But U.S. authorities, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it’s clear that a realignment is underway in Tamaulipas, where the Gulf and Sinaloa cartels have joined forces to gun for what’s left of the Zetas, now said to be led by Treviño Morales’ younger brother Omar, who some U.S. authorities said is being challenged internally for the leadership.

“It’s possible his brother Omar might slide into control of the network smoothly and with minimal violence,” said Eric Olson, a security expert at the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute. “But new competition is likely to explode into the open, either from internal rivalries or externally.”

In recent days, at least two trucks filled with the burned bodies of suspected Zetas were discovered just miles from the Texas border. In addition, at least 60 allies of Treviño Morales, also known as “40,” have been picked up in recent days by Mexican marines, authorities said.

Battlegrounds also have formed south of Nuevo Laredo, in the Falcon Lake area, where lines have been drawn between the Zetas and their former employers, the Gulf cartel. The Gulf cartel strategy, with backup from the Sinaloa cartel, is to retake the Nuevo Laredo corridor, the gateway to the NAFTA highway, Interstate 35. For years, the Sinaloa cartel has tried taking control of the corridor into Texas but has been successfully pushed back by the Zetas.

However the situation along the border plays out, “the demand for and supply of drugs will remain largely unchanged,” Olson said, “with only changes in those transporting the drugs and the routes they take.”

But the changing dynamics will potentially be felt in North Texas, where Treviño Morales came of age as a criminal and retains familial ties in the Dallas area. The region is also a key hub of operations for the Zetas.

At the time of his capture, Treviño Morales presided over a criminal business empire that stretched from the U.S. Southwest to Central America.

In Guatemala, the Zetas have “managed to establish themselves through a process known as ‘transplantation,’ meaning they have been able to “grow an extension of the cartel with the direct involvement of local elements,” said Gema Santamaria, co-author of the book The Criminal Diaspora.


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