MEXICO CITY -- Authorities have captured the top leader of the Gulf cartel, a potentially fatal blow to one of Mexico's major drug-trafficking networks that could also unleash a violent power struggle that would pose an immediate and explosive challenge to the incoming government of President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto.
It is the second big catch of a suspected Gulf cartel capo in 10 days and essentially wipes out the leadership of an organization that once dominated large parts of Mexico. The cartel still controls important smuggling routes to the U.S. through the northeastern border region.
Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez, alias "El Coss," was arrested Wednesday night at a home in the eastern port city of Tampico, in the border state of Tamaulipas, navy spokesman Vice Adm. Jose Luis Vergara said Thursday. He added that Costilla did not resist, but five of his bodyguards were captured in an earlier shootout.
Flanked by masked marines, Costilla was presented to reporters in Mexico City on Thursday morning. Mustachioed and beefy, he remained stone-faced during the appearance.
He stood before a table laden with guns, several hundred rounds of ammunition and a collection of high-priced jewelry, all seized in the raid that ended in his capture, Vergara said.
Costilla was one of the most-wanted fugitives in Mexico, whose government had offered a reward of approximately $2.3 million.
In the United States, where he is also
The Gulf cartel had been losing ground to its onetime ally and armed wing, the vicious Zetas paramilitary force, and, to fight back, formed a partnership with the powerful Sinaloa cartel, Mexico's largest.
Together, they waged brutal warfare with the Zetas over control of an ever-widening swath of Mexico, from Tamaulipas down the eastern coast through Veracruz state and westward into the once-tranquil, prosperous state of Nuevo Leon.
The region saw some of the most ghastly bloodshed of the drug war, including beheadings, massacres of migrants and the dumping of large numbers of bodies in main thoroughfares.
The demise of the Gulf cartel's leadership foretells another likely battle that will be very bloody as gangs scramble to fill the void and seize Gulf assets.
Second-tier Gulf lieutenants may vie violently for control, while the Zetas could also sense an opportunity to step up efforts to destroy what's left of the Gulf cartel.
And the Sinaloa cartel, fighting for routes and market share in the northeast through its Gulf proxy, will probably have to enter the fray more directly.
That will hand an evermore messy landscape to Pena Nieto, who assumes office Dec. 1 and will be under pressure to act quickly to quell violence and prove his own mettle in handling drug cartels.