Arrest of Zetas cartel boss may prove Mexico's commitment to U.S.

July 16, 2013|By Stacey Leasca

Miguel Angel Treviño Morales, the leader of one of Mexico’s most violent drug-trafficking cartels, was taken into custody Monday by Mexican officials -- a capture made possible with the help of U.S. intelligence.

Mexican naval special forces seized Treviño, who also goes by the alias Z-40, in Nuevo Laredo, a border city across from Laredo, Texas. The border city has long been a Zetas stronghold, government security spokesman Eduardo Sanchez said, but the reach of both Treviño and the Zetas goes far beyond Mexico’s borders.

Dr. David Shirk, a political science professor specializing in U.S.-Mexico relations at the University of San Diego, spoke to The Times about the history of the Zetas gang and the implications of Treviño's capture. [Watch the video above.]

FULL COVERAGE: Mexico's drug war

“Treviño had cross-border ties,” Shirk said. “Treviño spent a significant portion of his youth and had ongoing family connections and business connections in Texas.”

In May 2012, a U.S. federal court indictment described Treviño as a Zetas leader who laundered millions of dollars in drug proceeds through U.S. businesses, including a thoroughbred horse racing operation allegedly run by a brother.

“It’s very clear that on both sides of the border, Mr. Treviño and the Los Zetas organization were perceived as a very serious shared threat,” Shirk said.

The strong desire of the U.S. and Mexican governments to apprehend Treviño is underscored by the rewards offered for this capture: $5 million from the U.S. government, about $2.5 million from the Mexico.

Treviño has been accused in the killings of more than 260 migrants, but Shirk cautioned that any relief felt at his capture may be short-lived.

Shirk said the big winner in this arrest could be the Sinaloa cartel and other rivals that are likely to be in position to quickly resume normal operations.

“Unfortunately, when you take out a major player like this and reconsolidate the illicit drug trafficking market, essentially you let the drug traffickers stop fighting and get back to business as usual.”

This fact was not lost on those who have followed the Zetas' brutal trail.

“No capture of an individual will have great impact on drug trafficking nor perhaps, sadly, the violence," Carlos Puig, a journalist and political analyst, wrote in a column Tuesday in the Mileno newspaper.

But Shirk said he believes that the capture proves something more important: Mexico’s commitment to fighting the cartels.

“This arrest, I think, shows that the Mexican government is in fact committed to taking out some major organized crime figures, and in that sense, it’s an important victory and important signal for [Mexican President Enrique] Pena Nieto to his counterparts in the United States.”

Areas of cartel influence in Mexico

Source: Stratfor

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