Recent outbreaks of violence in one of Mexico's main tourist areas could be due to clashes between an independent cartel and the Zetas, providing another example of the evolution of criminal dynamics in the country.
The recent attacks in the state of Quintana Roo, home to popular tourist destinations like CancUn and Playa del Carmen are reportedly the result of an attempt by the Zetas to retake control of lucrative drug distribution points in the area, according to federal intelligence reports.
An independent criminal structure, led by formal federal police officer Leticia Rodríguez, alias "Doña Lety" or "La 40," had pushed the powerful Zetas out of Quintana Roo a few years back, according to the reports.
Doña Lety's criminal group was initially linked to the Sinaloa Cartel and was made up of deserters from the Zetas and the Gulf Cartel, as well as ex-convicts and former government officials.
In an attempt to destroy Doña Lety's independent cartel, the Zetas were initially joined by the Gulf Cartel and a local structure called Los Pelones in an alliance dubbed "The Combos." But recent reports indicate that the latter two are now working hand-in-hand with Doña Lety as well as the Jalisco Cartel - New Generation (CJNG) to battle the Zetas.
Commenting on these shifting alliances, a local military commander said that the independent cartel is composed "of the remnants of other cartels," adding that it was common for members to "switch from one group to another."
The violence observed in Quintana Roo is not only the result of a confrontation between two warring parties but also the most recent example of the shifting criminal dynamics of Mexico's landscape.
The changing alliances between groups operating in the area and the creation of a new structure by deserters from other cartels serve as examples of the complexity of Mexico's underworld as well as criminal groups' capacity to adapt to evolving circumstances.
The country's cartels have ceased to function as homogeneous entities with a strong hierarchy. Although these groups maintain a leadership structure, they have developed into decentralized networks composed of various cells that have gained autonomy and have relatively weak ties to one another.
The new generation of cartels relies upon local criminal groups to establish their control over an area. But these groups present a lesser level of loyalty than previously observed.
The ensuing fragmentation allows for switching alliances and it can lead to violent confrontations on the streets, especially when the control of a strategic area is in play.