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Mexico arrests 'El Marro,' gang leader at the center of a bloody cartel war

Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

MEXICO CITY -- Mexican authorities on Sunday arrested the leader of the Santa Rosa de Lima cartel, a gang known for stealing millions of dollars of fuel from government pipelines and for turning once-peaceful Guanajuato state into one of the most dangerous regions in the country.

Videos show the pre-dawn capture by federal and state authorities of Jose Antonio Yepez Ortiz, who is known by the alias "El Marro," which means "the Sledgehammer." He was detained along with five others in a raid that authorities said also freed a kidnapped businesswoman.

The capture of Yepez Ortiz, one of the most high-profile arrests by the Mexican government in years, highlights the contradictory nature of the security policies pushed by President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who has vowed to fight crime by eradicating poverty and break with the militarized strategies of his predecessors but who in practice has not always done so.

It also casts a focus on the changing nature of Mexico's criminal organizations, which have branched out far beyond transnational drug trafficking and are now engaged in cargo robbery, domestic drug sales and control of industries as diverse as gold mining and the avocado trade.

Yepez Ortiz, 40, first made headlines for allegedly stealing more than a million dollars' worth of fuel a day from the many pipelines radiating from a government-owned oil refinery in the city of Salamanca. His cartel became the most powerful of the country's many fuel-theft gangs, known as huachicoleros, and later branched out into other illegal enterprises, including extortion and local drug sales.

In 2017, his group ran afoul of the Jalisco New Generation cartel, one of the most powerful criminal organizations in Mexico, led by Nemesio Oseguera Cervantes, known as El Mencho.

 

Mexican media have reported that the Jalisco cartel, which is a leading smuggler of methamphetamine and fentanyl into the United States, originally tried to make a deal with Yepez Ortiz: Keep the lucrative fuel-theft business but allow Jalisco's drug mules to ferry their product through the state.

Yepez Ortiz not only rejected the offer, but also allegedly ordered the killing of the nephew of the Jalisco group's leader, setting off a cartel war that has convulsed the state in violence.

There were 3,540 killings in Guanajuato last year, a more than threefold increase since 2016.

With 2,293 more killings in the first half of this year, Guanajuato is on pace to set a new record. Among the many brutal acts recorded in the state in recent months was the massacre of 27 people at a drug rehabilitation center in the city of Irapuato, which authorities believe was carried out by the Santa Rosa gang.

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