrest in January 2008, and while it is not clear if El Chapo fingered Alfredo’s location for Mexican police in January 2008, many analysts consider that he did finger Arturo's location in December 2009, suggesting that El Chapo has waged a silent yet very effective war against his old friends – a war that escalated when Arturo hired hit men to kill El Chapo’s son around the same time that he sealed a pact with El Chapo’s fiercest rivals.

Since 2007, members of Los Zetas have operated in a close personal protection role for BLO captains across the country. The two groups have also arranged agreements to operate in cooperation specific turf, or plazas, across Mexico, working together to move illicit products north into the US.

Heriberto Lazcano, the head of Los Zetas, also directed his men to assist with BLO offensives against the Sinaloa Federation as recently as November 2009, when a number of reports suggested that Zetas operatives had penetrated deep into Sinaloa, near the capital city of Culiacan, long reputed as the nerve center of the Sinaloa Federation.

At the head of the BLO, Hector does retain the support of BLO lieutenants, including the head of the BLO enforcement branch Edgar Valdez Villereal, aka La Barbie, but he will continue to rely heavily on Los Zetas as the BLO struggles to remain respected in the midst of an effective government crackdown following Mexican President Filipe Calderon's deployment, three years ago, of tens of thousands of soldiers and police to fight drug trafficking organizations.

So far, there is no indication that the Zetas will organize a mutiny against their partners, but many agree that the Zetas are in a position to finish what the Calderon administration started by turning on the Beltran Leyva brothers, capturing all BLO plazas in the process. The death or arrest of El Barbie would be a significant indication of a fall out between the two allies, yet as long as Los Zetas remain loyal to their agreement, Hector Beltran Leyva and the remaining men working under him have a strong chance of survival.


Samuel Logan is an investigative journalist, and author. He is the director of Southern Pulse | Networked Intelligence, a decentralized, field-based security consultancy, and has reported on security, energy, politics, economics, organized crime, terrorism and black markets in Latin America since 1999.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author only, not the International Relations and Security Network (ISN).

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