I began this AM reading an article in the Houston Chron, in which the summation suggests CDG (Gulf Cartel) will survive. The next article I read was in the LA Times, its summation says they are possibly finished. Two respected media sources, possibly the most knowledgeable US newspaper sources on the Mexican Drugwar, viewing the aftermath of recent events differently. I am not a fan of the catch the kingpin strategy, although there is a moment of euphoria, for the most part it does little to damage a strong cartel, and evaporates too large a bite of the limited resources of Mexico.
Although Calderon has been brave in his fight, and he deserves respect for his attempts, his largest flaw was his failed plan of targeting kingpins. The middle layer operators should have been the target, the movers and shakers, the money guys if capos are caught in such operations, all the better. Cartels are well prepared to have replacements, selected in the event of kingpin capture. As for the Z split, I am not buying that it is between Lazcano and Trevino. I can’t see a motive. They have split the business long ago, Lazca has the diversification business and 40 the drugs. More likely it is a war between 40 and Taliban and that split would lead to little consequence in the long run or that Taliban has jumped ship. That said, Zs are spread pretty thin, and cover a massive amount of geography, they need additional alliances or they will suffer during this outbreak of violence. That is my opinion, like everyone else I have one, like the others time is the only sure bet. I recall a little over a year ago another BB contributor and I were in a debate about CDG, he thought CDG were much stronger than Zs, and that Zs were so weak and would be soon eliminated, I on the other hand thought CDG would be eliminated and Zs would absorb some of its members, stay tuned……Paz, Chivis
US STATE DEPARTMENT MOST TARGETED MEXICAN NARCOS
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Pena: "He will have to out-Calderon Calderon."
The history of major arrests of Mexican drug “cartel” leaders during the administration of President Felipe Calderón (2006-December 2012) indicates that despite important apprehensions, many Mexican organized crime groups prove resilient. Thus, the arrests this week by Mexico’s Marines of two long-time high-level leaders of the Gulf cartel are not likely to decimate the organization.
Unlike many arrests in Mexico, where mid-level lieutenants are portrayed as cartel heads the moment they are arrested, Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez, or El Coss” appears to have been the genuine article: a true cartel head. Also arrested this week was Mario Cardenas Guillen the brother of former Gulf cartel head Osiel Cardenas Guillen. Mario Cardenas Guillen‘s arrest marks the death or arrest of the last of the Cardenas Guillen brothers.
When Osiel Cardenas Guillen was arrested in 2003 and extradited to the United States in 2007, El Coss and Cardenas’ brother, Tony “Tormenta,” rose in the organization’s ranks. Tony Tormenta was killed in a shootout with Mexican naval forces in 2010.
The Mexican Navy has also made important arrests of drug kingpins, which suggests it has targeted the Gulf cartel for some time. As Wikileaks cables have demonstrated, the Mexican Navy is more willing to act on intelligence provided by the United States on the whereabouts of cartel heads — e.g., it was willing to act on U.S. intelligence on the whereabouts of Arturo Beltran Leyva, killing him in 2009. Unlike that operation, the arrest of El Coss appears to be a Mexican operation according to U.S. officials, suggesting that Mexico has developed its own electronic surveillance capabilities. This is in line with reporting by El Universal and Slate.com that Mexico has dramatically increased its use of surveillance technology in the drug war. It should also be noted that Mario Cardenas Guillen’s arrest contributed intelligence to the El Coss arrest, according to Mexican government officials.
The arrests will certainly be disruptive for the Gulf cartel, but don’t hold your breath waiting for its demise. The Gulf cartel has roots in smuggling networks stretching back to the prohibition of alcohol in the United States. Further, it has deep connections in the social fabric of northeastern Mexico and, as the recent U.S. asset forfeiture of a former state governor in Mexico shows, powerful political ties. Finally, it boasts extensive U.S. domestic wholesale transportation networks.
