HOWEVER unruly Mexico’s teachers are, none has had a more chequered career than Servando Gómez Martínez, “La Tuta” or “El Profe”, a former primary-school teacher who became head of the Knights Templar, one of Mexico’s most ruthless drug gangs. Federal police captured Gómez on February 27th, ending one of the biggest manhunts conducted under the presidency of Enrique Peña Nieto.
The drug lord’s only consolation is that five days later security forces also seized Omar Treviño Morales, the head of his gang’s biggest rival, the Zetas, in an uptown suburb of Monterrey, in northern Mexico. Treviño, aka Z-42, is believed to have taken over the Zetas after his brother, Miguel, was captured in 2013.
More than a dozen of Mexico’s worst drug lords have been captured or killed during Mr Peña’s 27-month tenure, and almost all the famous ones are now behind bars. Though the subsequent splintering of their gangs does not necessarily reduce crime, violence or the flow of drugs, analysts say the arrests send a strong message against impunity.
Gómez’s arrest is particularly significant. His reign of terror in the south-western state of Michoacán was one of Peña Nieto’s biggest security problems. A master of political extortion and public relations, he acted for years as a spokesman for drug lords in Michoacán, saying they were fighting a war to rid the state of the heinous Zetas, only to adopt the same brutality themselves.
Guillermo Valdés, a former head of Mexican intelligence, says “La Tuta” combined guerrilla tactics with the “law of lead or silver” against Michoacán’s politicians: those who denied him access to their coffers were murdered. In 2014 videos emerged of him with the son of a recent governor and with an interim governor. Mr Gómez is now in the high-security Altiplano prison, where fellow drug lords recently complained of worm-infested food.
The arrests are good news for President Peña Nieto, who has been on the defensive ever since September, when 43 students disappeared in Iguala in southern Mexico. He promised to make security a higher priority.
On the day of La Tuta’s capture he moved the attorney-general, Jesús Murrillo Karam, to another ministry. He is the only senior official to pay a price for the bungled handling of the case. It continues to haunt Peña Nieto.
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