MEXICO CITY – More blood and more death. Mexico’s drug wars seem to be getting crueler and more sadistic by the year. Of all the players involved, probably no one is more responsible for the increasing violence than Miguel Angel Treviño, a.k.a. ‘Z-40,’ who has just taken over control of the notorious Los Zetas cartel following the killing last week of kingpin Heriberto “El Lazca” Lascano.
Mexican authorities confirmed the leadership change, as have rival cartels, which are urging a unified approach to face Treviño head on.
In a recent Internet expand=1] video, Servando Gómez, himself leader of the Caballeros Templarios cartel, laid out the brutal state of affairs: “We need to join forces and form a common front to fight against Los Zetas, especially against Z-40," he said. "His unbridled ambition has unleashed terror and confusion on our country,”
Observers say Treviño is behind many of the drug war’s most gruesome atrocities. His rivals have been hanged, decapitated, at times dismembered. One of his supposed specialties is to “cook” his victims in acid and gasoline.
Treviño began his career at a young age, working as runner for a gang called Los Tejas, which controlled the lion’s share of criminal activity in his hometown, Nuevo Laredo, just across the border from Laredo, Texas.
Treviño climbed the ranks and by 2005 held a key leadership role. One of his responsibilities was to fend off attempts by the Sinaloa cartel to muscle in on Los Tejas’ drug routes. He orchestrated a series of murders in the United States, several of which were carried out by young Americans who gunned down their victims on the streets of Laredo.
“Businessman of the Year”
The gang leader later joined up with Los Zetas, helping turn it from a minor spin-off group – it began as branch of the Cartel de Golfo – into one of Mexico’s two most important cartels in the space of just two years. If “Z-40” worked for a multinational company, rather than a criminal organization, he would likely have earned himself “businessman of the year” honors. Treviño’s only real competition now is the Sinaloa cartel, led by Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán.
Los Zetas have extended their control into Central America, using Honduras as a drop-off point for Colombian cocaine. The drugs then pass overland along the Mexican Gulf Coast en route to their final destination, the United States.
Treviño’s penchant for criminal activity apparently runs in the family. His brother, Omar Treviño Morales , a.k.a. "El Z-42," is also a major player in Los Zetas. In criminal circles, the Treviño brothers have earned a reputation for brutality. They have caught the attention of U.S. authorities as well. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) has a standing offer of $5 million for anyone who can provide information leading to their arrest.
Treviño has been implicated as well in the recent murder of José Eduardo Moreira Rodríguez, the 24-year-old son of one of Mexico’s leading politicians. The victim’s father, Humberto Moreira, is an ex-governor of Coahuila state and a leader in the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). State prosecutors suspect it may have been a revenge killing, ordered by Treviño in retaliation for the death of one of his nephews, who died in a standoff with police.
The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.
LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.
Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.
Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.
The role of the nuclear pact
Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.
It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.
He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."
The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.
Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.
Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020commons.wikimedia.org
Riyadh's warming relations with Israel
Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."
The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."
Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."
Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.
If nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.
Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.
Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.
For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.
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