Analysts, pundits and even government officials have said that the Arellano Felix Organization (AFO, or the Tijuana Cartel) is dead, or have often said that “it is a shadow of its former self” following the arrest of Benjamin Arellano Felix in 2002, the arrest of his brother El Tigrillo in 2006, and the arrest of his other brother, El Doctor, in 2008. U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy was so eager to declare victory that she simply renamed the organization the Fernando Sanchez Organization (FSO)—named for the nephew of the Arellano Felix Organization founders who likely took control of the organization in 2006. Needless to say, the moniker did not stick. The AFO continues to function, according to recent articles in the Mexican political magazine Proceso.
Gulf cartel internecine conflict
The real threats to the continued functioning of the Gulf cartel are its internecine conflicts and its competition with Los Zetas, its former security-force-turned-rivals. There appears to have been an internal rift within the Gulf cartel between factions known as Los Rojos and Los Metros in 2011 over an issue of leadership succession in the Reynosa plaza. It appears that the Metros emerged victorious, controlling the Gulf cartel leadership although the Rojos “retain considerable manpower.”
Further complicating the power dynamics in the region, the Gulf cartel’s rivals, Los Zetas, also appear to be suffering an internal split between those loyal to Heriberto Lazcano, alias “El Lazca,” and Miguel Angel Trevino, known as “Z-40.” The Gulf cartel has been reported to have an alliance with the Sinaloa cartel against Los Zetas since the Gulf-Zeta split in 2010.
A bipolar organized crime structure
These arrests can be viewed in terms of the broader organized crime struggles in Mexico. Despite the increase in the number of Mexican “cartels” following the government’s militarized onslaught, a bipolar structure has emerged in Mexican drug trafficking. Much like the Cold War, where smaller powers allied with the United States or Soviet Union, Mexican organized crime has consolidated its alliance structure between two major powers, the Sinaloa cartel and Los Zetas. Smaller cartels find themselves allying with one of these powers, as the Gulf cartel has allied with the Sinaloa cartel against the Zetas since 2010.
Viewed through this lens, it is most likely that former Gulf cartel factions will continue their alliance with the Sinaloa cartel to counter the more immediate local threat from Los Zetas. Any defections from the Gulf cartel to the Zetas would likely be from the Rojos faction, which has lost members to the Zetas in the past and which is likely more disgruntled following the victory of the Metros in their internal struggles. The Zetas may take this as an opportunity to consolidate power in northeastern Mexico in the vacuum left by the arrest of El Coss. However, if reports of Zeta internal strife are accurate, they may be in no position to go on the offensive.
The capture of Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez is the second arrest of a Gulf cartel capo in 10 days. A violent power struggle may ensue, posing a challenge to Mexico's incoming president.
Authorities have captured the top leader of the Gulf cartel, a potentially fatal blow to one of Mexico's major drug-trafficking networks that could also unleash a violent power struggle that would pose an immediate and explosive challenge to the incoming government of President-elect Enrique Peña Nieto.
It is the second big catch of a suspected Gulf cartel capo in 10 days and essentially wipes out the leadership of an organization that once dominated large parts of Mexico. The cartel still controls important smuggling routes to the United States through the northeastern border region.
Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez, alias "El Coss," was arrested Wednesday night at a home in the eastern port city of Tampico, in the border state of Tamaulipas, navy spokesman Vice Adm. Jose Luis Vergara said Thursday. He said Costilla did not resist, but five of his bodyguards were captured in an earlier shootout; other gunmen fleeing that skirmish apparently led troops to Costilla's hide-out.
Flanked by masked marines, Costilla was presented to reporters in Mexico City on Thursday morning. Mustachioed and beefy, he remained stone-faced during the appearance. He stood before a table laden with guns, several hundred rounds of ammunition and a collection of high-priced jewelry, all seized in the raid that ended in his capture, Vergara said.
Costilla was one of the most-wanted fugitives in Mexico, whose government had offered a reward of about $2.3 million. In the United States, where he is also wanted on drug-trafficking charges and for allegedly attempting to kill U.S. federal agents, officials had placed a $5-million bounty on his head.
