He joined the ranks of the Gulf Cartel in the late 1990s after he had served as a policeman in Matamoros, Tamaulipas. Under the tutelage of Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, Costilla Sánchez became a lieutenant for the cartel and started controlling several drug trafficking activities for the organization. In 1999, two U.S. federal agents were stopped at gunpoint in Matamoros by several gunmen of the cartel while conducting an investigation. Among the dozen heavily armed men were Cárdenas Guillén and Costilla Sánchez. After the tense standoff, the agents persuaded the gunmen to let them go but Costilla Sánchez and the other cartel members earned a U.S. indictment.
When Cárdenas Guillén was arrested and extradited to the United States in 2003 and 2007 respectively, Costilla Sánchez took the control of the cartel along with Antonio Cárdenas Guillén, who was later killed in a gunbattle on November 2010. Amid the power struggles, The Los Zetas Organization separated from The Gulf Cartel to work independently, transforming northeastern Mexico into a "war zone" with daily confrontations and gruesome assassinations.
Costilla Sánchez was arrested by the Mexican marines in the city of Tampico, Tamaulipas, on 12 September 2012. The Gulf Cartel, however, was suffering from an infighting by the time of his arrest.
Costilla Sánchez was born on 1 April 1971 in the city of Matamoros, Tamaulipas; he is the son of a woman who worked as the principal of a middle school in Matamoros. At the age of 21, he became a municipal police officer in Matamoros and worked from 1992 to 1995, where he became familiar with the drug trade. Costilla Sánchez then left the police and formed a kidnapping ring called "Los Sierra."
He joined the works of The Gulf Cartel in the late 1990s and become a lieutenant during the reign of then-leader Osiel Cárdenas Guillén. The Gulf Cartel is responsible for the importation and distribution of thousands of kilograms of cocaine and marijuana into the United States annually. After the arrest of the cartel leader Osiel Cardenas, Costilla Sánchez took control and became partner with Heriberto Lazcano Lazcano and Héctor Manuel Sauceda Gamboa (El Karis). Sauceda was killed in a gun battle with the Federal Police on 17 February 2009, and Heriberto Lazcano became the leader of his own cartel, The Los Zetas Organization.
Costilla Sánchez is one of a number of high-ranking members of The Gulf Cartel who has been indicted in the United States for drug trafficking activities. Costilla Sánchez has also been indicted for threatening U.S. law enforcement officials in November 1999. In that incident, FBI and DEA agents in Mexico were forcibly stopped at gunpoint by a group of heavily armed men, allegedly including Costilla Sánchez and other key members of the Gulf Cartel. Costilla Sánchez and the other cartel members were said to have pointed AK-47 rifles at the U.S. federal agents and threatened to kill them. After a tense standoff, the FBI and DEA agents were allowed to leave.
When Osiel was arrested in 2003, Costilla Sánchez joined the drug lord's brother, Antonio Cárdenas Guillen, in running the Gulf Cartel's operations. The power struggle after Osiel's extradition in 2007 prompted for The Los Zetas Organization, the mercenary gang formed by ex-commandos of the Mexican Army and the former armed wing of the cartel, to separate and former their own criminal organization. Both groups officially went to war in early 2010, after a Zeta leader was assassinated allegedly under orders of Costilla Sánchez. The fight between the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas transformed northeastern Mexico into a "war zone" with daily gunfights, decapitations, and other gruesome slayings. After the death of Antonio in a gunfight with the Mexican Marines on 5 November 2010, Costilla Sánchez took full control of the Gulf Cartel and began directing the daily drug trafficking activities of the organization.
The recent fights between Los Metros and Los Rojos, the two subgroups within the Gulf Cartel, were reportedly caused by Costilla Sánchez, who set up his rivals to get arrested or killed by the government. Among other charges, Costilla Sánchez is accused of being involved in the 2004 assassination of the journalist Francisco Arratia Saldierna, who covered drug trafficking and organized crime reports in Matamoros. In addition, the Proceso magazine alleges that Costilla Sánchez had some connections with high-ranking military officials in the Mexican Armed Forces between 2011 and 2012.
