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Will Mexico Drug Violence Spike in Wake of Cartel Boss Arrest?

July 16, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
With Miguel Angel Trevino Morales behind bars, who will take over as leader of the Zetas? How does the arrest provoke long-standing rivalries and what does it portend for the long-term fight against drugs? Jeffrey Brown talks to journalist Alfredo Corchado, author of "Midnight in Mexico," about Trevino Morales' legacy.
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TRANSCRIPT

JEFFREY BROWN: And for more, we’re joined once again tonight by Alfredo Corchado, Mexico bureau chief for The Dallas Morning News.

So, how significant is this arrest? How big a figure is he?

ALFREDO CORCHADO, author of “Midnight in Mexico”: This is a huge deal.

I mean, I think few people — I can’t think of anyone else who defines the decade like Trevino Morales.

As far as the violence, the headlines that we have gotten accustomed to in the United States and in Mexico this man was largely responsible, he and his cohorts, the Zetas, a paramilitary group, all along the U.S.-Mexico border, but also some of the violence in the Southwest, I mean in the state of Texas.

JEFFREY BROWN: So no shots were fired. What do we know so far about exactly how he was captured?

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ALFREDO CORCHADO: This was I think the most surprising thing.

He had told several people, associates and friends, that he would never be caught alive, that he would — in fact it was known that he carried a bullet just in case they ever surrounded him — he would take that bullet and kill himself.

What we know is that there was a chase. A helicopter did a maneuver over the vehicle, stopped and then suddenly other vehicles showed up. It was I think a months-long investigation headed by the Mexican marines with some help of U.S. intelligence.

JEFFREY BROWN: So tell us a little bit more about this particular cartel. What kind of activities and as you were starting to say, how deep a reach into the United States?

ALFREDO CORCHADO: Well, he was — I mean, it was much more than just a Mexican drug cartel. He was in charge of the piracy, prostitution, human smuggling, anything that had that made money through the illicit route.

Mr. Trevino Morales and the Zetas were in charge. He came of age as a criminal in Dallas in North Texas beginning in the early 1990s, went back to Nuevo Laredo, where he worked for a drug cartel leader, washing cars and later he cleaned chimneys.

And then his brother was a truck driver who would haul marijuana from Nuevo Laredo on to West Texas. And Cuarenta, as he’s known, was the one who was one of the guys who was hauling the marijuana from Tamaulipas into the Texas market.

JEFFREY BROWN: As to the key question about what happens now and how much this impacts the cartel’s ability to operate, what do we know about the cartel, its structure, its leadership? Can somebody like his brother step right in and things go on, or does this have an impact?

ALFREDO CORCHADO: I think it’s been significantly weakened, but I think that it’s expected that Omar known as number 42 would try to fill in the void.

But it is also known that other cartels, the Beltran Leyva, who the Zetas were associates with, closely associated with, Hector Beltran Leyva, and the Gulf cartel.

The Gulf cartel I think would be the ones that are more interested to watch in the coming months, because they’re the ones who recruited the Zetas as enforcers and there’s been a big rivalry.

It’s expected and it’s feared that in the next weeks to come or the months to come the violence will spike, as the Gulf cartel tries to retake what they still claim is their own distribution route, which is the Nuevo Laredo-Laredo route. I mean, it is one of the most lucrative in the entire U.S.-Mexico border.

People expect things to get bloody before they get calm again.

 

JEFFREY BROWN: That’s what I was wondering, because how does this particular cartel fits in? There are others. We mentioned the Sinaloa constantly in competition I assume and how does what happened today fit into the rest of that overall picture?

ALFREDO CORCHADO: I think the hope if you talk to Mexican authorities and U.S. authorities is that whoever takes over in the end — because as long as you have U.S. demand for drugs there will be a flow.

But the hope is that whoever takes over is much more of a business-minded leader and not a vicious person like Trevino Morales has been over the years.

JEFFREY BROWN: This was also the first big arrest or killing under the still relatively new administration of President Pena Nieto. He has promised — he came into office promising a different strategy and not so much a warlike approach. Does this tell us something about that?

ALFREDO CORCHADO: Well, you know, he has been in office six, seven months. It’s too early to tell.

What people keep insisting is that this is not necessarily an administration victory, but more the Mexican marines. But it also says that Pena Nieto promising to lower violence and the capture of Trevino Morales I think will go a long ways to achieving that goal at least in the short term.

Again they are expecting a lot violence in the weeks to come, months to come, but I think this arrest has captured long term people hope will — will somehow will calm things along the U.S.-Mexican border and things will resume at a slower pace, the bloodshed will come down.

And for a lot of journalists, it’s also a big victory, because he was he able to control so many regions that he basically forced them into silence and censorship.

A lot of people are breathing a sigh of relief but they also know there is still a lot more to go before they can actually claim and sing victory.

JEFFREY BROWN: Let me just ask you very briefly, if you could, the president had put some limitations — Mexico’s president had put some limitations on U.S. operations. Is there anything known about whether the U.S. played any role in providing information or otherwise in this arrest?

ALFREDO CORCHADO: Well, we have been told that the U.S. did play a role in the intelligence. And I think we can also kind of see that the 12 years under the opposition party that they were able to — that a lot of the contacts in the regional level at the local level continue, in spite of trying to limit the role of the United States.

I mean, from everyone that we talked to today, there was a role of the U.S. government, although it’s understandable I think at least on the U.S. — on the United States’ side that they’re trying to downplay that as much as possible.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, Alfredo Corchado of The Dallas Morning News from Mexico City, thanks so much.

ALFREDO CORCHADO: Thank you, Jeff.