MEXICO CITY: Mexico’s navy paraded a suspected leader of the brutal Zetas drug cartel before news cameras Thursday, after catching him in a major operation against the gang, one of the country’s most powerful.
The 42-year-old Ivan Velazquez Caballero, known as “Z-50” and “El Taliban,”stood stone-faced as marines presented him to the press, wearing a checkered long-sleeve shirt and a bullet-proof vest with two other captured suspects.
Velazquez Caballero was detained in a house in the central city of San Luis Potosi on Wednesday. He was on the list of the 37 most wanted drug lords, with a $2.3 million reward for information leading to his arrest.
The arrest comes in the midst of an internal feud within the Zetas, and the navy said Velazquez Caballero had defied one of the cartel’s bosses.
Velazquez Caballero had allegedly been the Zetas’ regional capo in Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, Guanajuato and Coahuila states since 2007, said navy spokesman Jose Luis Vergara, a vice admiral.
“Some sources say he challenged Miguel Trevino Morales, alias ‘Z-40,’ starting a struggle for control of San Luis Potosi,” Vergara said.
The power struggle is believed to have led to the execution of 14 of Velazquez Caballero’s followers in San Luis Potosi in August, he added.
Mexico has been in the grip of a brutal drug war that has left some 60,000 people dead since the launch of a military crackdown against the cartels in 2006.
Much of northern and eastern Mexico is in the clutches of the Zetas cartel, which was founded by former Mexican special forces soldiers who went rogue and are known for decapitating and dismembering their enemies.
The Zetas were originally hired as enforcers for the Gulf Cartel, but turned on their employers and have fought them for control of lucrative land routes to smuggle drugs across Central America and into the United States.
The navy struck a major blow against the Gulf Cartel this month, arresting the criminal organization’s suspected kingpin, Jorge Eduardo Costilla, alias “El Coss,” and another senior leader Mario Cardenas Guillen, known as “El Gordo.”
A navy source, who requested anonymity, told AFP that Velazquez Caballero had approached Gulf Cartel leaders to seek an alliance against Trevino Morales.
The weekly magazine “Proceso” has reported that Trevino Morales had posted online videos accusing Velazquez Caballero of betraying some of his lieutenants and ratting them out to the authorities. The accusations were repeated on signs put up in various northern cities.
US authorities say the Zetas, who are led by Trevino Morales and Heriberto Lazcano, has become one of the country’s most powerful gangs alongside the Sinaloa federation, led by billionaire fugitive Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.