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Despite arrest of Mexican cartel leader, drugs to flow

| Tuesday, July 16, 2013, 7:33 p.m.

MEXICO CITY — The capture of the top leader of a savage Mexican cartel will likely have little effect on the trafficking of cocaine and other illicit substances to the United States, or on the violence that has claimed tens of thousands of lives here in recent years.

If anything, the violence, at least in the short term, could surge as rivals and potential successors of Miguel Angel Trevino Morales, alias Z-40, battle to take his place or his turf.

But for President Enrique Pena Nieto, the capture is a small coup. His 7-month-old government, marking its first major strike against organized crime, probably hopes the early Monday arrest in the border town of Nuevo Laredo will score points in the theater of public opinion and especially among skeptics who doubt the new leader's vague and sporadic security policy.

The elimination of Trevino “will seriously complicate ... the ability of these groups to exercise their criminal activities,” said the government's security affairs spokesman, Eduardo Sanchez. Like many in the government, he had something of a deer-in-headlights aspect to his remarks, reflecting Pena Nieto's insistence on downplaying the drug war.

In marked contrast to his predecessor, President Felipe Calderon — whose military-led, U.S.-backed war on powerful cartels claimed more than 70,000 lives in six years, decapitated many organizations but ultimately did not make a significant dent in trafficking — Pena Nieto has told American advisers to stand down and, to his public, has instead emphasized a more mundane fight against murder, kidnapping and extortion.

“It does not sit badly at all that the capture comes when around the world doubts are surfacing about (Pena Nieto's) reform agenda,” the hallmark of his administration, Carlos Puig, a journalist and political analyst, wrote in a column Tuesday in the Milenio newspaper.

Officially, Washington congratulated the Mexican government, and notably the well-regarded navy special forces that caught Trevino as he moved before dawn with two lieutenants in a pickup truck loaded with guns and $2 million in cash.

Other American officials, not accustomed in recent years to being shut out of Mexican planning, were more circumspect.

“This is good,” a senior official said of the arrest. “But if this is all they are doing, it's not enough.”

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