Standoff with U.S. agentsEdit
In a November afternoon of 1999, Osiel Cárdenas Guillén learned that a Gulf Cartel informant was being transported through Matamoros, Tamaulipas, by the FBI and DEA. According to the story mentioned in the interviews 11 years after this life-or-death incident, the DEA agent Joe DuBois and FBI agent Daniel Fuentes were riding in a white Ford Bronco with diplomatic plates along the streets of Matamoros, Tamaulipas. For years, both were working for the disarticulation of the cartels in Mexico, and both knew how the drug cartels worked south of the border. In the back seat of the car, a Mexican informant from a local newspaper on crime coverage guided the two agents and gave them a tour on the city's drug routes and on the homes of the drug lords of the city. They even cruised on Cárdenas' house, a pink-colored mansion with tall walls, security cameras, armed guards and roof-snipers. Within moments, according to DuBois, a Lincoln Continental was on their tail, then a stolen pickup truck with Texan plates. The federal agents were cut off and surrounded by at least five vehicles, including one by a former state police officer. Just yards away from Matamoros' police department, the agents were surrounded by a convoy of gunmen from the Gulf Cartel, which included Costilla Sánchez. Some wore police and military uniforms. Nearby, other men, also in police uniform, directed traffic.
Cárdenas Guillén and his men intercepted and surrounded the vehicle on a public street and demanded for the informant to be released to him. According to the two agents, the Gulf Cartel sicarios outnumbered and outgunned them. Their only way out was to talk their way out. Cárdenas Guillén arrived seconds later in a white Jeep Cherokee, approaching the two agents with the "swagger of the man in charge." In his waistband, he wore a Colt M1911 pistol with a gold grip; in his hands, a gold-plated AK-47. Cárdenas Guillén pounded on the Ford Bronco and calmly asked for the informant. Fuentes flashed his FBI badge, giving Cárdenas Guillén a smile. In an ongoing discourse, Cárdenas Guillén told the agents that he would shoot them if they did not surrender. The two agents refused to do so, saying they were dead either way. He gave them another choice: to hand over the informant. Again, they refused.
DuBois, who grew up in Mexico and was a police officer in neighboring Brownsville, Texas, recalled how Cárdenas Guillén "did not give a damn who [they were]," while DuBois replied to him: "You don't care now, but tomorrow and the next day and the rest of your life, you'll regret anything stupid that you might do right now. You are fixing to make 300,000 enemies." Then, Fuentes reminded Cárdenas Guillén how the U.S. launched a massive manhunt and investigation after the kidnap, torture, and assassination of the DEA agent Enrique Camarena in 1985 in Mexico. All of the killers and accomplices were captured in that U.S. operation.
After a tense standoff, DuBois and Fuentes, along with their informant, were released. The two agents and the informant headed off to Brownsville, Texas. As for Cárdenas, the damage had been done by taking on the U.S. government, which placed pressure on the Mexican government to apprehend Cárdenas. The two agents, Joe DuBois and Daniel Fuentes, were recognized by the U.S. attorney general for their "exceptional heroism," and both are still on the job. The Mexican informant is living somewhere in the United States.
Gulf-Zeta cartels splitEdit
In the late 1990s, Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, the former leader of The Gulf Cartel, began recruiting members of the Mexican Army to protect his territory, personnel, and drug trafficking operations. These original deserters, who were known as The Los Zetas Organization, came from the Special Forces squadron of the army, arguably the best trained branch of the Mexican military. Upon the arrest and extradition of Cárdenas Guillén in 2003 and 2007 respectively, Los Zetas strengthen its role in the Gulf Cartel, but managed to retain its alliance. Nonetheless, that alliance lasted until early 2010, when disagreements reached a turning point. On 18 January 2010, several members of the Gulf Cartel kidnapped Víctor Peña Mendoza, a leader of Los Zetas nicknamed Concord 3 and a close associate and friend of Miguel Angel Treviño Morales, alias Z-40. When he was held captive, Peña Mendoza was asked to switch alliances and join the Gulf Cartel, but he refused, earning a beating and an execution, presumably carried out by Flores Borrego.
