By Randal C. Aarchibold
New York Times
Mexican marines presented Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sánchez to reporters in Mexico City on Thursday.
In an early morning news conference in Mexico City, the man, Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sánchez, who faces an array of charges in both countries, was marched before reporters by masked marine guards.
A stocky man handcuffed in front and dressed in a checkered shirt and jeans and wearing a bulletproof vest, he looked sternly at the gathering, standing before a table covered with rifle parts, jewelry, a couple of gold-plated handguns and other goods seized during his arrest Wednesday evening.
José Luis Vergara, a marine spokesman reading a statement, said Mr. Costilla, 41, known as El Coss, was detained without any resistance by about 30 marines around 6 p.m. in Tampico in northeastern Tamaulipas State. Several other people detained with him were also shown to reporters, some of them with facial cuts and bruises.
The arrest gives Mexican forces a notable victory in their battle against drug-trafficking leaders, days ahead of Mexican Independence Day celebrations, and presents another blow to the Gulf Cartel, one of the three principal groups feeding rampant violence in the country.
Mr. Costilla has been wanted by the United States since 2002 on charges including drug trafficking, money laundering and threatening to assault and murder federal law enforcement agents, and his arrest sets up the possibility of an extradition.
The agents, with the F.B.I. and the Drug Enforcement Administration, were surrounded and threatened by gunmen, including Mr. Costilla, in the border city of Matamoros in 1999, but were eventually let go, American officials have said.
Just last week, a man identified as another top leader of the gang, Mario Cárdenas Guillén, was detained, also in Tamaulipas, one of Mexico’s most violent states. He had assumed a leadership role after his brother was killed by Mexican forces in 2010, but Mr. Costilla was believed to be running the organization.
George W. Grayson, a professor at the College of William and Mary in Virginia and a longtime researcher of the criminal groups, said the arrest demonstrated both the prowess of the Mexican marines — “they have first-rate intelligence, work closely with U.S. security agencies, and go out of their way to prevent leaks” — and the infighting in the Gulf Cartel.
Mr. Costilla, he said, was in the middle of a battle with other leaders to seize and solidify control of important cities in Tamaulipas.
This arrest, he said, is the most important takedown since Mexican marines killed Arturo Beltrán Leyva, chief of the Beltrán organization, in December 2009. That operation is also remembered for the killing of family members of a marine involved in the operation after his funeral.
Analysts have described the Gulf Cartel as somewhat weakened by a spinoff group, the Zetas, and the largest group, the Sinaloa Cartel, which have battled over turf and trafficking routes. The Zetas, too, are said to be split by factionalism.
Mexican and American drug agents believe that cutting off the heads of the organizations ultimately weakens them, but in many cases splinter groups have emerged. Violence as the new gangs and old ones fight it out, coupled with pressure from Mexican security forces, has led to more than 50,000 deaths, with some estimates far higher, in the last six years.
Mr. Costilla’s capture may help burnish the navy’s reputation after an embarrassment this summer.
In June, it said it had captured the “presumed son” of the most wanted drug lord, Joaquín Guzmán Loera, known as El Chapo, or Shorty, but in one of the government’s bigger public embarrassments, the authorities eventually conceded that it was not him.
As President Felipe Calderón’s six-year term draws to a close in December, there is heightened speculation that security forces will deliver him the capture of Mr. Guzmán as well. The military and the police have nearly caught him at least a few times, Mexican and American officials have said.
Tamaulipas also has been the focus of a political scandal, with a former governor and other officials under investigation over accusations of receiving money from drug traffickers.
It became an issue in the July presidential election because the politicians under investigation belonged to the Institutional Revolutionary Party, the same as the victor, Enrique Peña Nieto, who had sought to portray the party as beyond its previous corruption and drug scandals.