MEXICO CITY – Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, the notoriously brutal leader of the feared Zetas drug cartel, has been captured in the first major blow against an organized crime leader by a Mexican administration struggling to drive down persistently high levels of violence, a U.S. federal official confirmed.
Trevino Morales, known as Z-40, was captured by Mexican Marines in Nuevo Laredo, the Mexican media reported.
Trevino’s capture removes the leader of a corps of special-forces defectors who splintered off into their own cartel and spread across Mexico, expanding from drug dealing into extortion and human trafficking.
Along the way, the Zetas authored some of the worst atrocities of Mexico’s drug war, slaughtering dozens, leaving their bodies on display and gaining a reputation as perhaps the most terrifying of the country’s cartels.
The capture of Trevino Morales is a public-relations victory for President Enrique Pena Nieto, who came into office promising to drive down levels of homicide, extortion and kidnapping but has struggled to make a credible dent in crime figures.
At the same time, Pena Nieto’s pledge to focus on citizen safety over other crimes sparked worries among U.S. authorities that he would ease back on a binational strategy aimed at decapitating drug cartels.
The arrest of Trevino, a man widely blamed for both massive northbound drug trafficking and the deaths of untold scores of Mexicans and Central American migrants, will almost certainly earn praise from Pena Nieto’s U.S. and Mexican critics alike.
According to 2009 indictments, Trevino Morales coordinated the shipment of hundreds of pounds of cocaine and marijuana each week from Mexico into the U.S., much of which had passed through Guatemala.