Treviño Morales heard about the incident and issued an ultimatum to Samuel Flores Borregoand Costilla Sánchez: "Hand over the assassin of my friend, you son of a bitch ... You have until the 25th, if you don't comply, there will be war." Both of the Gulf Cartel leaders ignored the command, and Treviño Morales did not wait to avenge the death of his friend. On 30 January 2010, Treviño Morales kidnapped and slaughtered 16 Gulf Cartel members in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, marking the start of the cartel war between The Gulf Cartel and The Los Zetas Organization in the Mexican states of Tamaulipas, Nuevo León, and Veracruz that has left thousands of people killed. Los Zetas used violent and intimidatory tactics to expand, emerging with a notorious reputation as Mexico's most violent drug trafficking organization. Nonetheless, it managed to take control of most of the territories owned by the Gulf Cartel when they had essentially served as a single organization.
PRI candidate assassinationEditOn the morning of 28 June 2010, Rodolfo Torre Cantú, the leading candidate of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) for the Tamaulipas state elections, was heading to the airport in Ciudad Victoria to close his campaign in Valle Hermoso and Matamoros, Tamaulipas six days before the elections. While heading to the airport, Torre Cantú's convoy was ambushed by armed assailants, killing the candidate and six other people who were in his entourage. His death marked the highest-profile murder in the Mexican Drug War and the highest-profile assassination in Mexico since the death of Luis Donaldo Colosio, the PRI presidential candidate for the 1994 elections. And by 2011 and 2012, the Mexican authorities did not have solid explanations for Torre Cantú's assassination.
Nonetheless, Costilla Sánchez was linked to Torre Cantú's assassination by the PGR and the DEA agencies on 20 September 2012. Reportedly, Torre Cantú was killed by an armed squad directly linked to Costilla Sánchez for refusing to protect the cartel's investments that allowed money laundering from drug proceeds. Tamaulipas' former governor, Tomás Yarrington, has also been linked to Torre Cantú's death by the DEA since February 2012.
The Mexican Navy arrested Costilla Sánchez on 12 September 2012 at the residential Lomas de Rosales neighborhood in Tampico, Tamaulipas without firing a single bullet. Around 30 marines chased a convoy of gunmen that lead to the house where Costilla Sánchez was hiding. Hours before the arrest, five men working for Costilla Sánchez were apprehended in Río Bravo, Tamaulipas. Costilla Sánchez was presented on camera in the morning of 13 September 2012, handcuffed and wearing a long-sleeve shirt. Ten bodyguards of Costilla Sánchez were also arrested during the operative. Ernesto Banda Chaires, one of the detainees, is believed to be the regional boss of the cartel in Tampico. In the Wednesday arrest, the Mexican authorities confiscated several assault rifles, pistols encrusted with jewelry, and a number of expensive-looking watches. When asked if he had anything to say about his criminal charges and if he had a lawyer, Costilla Sánchez shook his head. His arrest came a few days after the apprehension of Mario Cárdenas Guillén, the leader of one of factions in the cartel. Moreover, Costilla Sánchez is currently detained at the installations of the SIEDO, Mexico's intelligence agency.
Costilla Sánchez was an evasive capo who preferred to stay low-profile. Only two photographs of him were ever made public prior to his arrest.
