Mexican kingpin’s capture: We need more than perp walks

Miguel Angel Treviño Morales is the captured kingpin of Los Zetas, the Mexican drug cartel.
Miguel Angel Treviño Morales is the captured kingpin of Los Zetas, the Mexican drug cartel.
AP / © AP


The capture of Los Zetas top kingpin was a major coup for Mexico’s new President Enrique Pena Nieto.

At least that’s what initial press accounts lead one to believe.

The bruised face of Miguel Angel Treviño Morales was paraded, and officials gloated that he’d been taken in by Mexican military along a dirt road near the border. Not a single shot was fired. Abrazos for all.

Treviño, aka Z-40, earned his reputation as a ruthless killer. His name is tied to some of the most brutal and sensational murders in Mexico’s war with its drug cartels: mass killings of migrants who refused to act as drug mules or otherwise cower, beheadings of military officials who got in the way, disembowelments, bodies reduced to teeth in barrels of acid.

But step back from the macabre details and consider a broader view. Drug leaders like Treviño are not in the business of brutality for its own sake. The cruelty and gore are merely tactics of their business, ones that Treviño didn’t invent, either.

He just took them to new heights for drug traffickers.

Los Zetas’ focus never wavered, not before Treviño’s capture and not now. It’s a criminal organization with many lines of enterprise: drugs, smuggled humans, stolen and counterfeited items, cargo theft and import/export fraud.

And you’re living in the primary market for Los Zetas’ products. The cartel launders its proceeds from the U.S. markets and send them to protected places offshore just as any multinational corporation would: using our banking system.

One of the things Treviño is credited for is expanding Los Zetas’ control over the source for cocaine, by reaching through Guatemala to South America. They are believed to control 11 of Mexico’s 31 states.

While many in the press speculate about who will emerge as Treviño’s successor, we need to recognize that taking out cartel leaders is a little like playing whack-a-mole. Treviño moved into power in October 2012 when Heriberto “The Executioner” Lazcano was killed by Mexican authorities.

Eliminating the personnel is unlikely to solve the problem; eliminating the processes they use to make and launder their money is more promising.

That perspective doesn’t get enough attention. Not from media, much less the Mexican and the U.S. governments. In Congress, it’s a bipartisan effort of denial.

“We seem to be completely blind to the danger of economic injury caused by the transnational criminal organizations,” said Cameron Holmes, director of the Southwest Border Anti-Money Laundering Alliance. “We’re just not even paying attention to it.”

Voices like Holmes’ stress that Treviño was one player, a principal in a transnational criminal organization. And like any enterprise, the motivation is money. Holmes knows something about that, too.

He authored the money-laundering statutes and led the prosecution in Arizona that allowed the state to eventually settle for $94 million with Western Union.

The charge was that the company was being used by drug lords for complicated money transfers to shuffle money across the border.

But that was several cartel business models ago. Holmes stresses the nimble nature of drug traffickers, who are savvy to emerging technology and adept at using new mechanisms like front-loaded bankcards. Taking out leaders while leaving these operations in place accomplishes little.

Still, Holmes would like to see more more Mexican narco-traffickers extradited to the United States, where better money-laundering laws are in place and the courts and law enforcement are much less corrupt.

Left to be seen is how closely Mexico’s new president is willing to work with the U.S. government on such measures. Treviño had a $5 million reward on his head from the northern side of the border too, where he had been indicted for money-laundering and drug trafficking.

But it’s safe to say that, in effect, both nations have been bilaterally complicit in their unwillingness to devote the necessary forces against drug enterprises like Los Zetas, or any of their rivals.

Taking drug lords out is all well and good. (And it would be nice to see Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán, leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, be the next one bagged.) But we will not have won until the cartels are put out of business.

©2013 The Kansas City Star

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald



    Dade, Broward lead the way

    Miami-Dade and Broward county jails have stopped detaining immigrants for the federal government at taxpayers’ expense. Florida’s other jails and prisons should do the same.

 <span class="cutline_leadin">GANG WARFARE</span>: The end of a truce between street gangs in El Salvador has led to a steep rise in homicides this year, adding impetus to the migration of youths and children to the United States.


    The real failure in Central America

    The failure to manage the crisis of Central American child refugees at the Mexican border is not only about the inability to enact a comprehensive immigration policy reform. The real problem is the failure to build transparent and competent criminal justice institutions in Central America, especially after millions of American dollars have been provided to reform and strengthen security institutions there.

 <span class="cutline_leadin">EXULTING:</span> Vladimir Putin is still refusing to accept complicity in the shootdown of a Malaysian airliner as Western leaders fail to agree on sanctions.


    Historians will recall our leaders’ inaction

    When historians look back on 2014, they will note not just how flagrantly Vladimir Putin disregarded international law or how stubbornly Gaza and Israel kept firing missiles at each other. They will also be puzzled at how poorly the United States handled its economy.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category