The United States is offering a reward of $5 million (Ł3 million) for the capture of each of ten Mexican drug barons who have smuggled more than $1 billion-worth of narcotics across the border.
The bounty forms part of the latest campaign against the Gulf Cartel and its “security wing” of former Mexican special forces soldiers, known as Los Zetas.
Los Zetas was formed by a small group of deserters from Mexico’s Air Mobile Special Forces Group, who provided a personal security force for the cartel’s leader in the 1990s. The security force eventually became part of the drug trafficking operation with numerous murders and kidnappings to protect shipments.
The US government now refers to the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas as a single entity called “The Company.”
The wanted men include Antonio Ezequiel Cárdenas Guillén, alias Tony Tormenta; Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sánchez, nicknamed El Cos, and Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, known as Lazca, who are said to form the cartel’s “governing council” that directs cocaine and marijuana from Colombia and Venezuela.The three-man council divides up territory along the US-Mexico border into “plazas” and assigns each region a “plaza boss.” Wiretaps allegedly caught the drug lords discussing shipments, pricing, debt collection, weak spots along the border, and even bonus structures for people working for the cartel in the “plazas”. Also charged is Miguel Ángel Trevińo Morales, also known asalias “Comandante 40”, the reputed head of Los Zetas.
He allegedly controls the Mexican border city of Nuevo Laredo, where large amounts of drugs are funneled through the busy lorry crossing into Laredo, Texas.
Prosecutors say Mr Trevino claims to control the ministerial police in the Mexican state of Veracruz and once discussed a $2 million bribe to Mexican government officials.
US authorities arrested more than 175 alleged Gulf Cartel members and associates in September in an operation called Project Reckoning, which has so far netted tons of illegal drugs, more than $84 million in cash and 934 weapons.
The one-time leader of the organisation, Osiel Cardenas Guillen, “Tony Tormenta’s” brother, was captured in 2003 and extradited to the United States, where he is currently awaiting trial in Houston.
The latest US crackdown came as Mexico battled a wave of drug violence set off by the arrest of Arnoldo Rueda Medina, nicknamed “La Minsa,” the reputed second-in-command of the La Familia cartel in Michoacán state on Mexico’s Pacific coast.