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Mexican Violence May Escalate After Accused Drug Leader Killed

Nov. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Mexican marines killed an alleged drug cartel leader known as “Tony the Storm,” a move that may cause violence to intensify in northeastern Mexico as drug gangs fight over shipping routes to the U.S.

Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen, 48, was killed during a two-hour gunfight yesterday in Matamoros’s city center, according to a Mexican Navy statement. The navy, which sent 660 marines to the scene, said the shooting began when they went to arrest Cardenas. Four other alleged drug traffickers and three soldiers died in the battle, the Navy reported.

Killings have risen this year in northeastern Mexican states such as Nuevo Leon, home to the industrial city of Monterrey, and Tamaulipas, where Matamoros is, as Mexican security forces attack organized crime and drug smugglers fight amongst themselves.

Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas, the brother of convicted drug trafficker Osiel Cardenas Guillen, was linked with the Gulf Cartel. The group has traditionally controlled drug-smuggling routes along the Gulf of Mexico and into the Eastern U.S., said Jorge Chabat, a political science professor at the Center for Economic Research & Teaching in Mexico City.

“This weakens the Gulf Cartel,” Chabat said in a telephone interview today. He said the cartel has been engaged in a territory battle with a group of former allies known as the Zetas.

Sought-After Routes

While the killing is an “important blow,” he predicted the Zetas may attempt to expand their influence in the region.

“These are very sought-after routes, and certainly, there’s going to be an increase in fights to control this territory,” he said.

Homicides have risen 35 percent to 1,796 year to date in Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon, where the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas have been fighting for territory, according to data from Mexico’s Interior Ministry. Nationwide, drug-related killings have exceeded 28,000 since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderon took office and deployed troops to quell organized crime.

Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas was one of three alleged Gulf Cartel leaders indicted by the U.S. District Court in the District of Colombia in 2008 on charges he conspired to import drugs into the U.S., according to information on the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s website.

Extortion, Migrant Trafficking

He also was involved in kidnapping, extortion and migrant trafficking, according to the Mexican Navy statement. He was a native of Matamoros, the statement said.

Antonio Ezequiel’s brother Osiel Cardenas led the Gulf Cartel until 2003, when he was captured by the Mexican military and subsequently deported to the U.S. Osiel was sentenced to 25 years in prison and ordered to forfeit $50 million on Feb. 24 by a U.S. District Court, according to the Dallas Morning News.

Drug-related violence has intensified this year even as Calderon’s government has captured and killed top drug traffickers this year, including members of the Beltran Leyva organization and the Sinaloa Cartel.

Mexico’s most powerful drug trafficking organizations include the Sinaloa Cartel, based in the Pacific state of the same name, and the Juarez Cartel, based in the border city of Ciudad Juarez, Chabat said, along with the Zetas and Gulf Cartel, which operate mainly along the Gulf of Mexico.

To contact the reporters on this story: Jonathan Roeder in Mexico City at jroeder@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at jgoodman19@bloomberg.net

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