MEXICO CITY — Mexican marines Thursday displayed to the news media an alleged gangster believed to be a breakaway commander known as “El Taliban,” who had split with the brutal Zetas crime group.
The arrest of Ivan Velazquez Caballero, 42, took place in San Luis Potosi, a mining city in central Mexico, said Adm. Jose Luis Vergara, a navy spokesman.
Velazquez’s arrest marks a major achievement likely to change the contours of gang-on-gang violence in parts of northern and central Mexico, perhaps allowing the Zetas gang, one of Mexico’s most powerful, to overcome a bloody internal feud and march on rivals near Mexico’s capital.
Velazquez, a native of Tamaulipas state along the border with Texas where Los Zetas have their stronghold, had operated from central Mexico since 2007, a navy statement said.
He commanded 400 gunmen and his turf included Zacatecas and Aguascalientes states as well as parts of Guanajuato and Coahuila states, the statement said. At one time, he controlled gang operations in Monterrey, a key industrial hub in northeastern Mexico, it added.
A bitter feud broke out a few months ago between Velazquez, who also is known as “Z-50,” and one of the two top leaders of Los Zetas, Miguel Trevino Morales. It led to a series of tit-for-tat murders in their respective ranks, including a dump of 14 bodies in San Luis Potosi on Aug. 9.
Los Zetas, onetime enforcers for the Gulf Cartel, broke off in 2010 and have eclipsed their former bosses in strength and global reach. Velazquez, in turn, split with Los Zetas and sought help from the Gulf Cartel.
The arrest of Velazquez would make it the latest blow to the Gulf Cartel, which is based in Matamoros, across from Brownsville, Texas.
Earlier this month, naval marines captured Mario Cardenas Guillen and Jorge Eduardo Costilla, senior leaders of factions of the Gulf crime group.
With the arrest of “El Taliban,” only remnants of the Gulf Cartel remain.
“The number of (Gulf Cartel) leaders who have been arrested in recent weeks is uncanny. I suspect Trevino is providing intelligence to the marines,” said Scott Stewart, who oversees analysis for Stratfor, a global intelligence company based in Austin, Texas.
The fast pace of arrests of Gulf Cartel leaders, including Velazquez, may allow Los Zetas to consolidate control of northeastern Mexico and heal their internal rift.
It may also embolden the Zetas to go after the Knights Templar, a crime gang based in Michoacan state heavily involved in production and smuggling of methamphetamine. The Knights Templar had formed a pact with Velazquez and with the Gulf Cartel to try to contain the advance of Los Zetas, which have a presence in at least half of Mexico’s 31 states and the capital.
The navy statement said Velazquez began his crime career at age 14 by robbing cars in his hometown of Nuevo Leon in Tamaulipas state. He was sent to jail for car theft at age 22 and joined Los Zetas on leaving prison, it said.
Two other men were arrested with Velazquez, Manuel Antonio Guerrero and Carlos Uriel de Santiago Hernandez, the navy said. Commandos also found four grenades, several firearms, $20,000 in cash and some 26 pounds of what appeared to be marijuana, it said.