Inside Story

Can Mexico win its war on drugs?

We ask what the capture of a notorious drug lord means for the Mexican drug war.

Last Modified: 17 Jul 2013 13:59
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The boss of Mexico's violent Zetas drug cartel, Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, has been captured by Mexican marines, without a shot being fired. 

Certainly the arrest of Trevino won't have any effect on the flow of drugs into the United States, it might create a spike of violence in Mexico though, and we will see in the future months what happens to the Zetas ... and what happens to the turf wars between the Zetas and other important cartels.

Juan Carlos Hidalgo, a policy analyst at Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity 

He was caught by Mexican marines carrying $2m in cash - close to the border with the US. Trevino Morales is wanted by Mexico and the US and is accused of murder, torture, organised crime and drug trafficking.

He is blamed for the shipment of hundreds of kilos of cocaine and marijuana each week from Mexico to the US and moving bulk shipments of dollars back into Mexico.

It prompted the US to issue a $5m reward for information leading to his arrest, underlining its shared priorities with Mexico.

Also known by the alias Z-40, Trevino Morales began running errands for his local gang as a teenager, quickly graduating to cross-border drug running.

As part of the Gulf cartel, he helped push for the breakaway of the Zetas drug gang, eventually taking over as head of that cartel last year, when marines shot dead the former commander.

Although he lacked any military background, he gained notoriety for his brutality.

Interior ministry spokesman Eduardo Sanchez said: This person has seven arrest orders by federal judges and is involved in at least 12 previous cases. He is accused of organised crime, homicide, crimes against health, torture, money laundering, importing firearms normally used exclusively by armed forces, among others."

Trevino's ruthless reputation only added to that of the Zetas cartel, considered one of the most powerful in Mexico.

Rhetorically this government has insisted that their main objective is the reduction of violence ... however we've seen a continuation of the policy of the previous government and I think the arrest of Trevino Morales is part of that continuation because it still focuses on the kingpins.

Andres Lajous, a journalist in Mexico

It was formed by soldiers who defected from the military's special forces in the late 1990s to work as hit men and bodyguards for the Gulf cartel. They later split to form their own group, sparking a violent turf war in northern Mexico.

And as the Zetas spread across the country, so too did their business interests - from drug smuggling to extortion and human trafficking.

The group is blamed for some of the drug war's worst acts of violence, including hangings, beheadings and mass killings.

In the past 10 months, three of the Zetas four most-wanted leaders have been killed or captured by Mexico's armed forces.

The arrest of Trevino Morales is a major coup for President Enrique Pena Nieto. He has vowed to drive down crime figures but has struggled to make a dent.

Some 70,000 people have been killed since predecessor Felipe Calderon launched a military crackdown on organised crime in 2006.

Pena Nieto has vowed to change tack, but there is concern in the US that could mean easing back on the war on drugs.

So can Mexico’s president win the drug war and win friends in Washington?

Inside Story, with presenter Mike Hanna, is joined by guests: Christopher Wilson, an associate at the Mexico Institute, specialising in US-Mexico border affairs; Andres Lajous, a journalist in Mexico for Nexos magazine; and Juan Carlos Hidalgo, a policy analyst on Latin America at the Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity.

"This is probably one of the most violent members of the most violent criminal groups in Mexico, so taking him out of the picture, which also comes on the heels of other arrests and killings of leaders of the Zetas over the last couple of years, is really a slow dismantling of that criminal organisation that's continuing ... which really in the long run means less violence for Mexico."

- Christopher Wilson, an associate at the Mexico Institute


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