- By Robert ZeligerRobert Zeliger is News Editor of Foreign Policy.
Nearly five years into an increasingly bloody war against the drug cartels that has killed 35,000 people and shaken the entire population, there is certainly little to cheer about. Nevertheless, the government’s strategy of targeting the “kingpins” has had some success. The goal is to nab or kill the big guys and hope their organizations crumble without them. Certainly, every time a powerful drug boss is hauled before cameras in chains, there’s a psychological effect on the public.
This week, the government was able to boast of one of its most significant victories so far with the arrest of Jesus Mendez (or “The Monkey”), who headed the powerful La Familia organization, which analysts say is one of the most violent in the country.
President Felipe Calderón tweeted that Mendez’s capture is a “great blow by the Federal Police against organized crime.”
La Familia, one of six major cartels in Mexico, was known for the almost pseudo-religious devotion of its followers.
“This is a huge deal,” said Andrew Selee, director of the Mexico Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center. “There’s a lot of reason to believe the cartel will splinter at this point.”
Selee said that could mean more violence in the short term, as people fight over what remains of the cartel.
Here’s where things stand with some of the other major drug kingpins.
Nazario Moreno, also known as “The Craziest one.”
Killed in a shoot out with police last December.
The founder of La Familia. His death splintered the group. With Mendez’s arrest this week, the cartel is all but finished, analysts say. “The cartel was basically run by two guys, and they have both been taken out,” Selee said.
Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel
Killed by police last July.
Coronel was one of three leaders in the Sinaloa cartel, the largest and most powerful cartel in Mexico. He was credited with introducing Meth into the Mexican drug trade. Given the cartel’s power and scope, his death didn’t have a major impact on its operations, but it was a big boost for Calderón’s strategy.
Edgar Valdez Villarreal, also known as “La Barbie”
Arrested in August, 2010.
La Barbie was an enforcer with the Beltran Leyva Cartel, who rose quickly through the ranks to become one of its leaders. He was born in Texas and was a high school football star. One of the only Mexican Americans to take a leadership role in the cartels, La Barbie was a notorious killer.
“In the cartels, there are businessmen and then there are warriors. La Barbie was a warrior,” said Scott Stewart, VP of Tactical Intelligence at Stratfor, a risk analysis and geopolitics website and publisher.
Still at large:
Joaqin Guzman, also known as “El Chapo” or Shorty
Probably the most powerful drug lord in Mexico. He’s head of the Sinaloa cartel, Mexico’s largest, which controls most of the territory between El Paso and Juarez and is responsible for almost a quarter of the illegal drugs trafficked into the United States from Mexico. With a net worth of about $1 billion, Forbes Magazine last year named him the 60th most powerful person in the world. According to Stewart, the cartel is at war with its main rival, the Zetas. Other cartels are mainly lining up on one side of the fight or the other.
Heriberto “El Lazca” Lazcano Lazcano
El Chapo’s main rival and the head of the Zetas Cartel. There were reports over the weekend that he might have been killed in a firefight with another group, the Gulf Cartel, but they have yet to be confirmed. Even if he were dead, analysts say, the Zetas would remain a major force, due to Lazcano’s powerful second-in-command. The Zetas were former commandos in the Mexican army who went rogue and became the enforcers for other cartels. Eventually, they formed their own crime syndicate. According to CNN, the U.S. government says it is “the most technologically advanced, sophisticated and dangerous cartel operating in Mexico.”