Mexico Captures Cartel Leader in Pena Nieto’s Biggest Bust

Mexican armed forces captured the head of the Zetas cartel, considered the nation’s most violent criminal gang, marking President Enrique Pena Nieto’s first major security achievement since taking office in December.

Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, known as “Z 40,” was taken into custody near the northern border city of Nuevo Laredo by armed forces who intercepted his pickup truck with a helicopter, Deputy Interior Minister Eduardo Sanchez told reporters last night. Trevino, 40, was unharmed. He was detained by marines with a bodyguard and another man who appeared to be in charge of cartel finances, Sanchez said. Eight weapons and $2 million were seized during the operation.

Trevino’s capture comes as Pena Nieto pledges to use intelligence information to bring down drug-related violence that has left more than 60,000 dead since December 2006. The Zetas have been tied to crimes including the mass killing of 265 migrants in northern Mexico and arson at a Monterrey casino that left 52 dead in 2011. Four members of the gang were convicted in the U.S. in May for laundering money from narcotics smuggling in horse racing.

“If you’re going to reduce violence you have to go after the most violent people,” Eric Farnsworth, head of the Washington office of the Council of the Americas, said in a telephone interview today. “I think this shows that the government of Mexico is serious about going after those people who are creating havoc in Mexico.”

Gun Battle

Trevino was seen assuming leadership of the cartel after former head Heriberto Lazcano was killed in a gun battle with police in October. The investigation leading to the arrest started when Pena Nieto took office, Sanchez said.

The Zetas were originally formed by the Gulf cartel as an elite unit of hit men to target rival gangs. The group then broke away and took control of criminal activities from kidnapping and extortion to counterfeit goods over a swath of territory including the states of Veracruz and Tamaulipas, which borders Texas.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration said Trevino “is one of the most significant cartel leaders to be apprehended in several years.”

“Trevino Morales, the head of the notoriously violent and vicious Los Zetas cartel, has been a wanted man for years,” the DEA said in an e-mailed statement today. “His ruthless leadership has now come to an end.”

Violent Surge

Violence in Mexico spiked under the 2006-2012 administration of former President Felipe Calderon as he deployed soldiers in areas where cartels operate, including the Pacific states of Michoacan and Guerrero and the border region.

The Zetas have clashed with rival drug gangs including the Sinaloa Cartel, believed to be led by Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, one of the world’s most wanted men. Clashes between the Zetas and the Sinaloa cartel sparked a rise in homicides and crime in Monterrey, Mexico’s largest city in the north and home to some of the nation’s largest companies, including Cemex SAB, Fomento Economico Mexicano SAB and Alfa SAB.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.