The captured leader of Mexico’s Zetas drug cartel is a tough act to follow, a man accused of having a penchant for beheading victims, boiling rivals and tormenting migrants.
His arrest raised hopes that the cartel’s reign of terror had finally ended, but the man tipped to succeed Miguel Angel Trevino is his younger brother, who also boasts a blood-stained resume that includes claims of killing 1,000 people, according to US court documents.
Former US law enforcement officials say Omar Trevino, alias “Z-42,” is the likely heir apparent to “Z-40” after his brother was captured by Mexican marines on a dirt road near the northeastern city of Nuevo Laredo on Monday.
The 39-year-old sibling, who was Z-40’s right-hand man, is expected to replicate his brother’s violent ways to assert his authority over the cartel and fend off rivals, according to two former US officials who worked in Mexico.
“Omar is equally ruthless as his brother, though he doesn’t have the organizational skills that his brother had,” said Mike Vigil, a former chief of the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s international operations.
“He was nurtured and tutored by Miguel Angel Trevino in terms of using wholesale violence to intimidate other criminal organizations and security forces,” Vigil said. “He’s an individual who will probably use the same tactics as his brother in terms of consolidating power.”
Omar Trevino would likely face challenges to his rule as the head of a cartel present in huge swaths of the northeast as well as Central America, experts say.
The Zetas have been warring with the powerful Sinaloa drug cartel of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who may see an opening to raid Nuevo Laredo, a city highly coveted by drug traffickers because it lies at a major Texas border crossing.
Mexican security forces may also ride the wave of their successful capture of Miguel to relentlessly pursue his younger brother.
On top of it, the toppling of a drug lord often leads to internal wars of succession. The Zetas, who were founded by former elite troops, may not appreciate a new civilian boss, although Miguel Trevino was never a soldier himself.
Davy Aguilera, a former special agent for the US firearms and explosives agency ATF, said Omar Trevino is the “logical successor because everybody was so afraid and intimidated by Miguel.”
“There were indications that if something happened to him, Omar was his successor. Nobody wanted to betray Miguel,” Aguilera said.
“Like Miguel, [Omar] will surround himself with the worst of the worst, the most violent criminals” to tighten his grip, he added.
Little is known about Omar Trevino and Mexican Interior Ministry spokesman Eduardo Sanchez said he knew nothing about him.
Former US officials say the younger Trevino, born in Nuevo Laredo, began his life in the criminal underworld as a “small-time thug” who committed petty crimes like robbery and extortion — always by his brother’s side.
He rose through the ranks of the Zetas thanks to his older brother, who made him his top lieutenant when he took over the cartel last year after kingpin Heriberto Lazcano was killed in a gunfight with troops.
While Miguel reportedly melted victims in a 208 liter “stew” and is accused of ordering the murder of 265 migrants, his sibling has his own checkered past.
In 2010, Omar Trevino told an informant that he had killed more than 1,000 people while Miguel had killed 2,000, according to an affidavit filed in a US court for a search warrant on the property of another Trevino brother in Texas.
He is named in US indictments for cocaine and marijuana trafficking, and the US Department of State, which offers a US$5 million reward for information leading to his arrest, says he is allegedly responsible for several abductions and murders in Nuevo Laredo.