HomeNewsAnalysisMexico Should Cut Hype Over Drug Gang Arrests
ANALYSIS

Mexico Should Cut Hype Over Drug Gang Arrests

MEXICO / 5 AUG 2011 BY PATRICK CORCORAN EN

Mexico’s decision to focus on combating the Zetas, the country's most brutal drug gang, has begun to deliver results, with the Defense Ministry announcing a series of heavy blows against the organization -- but the government should be careful not to oversell its successes.

According to the ministry, an operation dubbed “Lince Norte” (Northern Wildcat), delivered some flashy results: authorities confiscated 1,300 firearms, roughly half a million dollars in cash, and more than 3.5 tons of drugs. In addition, the ministry said that 30 Zeta gunmen were killed in confrontations with the government, and 12 kidnap victims were rescued.

The government also touted the impact of two arrests: Carlos Adan Muñoz, alias “El Michel,” and Victoriano Quintanilla Soriano, alias “El Adal,” were detained in Aguascalientes and Coahuila, respectively, earlier this week. Both men are said to be high-ranking operators in the Zetas’ financial network, with Quintanilla allegedly a close collaborator of Miguel Treviño and Heriberto Lazcano, the two figures at the top of the gang’s structure.

The successes, such as they are, of Lince Norte are part of a newly announced government strategy of prioritizing the fight against the Zetas. As the Dallas Morning News reported in July, “The Mexican government is refocusing its drug-war strategy to take down the Zetas paramilitary cartel, a significant shift in approach that is likely to be met with increased violence...”

This shift in Mexican policy comes alongside a focus on the Zetas in the most recent U.S. organized crime strategy, also released last month by the Office of National Drug Control Policy. While the strategy does little to radically alter the tools the U.S. government has at its disposal, the fact that the Zetas are the only Mexican drug gang it mentions by name demonstrates that the group is at squarely in the middle of the Obama administration’s radar screen as well.

Whether this recent Mexican operation has any lasting impact on the Zetas remains to be seen, but the triumphant press release celebrating the operation counts against the government’s credibility to a certain degree, because the men paraded before the cameras as vital parts of the Zetas command structure are not well known figures. Describing the arrest of Quintanilla as a major blow against organized crime simply makes people distrust the government’s pronouncements.

Likewise, the U.S. government often exaggerates the effect of its anti-drug sweeps. One example is the Justice Department's breathless description of thousands of arrests in "Project Delirium" earlier this month, which they hailed as a "surgical strike" against the Mexican Familia Michoacana drug gang.

Another example of Mexico's over-celebration of its achievements came with the July detention of the alleged Zeta leader Jesus Enrique Rejon Aguilar. Upon his arrest, which took place as he passed through a Mexico City suburb accompanied by a single bodyguard, the government claimed that they had dealt a historic blow to the Zetas in capturing one of its founding members. Federal security spokesman Alejandro Poire went as far as to say that Rejon was the third-ranking member in the organization.

But Rejon clearly was not travelling in the style one would expect from one the country’s most wanted men. A subsequent interview with federal officials, uploaded to the Internet, also seemed to reveal significant gaps in his knowledge of his group’s activities. For instance, he does not appear to have had much influence on the proposed alliance with recently arrested Familia boss Jose de Jesus Mendez, alias "El Chango," which would have been a major development.

Furthermore, all Rejon apparently knew about the origins of the organization's cocaine was that it was purchased in Guatemala, and he expressed a similarly distant understanding of how the Zetas moved the merchandise past the U.S. border. The movement of drugs is the most important aspect of a drug gang’s existence, and a high-ranking commander would presumably be well informed of this element of the operation. Of course, his reticence regarding the details of the Zetas’ operations may just reflect a desire to protect his organization, but the idea that he was the third-ranking member of the group, and therefore one of the most powerful underworld figures in Mexico, is not supported by anything beyond the government’s word.

If federal officials want that to mean something, it is vital that they do not oversell their successes.

share icon icon icon

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

What are your thoughts? Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.

We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.

Tags

Was this content helpful?

We want to sustain Latin America’s largest organized crime database, but in order to do so, we need resources.

DONATE

Related Content

MEXICO / 23 MAR 2017

Organized crime groups are extorting Mexico's federal electricity company, highlighting the ways in which criminal organizations are exploiting the state's…

JUAREZ CARTEL / 6 JAN 2011

The Attorney General's Office is now offering rewards from 10 to 15 million pesos (about US$822,000 and $1.2 million) for…

KNIGHTS TEMPLAR / 13 JAN 2012

The Caballeros Templarios drug gang have hung banners throughout the state of Michoacan, criticizing Mexico's security forces for alleged…

About InSight Crime

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela Drug Trafficking Investigation and InDepth Gender Coverage

29 APR 2022

On May 4, InSight Crime will be publishing The Cocaine Revolution in Venezuela, a groundbreaking investigation into how the Venezuelan government regulates the cocaine trade in the country. An accompanying event,…

THE ORGANIZATION

InDepth Coverage of Juan Orlando Hernández

22 APR 2022

Ever since Juan Orlando Hernández was elected president of Honduras in 2014, InSight Crime has provided coverage of every twist and turn during his rollercoaster time in office, amid growing…

THE ORGANIZATION

Venezuela's Cocaine Revolution

15 APR 2022

On May 4th, InSight Crime will publish a groundbreaking investigation on drug trafficking in Venezuela. A product of three years of field research across the country, the study uncovers cocaine production in…

LA ORGANIZACIÓN

Widespread Coverage of InSight Crime MS13 Investigation

8 APR 2022

In a joint investigation with La Prensa Gráfica, InSight Crime recently revealed that four of the MS13’s foremost leaders had been quietly released from…

THE ORGANIZATION

Informing US State Department and European Union

1 APR 2022

InSight Crime Co-director McDermott briefed the US State Department and other international players on the presence of Colombian guerrillas in Venezuela and the implication this has for both nations.  McDermott…