Here's an excerpt from Randal Archibold's article in the New York Times:
"The Mexican Navy said on Monday night that it believed it had killed a man who it thinks may be a founder and the principal leader of the Zetas, one of the most violent criminal gangs to terrorize the country in years. But adding to the confusion, two Mexican newspapers reported the next morning that the corpse had suddenly gone missing. The navy said in a statement that in a battle Sunday afternoon in Coahuila state in northern Mexico between marines and men armed with guns and grenades, two men were killed, one bearing “strong signs” of being Heriberto Lazcano, known as El Lazca and the main leader of the Zetas. The navy said it was conducting forensic tests to positively identify the men, but the prospect of having eliminated one of Mexico’s most wanted criminals led to leaks just before the most-watched evening newscast, which reported the possibility that Mr. Lazcano had been killed... In an odd twist, the two Mexican newspapers reported on Tuesday that the corpse that the authorities believed to be Mr. Lazcano was taken away from a funeral home by armed people or family members. They reported that law enforcement authorities had already taken fingerprints, photographs and other material to aid in the identification, but the loss of the body would surely add to doubts and mystery over the man and the case." Link to Full Article
Analysis: Since I started reviewing all the stories on El Lazca after I woke up and got going this morning, the Mexican navy has confirmed that the man they killed is indeed Lazcano, so my analysis will be based on this confirmation.
First, there should be no question that this is a big victory for the Mexican navy/marines and the Calderón administration. Despite the fact that it seems they more or less lucked out on coming across his location (FOX News Latino said that some locals in Progreso made reports about armed men in the area), I've also seen reports they benefitted from some DEA assistance. If that's true, then I'm happy to see that cross-border intelligence sharing worked here, like it did in Arturo Beltrán Leyva's death in 2009.
That being said, it's going to be a symbolic victory more than anything else. Calderón can say one of the founders and top leaders of Los Zetas was killed on his watch, and this will no doubt be a big morale booster for the military. But we need to take a good look at how El Lazca's death will (or won't) impact operations on the ground.
Rumors of El Lazca's death started well over a year ago in June 2011 when there was a huge firefight in Matamoros. The drug lord was said to have been involved and possibly killed during that firefight, but no solid evidence of his presence ever emerged. We know now he was likely never there, but he essentially disappeared from the radar screen shortly afterwards. Several months later, rumors began that he was terminally ill with some sort of cancer - rumors that, again, were never confirmed. But we do know that Miguel "Z-40" Treviño Morales, the Zetas' #2 man, in effect took control of Los Zetas some time ago. This leadership handover didn't seem like it was the result of any rivalry or intra-TCO dispute.
This ultimately means that El Lazca, while remaining a huge and historic figurehead for Los Zetas, likely had very little actual control over TCO operations in the field. It's even questionable how much real control Treviño has over regional plaza commanders, considering that Los Zetas are set up like a franchise rather than a traditional top-down hierarchy, and Zetas activities are determined by the business environment in each location. The good news is that El Lazca's death probably won't incite any additional violence in the form of a power or territory grab. However, it also means Los Zetas aren't significantly weaker as an organization as a result.