Gulf Cartel boss "El Coss" after his capture

The capture of the Gulf Cartel's top leader could mean the end for one of Mexico’s oldest drug trafficking organizations, handing the country’s northeast over to the divided Zetas.

Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sanchez, known as “El Coss,” was captured on September 12 in Tampico, Tamaulipas. He was paraded before the press the following morning (see video, below), but kept silent, refusing to answer questions from reporters.

A navy spokesman said that a group of 30 marines had arrested the drug boss using information from five of his bodyguards, who were captured earlier that day elsewhere in Tamaulipas, reported La Jornada.

El Coss has been a member of the Gulf Cartel since being recruited in the 1990s while working as a police officer. He became a leader of the organization after the arrest of boss Osiel Cardenas Guillen in 2003, rising still further with the death of Osiel’s brother Antonio, known as “Tony Tormenta,” in November 2010.

The Gulf Cartel has seen a dramatic erosion in its powerbase since its former armed wing, the Zetas, went rogue in 2010. Coss was instrumental in the final break, refusing the group's demand that he hand over the killer of a Zetas boss in January that year, and since then the two have been at open war. The Zetas have used their military organization to take over much of the Gulf's territory in Mexico’s northeast, and cities such as Monterrey have seen an explosion of violence as the former allies fight for control.

InSight Crime Analysis

The capture of El Coss leaves the Gulf Cartel without a clear successor. The group split into two factions after Tony Tormenta was killed in a firefight with Mexican security forces in 2010: those loyal to the Cardenas Guillen family, known as the Rojos, opposed a group led by El Coss, known as the Metros.

The divide hardened when the leader of the Metros, Samuel Flores Borrego, alias “Metro 3,” was found dead in Tamaulipas in September 2011, likely killed by members of the Rojos. He is thought to have been the one who triggered the split with the Zetas by killing “El Concord 3” in January 2010.

A third Cardenas Guillen brother, Mario or “El Gordo,” was captured by marines last week in Altamira, Tamaulipas, and it looked at first as though El Coss had won overall control of the Gulf. As Proceso set out in a recent report, El Coss had been waging a long campaign against the Cardenas Guillen faction, setting up its members to be killed or captured, one by one, and may have even been behind the killing of El Metro 3. According to Proceso's source, this readiness to hand over his rivals won him the protection of the security forces 

Now, betrayed by this bodyguards, it appears that his own tactics have been turned against him and that he has lost the protection of the security forces -- if indeed he ever had it. It is possible that El Coss' fall was triggered by El Gordo handing information to the authorities after his arrest.

The Gulf's infighting has left no winners. Without a clear heir to El Coss, the group’s decline could become terminal, although it is likely that there are enough old-time bosses still around to keep at least some of its drug business going. The recent capture of the cartel's top South America representative, in Colombia, could disrupt business still further.

One obvious beneficiary of a Gulf collapse would be the rival Zetas, who might be able to take Gulf-controlled areas like Reynosa and Matamoros. It is possible that fragments of the Gulf could join up with their allies in the Sinaloa Cartel, or even go over to the Zetas, though resentments left over from their bitter split make this less likely.

However, with the Zetas currently embroiled in internal warfare after a rumored split between its top leaders, it is difficult to predict who will emerge to take the place of the Gulf Cartel. Analyst Alejandro Hope told InSight Crime that, if Gulf members do go over to the Zetas, this would most likely benefit the faction of Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano, "Z-3," and "El Taliban." Hope says that Coss’ capture could result in the Sinaloa Cartel being drawn more directly into the Zetas’ internal struggle, with this conflict replacing the Gulf-Zetas war as the main driver of violence in the northeast.

Investigations

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5
  • 6
  • 7
  • 8
  • 9
  • 10
Prev Next

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

Homicides in Guatemala: Collecting the Data

When someone is murdered in Guatemala, police, forensic doctors and government prosecutors start making their way to the crime scene and a creaky, antiquated 20th century bureaucratic machine kicks into gear. Calls are made. Forms are filled out by hand, or typed into computers, or both. Some...

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

Nariño, Colombia: Ground Zero of the Cocaine Trade

The department of Nariño in southwest Colombia is the main coca-producing area in the country and in the world. It is a place scarred by poverty and years of armed conflict between guerrillas, the state and paramilitary groups. Perhaps nowhere else in the country are the challenges...

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador Prisons and the Battle for the MS13’s Soul

El Salvador's prison system is the headquarters of the country's largest gangs. It is also where one of these gangs, the MS13, is fighting amongst itself for control of the organization.

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Homicides in Guatemala: Conclusions and Recommendations

Olfato. It is a term used quite often in law enforcement and judicial circles in Central America (and other parts of the world as well). It refers to the sixth sense they have as they see a crime scene, investigate a murder or plow through the paperwork...

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

'MS13 Members Imprisoned in El Salvador Can Direct the Gang in the US'

Special Agent David LeValley headed the criminal division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Washington office until last November 8. While in office, he witnessed the rise of the MS13, the Barrio 18 (18th Street) and other smaller gangs in the District of Columbia as well...

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

Where Chaos Reigns: Inside the San Pedro Sula Prison

In San Pedro Sula's jailhouse, chaos reigns. The inmates, trapped in their collective misery, battle for control over every inch of their tight quarters. Farm animals and guard dogs roam free and feed off scraps, which can include a human heart. Every day is visitors' day, and...

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

How the MS13 Got Its Foothold in Transnational Drug Trafficking

Throughout the continent, the debate on whether or not the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13) gang is working with or for drug traffickers continues. In this investigation, journalist Carlos García tells the story of how a member of the MS13 entered the methamphetamine distribution business under the powerful auspices...

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

The Lucky ‘Kingpin’: How ‘Chepe Diablo’ Has (So Far) Ridiculed Justice

José Adán Salazar Umaña is the only Salvadoran citizen currently on the US government's Kingpin List. But in his defense, Salazar Umaña claims is he is an honorable businessman who started his career by exchanging money along the borders between Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras. He does...

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's Mirror: War and Drug Trafficking in the Prison System

Colombia's prisons are a reflection of the multiple conflicts that have plagued the country for the last half-century. Paramilitaries, guerrillas and drug trafficking groups have vied for control of the jails where they can continue to manage their operations on the outside. Instead of corralling these forces...

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Reign of the Kaibil: Guatemala’s Prisons Under Byron Lima

Following Guatemala's long and brutal civil war, members of the military were charged, faced trial and sentenced to jail time. Even some members of a powerful elite unit known as the Kaibil were put behind bars. Among these prisoners, none were more emblematic than Captain Byron Lima...