Crime and Violence

Los Zetas’ Leader Captured in Northern Mexico

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Images of Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales, Abdón Federico Rodríguez García, and Ernesto Reyes García released by the Mexican Government after its detention. Photo: Secretaría de Gobernación, SEGOB.

07/16/13 – Miguel Ángel Treviño Morales, “Z 40,” the alleged outright leader of the Zetas criminal organization was captured by the Mexican Navy (Secretaría de Marina, SEMAR) in the early morning of Monday, July 15, while driving on a dirt road in the state of Tamaulipas, which borders Texas. According to authorities, the arrest came after eight months of intelligence work by the Navy, who worked in collaboration with other security agencies within the Mexican government.

Eduardo Sánchez Hernández, spokesperson for the Government of Mexico, explained that the Navy had been following the movements of “Z-40” and studying his behavioral patterns. They installed naval posts all along the region where they suspected “Z-40” had been moving, which slowly decreased the perimeter of his territory. After several months, the Navy was able to obtain strategic information of his whereabouts and conducted an operation on a dirt road that connects the border city of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas with the city of Anahuac, Nuevo Leon, where they set up checkpoints around 3:00am Monday morning. Around 3:45am, an armored Black Hawk Navy helicopter detected a suspicious 2013 Ford Super Duty, followed the vehicle along the road, and descended directly in front of the vehicle blocking its route. After stopping, the vehicle was immediately surrounded by a group of Navy officers who detained the occupants. No shots were fired in the operation.

Inside the pick-up was “Z-40,” Abdón Federico Rodríguez García, the alleged financial brain of the Zetas organization, and Ernesto Reyes García, a personal guard. Authorities also seized $2 million dollars (USD) cash, eight large weapons including a Barret Rifle, and 500 rounds of ammunition. The detainees were sent to the Special Office of Investigations on Organized Crime (Subprocuraduría Especializada en Investigación de Delincuencia Organizada, SEIDO) at the Attorney General’s Office (Procuraduría General de la República, PGR) in Mexico City.

“Z-40,” whose identity was confirmed by authorities as well as by himself, now faces investigations against him on 12 different charges including organized crime, drug trafficking, money-laundering, and homicide. Among many other crimes, he is believed to be responsible for ordering the kidnapping and killing of 265 presumed migrants, most of them from Central America, who were found in several mass graves around the region of San Fernando in Tamaulipas. He is also believed to have ordered the murder of José Eduardo Moreira, the son of Coahuila’s former governor Humberto Moreira (2005-2011) in retaliation for the killing of one of “Z-40’s” nephews by state police.

The announcement of the detention of the Zetas leader immediately became a trending topic in social media and has garnered much attention from international press. The U.S. government congratulated their Mexican counterparts affirming it was another triumph of the Mexican people in their brave effort to dismantle organized crime networks.

The group known as Los Zetas has become the most ruthless and violent organized crime group in Mexico in recent years. It was originally formed in the late 1990s by deserters of a special-forces unit of the Mexican Army (Secretaría de la Defensa Nacional, SEDENA), and was incorporated into the structure of the Gulf Cartel by its traditional leader Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, who took the group as his personal army. The Zetas and the Gulf eventually split in 2010 after the arrest and extradition of Cárdenas to the United States, which triggered an intense conflict between the two groups who have since battled for control in Mexico’s northeastern region.

As the Justice in Mexico Project reported on August 28, 2012, “Z-40” was steadily gaining authority and ascending the ranks within the organization over the past few years, and was the alleged leader of the rival faction within Los Zetas that splintered in his support as he fought with then-Zetas leader Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, “El Lazca.” However, after the Navy killed “El Lazca” during a shootout in the municipality of Progreso, Coahuila on October 7, 2012, “Z-40” was expected to assume outright leadership. However, the internal power struggle caused even more problems within the organization as some Zetas members sympathetic to “El Lazca” disapproved of Treviño’s power grab and openly challenged his leadership, including individuals such as Iván Velázquez Cabellero (42). Velázquez, also known as “Z-50″ or “El Talibán,” was considered to be the third in command at the time, and was soon after captured by the Navy in September 26, 2012.

This is the biggest blow against any organized crime group under the presidency of Enrique Peña Nieto, who assumed office in December 2012. As The Guardian notes, however, the capture “will not necessarily lead to a drop in the violence,” and “Z-40’s” likely successor, his younger brother Omar, will have to deal with internal disputes to control the organization while it continues its long-running fight with rival cartels, particularly the Sinaloa Cartel. Nonetheless, Mexican authorities seem confident that this strike could lead to the dismantling of Los Zetas.


Tuckman, Jo. “Mexico arrests cartel leader.” The Guardian. July 15, 2013.

“La captura del Z-40 ‘mueve’ a Twitter a nivel global.” ADN Político. July 16, 2013.

Redacción. “Atrapan a jefe Zeta.” Reforma. July 16, 2013.

“Captura del ‘Z40’ por ‘impeccable’ investigación de la Marina: Segob.” Milenio. July 16, 2013.

Mosso, Rubén. “Marina captura al ‘Z40’, el jefe máximo de ‘zetas’.” Milenio. July 16, 2013.

1 thought on “Los Zetas’ Leader Captured in Northern Mexico”

  1. Pingback: The Zetas: Is There Life After 40? | David A. Shirk

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