El Coss' Arrest
The Mexican navy captured Jorge Eduardo "El Coss" Costilla Sanchez, leader of the Gulf cartel, Sept. 12 in Tampico, Tamaulipas state. This is the most significant arrest in a series of high-profile detentions of Gulf cartel members. Authorities claim the arrest of Costilla Sanchez followed the detention of five of his bodyguards in Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas state, hours earlier. On Sept. 11, authorities in Guadalajara, Jalisco state, detained Juan Gabriel "El Sierra" Montes Sermeno, a plaza boss overseeing Gulf cartel operations in southern Tamaulipas state. Montes Sermeno said he worked for Mario "El Gordo" Cardenas Guillen, in Guadalajara, Jalisco state. Mario Cardenas Guillen, brother of the former Gulf cartel leader Osiel Cardenas Guillen, was detained Sept. 3. The day before Mario Cardenas Guillen's arrest, authorities arrested David Rosales Guzman "El Comandante Diablo," Gulf cartel plaza boss for Monterrey, Nuevo Leon state. While the previous arrests were indeed significant for Gulf cartel operations in both Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon states, the arrest of Costilla Sanchez could cause significant operational changes to the cartel while its leadership structure adjusts to the power vacuum.The arrests of high-level organized criminal leaders do not always equate to significant operational disruptions for the criminal organizations. Still, the fast pace of the current arrests will likely hamper the Gulf cartel's ability to traffic drugs and defend its territory from its principal rival, Los Zetas, at least in the short term. The arrest could cause Gulf cartel activities to be scaled back, at least until the group's leadership void is filled.
It appears Costilla Sanchez's arrest may have triggered violence in Tamaulipas state when Los Zetas sought to capitalize on their rival's new vulnerability. Two days after his arrest, nine men were killed and their bodies hung from a bridge the morning of Sept. 14 in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas state.
El Taliban's Gulf Cartel Alliance
As the Gulf cartel suffers significant losses in leadership, the alignment of former prominent Los Zetas plaza boss Ivan "El Taliban" Velazquez Caballero with the Gulf cartel has become evident. On Sept. 17, 14 banners claiming that the Gulf cartel controls San Luis Potosi state were displayed in various areas of the state, including in the city of San Luis Potosi. The same day along the Puebla-Tehuacan highway in Puebla state, authorities discovered a narcomanta reportedly announcing an alliance between Velazquez, the Gulf cartel and the Knights Templar and denouncing Los Zetas and its senior leader Miguel "Z-40" Trevino Morales.
The ongoing conflict between Trevino and Velazquez Puebla-Tehuacan highway, who split from the Zetas organization, has led to a sharp increase in violence in Zacatecas and San Luis Potosi states over the last two months. While the Gulf cartel historically has fought Los Zetas in those states, there has been little reported evidence of Gulf cartel activity. The conflict between Trevino's and Velazquez's networks has dominated reported violence in both states. The placement of the narcomantas suggests Velazquez has now joined Gulf cartel efforts to gain control over Zetas-controlled territory.
Should Velazquez indeed be aligned with the Gulf cartel, the alliance likely began some months ago. It would not be surprising for Velazquez to ally himself with the Gulf cartel in his ongoing feud with the Zetas. Any alignment between the Gulf cartel and Velazquez will likely place some pressure on Los Zetas' drug trafficking route into the organization's most valuable plaza of Nuevo Laredo. The Gulf cartel and Velazquez's areas of operations flank the western and eastern sides of the trafficking corridor leading to the city. Given the significant setbacks the Gulf cartel has endured from military operations in the last two weeks, how significant a threat the newly formed alliance will pose to Los Zetas remains unclear.