Mexico drug lord captures change but don't lower trafficking

Updated: 2015-02-28 18:03


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Mexico drug lord captures change but don't lower trafficking

Servando "La Tuta" Gomez is escorted by police officers during a media conference about his arrest in Mexico City February 27, 2015. Mexico captured its most wanted drug lord on Friday, former primary school teacher Servando "La Tuta" Gomez, and delivered a boost to a government battered by gang violence. The 49-year-old gang boss was the prime target of President Enrique Pena Nieto's effort to regain control of Michoacan, a western state wracked by clashes between Gomez's Knights Templar cartel and armed vigilantes trying to oust them. [Photo/Agencies]

MEXICO CITY -  It's another big score for the Mexican government, which has been tearing through its list of most-wanted drug lords in recent years.

Still, no one expects drug trafficking or violence to decrease after the capture of Servando "La Tuta'' Gomez, a former grade-school teacher whose Knights Templar cartel once terrorized the western state of Michoacan.

Crime will only shift around as the now weakened cartel regroups, or even splinters, as has happened with some of Mexico's drug gangs after the killings or capture of top leaders. Others continue business as usual after top leadership hits.

"Dismantling them was a necessary step, but that does not end the problem of insecurity,'' Alejandro Hope, a Mexico City-based security analyst, said of the Knights Templar. "The next part is more complicated. There are still small groups, remnants, which will be extorting, robbing and perhaps even producing methamphetamine.''

Gomez, 49, was arrested early Friday as he left a house in Morelia, the capital of Michoacan, along with eight bodyguards and associates toting a grenade launcher, three grenades, an Uzi machine pistol and assault rifles, National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido said.

They were taken without a shot fired after a months-long intelligence stakeout, in which Gomez's associates were identified when they gathered for his birthday Feb 6 with cakes, soft drinks and food.

Rubido said the key break came months ago when agents identified one of Gomez's most-trusted messengers, a group of people who apparently supplied him with food, clothing and medicine when he earlier hid out in the remote mountains of his home state.

Gomez's quasi-religious criminal band once exercised what Interior Secretary Miguel Angel Osorio Chong called "absolute control'' over Michoacan. It orchestrated politics, controlled commerce, dictated rules and preached a code of ethics around devotion to God and family, even as it murdered and plundered. But the cartel lost power when the federal government took over the state to try to restore order in January 2014 after vigilantes began fighting the gang.

Other Knights Templar leaders were captured or killed over the past year as authorities kept up the hunt for Gomez, who had a $2 million reward on his head.

Pena Nieto's government, which took office a little over two years ago, has been aggressive in capturing drug lords, including the biggest capo, Joaquin "El Chapo'' Guzman of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, a year ago.

In all, 10 top leaders of various cartels have been captured or killed in the last six years, six of them under Pena Nieto. Of Mexico's top criminal leaders, only Ismael "El Mayo'' Zambada of the Sinaloa Cartel remains at large.

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