The Gulf cartel had been losing ground to its onetime ally and armed wing, the vicious Zetas paramilitary force, and, to fight back, formed a partnership with the powerful Sinaloa cartel, Mexico's largest. Together, they waged brutal warfare with the Zetas over control of an ever-widening swath of Mexico, from Tamaulipas down the eastern coast through Veracruz state and westward into the once-tranquil, prosperous state of Nuevo Leon. The region saw some of the most ghastly bloodshed of the drug war, including beheadings, massacres of migrants and the dumping of large numbers of bodies in main thoroughfares.
The demise of the Gulf cartel's leadership foretells another likely battle that will be very bloody as gangs scramble to fill the void and seize Gulf assets. Second-tier Gulf lieutenants may vie violently for control, while the Zetas could also sense an opportunity to step up efforts to destroy what's left of the Gulf cartel.
And the Sinaloa cartel, fighting for routes and market share in the northeast through its Gulf proxy, will probably have to enter the fray more directly.
That will hand an ever-more messy landscape to Peña Nieto, who takes office Dec. 1 and will be under pressure to act quickly to quell violence and prove his own mettle in handling drug cartels.
"This could mean a very rough ride for Peña Nieto in the first few months," Alejandro Hope, an analyst and former Mexican intelligence official, told The Times. "He will need to quickly send a message that he is tough, that he is not a pushover" in the drug war. "He will have to out-Calderon Calderon."
President Felipe Calderon and his government celebrated the capture of Costilla, part of their controversial strategy of going after the senior leaders of drug-trafficking organizations in the hope of fracturing and weakening their operations. More than 55,000 people have been killed since Calderon launched his military-led offensive against the cartels shortly after he took office in December 2006.
The captures of Costilla, 41, on Wednesday and of Mario Cardenas Guillen last week in effect wipe out the traditional leadership of the Gulf cartel, one of the oldest in Mexico. Cardenas is the brother of Osiel Cardenas Guillen, a longtime boss of the organization who was arrested in 2003 and extradited to the United States in 2007. He entered a plea agreement in a Texas court in early 2010, receiving 25 years amid suspicion that he was cooperating with U.S. authorities.
It may be that cooperation that has helped U.S. and Mexican authorities penetrate the Gulf cartel more successfully than most other drug gangs. And Vergara, the navy spokesman, suggested that Costilla's detention was a direct result of information provided by Mario Cardenas Guillen.
In November 2010, another of the Cardenas Guillen brothers, Antonio Ezequiel (alias Tony Tormenta), who had assumed the leadership after Osiel's removal, was killed in a gunfight with Mexican marines, the military branch credited with some of the most important scores in the drug war.
"This capture ... puts an end to a generation," Ricardo Ravelo, an expert on cartels who has written extensively on the subject, said in a radio interview. It also leaves the Zetas solidly as the second-most important cartel in Mexico, after Sinaloa, he said.
Yet it is not altogether clear that the Zetas are in a position to take full advantage of the Gulf cartel's weakness. The Zetas are reported to be in the throes of infighting and divisions — possibly a product of how rapidly they expanded in recent years — that could hamper their ability to exploit the moment.
Eduardo Guerrero, a Mexican scholar who specializes in security issues, said both the divisions in the Zetas and the debilitation of the Gulf cartel could end up limiting any violence as a result of Costilla's arrest.
"The detention could provoke a fragmentation of the cartel," he said via email. "It is probable that the Sinaloa cartel would absorb some [Gulf] cells, while others could also affiliate with the Zetas."
Other experts criticized the Calderon strategy of going after cartel leaders without pursuing their money or otherwise truly hurting their operations. Peña Nieto has been vague about his security plans except to vow to continue the war on drug gangs while focusing energies on the crimes of homicide, extortion and kidnapping.
"The problem is that killing or capturing the capo does not end the business," said Jose Reveles, author of "El Cartel Incomodo" (The Uncomfortable Cartel), about the Sinaloa network. "The violence continues. The trafficking continues. The fortunes remain intact."