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What Capturing A Drug Kingpin Means For Mexico's Mob Scene

The arrest of a notorious Mexican mobster belonging to the Zetas cartel is a significant accomplishment for President Pena Nieto, but it won't tame the bloodshed.

Mexican soldiers arresting cartel suspects in southwestern Mexico
Mexican soldiers arresting cartel suspects in southwestern Mexico
Redaccion América Economía

SANTIAGO - The recent capture of Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales, kingpin of the notorious Zetas gang, deals a serious blow to the most-feared drug cartel in Mexico. It also refutes speculation that President Enrique Peña Nieto is dedicating fewer resources to the war against cartels in an attempt to curb the violence they generate.

As a presidential candidate, Peña Nieto promised to reduce the growing number of homicides and kidnappings in the country. He emphasized public safety rather than the war against drug trafficking. This worried the country's partners in the North and some locals that military action against the cartels would lose priority under the new government.

Mexican marines captured Morales after intercepting a pickup truck in the outskirts of the border city Nuevo Laredo, where the Zetas' operations are headquartered. The narco-chief was travelling with bodyguards, an accountant, eight firearms and $2 million in cash.

It is the Nieto administration’s first big attack on organized crime. Since taking office in late 2012, the Mexican president has failed to reduce the country’s high levels of violence. In his presidential campaign, Nieto promised to dial back the presence of armed forces in the war against narcotraffic in favor of stepping up police action. Morales' capture by armed forces demonstrates the government’s continued use of military intervention to defeat the drug cartels.

More corporation than family enterprise

But whoever thinks that this decisive action will help reduce crimes related to drug trafficking is, sadly, wrong. Morales’ arrest is the eighth capture of a Zetas higher-up since 2011 — and the seven previous arrests have not resulted in less violence.

These days, the Zetas operate more as a corporation than a family enterprise, so they easily adapt to the arrival of a new leader. Besides, it is likely that Morales will be succeeded by his brother, Omar, which would make for a fast and seamless transition. If not, Mexico could be in for an outbreak of independent cells spread all over northern Mexico. Without a central command, these would just target one another, resulting in more kidnappings, extortion and assassinations.

Even if Morales' arrest does weaken the Zetas, it will almost certainly strengthen the Sinaloa cartel and its leader, Joaquín “El Chapo” Guzmán Loera — the most wanted man in Mexico.

The fact is that as long there is still a huge demand for drugs in the countries of the North, and they remain illegal there, there will be a buoyant market for organized crime in Mexico.

Ironically, the biggest blow to the drug cartels in Mexico could be the legalization of the cultivation, sale and consumption of marijuana in the U.S. states of Colorado and Washington, where talks are under way. If local governments were to regulate the production and sale of marijuana in those states, several analysts agree that this would significantly reduce the Mexican cartels’ marijuana market in the United States. Marijuana is the second-largest income source for the cartels, meaning that this would be a significant development.

As for Nieto, he has been more successful in other areas of governing. While Morales’ capture may not prove effective in diminishing violence in Mexico, it is nevertheless heartening to see the administration being tough on crime.

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In The News

War In Ukraine, Day 285: Three Dead In Ukraine's First-Ever Attack On Russian Air Bases

Reports of Ukraine's possible use of kamikaze drones deep inside Russian territory.

War In Ukraine, Day 285: Three Dead In Ukraine's First-Ever Attack On Russian Air Bases

Engels-2 airbase in Russia

Alex Hurst, Anna Akage, and Emma Albright

Updated 11:45 p.m.

Separate explosions Monday morning at two different Russian air bases, which have killed at least three and injured eight, have demonstrated that Ukraine has the capacity to use drones to attack targets deep inside Russia.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

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Russian state media reports that a fuel tanker exploded early Monday in an airfield near the city of Ryanza, southeast of Moscow, killing three and injuring six people. Another two people are reported to have been injured in another morning explosion at the Engles-2 airbase in the Saratov region, farther to the southeast.

Later Monday, both Russian and Ukrainian government sources confirmed that the attack was carried out by Ukraine, a major escalation in Kyiv's war effort.

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