The Marines have captured Gulf Cartel kingpin Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sánchez, also known as “El Coss.”
El Coss was one of the most-wanted men in Mexico. With his capture, the military and police forces have now arrested or killed 23 of the 37 most-wanted drug cartel kingpins in the country. The Gulf Cartel (CDG) is one of the largest transnational criminal organizations in the country. The organized crime group operates primarily in Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon.
The arrest of El Coss could be a serious setback for the CDG. Security forces in Mexico and in the U.S have captured or killed several key CDG leaders in recent years. The organizations has also been weakened by infighting within its ranks, authorities and security analysts said.
The capture of El Coss is a major victory for the military
“Capturing El Coss is a major achievement for the security strategy of the current administration,” said Jorge Chabat, a security analyst at the Center for Research and Teaching in Economics (CIDE).
The Gulf Cartel has been weakened by the arrests of El Coss and the captures and killings in recent years of other CDG leaders, Chabat said.
“The Gulf Cartel is not as strong as it was 15 years ago,” Chabat said. The arrests in recent years of other CDG leaders very likely led to the capture of El Coss, the analyst said.
“No doubt some of these plaza leaders who were captured provided information to the authorities that led to this major blow, the capture of the leader of the organization,” Chabat said.
It is not likely that the Gulf Cartel will completely disband, though some of its members may leave the CDG, Chabat said.
“It is likely that many of its members will split up into smaller groups and will continue to rob, kidnap, traffic in drugs and commit other crimes, because that is what they do,” the analyst said.
The Marines capture El Coss without a fight
A team of about 30 Marines captured El Coss, 41, on the evening of Sept. 12 in Tampico, Tamaulipas, said Adm. Jose Luis Vergara, a Navy spokesman. Vergara spoke during a Sept. 13 press conference in Mexico City where El Coss was presented.
A scowling El Coss, flanked by two Marines with M-16 rifles, was displayed at the press conference wearing a bulletproof vest and a checkered shirt and jeans. Expensive jewelry and two gold-plated handguns confiscated during his arrest were also displayed. Ten alleged bodyguards of El Coss were also captured, Vergara said.
"Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez headed the Gulf Cartel, considered the second most-powerful criminal organization in the country," Vergara told reporters. "El Coss overcame internal divisions and directed violent confrontations in Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon with his former allies, Los Zetas."
El Coss faces drug trafficking charges and other offenses in Mexico and the U.S. Authorities in the U.S. offered a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest.
A series of arrests weakens the CDG
The Marines captured El Coss less than a week after another key CDG leader was arrested.
A few days before El Coss was captured, a team of Marines and Navy Special Operations Forces arrested Mario Cardenas Guillen, who is also known as “The Fat One.” He was captured during a raid in Altamira, Tamaulipas. The Fat One was allegedly the leader of the Los Rojos faction of the Gulf Cartel, according to published reports. El Coss headed the dominant Los Metros faction of the CDG, according to published reports.
Security forces in Mexico and in the U.S. have captured or killed a number of key CDG leaders in recent years:
• In late October 2011, U.S. authorities in South Texas arrested Rafael Cardenas Vela, a CDG plaza boss. Cardenas is also known as “Rolex” and “Commander 900.”
• In March 2012, he pleaded guilty in federal court in Texas participating in a long-term drug trafficking conspiracy. Rolex is the nephew of former CDG kingpins Osiel Cardenas Guillen, known as “The Friend Killer,” and Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen, known as “Tony Tormenta. The Friend Killer was captured in Mexico in 2003, and is now serving a 25- year prison sentence in the U.S. for drug trafficking and other offenses. In November 2010, Tony Tormenta was killed in a gun battle with Marines in Matamoros.
• In early October 2011, authorities in South Texas captured Jose Luis Zuniga Hernandez, a CDG leader known as “Commander Wicho.” In January 2011, Commander Wicho pleaded guilty to immigration and firearms charges in federal court in South Texas. In June 2012 he withdrew his guilty plea. The case against him is pending.
In the short term, the capture of El Coss may lead to more violence, as other transnational criminal organizations try to take over drug trafficking routes controlled by the CDG, said Chabat, the security analyst.
In recent years, the CDG and Los Zetas have battled for control of drug smuggling plazas in Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon. Los Zetas – which started out as the armed wing of the CDG in the 1990s – will probably become even more aggressive, the analyst said.
Also, the Sinaloa Cartel, led by fugitive drug kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, may try to take over smuggling routes that have been controlled by the CDG, Chabat said.
In recent months, the CDG and the Sinaloa Cartel formed an alliance to battle Los Zetas in Nuevo Leon and other regions. That partnership could dissolve with the capture of El Coss, Chabat said.
The Marines and Navy Special Forces have been a key force in the battle against transnational criminal organizations. In a recent press conference, Adm. Mariano Francisco Saynez, the Secretary of the Navy, urged President-elect Enrique Pena Nieto to continue the battle against organized crime, with greater use of highly-trained Special Operations forces.