MEXICO CITY (AP) — Federal police arrested alleged Juarez drug cartel leader Vicente Carrillo Fuentes in the northern city of Torreon on Thursday, Mexican officials announced.
After investigators narrowed Carrillo Fuentes’ whereabouts to a neighborhood of Torreon, he was taken into custody at a traffic checkpoint without a shot being fired, National Security Commissioner Monte Alejandro Rubido said.
Attorney General Jesus Murillo Karam called the arrest “a capture of great importance.”
A suspected bodyguard was also detained.
Carrillo Fuentes, 51, purportedly heads the cartel founded by his late brother, Amado Carrillo Fuentes, and both the U.S. and Mexico had million-dollar rewards for his arrest.
Better known as “The Viceroy” or “The General,” he took over control of the Juarez drug cartel after his brother Amado, nicknamed “The Lord of the Skies,” died in 1997 in a botched cosmetic surgery. Amado got his nickname by flying planeloads of drugs into the United States.
It was the second capture of a major drug lord in as many weeks. Mexican authorities nabbed Hector Beltran Leyva as he ate fish tacos in a seafood restaurant in central Mexico on Oct. 1.
The back-to-back arrests come as Mexico’s federal government is under international pressure over the forced disappearance of 43 students by police and a possible massacre of 22 suspected gang members by soldiers. Everyone from outraged Mexicans to the United Nations is demanding justice and accountability in the two cases.
“I think it’s a little bit because of the pressure,” Samuel Gonzalez, Mexico’s former top anti-drug prosecutor, said of the sudden demise of long-time capos. “This is to say they’re doing a lot of work.”
The Pena Nieto administration has captured a string of high-profile capos since taking office nearly two years ago, the biggest of them being the arrest last February of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the elusive boss of the Sinaloa cartel.
Carrillo Fuentes, who like many top drug lords was from Sinaloa state, had a $5 million reward on his head from U.S. authorities and $2.2 million in Mexico. He faces a forty-six count indictment in Texas, charging him with, among other things, trafficking in cocaine and marijuana, money laundering and murder in furtherance of a continuing criminal enterprise, according to the U.S. State Department.
The Drug Enforcement Administration congratulated Mexico for Carrillo Fuentes’ capture.
“Carrillo Fuentes … facilitated murder and violence in Mexico while fueling addiction in the United States and across the world,” DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart said in a statement.
Carrillo Fuentes carried on trafficking on a more modest scale than his brother, but in a much more violent era for the cartel. Based in the border city of Ciudad Juarez across from El Paso, Texas, he led the gang in a battle for control of the area’s trafficking routes with interlopers from the Sinaloa Cartel, engaging in a multi-year war that cost at least 8,000 lives. The area is estimated to be the route of passage for as much as 70 percent of the cocaine entering the United States.
Immediately after his brother’s death, there were doubts among cartel members about Carrillo Fuentes’ ability to lead, according to a profile provided to The Associated Press by the Mexican Attorney General’s Office.
“He was not believed to possess the leadership and decision-making skills,” according to the document, noting this created internal tensions in the group.
In the end, he was able to consolidate what the profile called “an iron grip” on the cartel, while leading it in new directions. As demand for cocaine declined in the United States, the gang took to selling more of it in Mexico.
“He overcame the initial perceptions about his personality,” the document said.
Carrillo Fuentes was known for establishing a series of shifting alliances that seldom worked out for long.
He initially allied his cartel with the Sinaloa Cartel, Mexico’s most powerful drug gang. But that alliance fell apart following the 2004 killing of another brother, Rodolfo Carrillo Fuentes, in Sinaloa. That killing was reportedly ordered by Guzman. In revenge, Carrillo Fuentes allegedly ordered the killing of Guzman’s brother in a prison a few months later.
From that point on, the Sinaloa and Juarez cartels became locked in Mexico’s bloodiest turf battle.
That in turn led Carrillo Fuentes to establish another alliance of convenience with Sinaloa’s rivals, the Beltran Leyva cartel, and the Zetas, the most ruthless Mexican gang.
In recent years the violence in Juarez has dropped dramatically. The Mexican government cites better police work and more social programs, while some say it was because of a truce between the Juarez and Sinaloa cartels.
Gustavo de la Rosa, a long-time Ciudad Juarez human rights activist, said it will be difficult to tell the impact of the arrest on the city. The Juarez Cartel has controlled two local gangs, La Linea and Los Aztecas, which could unite to form a stronger gang, or fight each other for leadership.
“It could drop the violence or increase it,” he said.
Beltran Leyva, the purported head of the drug gang bearing his name, was captured last week by military special forces in the city of San Miguel de Allende, a popular enclave for foreigners and artists in the central state of Guanajuato.
No shots were fired in the brief operation, which culminated an 11-month investigation.
Associated Press writer Peter Orsi in Mexico City contributed to this report.