MEXICO CITY — The capture this week of Jose de Jesus Mendez Vargas, the alleged leader of the La Familia crime syndicate, offered a lesson on how short-lived and fickle alliances in Mexico's criminal underworld can be.
Battered by onetime underlings seeking control of his violent criminal syndicate, Mendez Vargas, whose known as "El Chango," or "The Monkey," had in recent weeks fled his home turf of Michoacan state and sought help from leaders of Los Zetas, a rival cartel, officials said Wednesday.
"The final accord reached after the meeting was that Los Zetas would support him with 200 elements (fighters)," Federal Police anti-drug chief Ramon Eduardo Pequeno told reporters.
The accord marked a radical change. La Familia and Los Zetas had been at war for more than two years. Mendez Vargas had even sent La Familia gunmen to northeastern Mexico last year in a joint operation with the Sinaloa and Gulf cartels to exterminate Los Zetas.
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But in Mexico, the bad blood that sparks such feuds can be forgotten as drug lords grow weaker or stronger and opportunities arise to muscle into new turf.
Federal police presented Mendez Vargas to the press early Wednesday after his transfer from Aguascalientes, the central Mexican city near where he was captured. The burly alleged capo wore a red short-sleeved shirt partially covered by what appeared to be a black bulletproof vest.
Federal Police Commissioner Facundo Rosas said Mendez Vargas' arrest marked the virtual destruction of the leadership of La Familia Michoacana.
The senior U.S. diplomat in Mexico, John Feeley, congratulated the police on the "important step" taken with the arrest.
"As Mexico's federal police and armed forces continue to improve their tactical capabilities to investigate and take down organized criminal networks and their leaders, impunity shrinks and Mexico's people become more secure," Feeley said.
Rosas, the Federal police commissioner, said Mendez Vargas was captured in a "surgical" operation without a shot being fired.