It is likely that Costilla Sánchez will be extradited to the United States, raising the political implications for the top politicians in the states of Tamaulipas and Veracruz who have been accused of taking bribes from The Gulf Cartel. Among them is Tomás Yarrington, the former governor of Tamaulipas who is now a fugitive. If the testimonies end up being damaging, the president-elect Enrique Peña Nieto will have to take steps in cleaning up the image of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which governed Mexico for 71 years and was tainted with an image of corruption. In addition, with Costilla Sánchez's capture, the Gulf Cartel looks extremely weakened; the stage is set for Mexico's two largest criminal organizations The Sinaloa Cartel and The Los Zetas Organization to fight for the turf of The Gulf Cartel. This can be troubling for the next administration, which has vowed to reduce the drug violence that has left more than 55,000 dead in six years.
Two days after the arrest of Costilla Sánchez, 16 people were killed as a result of the Gulf Cartel infighting in two separate attacks carried out in Nuevo Laredo and San Fernando, Tamaulipas. Reportedly, a message was left aside the bodies, which were dumped at public view.
The capture of Costilla Sánchez and Mario Cárdenas Guillén leaves the Gulf Cartel without a definite successor. Both arrests in effect wipe out the traditional old-time bosses of the cartel, putting an end to a generation of drug traffickers. When Cárdenas Guillén was arrested on 4 September 2012, it looked as if Costilla Sánchez had finally won the leadership of the Gulf Cartel. Throughout the end of 2011 and until the time of his arrest in 2012, Costilla Sánchez had carried out a campaign to put down Cárdenas Guillén and his faction – the Rojos – by reportedly setting up its members to get arrested or killed. His attempts to successfully put down his rivals allegedly gave him the protection of some high-ranking officials in the Mexican Armed Forces.
Nonetheless, Costilla Sánchez's own tactics backfired after a group of his henchmen arrested in Río Bravo, Tamaulipas reportedly betrayed him and notified the authorities of his whereabouts. It is also possible Cárdenas Guillén's declarations resulted in the apprehension of Costilla Sánchez as well.
Without a clear successor of Costilla Sánchez, his faction – the Metros – could come to an end, although it is still likely that there are other old-crime bosses of lesser importance still trying to keep the Gulf Cartel standing. With the arrest of a Gulf Cartel representative in Colombia on 10 September 2012, the drug business could be disrupted even further. One clear benefactor of the fall of the Gulf Cartel is its rival group, Los Zetas. It is also possible that several within the Gulf Cartel may decide to join The Sinaloa Cartel or Los Zetas, although the latter seems unlikely given the bitter sentiment both groups have planted. The Mexican government has essentially gotten rid of the leadership in both the Metros and the Rojos factions in the Gulf Cartel.The first possible group to take control of the smuggling routes in Tamaulipas is Los Zetas, who can decide to make a violent push into the last territories of the Gulf Cartel and finally take control of Matamoros, Tamaulipas. That city is the birthplace of the Gulf Cartel and has been the stronghold of the cartel ever since its creation. By taking Matamoros, Los Zetas will not only take a valuable drug corridor from the hands of the cartel, but it can score a major "psychological victory" over the Gulf Cartel.
Currently, Los Zetas is also experiencing a power struggle within its own ranks, so the future of the Gulf Cartel is difficult to predict.
The Mexican authorities believe that the next leader of the Gulf Cartel can be a woman, presumably one of the two sisters of Osiel, Antonio, and Mario. While women leading Mexico's "macho" criminal underworld is quite unusual, it is not entirely unprecedented. Enedina Arellano Félix of The Tijuana Cartel now manages the organization along with her son Luis Fernando Sánchez Arellano. Another woman, Sandra Ávila Beltrán, served as an important link between The Sinaloa Cartel and the Norte del Valle Cartel in Colombia until her arrest in 2007. The authorities believe that if one of the Cárdenas Guillén sisters takes the lead of the Gulf Cartel, it could serve to unite the broken organization. Nonetheless, InSight Crime points out that if the Gulf Cartel's last chance to regain its hegemony lies on a female successor, there is little chance that the cartel will ever recover. As previously reported by the agency, "drug queens" in Mexico tend to have difficultly commanding their cartels, and have been forced to work alongside men to legitimize their positions.
