Mexican police have nabbed one of the world's most-wanted drug lords, and without a shot fired.
Servando "La Tuta" Gomez was arrested in a house in the city of Morelia, the capital of the western state of Michoacan, after a carefully planned operation based on months of cooperation between Mexican intelligence and the US Drug Enforcement Agency.
Franc Contreras, a reporter for China's CCTV in Mexico City, says the arrest is the latest in a series of recent victories in Mexico’s long-running drug war. “This time last year we saw the arrest of Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, the leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel," he says, "and a number of other cartel bosses have been arrested in the past year, and now the announcement of this arrest."
La Tuta was allegedly in charge of a drug trafficking organization known as the Knights Templar cartel, which was complicit in all sorts of drug crimes, from methamphetamine production to massive cases of extortion and kidnappings. It also allegedly controlled local government officials and police.
Contreras says that on a number of occasions, La Tuta appeared in YouTube videos or photographed alongside local government officials. “It was a way of taunting them," he says, intended to say, "‘Look, if you try to arrest me, I'm going show the whole world that you’re involved with drug traffickers.' So he often used that kind of approach to threaten local officials."
Of course, a close family member or a criminal ally usually steps up for arrested kingpins, simply carrying on with the brutal business of narcoterrorism. “In this case of La Tuta, it’s probably going to be someone from his family to fill the void,” Contreras says.
But authorities claim that nabbing Gomez is still a major setback, and Contreras acknowledged that the arrest "does send shivers down the spine of drug traffickers when they see one of their top bosses is captured, because they know they could be next. But because this business is so lucrative, there's always somebody waiting in the wings to jump in there and take control, especially in the case of the Knights Templar. They were involved in all sorts of crimes and all kinds of money laundering.”
Yet if Mexican authorities are still celebrating, the Mexican public seems less convinced. Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Mexico City this week to protest the government’s handling of the investigation into the supposed deaths of 43 college students in southern Mexico. The students were just a tiny fraction of the more than 25,000 people who have gone missing since Mexico's drug war was launched 2006.
“What you see and feel more than anything when you're on the pavement here in the capital of Mexico with the protesters is this tremendous sense of sorrow and disempowerment," Contreras says. "A feeling that there's nothing citizens can do here in the face of all of the drug trafficking, and the criminal violence perpetrated by state officials themselves as they try to track down drug criminals and other organized crime members.”