Mexican soldiers on Saturday captured the leader of the Gulf drug cartel, the second major blow in a month to the crime syndicates that have terrorized the country for years.
Soldiers captured Mario Armando Ramirez Trevino in a Saturday morning operation, the Mexican Ministry of the Interior said in a brief statement, describing him only as “the head of a criminal organization that operated in the north of the country.”
He is the second drug kingpin captured by the government of Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto following the July 15 arrest of Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, the head of the paramilitary Zetas cartel.
Pena Nieto, who took office in December last year, has pledged to reduce drug-related violence that has resulted in more than 70,000 deaths since 2006.
Ramirez Trevino, thought to be 51, became head of the once-powerful Gulf cartel after its former leader, Jorge Eduardo El Coss Costilla, was arrested in September last year.
The Gulf cartel first emerged smuggling liquor during the Prohibition era in the 1930s and is one of Mexico’s oldest criminal groups. Even though it has lost considerable terrain to rivals since its heyday in the mid-2000s, it retains key smuggling routes in eastern and northeastern Mexico.
Ramirez Trevino was captured in Rio Bravo, near the Texas border, according to a justice source in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas. Mexican military helicopters buzzed across the region on Saturday.
The US had offered a US$5 million reward for information leading to Ramirez Trevino’s arrest. The Gulf cartel boss was indicted in a US federal court in 2008 on crimes related to trafficking cocaine and marijuana from Mexico into the US.
The interior ministry said it would hold a press conference yesterday to discuss the details of his arrest.
Military checkpoints were set up outside Rio Bravo and the nearby border town of Reynosa, while soldiers and marines patrolled the streets, local media reported. Soldiers also took control of the international airport at Reynosa.
Reportedly a former drug addict, Ramirez Trevino — also known as El Pelon (Baldy) and “X-20” — rose to lead the Gulf cartel group that controlled criminal activities in the key smuggling town of Reynosa, across the Rio Grande river from McAllen, Texas.
In recent months he reportedly asserted his leadership over the cartel by crushing a rival faction.
Ramirez Trevino earlier worked closely with Osiel Cardenas Guillen, a former powerful cartel leader arrested in 2003 and currently serving a lengthy prison sentence in the US.
Under Osiel Cardenas the Gulf cartel hired the Zetas — elite anti-drug commandos that deserted and turned to criminality — to work as their enforcement arm. However, the Zetas turned on their employers in 2010 and in a series of bloody turf battles took over most of their territory.
The Zetas now battle the western Sinaloa Federation for control of the major drug trafficking routes to the US. The Sinaloa gang is headed by Joaquin El Chapo (Shorty) Guzman, Mexico’s most wanted man.
The captured former head of the Zetas, alias “Z-40,” is currently being held in a maximum-security prison in Mexico.
The two high-profile successes in Mexico help balance out some major setbacks, including the surprise release of jailed drug lord Rafael Caro Quintero, convicted in the 1985 torture and killing of US Drug Enforcement Administration agent Enrique Camarena and his Mexican pilot.
A local judge in the state of Jalisco on Aug. 7 ordered that Caro Quintero be released, claiming procedural mistakes in his case. The Mexican government has since ordered his detention again after receiving a US extradition request.