Mexican armed forces have captured the reported leader of the feared Northeast Cartel, but this arrest may only stoke further violence along the US border by providing an opening for the Jalisco Cartel New Generation to continue its national expansion.
An hours-long firefight erupted and burned-out vehicles lined the streets of Nuevo Laredo in the early morning of March 14 after the Mexican army arrested Juan Gerardo Treviño Chávez, alias “El Huevo.” Treviño Chávez was a high-priority target and likely the top leader of the Northeast Cartel (Cartel del Noreste - CDN), as well as the founder of its network of hitmen known as the “Tropa del Infierno,” or Hell Troop, according to a government press release.
Treviño Chávez is the nephew of the once-feared Zetas boss Miguel Treviño Morales, known as “Z40.” Following the arrests of Z40 in 2013 and his brother Alejandro, alias “Omar” or “Z42,” in 2015, the Zetas fragmented significantly. Since then, the Northeast Cartel has become its most formidable offshoot, especially in the northern border states of Coahuila and Tamaulipas.
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Amid the extreme violence following Treviño Chávez’s arrest, the US Consulate in Nuevo Laredo issued an alert that all of its appointments for March 14 would be rescheduled. Armed individuals reportedly shot at a Mexican Army base and the US Consulate’s offices in Nuevo Laredo. The city's mayor, Carmen Lilia Canturosas, urged citizens to take “extreme cautions” in a statement on Twitter.
Treviño Chávez had been a top focus for both Mexican and US officials. As of July 2021, he was the most-wanted man of a joint effort between the two governments known as the “Se Busca” initiative. However, the operation that led to his capture was carried out by Mexican authorities alone.
Prosecutors in Tamaulipas have charged Treviño Chávez with extortion and illicit association. He also faces murder and terrorism charges in Coahuila, as well as a US extradition request related to a drug trafficking and money laundering conspiracy, according to Mexican officials.
InSight Crime Analysis
The capture of Treviño Chávez is indeed significant, and sure to be a serious blow for the Northeast Cartel and its operations along the US-Mexico border. But at the same time, it may open a violent window of opportunity for the Jalisco Cartel New Generation (Cártel Jalisco Nueva Generación - CJNG) to further increase its presence across this part of the country.
In the past, the Northeast Cartel had emerged as the dominant criminal force in the border city of Nuevo Laredo, all while battling with remnants of the Gulf Cartel to control other key cities in Tamaulipas, such as Camargo and Reynosa, among others.
However, in recent years the CJNG has increasingly focused on expanding its criminal operations outside of its home base in the state of Jalisco and “along strategic drug corridors in the northern border,” including the city of Nuevo Laredo in Tamaulipas, according to a 2021 report on organized crime in Mexico published by the Justice in Mexico Project at the University of San Diego.
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Throughout 2019 and 2020, the Hell Troop and Treviño Chávez have been at the forefront of fending off incursions from the CJNG in Tamaulipas, even “declaring war” against the group and its leader, Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, alias "El Mencho.”
Last year, Treviño Chávez allegedly banded together with Fausto Isidro Meza Flores, alias “El Chapo Isidro,” to push back against the CJNG, according to a report from Proceso. Meza Flores is a Beltrán Leyva Organization operator wanted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The US Treasury Department sanctioned him in 2013 for playing a “significant role in international narcotics trafficking” atop the so-called Meza Flores Organization, which operates primarily in Sinaloa state.
At the height of its power, the Beltrán Leyva Organization maintained some operations in Tamaulipas. However, the CJNG is much stronger today, and it’s unlikely the Northeast Cartel would be able to prevent its expansion absent Treviño Chávez's leadership.