The capture of Los Zetas top kingpin was a major coup for Mexicos new President Enrique Pena Nieto.
By MARY SANCHEZ
The Kansas City Star
At least thats what initial press accounts lead one to believe.
The bruised face of Miguel Angel Trevino Morales was paraded, and officials gloated that hed been taken in by Mexican military along a dirt road near the border. Not a single shot was fired. Abrazos for all.
Trevino, aka Z-40, earned his reputation as a ruthless killer. His name is tied to some of the most brutal and sensationalistic murders in Mexicos 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 Trevino are not in the business of brutality for its own sake. The cruelty and gore are merely tactics of their business, ones that Trevino didnt invent either. He just took them to new heights for drug traffickers.
Los Zetas focus never wavered, not before Trevinos capture and not now. Its a criminal organization with many lines of enterprise: drugs, smuggled humans, stolen and counterfeited items, cargo theft and import/export fraud.
And youre 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 Trevino is credited for is expanding Los Zetascontrol over the source for cocaine, by reaching through Guatemala to South America. They are believed to control 11 of Mexicos 31 states.
While many in the press speculate about who will emerge as Trevinos successor, we need to recognize that taking out cartel leaders is a little like playing whack-a-mole. Trevino 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 doesnt get enough attention. Not from media, much less the Mexican and the U.S. governments. In Congress, its 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. Were just not even paying attention to it.
Voices like Holmes stress that Trevino 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 narcotraffickers extradited to the U.S., 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 Mexicos new president is willing to work with the U.S. government on such measures. Trevino 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 its 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 Guzman, leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, be the next one bagged.) But we will not have won until they are put out of business.
To reach Mary Sanchez, call 816-234-4752 or send email to email@example.com.