Mexican army officials announced on Monday the arrest of a Zeta drug cartel member deemed responsible for the dumping 49 bodies along a highway in northern Mexico last week. Daniel de Jesus Elizondo Ramirez, known as “El Loco,” was captured by Mexican troops on Friday and was present at Monday’s press conference. According to a military spokesperson, Zeta bosses Miguel Angel Treviño Morales and Heriberto Lazcano ordered Elizondo Ramirez to leave the bodies in a town square in Cadereyta, though they were ultimately found in the town of San Juan, 18 miles (29 km) east of Monterrey on May 13.
Graffiti at the scene of the crime immediately made the Zetas likely suspects and authorities’ suspicions were confirmed when a banner was found near the bodies that read, “Gulf cartel, Sinaloa cartel, marines and soldiers, nobody can do anything against us or they will lose,” and was signed by Zeta leaders. In the days following the incident, signs appeared across northern Mexico claiming that the Zetas were not in fact responsible, but authorities did not take the bait. The 43 men and 6 women were found with heads, hands and feet cut off, making the identification process much more difficult for Mexican authorities.
Last week’s massacre was the third such atrocity this month in the “Triangle of Death”—the area between highways that connect Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Reynosa and Nuevo Laredo that is ground zero of the war between cartels. Eighty percent of the 4,832 missing person cases between 2006 and 2011 occurred in that area.
The director of the Apodaca prison in Monterrey, Mexico, was fired yesterday along with several prison officials following Sunday's bloody riot that killed 44 inmates and led to the escape of 30 more prisoners. The escaped prisons are suspected of having ties to the Zetas drug cartel, while most of the murdered inmates were from the rival Gulf gang. The two gangs were allies before they split in 2010 in a turf war over Monterrey's drug trafficking routes.
The dismissed officials were suspected of abetting the riot and consequent prison break, as there was no sign that the inmates received external help. "It is hard for us to accept that the treachery, corruption and complicity of some [officials] can undermine the work of the good police and military who risk their lives every day for public security," said Nuevo León Governor Rodrigo Medina. Prison guards in Mexico are susceptible to corruption due to low pay and common threats made to them or their families by gangs. A $775,000 reward has been offered for information leading to the capture of the fugitive prisoners. One of the escaped inmates was identified as Oscar Manuel Bernal, alias "El Spider," a Zeta lieutenant arrested in 2010 for the murder of the Nuevo León police commander.
Overcrowding and corruption in prisons has been a persistent problem in Nuevo León and other states at the center of Mexico's drug war. In the state of Tamaulipas, a riot last month killed 31 people, while 20 more died in a similar conflict in October. Central American countries like Guatemala and Honduras are facing similar problems. Only last week, a fire in the severely overcrowded Comoyagua penitentiary killed 359 inmates in Honduras. The prison held twice its capacity of inmates, many of whom were being held on suspicion of drug- or gang-related activity but were not convicted of any crime.
June 1: This AQ-Efecto Naím segment looks at sustainable cities in the hemisphere.