Beltran Leyva Organization leader Arturo Beltran Levya was killed in a government raid Dec. 16. His death represents a major victory for the government of Mexican President Felipe Calderon. Even so, Beltran Leyva's death will spark violence as his group retaliates and as Mexico's cartels jockey to fill the vacuum left by his death.
Arturo Beltran Leyva, the leader of the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO), died during a Mexican Navy Special Forces raid on an apartment complex in Cuernavaca, Morelos state, late Dec. 16. Three of his bodyguards also were killed and one committed suicide during the two hour-long firefight, along with one member of the Mexican navy. The firefight involved automatic rifles and fragmentation grenades, and according to unconfirmed press reports, Arturo's brother, Hector Beltran Leyva — another high-ranking BLO leader — also was killed. The operation represents a considerable victory for the Mexican government and Mexican President Felipe Calderon, especially given recent criticism of Mexico's current counternarcotics strategy. Still, the death of the BLO leader will create turbulence in the Mexican security landscape as other drug trafficking players seek to fill the ensuing power vacuum, especially given the BLO's extensive history of retaliatory attacks. The Dec. 16 raid followed a week of signals and electronic intelligence-gathering by the Mexican navy. Arturo was nearly caught the week of Dec. 6 when the Navy Special Forces raided a Christmas party hosted by the BLO leader at an estate in Tepoztlan, Morelos state, just outside Cuernavaca. Both operations were likely highly compartmentalized, i.e., known to only a few within the Mexican government. This is due to the sensitive nature of the operations and the level of penetration of the federal security apparatus by the BLO. In the Dec. 16 raid, more than 200 Mexican Navy Special Forces troops descended on the Altitude luxury apartment complex after pinpointing the BLO's leader's exact location. Two naval helicopters were used to insert troops on the roof as well as to provide aerial surveillance. Arturo's security reportedly was deployed in concentric rings around the leader on the 12th floor of one of the six apartment buildings in the complex, a common tactic for barricaded subjects. As the special forces closed in on Arturo's location, his bodyguards reportedly threw as many as 10 fragmentation grenades. More than 500 members of the Mexican army and navy remained to secure the scene and the cadavers. As the highest-ranking cartel leader to be toppled during Calderon's administration, the death of Arturo Beltran Leyva represents a major victory for the government. The raid highlights how the Calderon government has chosen to proceed with its strategy of deploying the military in the fight against the cartels despite mounting criticism from the political opposition and international human rights groups. Even so, the death of Arturo Beltran Leyva will mean expanded violence, at least in the short term. The BLO has a history of extremely violent retaliation against the Mexican government and rival cartels when its leaders have been captured or even threatened. For example, former head of the Federal Police, Edgar Millan, was assassinated just hours after he launched an operation that nearly captured Arturo Beltran Leyva in May 2008. Similarly, the son of rival Sinaloa cartel leader Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman Loera was shot more than 100 times and killed in May 2008 after Guzman Loera reportedly tipped off federal authorities to the location of high-ranking BLO member Alfredo Beltran Leyva. Retaliatory attacks against high-ranking federal security figures are therefore likely, and will be facilitated by BLO penetration of the federal security apparatus. If the intelligence that resulted in Arturo Beltran-Leyva's death was provided by a rival cartel, retaliatory actions against that cartel can also be anticipated. Los Zetas, which the BLO reportedly hired to carry out the attack on El Chapo's son, could be hired to conduct some of these retaliatory attacks. (click here to enlarge image) Arturo Beltran Leyva's absence from the Mexican drug-trafficking scene creates a large power vacuum as well, which will also lead to increased violence. Who will fill his role within his organization remains unclear at this time. Assuming Hector Beltran Leyva was not killed or captured in the Dec. 16 operation, he will likely take the reins of the BLO. Meanwhile, other drug-trafficking groups will likely seek to capitalize on the weakened state of the BLO. Los Zetas, which partners with the BLO, has long sought to increase their power and control in the BLO, and could seize the opportunity presented by Arturo's death to further that goal. Additionally, Guzman Loera could seek to consolidate the BLO back under his control. Either way, Arturo's death will almost certainly spark violence as these groups vie for the BLO's turf.