Zetas kingpin's arrest shows restrained style in drug war

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MEXICO CITY -- In a previous era, it would have been occasion for a big show: the Mexican government had arrested Miguel Angel Treviño, the leader of the dreaded Zetas drug cartel, without firing a shot.

But when the news was delivered by Mexican officials late Monday night, it came with none of the pageantry that used to be the hallmark of major narco take-downs. Television viewers saw a mug shot of Treviño, a.k.a "Z-40," nothing more.

During the previous administration of Mexican President Felipe Calderon, captured crime bosses were paraded like hunting trophies before television cameras by heavily armed soldiers and police.

Treviño's quiet arrest Monday outside the Mexican border city of Nuevo Laredo was the first chance for the administration of president Enrique Peña Nieto to signal to the Mexican public, and its U.S. drug-war partner, that the fight has entered a different-looking phase. Mexican officials say they're no longer interested in making media celebrities out of drug lords.

Wanted in the United States and Mexico, Treviño is the first major cartel figure to be captured or killed since Mr. Peña Nieto took office last December, amid questions about whether his government would hunt crime bosses as aggressively as Mr. Calderon, given the reputation of Mr. Peña Nieto's PRI party for making deals with Mexico's underworld.

Those doubts grew after Peña Nieto officials put new limitations on the ability of U.S. agencies like the CIA and DEA to operate in Mexico.

Asked by reporters Monday night if U.S. intelligence played a role in Treviño's capture, Mexican security spokesman Eduardo Sanchez did not answer the question and credited Mexican forces instead.

"This is the result of an investigation that began with the new government of President Enrique Peña Nieto," said Mr. Sanchez, praising the "efficient teamwork" of Mexican agencies. Treviño was captured by helicopter-mounted Mexican marines early Monday morning along with a bodyguard and an alleged Zetas financial operative.

The suspects' pickup truck was loaded with $2 million in cash and eight guns, said Mr. Sanchez.

By arresting Treviño and also pointing to a decline in drug-related killings, Peña Nieto officials can now claim that they are making progress on two fronts: dismantling cartels and "reducing violence."

The latter was a campaign promise made by Mr. Peña Nieto when he ran last year amid widespread frustration in Mexico with Mr. Calderon's drug war strategy, which emphasized "capture-or-kill" missions, fed by U.S. intelligence, to target cartel kingpins.

A question now is whether Treviño will be extradited to the United States for prosecution, where he faces federal drug trafficking and weapons charges for allegedly shipping hundreds of pounds of cocaine and other narcotics across the border each week.

Extraditions of Mexican cartel suspects to the United States reached record levels under Mr. Calderon, but the Peña Nieto administration said it wants more crime lords convicted at home in order to strengthen the country's justice system.

"We'll have to see to what extent the new administration wants to follow in Calderon's footsteps," said Martin Barron Cruz, a researcher at Mexico's Institute of Criminal Sciences.

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