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Mexico Captures Alleged Leader of ‘Zetas’ Gang

Mexican authorities captured an alleged leader and founder of a gang accused of massacring migrants and engaging in shootouts on the streets of Monterrey, the country’s wealthiest city.

Federal police yesterday detained Flavio Mendez Santiago of the “Zetas” gang, the public security ministry said in an e-mailed statement. Mendez, also known as “El Amarillo,” was captured in Oaxaca state, the statement said. Amarillo means "yellow" in Spanish.

With Mendez’s capture, Mexican officials have detained 20 of 37 most wanted criminals on a list published by the Attorney General’s office. Authorities were offering as much as 15 million pesos ($1.25 million) for his capture.

The Zetas began in the 1990s when a group of elite soldiers deserted to work as an armed branch of the Gulf cartel. They formally split with the Gulf cartel last year, provoking a spike in violence in the border states of Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon, shootouts on the streets of Monterrey, Mexico’s third-largest metropolitan area, and the abandonment of small Mexican cities near the Texas border, such as Mier.

Violence in Mexico has increased since President Felipe Calderon started sending military troops to fight drug gangs in mostly northern states after taking office in December 2006. Drug-related deaths increased almost 60 percent in 2010 to 15,273 from 9,612 in 2009, according to government figures. A total of 34,612 people have died in drug-related violence in Mexico under Calderon.

Migrant Massacre

The navy said in August that the Zetas were probably responsible for the massacre of 72 migrants at a ranch in the city of San Fernando, about 80 miles from the Texas border in the state of Tamaulipas.

The Zetas have also extended their reach into Guatemala, controlling “entire regions” of the country as a weak and under-funded justice system struggles to curtail an influx of drug money, according to a U.S. State Department report on anti-drug efforts released in March.

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