The arrest of Cardenas, who is also known as “El Junior,” is significant because he was one of the leaders of two factions that are currently fighting for control of the Gulf Cartel. The struggle among these differing Gulf Cartel factions could have a significant impact on the security situation in Mexico’s northeast.
Rafael Cardenas Vela is the nephew of Osiel Cardenas Guillen, former leader of the Gulf Cartel. Osiel Cardenas Guillen was convicted in a U.S. court in 2010 and sentenced to serve 25 years, which he is currently serving in the Supermax prison in Florence, Colo. Following the arrest of Osiel Cardenas Guillen, control of the Gulf Cartel was handed to his brother, Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen, also know as “Tony Tormenta,” as well as Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez, who is know as “El Coss.”
That arrangement seemed to work fairly well for several years, but it broke apart following the death of Tony Tormenta in November 2010. This led to a rift in the Gulf Cartel between a faction of those members of the cartel who are loyal to the Cardenas family and a section of the cartel that is loyal to El Coss. In recent months, we’ve been watching as that friction and tension have increased and it appears currently that it’s on the verge of breaking into an all-out war.
In early September, we saw one of El Coss’s major lieutenants, Samuel “El Metro 3” Flores Borego, get assassinated in northern Mexico. And this was one of the signs that tensions were increasing between the two factions. We believe that it’s very likely that the arrest of El Junior is connected to this inter-factional fighting between the Gulf Cartel, and it’s quite possible that the information that led to his arrest was leaked to U.S. authorities by El Coss, his primary rival for control of the Gulf Cartel.
The fact that Cardenas was in U.S. custody for several days before his arrest was announced is very interesting. It indicates to us that he was likely cooperating with U.S. authorities. So we’re going to be watching this Gulf Cartel infighting very carefully for signs that it’s going to weaken these various cartel factions enough that other organizations can move into their areas of operation. In this case of the Gulf Cartel, we have both Los Zetas, who used to be the enforcer group of the Gulf Cartel before splitting from them in January 2010 and are now bitter rivals with the Gulf Cartel, and of course their allies, the Sinaloa Cartel.
Over time, the Sinaloa Cartel has shown that it is very aggressive at moving into and taking territory from its former allies like we saw in Tijuana and in Juarez. So it would not be surprising for them to try to make a move in the northeast to take control of Matamoros. And it’s going to be important to watch the area around Matamoros to see if the areas that are controlled currently by the Gulf Cartel fall to one of these other very powerful cartel organizations.
- Official: Ex-Gulf cartel boss’ nephew held in US (seattletimes.nwsource.com)