MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's U.S.-backed naval special forces have captured a man believed to be one of the two top leaders of the Gulf Cartel, a drug-trafficking organization that once dominated the northeastern border region but has recently been involved in warfare with the vicious Zeta paramilitary force, authorities said Tuesday.
Mario Cardenas Guillen, alias El Gordo ("Fatso"), was paraded before reporters in Mexico City on Tuesday after his capture Monday in the northern border state of Tamaulipas.
Wearing an armored vest and his shirttails hanging out, the balding Cardenas mostly cast his eyes downward, occasionally glancing to the left and right.
Navy spokesman Vice Adm. Jose Luis Vergara said Cardenas was the brother of Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen, alias "Tony Tormenta," who was shot to death in a gunfight with Mexican marines in November 2010. Both are brothers of Osiel Cardenas Guillen, a longtime boss of the Gulf Cartel who was extradited to the U.S. in 2007. He entered into a plea agreement in a Texas court in early 2010, receiving 25 years among suspicions he was cooperating with U.S. authorities.
Mario Cardenas was found with a small amount of weaponry, cocaine, money and communications equipment, Vergara said.
Cardenas had run a number of drug-smuggling operations from prison beginning in 1995 until his release in 2007, Vergara said. When his brother was killed, Mario Cardenas took over. But by then, the Gulf Cartel, under siege by its onetime ally the Zetas, had split. Part of the organization, instead of following Cardenas, went with another longtime cartel lieutenant, Eduardo Costilla, alias El Coss, who presumably stands today as the top capo.
Both branches of the Gulf Cartel have engaged in devastating battles with the Zetas in an effort to gain control of an ever-widening swath of Mexico, from Tamaulipas down the eastern coast through Veracruz state and into the once-tranquil, prosperous state of Nuevo Leon.
Cardenas also faces charges in the United States, said Jose Luis Manjarrez, spokesman for the Mexican federal attorney general's office.
-- Tracy Wilkinson
Photo: Mexican naval troops escort Mario Cardenas Guillen, an alleged top leader of the Gulf Cartel, during an appearance before reporters in Mexico City on Sept. 4, 2012. Credit: Yuri Cortez / AFP/Getty Images