Mexico Police Force
Mexican security authorities said they captured a regional commander of the Zetas cartel, but analysts say focusing on leadership takedowns alone won't curb violence or the Zetas' operations. Reuters/Daniel Becerril

Mexico this week confirmed the arrest of Ramiro Perez Ramos, known as “El Rama,” a regional commander of the violent Zetas drug cartel who was reportedly trying to assume control of the organization. It’s another blow to the Zetas’ leadership after cartel boss Omar Treviño Morales was captured just weeks ago, but there are few expectations the recent spate of arrests will dismantle the group anytime soon.

Perez Ramos, 34, was the head of the Zetas’ operations in the eastern states of Tamaulipas, Coahuila and Nuevo Leon, a statement by Mexico’s navy said. Federal authorities reportedly captured him early Monday with four other accomplices as they were traveling in an SUV in the city of Nuevo Laredo. No shots were fired in the operation, local reports said.

The Zetas have gone through a rapid succession of leaders in recent years as the group has lost both territory and organizational strength. Earlier this month, authorities captured Omar Treviño Morales, who had been the head of the group since 2013; before that, his brother Miguel Angel Treviño Morales had been the Zetas leader for less than a year before being arrested by federal security forces.

Perez Ramos was reportedly angling to be the Zetas’ next leader in the wake of the latest power vacuum. But a U.S. intelligence cable obtained by Mexican newspaper Reporte Indigo earlier this month named four other potential successors, including a third Treviño Morales brother, Juan Francisco Treviño Morales.

But although President Enrique Peña Nieto’s government has heralded the arrest of drug kingpins as part of a strategy to “behead” cartels, the takedown of Zetas leadership has resulted in a splintering of the group in the state of Tamaulipas, which has one of the highest homicide rates in the country. Mexican newspaper El Universal reported the Zetas have fractured into at least eight smaller cells in Tamaulipas while their rivals from the Gulf Cartel have broken up into as many as 12 factions.

The proliferation of these groups has resulted in more instability and violence in the state: Government statistics show there were 174 homicides and 64 kidnappings in Tamaulipas in the first two months of 2015 alone, an increase of 13.7 percent and 3.2 percent, respectively, from the same period a year ago.

But even though the Zetas have been fragmenting, analysts have expressed doubt that the blows to its leadership would result in the organization’s imminent end. The group has diversified its operations over the years, branching out from drug trafficking to extortion, kidnapping and mining for its cash flow. “It’s not about who runs the group, it’s about how the group makes its money,” wrote security analysts Steven Dudley and Arron Daugherty on the website InsightCrime, in a critique of the U.S. intelligence cable focusing on the Zetas’ leadership succession.

Meanwhile, analysts say Mexico’s security problems, which have taken center stage since the disappearance of 43 students in the state of Guerrero last fall, can’t be adequately addressed without necessary police reforms. “Local policing in Mexico has to get much better,” Nathan Jones, a professor of security studies at Sam Houston State University, told International Business Times after Omar Treviño Morales’ arrest earlier this month, adding the kingpin arrests wouldn’t likely affect the flow of drugs.