In a major blow to one of Mexico’s most violent drug cartels, authorities say they arrested a high-level Zetas cartel boss known as “El Taliban.”
Ivan Velazquez Caballero, one of the country’s most-wanted drug traffickers, was paraded before the media during a press conference Thursday morning.
Velazquez Caballero allegedly has been fighting a bloody internal battle with top Zetas' leader Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, and officials have said the split was behind a recent surge in massacres and shootouts, particularly in northern Mexico.
Masked marines displayed the burly, handcuffed suspect alongside two alleged accomplices and a table of guns and other contraband seized during his arrest.
Velazquez Caballero is the third alleged cartel leader to be taken into custody this month. All are accused of leading factions of the Gulf Cartel or Zetas, former allies now feuding over valuable smuggling territory along the U.S. border. The alleged heads of the two main factions of the Gulf group, Mario Cardenas Guillen and Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez, were also seized in Navy operations in northern Mexico.
In the waning months of President Felipe Calderon's presidency, the arrests add to the list of cartel figures taken out of action as part of his U.S.-backed strategy of removing the leadership of drug-smuggling organizations.
Calderon and the Obama administration say the strategy is working, but many independent groups say it has helped fuel a massive surge in violence nationwide by fracturing and destabilizing cartels and spawning deadly fights over territory.
The Zetas is one of Mexico's two most powerful cartels. The head of the other, Sinaloa cartel, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, remains free, and there have been far fewer arrests of his associates.
Navy spokesman Jose Luis Vergara said marines acting on unspecified intelligence were conducting patrols in a neighborhood in the city of San Luis Potosi when they spotted a group of men leaving a house. When the men spotted the marines, they moved suspiciously back into the house, Vergara said, and marines followed. Soon after they arrested Velazquez Caballero and two other men inside.
Also known as "Z-50," Velazquez Caballero had a 30 million pesos ($2.3 million) reward on his head.
The arrest could calm some of the brutal violence that has hit northern states such as Zacatecas and San Luis Potosi in recent weeks, although Mexican officials said they believed fighting could restart in coming weeks or months as a fight begins for Velazquez Caballero's former territory.