The capture of a reputed kingpin following the death of his brother has knocked out most of a brutal drug trafficking dynasty after a Mexican crackdown on corruption stripped the Beltran Leyva cartel of many snitches within security forces.
Carlos Beltran Leyva was arrested in the Pacific coast state Sinaloa, where he and several of his brothers were born and allegedly started their gang. A judge ordered him held for at least 40 days while officials investigate possible charges of organized crime, the Attorney General's Office said in a statement Sunday.
His capture came just two weeks after his brother Arturo, known as "the boss of bosses" of the cartel, was killed in a shootout with marines at a luxury apartment in the city of Cuernavaca.
Carlos Beltran's arrest gave Calderon back-to-back victories in the drug war and underscored the government's determination to destroy the cartel despite the threat of reprisal attacks. Days after Arturo Beltran was killed, gunmen massacred the mother and three other relatives of the only marine who died in the Dec. 16 shootout in Cuernavaca.
Calderon vowed he would not be intimidated. However, authorities were far quieter in announcing Carlos Beltran's capture, waiting three days to make the arrest public in a terse statement Saturday night.
A third brother, Alfredo, was arrested in January 2008. At least one other Beltran Leyva brother, who officials say could be named Mario or Hector, remains at large. He is listed as one of Mexico's 24 most-wanted drug lords, with a $2 million reward offered for his capture.
The downfall of Beltran Levya brothers comes a year after a sweeping corruption probe led to the arrest of a dozen high-ranking Mexican officials accused of collaborating with the cartel. They included Mexico's former drug czar Noe Ramirez, who allegedly received $450,000 a month from Arturo Beltran in exchange for sensitive information.
"The long suit of the Beltran Leyva was in intelligence, and they had lots of contacts with the intelligence officials," said George W. Grayson, a Mexico expert at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. "They got the big shots ... who were on the take from the Beltran Leyva family, and that really was their strength."
Mexican officials in the past have described Carlos Beltran Levya, 40, as a key member of the gang, but he is not on the government's most-wanted list and prosecutors have not revealed any significant current indictments against him.
"He's the lowest profile of the brothers," Grayson said. "The scuttlebutt is that Hector, who is still at large, is really the brains behind the outfit."
Chance and Mexico's intelligence system appeared to have led to Beltran Leyva's capture.
The Attorney General's Office said a citizen tipped authorities to the presence of an armed man in the Canadas neighborhood of Culiacan. Beltran Leyva gave federal police a driver's license that identified him as Carlos Gamez Orpineda, but when the police ran the document by Mexico's Center of Intelligence they learned it was false.
He later acknowledged he was Arturo Beltran Leyva's brother, the Public Safety Department said. Police said he was found with two guns and ammunition.
The Beltran Leyva brothers allegedly worked side by side with Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, before breaking away in recent years and seizing lucrative drug routes in northeastern Mexico.
While a victory for the government, the success against the Beltran Leyva brothers could empower the Sinaloa cartel and other rival gangs, Grayson said.
The Beltran Leyvas had increasingly relied for protection on the Zetas, a gang led by former soldiers-turned-hit men who also work with the Gulf cartel, he said.
"The Zetas may now move against the Beltran Leyva and take them over, saying, 'You are now taking orders from us, or we'll kill you,"' Grayson said. "The good news is you've got a bad guy behind bars. The bad news is that this may enhance the Zetas."
That possibility raises fears of even bloodier turf battles in a drug war that has already claimed more than 15,000 lives since Calderon took office in 2006.
In a possible sign of that fight, the bound, beaten bodies of two men were found Wednesday hanging by their necks from a highway overpass in the Sinaloa town of Los Mochis.
Nearby, a message was written on a piece of cardboard: "This territory already has an owner." The message appeared to be from the Beltran Leyva cartel.