Notorious Mexican drug lord Miguel Angel Trevino who 'stewed' his victims alive captured in raid

The capture of Los Zetas capo Miguel Angel Treviño Morales takes a terrifying killer off the streets. But with the trade worth $13bn a year, there are plenty more like him waiting to take over

It’s possible that he just liked the adrenaline of crossing the desert at the dead of night in a pick-up truck carrying $2m in cash and assorted weapons. Or maybe the seemingly laid-back strategy of the new federal administration in Mexico City had lulled him into seeing himself as simply untouchable.  What ever it was – the fun of the ride or sheer arrogance – Miguel Angel Treviño Morales should have stayed at home.

Click image to enlarge graphic

A lot changed at 3am on Monday, when the road being taken by Trevino was abruptly blocked by a black-painted helicopter of the Mexican marines. As they took him into custody, they were not only decapitating one of the cruellist drug cartels the country has ever seen, Los  Zetas, they were also delivering a stark political message. Seven months after taking office, President Enrique Peña Nieto had finally saddled up.

Today, Trevino, 40, who only took over command of the Zetas last year after his predecessor, Heriberto Lazcano, was killed in a gun battle with Mexican marines, finds himself in a high-security jail in Mexico City awaiting a trial that may not get underway for months or even years.  That has left the Zetas leaderless.  Reading the wider fall-out from his arrest, however, is a more complicated.  An end to Mexico’s drug war is not likely to be one early consequence.

Politically, it suggests a few things. Campaigning last year, Mr Peña Nieto hammered his predecessor, Felipe Calderon, who, with support from the United States, had launched an offensive against Mexico’s main drug cartels with the removal of their top capos a first priority.  Mr Peña Nieto promised to focus instead on quelling the violence spawned by the cartels particularly as it affected the broader population.  It was never clear how he would achieve that, however, and there is scant evidence he was succeeding in the seven months he has been President.

That Treviño was caught on Mr Peña Nieto’s watch will be celebrated in Washington. It will not go unnoticed that the head of the US Drug Enforcement Agency, Michele Leonhart, was in Mexico City just last Friday for talks, or indeed that some of the leaders of Mexico’s drug interdiction services are in Washington DC for the same purpose now.  Did the US have a direct hand in the seizing of Treviño?  The Americans aren’t confirming. They are not denying either.

Few among the Mexican public meanwhile will be mourning the arrest either, putting a feather in the President’s cap. Even before he took over Los Zetas last October, Treviño, codenamed Z-40, was among a top circle of commanders that had turned the cartel into an international conglomerate of murder, torture and extortion with tentacles extending across large swaths of northern Mexico but also into the US and neighouring Central American countries like Guatemala. (An elder brother of Treviño was among several men recently convicted of laundering the cartel’s money in part by buying American racehorses.)

As part of their campaign to expand their territory and fend off rival gangs, particularly the Sinaloa Cartel, Los  Zetas advertised their murderous ways by leaving victims headless beside roads or hanging from bridges. Treviño has been tied to the killing and disappearance of 265 migrants in north-eastern Mexico, including 72 found dead in one spot in August 2010. One of his favoured methods of execution was dubbed “stewing”: placing victims in 50-gallon barrels of oil and setting them alight.

He had already been charged with multiple crimes in 2010 by the US authorities who had offered a $5m reward for information leading to his capture. Yet the main criticism of the Calderon approach – that decapitating the main cartels did nothing to quell the violence and in short term may even have fuelled it – still stands.   Of the 37 most-wanted cartel leaders identified by the Mexican government in 2009, 25 were either captured or killed while Mr Calderon was in office. Yet not a single one was prosecuted in Mexico using evidence collected by police or gathered from witnesses, and the administration instead resorted to extraditing close to 600 of them to the US. When Mr Calderon took power in December 2006 there were four dominant gangs – the Gulf cartel, the Sinaloa, the Juarez/Vicente Carillo Fuentes and the Tijuana/Arellano Felix Organisation. The decapitation plan, rather than killing the cartels, instead spawned many more in the leadership vaccuum that followed. Four quickly became seven, and there are now thought to be as many as 20 groups controlling the $13bn-a-year trade.

“The arrest is another link in the destruction of Los  Zetas as a coherent, identifiable organisation,” said Alejandro Hope, formally of Mexico’s domestic intelligence agency. “There will still be people who call themselves Zetas, bands of individuals who maintain the same modus operandi. There will be fights over illegal networks.” 

“There may be temporary interruptions in drug supply because of the arrest,” concurred Jamie Haase, a former special agent with ICE, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency and an advocate for ending the war on drugs. “But as always happens in the drug war, any time you remove a person from an extremely lucrative position, there will be others waiting to take their place. The net result may be more violence as others rush into fill the power vacuum created by law enforcement’s intervention.”

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tvWhy BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Sport
The RBS Six Nations trophy at the Aviva Stadium ahead of Ireland vs England
rugby
News
Campbell: ‘Sometimes you have to be economical with the truth’
newsFormer spin doctor says MPs should study tactics of leading sports figures like José Mourinho
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West found himself at the centre of a critical storm over the weekend after he apparently claimed to be “the next Mandela” during a radio interview
music
Sport
Wes Brown is sent-off
football
Voices
Lance Corporal Joshua Leakey VC
voicesBeware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Life and Style
Alexander McQueen's AW 2009/10 collection during Paris Fashion Week
fashionMeet the collaborators who helped create the late designer’s notorious spectacles
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Bookkeeper / Office Co-ordinator

£9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This role is based within a small family run ...

Recruitment Genius: Designer - Print & Digital

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This Design and marketing agenc...

Recruitment Genius: Quantity Surveyor

£46000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This property investment firm are lookin...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales / Telemarketing Executive - OTE £30k / £35k plus

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company specialises provid...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003
Barbara Woodward: Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with the growing economic superpower

Our woman in Beijing builds a new relationship

Britain's first female ambassador to China intends to forge strong links with growing economic power
Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer. But the only British soldier to be awarded the Victoria Cross in Afghanistan has both

Courage is rare. True humility is even rarer

Beware of imitations, but the words of the soldier awarded the Victoria Cross were the real thing, says DJ Taylor
Alexander McQueen: The catwalk was a stage for the designer's astonishing and troubling vision

Alexander McQueen's astonishing vision

Ahead of a major retrospective, Alexander Fury talks to the collaborators who helped create the late designer's notorious spectacle
New BBC series savours half a century of food in Britain, from Vesta curries to nouvelle cuisine

Dinner through the decades

A new BBC series challenged Brandon Robshaw and his family to eat their way from the 1950s to the 1990s
Philippa Perry interview: The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course

Philippa Perry interview

The psychotherapist on McDonald's, fancy specs and meeting Grayson Perry on an evening course
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef recreates the exoticism of the Indonesian stir-fry

Bill Granger's Indonesian stir-fry recipes

Our chef was inspired by the south-east Asian cuisine he encountered as a teenager
Chelsea vs Tottenham: Harry Kane was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope

Harry Kane interview

The striker was at Wembley to see Spurs beat the Blues and win the Capital One Cup - now he's their great hope
The Last Word: For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?

Michael Calvin's Last Word

For the good of the game: why on earth don’t we leave Fifa?
HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?