Mexico Security Memo: Senior Gulf Cartel Member Arrested

3 MINS READSep 12, 2012 | 10:00 GMT

Arrest's Impact Likely Limited

The Mexican navy arrested Mario "El Gordo" Cardenas Guillen, a presumed senior member of the Gulf cartel, on Sept. 3 in Altamira, Tamaulipas state. Mario Cardenas Guillen, the brother of former Gulf cartel leader Osiel Cardenas Guillen, became the latest of a series of prominent Gulf cartel operatives to be arrested or killed in recent years. However, while U.S. and Mexican media outlets have described Mario as the overall leader of the Gulf cartel, he actually serves a lesser role within the fractured organization. His arrest will likely affect a specific faction of the Gulf cartel, Los Rojos, more than the cartel as a whole.

A series of Gulf cartel leadership changes began after Osiel Cardenas Guillen was extradited to the United States in 2010. Since then, Mario Cardenas Guillen has demonstrated neither the desire nor the ability to lead Gulf cartel operations. As a result, several cartel members who do not belong to the Cardenas family, most notably Eduardo "El Coss" Costilla Sanchez, have surpassed Mario Cardenas Guillen in the organization's hierarchy.

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Even within the Los Rojos faction, which is instead led by Juan "R-1" Mejia Gonzalez, it is unclear whether Mario had much influence over day-to-day operations prior to his arrest. Moreover, the Gulf cartel's ongoing fight against Los Zetas in Tamaulipas and Nuevo Leon states has been commanded primarily by the rival Los Metros faction, so the cartel's ability to confront Los Zetas will likely endure. Thus, Mario's arrest is unlikely to significantly undermine the Gulf cartel's operational capabilities. At most, the arrest could deliver another blow, even if only a limited one, to the already weakened Los Rojos faction and further solidify Los Metros' control.

Los Zetas' Internal Power Struggle Continues

Gunmen opened fire on a group of young men Sept. 8 at a football field in Soledad de Graciano Sanchez, San Luis Potosi state, killing seven people. The assailants left a note pinned to the back of one victim with a screwdriver, warning that a similar fate would befall those who follow "50." The note, signed simply "Los Zetas," was likely referring to Ivan "El Taliban" Velazquez Caballero, also known as "Z-50," the former Zetas plaza boss of San Luis Potosi state.

The killings took place in a week marked by multiple acts of violence related to the erupting turf war between Miguel "Z-40" Trevino Morales and Velazquez. Violence in states affected by the rivalry, including Zacatecas, Coahuila, San Luis Potosi and possibly Nuevo Leon is unlikely to subside significantly until one of the two leaders gains control. Still, unless Velazquez attracts outside support from other criminal leaders such as Los Zetas plaza bosses or those from organizations such as the Gulf cartel or the Sinaloa Federation, violence associated with the turf war is unlikely to spread to additional states.

Editor's Note: We now offer the daily Mexico Security Monitor, an additional custom intelligence service geared toward organizations with operations or interests in the region, designed to provide more detailed and in-depth coverage of the situation. To learn more about this new fee-based custom service, visit

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