Mexico’s narco dynasty came to an abrupt end with not a single shot fired. An 11-month operation culminated on Wednesday when Mexican authorities apprehended Hector Beltran-Leyva, the last brother of the Beltran-Leyva cartel, while he was eating at a touristy seafood restaurant. “The shrimp that falls asleep is carried away by the current,” the old Mexican saying goes.
Mexico’s Office of the Attorney General said Hector, known as “The H” or “The Engineer,” was living in the trendy town of San Miguel de Allende, a municipality in the central state of Guanajuato. He was able to slip under the radar and avoid rising suspicions about his wealth by telling the locals he was a real estate businessman.
Hector Beltran-Leyva was the last remaining kingpin of the Beltran-Leyva criminal organization. Authorities previously took down his three other siblings: Alfredo was apprehended in 2008 while carrying two suitcases filled with $900,000; Arturo “The Beard” died in 2009 at the hands of an elite team of 200 Mexican marines; and brother Carlos was arrested that same year.
The government's crackdown on the Beltran-Leyva family came after the brothers splintered from Joaquin Chapo Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel in 2008 to form their own criminal enterprise. The separation caused drug trafficking related murders to spike as the Beltran-Leyva brothers fought a bitter battle with Chapo's cartel and forged a new partnership with the brutal Zetas cartel. The conflict intensified after they ordered the assassination of one of Chapo’s sons, Edgar Guzman Lopez.
"Gunmen for Chapo Guzman would attack a Beltran Leyva safe house with grenades and firebombs. Beltran Leyva would strike back the next day, dumping cut-up bodies of Chapo employees in a car trunk," writes Ioan Grillo in his book El Narco.
An Office of the Attorney General leaked document reveals the Beltran-Leyva cartel currently controls eight subgroups that operate in the states of Sinaloa, Sonora, Baja California, Guerrero, Morelos and Aguascalientes.
The U.S. Department of State describes Hector as the man who facilitated “the planning, oversight, and overall control of the drug trafficking and money collection activities in Mexico City,” and oversaw “the control of drug trafficking corridors” for the cartel. Hector was also allegedly “involved in the procurement and trafficking of multi-ton quantities of cocaine and marijuana into the United States.” He currently faces charges in the District of Columbia and the Eastern District of New York. U.S. authorities were offering $5 million for any information leading to his capture.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto hailed the operation and congratulated the Mexican army and marines, the Office of the Attorney General, the Federal Police and CISEN (Mexico’s equivalent of the CIA) via Twitter.
According to Proceso magazine, DEA sources have confirmed that the next man on the list is Ismael "Mayo" Zambada, the only drug lord from the now extinct Federation -an alliance forged in the 1990s between Mexico's top cartel leaders- that remains at large.
The Beltran-Leyva organization is not doomed. Naturally, a new head will sprout to fill the power vacuum. Nonetheless, Hector's arrest marks the end of a drug dynasty. And if Mayo Zambada falls, the end of a generation of narcos.