MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican security forces on Thursday captured the leader of the once-feared Juarez Cartel in the country’s restive north on Thursday, the second drug kingpin to fall in just over a week.
Vicente Carrillo, 51, long-time head of the Juarez Cartel, was a fierce rival of Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman, the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel and the world’s most wanted drug boss until his capture in February.
A turf war between the two cartels in 2009-2011 unleashed a bloodbath in Ciudad Juarez, in Chihuahua state on Mexico’s border with Texas, making it one of the most violent places in the world.
Carrillo, alias “The Viceroy,” was captured after identifying himself with a false name at a checkpoint in the northern city of Torreon, national security commissioner Monte Rubido said in a press conference.
No shots were fired in his arrest, Rubido said, adding that Carrillo was wanted on five charges related to organized crime and drug trafficking.
“The criminal organization that he led up until today led to the strengthening in Chihuahua of various groups that at one time contributed to Juarez being considered one of the most violent cities in the world,” Rubido said.
United States had put a $5 million bounty on Carrillo’s head, while Mexico had offered a 30 million peso ($2.24 million) reward.
President Enrique Pena Nieto took office two years ago pledging to end a wave of violence that has killed around 100,000 people since the start of 2007. Although homicides have fallen on his watch, other crimes have increased, including extortion and kidnapping.
Pena Nieto has been under fire over the past week over the apparent massacre of dozens of trainee teachers in southwest Mexico at the hands of gang members and police. He hailed the capture on Twitter on Thursday.
A keen horseman who used a network of cattle ranches in the northern state of Chihuahua to store shipments of Colombian cocaine, Carrillo took over the Juarez Cartel in 1997 after his brother Amado, known as “The Lord of the Skies,” died during plastic surgery.
Carrillo’s capture comes just days after Hector Beltran Leyva, one of the most notorious Mexican drug lords still at large, was captured by soldiers in a picturesque town in central Mexico popular with American retirees.
It also comes as the government is grappling with public outrage at an apparent massacre of trainee teachers by police in league with gang members, which has triggered mass anti-government protests.
Alejandro Hope, an independent security consultant who used to work for Mexican state intelligence, said Carrillo and the Juarez Cartel were not as powerful as they used to be.
Nonetheless, he added, the capture of Carrillo was part of larger phasing out of the era of the Mexican drug kingpin. Guzman was arrested in February, and most of his longtime business partners and enemies are now either dead or jailed.
“In lots of ways, it’s the end of the era of the narco,” Hope said, adding that international drug smuggling is now no longer controlled by large, hierarchical organizations like Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel, but rather by smaller, more violent groups with less clear organizational structures.
Carrillo, a devout Catholic, was seen as more discreet than his flamboyant brother, but his position was weakened by the violence in Ciudad Juarez that claimed nearly 12,000 lives between 2008 and 2012 alone.
The government said his organization was dealt a major blow in 2009 when soldiers in Mexico City arrested his nephew, Vicente Carrillo Leyva, accused of being the No.2 of the Juarez Cartel.
Drug experts say Carrillo, who had a secondary role in the Juarez Cartel when his brother was in charge, once ran about a fifth of the drug business in Mexico.
Carrillo was considered a priority by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
Hitmen for the Juarez Cartel were behind the high-profile murders of Lesley Enriquez, an employee of the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juarez, as well as her husband and the husband of another consulate employee in 2010.
The episode strained relations between Mexico and the United States. The hitmen were extradited to the United States and jailed.
The late author Charles Bowden, who was an expert on the drug trade in Ciudad Juarez, once described Carrillo as soft-spoken but not showy and definitely in charge.
Despite several years of attacks by Guzman’s heavily armed gunmen, Carrillo ceded little ground in Juarez.
His henchmen hit back by torturing and beheading rivals, while continuing to ship tonnes of cocaine into the United States, according to U.S. security officials.
Additional reporting by Tomas Sarmiento, Anahi Rama, Dave Graham and Gabriel Stargardter; Writing by Simon Gardner; Editing by Kieran Murray, Andre Grenon and Lisa Shumaker