Court records state Jose Luis Zuniga Hernandez was arrested by U.S. Border Patrol agents Wednesday near Santa Maria, a town along the Rio Grande near the Cameron-Hidalgo County line.
Zuniga, also known as “Comandante Wicho,” was found with a .38-caliber handgun and “freely admitted” to be a Mexican national without documents to reside in the United States, a criminal complaint states.
A source familiar with Zuniga said he turned himself in to U.S. authorities, though an exact reason remains unclear.
Zuniga’s arrest comes amid fierce infighting within the Gulf Cartel at least since early September, when Samuel “Metro 3” Flores Borrego, the plaza boss for the Reynosa area, was found fatally shot.
Since then, widespread firefights have broken out across the Gulf Cartel’s territory in northern Tamaulipas, with much of the bloodshed coming from rivals once loyal to the same side.
“What we’re seeing on a daily basis is … a lot of changes in the Gulf Cartel,” said one U.S. law enforcement official. “We just don’t know, but what I think everybody agrees on is there’s some infighting that’s going on and the landscape is changing a bit.”
Court records do not indicate Zuniga’s role within the Gulf Cartel.
Zuniga has led the Matamoros plaza of the Gulf Cartel since the death of Ezequiel Cárdenas Guillén, better known by his nickname “Tony Tormenta,” or “Tony the Storm.” Mexican soldiers killed Cárdenas and scores of others in fiery street battles in Matamoros in November 2010.
A U.S. Magistrate Judge in Brownsville unsealed court records in Zuniga’s case on Friday. His arrest marks the third Gulf Cartel capo to be detained in recent weeks by federal authorities.
Eudoxio Ramos Garcia, 34, was detained by U.S. Border Patrol agents Thursday at a house in Rio Grande City. Ramos has been identified as the former Gulf Cartel boss over operations in Miguel Alemán, across the U.S.-Mexico border from Roma.
And perhaps the highest profile arrest came in Port Isabel on Oct. 20, when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents detained Rafael “El Junior” Cárdenas Vela. “El Junior” is the nephew of Osiel Cárdenas Guillen, the former Gulf Cartel kingpin extradited to the U.S. in 2006 and sentenced to 25 years in prison last year. The nephew was considered a rising leader within the cartel.