The internet came alive this past week with reaction to word out of Mexico that Miguel Angel “Z-40” Treviño Morales—leader of the sensationally violent Zetas cartel—has been arrested. The capture is big news. Aside from Chapo Guzman, the world’s wealthiest drug trafficker, Z-40 was the most wanted man in Mexico. Even the United States got in on the action, offering a $5 million reward for information leading to his arrest. And still, the takedown of one of the most sadistic criminal bosses in Mexico was surprisingly peaceful. Not a shot was fired during Treviño’s apprehension, an astonishing detail considering the increasingly violent confrontations between traffickers and security forces in recent weeks.
The commentary surrounding Treviño’s capture has been predictable, principally falling into two categories. One argues that the recent arrests of Treviño and other crime bosses signals the progress and efficacy of Mexico’s “kingpin” crime-fighting strategy, and vindicates the approach taken to the drug war by President Enrique Peña Nieto. The second suggests that, sensational arrests aside, the strategy will prove ineffective and possibly counterproductive over the long haul (a position with which I personally sympathize). As the Institute for Policy Studies’ Sanho Tree recent told Rolling Stone, “On the trafficking side of things, it’s going to have little to zero effect, and in fact it may ultimately exacerbate it in terms of lowering the barriers to entry for rivals.” In other words, violence is going to continue; drug flows will remain robust.