Mexico's President Felipe Calderon received a nice Christmas present when the military arrested Felipe Cabrera Sarabia, a top lieutenant in the powerful Sinaloa drug cartel, last week.
Cabrera, also known as El Inge (the Engineer), ran the cartel's operations in the state of Durango and part of the border state of Chihuahua. He was arrested in the Sinaloa state on Friday and paraded in front of the media on Monday.
The capture alone is significant -- the latest tally on Calderon's side of the war on drugs in Mexico -- but more importantly, it could bring authorities one step closer to finding Joaquin Shorty Guzman, the head of the Sinaloa cartel and the world's most wanted man.
Guzman, who is listed on both Forbes' most powerful people list and billionaires list, is believed to be hiding in the mountains of Durango, presumably Cabrera's territory. While the Mexican government has not said how the arrest will change the hunt for Guzman, Army spokesman General Ricardo Trevilla said at a news conference that it “will affect the structure and leadership of the Sinaloa cartel.”
Cabrera can be held without formal charges for up to 40 days, but authorities are trying to link the boss to organized crime and drug trafficking, according to The Associated Press.
Sinaloa is a drug trafficking organization that distributes cocaine, marijuana and, with increasing regularity, heroin. Poppy farms are thriving in the fertile state of Sinaloa, according to Reuters, and Mexico is the United States' chief heroin supplier and is gaining ground on Afghanistan and Southern Asia in terms of production. Additionally, U.S. authorities believe that a huge percentage of the cocaine in the country is shuttled north by Sinaloa.
Guzman was arrested in 1993 but later escaped from prison in 2001 and has been on the run since. Even so, he has been able to rise through the ranks of Sinaloa, becoming the gang's leader in 2003. With Guzman at the helm, Sinaloa has become the largest drug trafficking organization in Mexico and reportedly in the world. Guzman has become the most powerful drug lord in history, and the crime boss has a bounty on his head totaling about $7 million.
Drug-related violence in Mexico exploded in 2006, when newly-elected President Calderon began his militarized crackdown against cartels. Since then, between 40,000 and 50,000 people have been killed, including civilians, politicians, police officers and thousands of cartel 'soldiers.'
The violence has become the chief issue approaching next year's presidential elections in Mexico -- despite widespread public outcry, Calderon has vowed to continue with his war until the last day of his term.
The crackdown has lead to a number of high profile arrests, but fighting, assassinations, threats and trafficking continue.
In a separate raid last week, Mexican police seized 21 metric tons of monomethylamine, the compound used to make methamphetamine, in the port city of Manzanillo, believed to be in Sinaloa territory.
On the other side of the country, Mexican soldiers found 13 bodies with messages on them in a truck in the state of Tamaulipas, more bodies in Veracruz on Friday and there were attacks on buses in El Higo, Veracruz on Thursday that left 11 people dead.