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Column 082613 Wall

Monday, August 26, 2013

Mexican Army Captures X-20, the Ruthless Gulf Cartel Leader

By Allan Wall

Last month, on July 15th, the Mexican Navy captured Miguel Treviño (known as Z-40, or el Cuarenta), leader of the Zetas.  (See The Mexican Navy Downs a Cartel Leader but Loses an Admiral).

This month, on August 17th, it was the Mexican Army's turn.  The Army captured Mario Ramirez Treviño, also known as X-20, leader of the Gulf Cartel.

(The Zetas were originally organized as the enforcement arm of the Gulf Cartel.  In 2010, however, the Zetas broke with the Gulf Cartel and the two groups are now enemies.)

Mario Ramirez and two henchmen were caught in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, located on Mexico's northern border with the United States.  The Mexican soldiers who captured him didn't have to fire a shot.

Ramirez had achieved enough notoriety to rate a US$5 million bounty offered by the U.S. government.

The life of X-20 exemplifies some of the problems of the Mexican drug war.  Born in 1962, Mario Ramirez became a policeman, serving as an investigative officer.  However, he developed a drug addiction problem himself and at some point began to aid the Gulf Cartel, and eventually he became a full-timer, finally rising to the top position.

Not that X-20 was at the top of the Gulf Cartel for long.  Jorge Costilla (called "El Coss") was the leader of the cartel and was captured last September.  Of course, Ramirez had felt obliged to eliminate a rival within the Gulf Cartel, Hector Salgado (called "Metro 4").   X-20 managed to kill Metro 4 this past January, thus solidifying his hold on the organization.

Ramirez may wind up getting extradited to the United States, where he is part of an indictment in the District of Columbia.  X-20 is also listed as a money launderer on the "Kingpin's List" drawn up by OFAC, the Office of Foreign Assets Control, of the Department of the Treasury. 

Click here to view the U.S. State Department's "wanted poster" for X-20 while he was still second-in-command.

As always, arrests of high-profile Mexican drug bosses can be followed by violent power struggles.  In a post-capture press conference, Mexican government spokesman Eduardo Sanchez said, "It's been a constant, and we've all seen it, that when there are important arrests, above all (arrests) of the heads [of] the organized crime groups, there is fighting within the same organization, or with rival organizations who are trying to expand their operations to territories that are not theirs."  It's a dog-eat-dog world.

Who will be the new chief of the Gulf Cartel?  U.S. agencies have named three possible contenders: "El Guicho," "El 98," and "El Juanillo" (who is also known as "El Fernandillo").  Notice the colorful nicknames and designations used by drug cartel bosses, which, along with their ruthlessness, form part of their mystique.


Allan Wall, an educator, resided in Mexico for many years.  His website is located at

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