Thursday 19 April 2018

Wanted Mexico drug lord captured

Another Mexican drug lord has been held following the capture of Joaquin
Another Mexican drug lord has been held following the capture of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman (pictured) last year (AP)

Servando "La Tuta" Gomez, one of Mexico's most-wanted drug lords who terrorised the western state of Michoacan as head of the Knights Templar cartel, has been captured by federal police.

Gomez was arrested in the capital city of Morelia without a shot fired, officials said.

The 49-year-old was the leader of the Knights Templar, a quasi-religious criminal group that once ruled all of Michoacan, controlling politics and commerce.

He evaded capture for more than a year after the federal government took over the state to try to restore order.

It was not immediately clear who, if anyone, has taken over the cartel in Michoacan, where deadly conflicts continue between former "self-defence" groups and clashes with federal police.

The charismatic cartel leader of puffy cheeks and large nose, known to wear a baseball cap and a grey-haired goatee, was a fugitive also wanted in the United States for conspiracy to import and distribute cocaine.

The arrest comes at a time when the Mexican government needed an arrest.

President Enrique Pena Nieto has faced a political crisis since 43 college students disappeared last autumn at the hands of local authorities, and conflict of interest scandals emerged involving his personal home and that of his treasury secretary.

The week started off rough, with Oscar-winning Mexican director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu saying in his acceptance speech that he hoped Mexico could get the government it deserves, followed by Pope Francis referring to drug trafficking in Argentina as a "Mexicanisation" of the country, and Donald Trump urging people not to do business in Mexico.

Mr Pena Nieto's government has been aggressive in capturing top drug lords, including the biggest capo, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, a year ago.

Gomez was particularly crafty and vocal. Tapes showing him meeting with elected officials, journalists and other influential people were leaked during his time on the run, including his meeting with the son of the former governor, Fausto Vallejo, a member of Mr Pena Nieto's Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI. Mr Vallejo resigned last year for health reasons.

Mr Vallejo's interior secretary, Jesus Reyna, and other officials, have been jailed for alleged connections to the cartel.

Gomez rose from schoolteacher to one of Mexico's most ruthless and wanted cartel leaders, dominating for a time Mexico's lucrative methamphetamine trade and controlling his home state through extortion, intimidation and coercion of business and political leaders.

Though it started with drugs, his gang eventually took over the state's international port, Lazaro Cardenas, and made millions from illegal mining of ore.

Gomez gave a British television crew an interview in January 2014 even as the government was mounting a major assault on his gang that eventually led to its demise. He told the reporter that his illegal work was all about business.

"As we told you, we are a necessary evil," Gomez is seen telling a group of townspeople on tape. "Unfortunately or fortunately we are here. If we weren't, another group would come."

Gomez's long reign was untouched by several earlier attempts by the federal government to send troops and police to regain control of the state, and only began to unravel when a band of vigilantes decided in early 2013 to take up arms and do what the local government would not.

The "self-defence" groups, some of the members farmers and ranchers, others alleged rivals and former cartel members, marched through the Knights' territory, taking town after town and finally forcing the federal government in to mount a real offensive to find Gomez and other Knights Templar leaders.

Gomez accused them of being sent by a rival cartel in neighbouring Jalisco state.

Gomez called the Knights Templar a "brotherhood," and boasted of its Robin Hood-like quality, saying the gang's members were born to protect the people and give them back what was rightly theirs.

In truculent videotaped statements, Gomez regularly accused the federal government of supporting his rivals and offered to strike peace deals with authorities. The celebrated outlaw popped up often either haranguing troops over radio frequencies or phoning in to a local TV or radio station.

Press Association

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