In addition, the arrest of Costilla Sánchez opens a bigger role for The Sinaloa Cartel in the state of Tamaulipas. Since their leader Joaquin Guzman Loera and the Gulf Cartel tend to be "business-oriented," both organizations may possibly strengthen their alliances by acknowledging that "violence is bad for business." This is one reason why the Gulf Cartel and El Chapo might fight off Los Zetas together. Unconfirmed sources claimed that Mario Ramírez Treviño, the right-hand man of the fallen Samuel Flores Borrego, may possibly be the next in line after Costilla Sánchez, although other sources indicate that he was reportedly captured, which has not been confirmed altogether. Nonetheless, whoever decides to led the Gulf Cartel will most likely have a close relationship with El Chapo. The Gulf Cartel is knowledgeable of the trafficking routes and operations in Tamaulipas, and it would not be convenient for the Sinaloa Cartel to take them "out of the picture." If the Sinaloa Cartel manages to have significant presence in Tamaulipas, the population can expect a decrease in violence just like in Tijuana and Ciudad Juárez, which saw downturns in drug-related homicides after The Sinaloa Cartel gained control of the smuggling routes.
Gulf Cartel infightingEdit
In the late 1990s, Osiel Cárdenas Guillén, the former leader of the Gulf Cartel, had other similar groups besides The Los Zetas Organization established in several cities in Tamaulipas. Each of these groups were identified by their radio codes: the Rojos were based in Reynosa; the Metros were headquartered in Matamoros; and the Lobos were established in Laredo. The infighting between the Metros and the Rojos of the Gulf Cartel began in 2010, when Juan Mejía González, nicknamed El R-1, was overlooked as the candidate of the regional boss of Reynosa and was sent to the "Frontera Chica," an area that emcompasses Miguel Alemán, Camargo and Ciudad Mier – directly across the U.S-Mexico border from Starr County, Texas. The area that Mejía González wanted was given to Samuel Flores Borrego, suggesting that the Metros were above the Rojos.
Unconfirmed information released by The Monitor indicated that two leaders of the Rojos, Mejía González and Rafael Cárdenas Vela, teamed up to kill Flores Borrego. Cárdenas Vela had held a grudge on Flores Borrego and the Metros because he believed that they had led the Mexican military to track down and kill his uncle Antonio Cárdenas Guillen (Tony Tormenta) in 5 November 2010. Other sources indicate that the infighting could have been caused by the suspicions that the Rojos were "too soft" on the Gulf Cartel's bitter enemy, Los Zetas. When the Gulf Cartel and Los Zetas splited in early 2010, some members of the Rojos stayed with the Gulf Cartel, while others decided to leave and join the forces of Los Zetas.
InSight Crime explains that the fundamental disagreement between the Rojos and the Metros was over leadership. Those who were more loyal to Mario Cárdenas Guillén stayed with the Rojos, while those loyal to Jorge Eduardo Costilla Sánchez, like Flores Borrego, defended the Metros.
Originally, The Gulf Cartel was running smoothly, but the infighting between the two factions in the Gulf Cartel triggered when Samuel Flores Borrego was killed on 2 September 2011. When the Rojos turned on the Metros, the largest faction in the Gulf Cartel, firefights broke throughout Tamaulipas and drug loads were stolen among each other, but the Metros managed to retained control of the major cities that stretched from Matamoros to Miguel Alemán, Tamaulipas.
Alleged ties with the Mexican militaryEdit
The power struggle within the Gulf Cartel in northeastern Mexico throughout 2011 and 2012 was a sign of the organization's decline. Part of the shifting landscape, according to Proceso magazine, is attributed to the alleged protection the Mexican Armed Forces gave to Costilla Sánchez. An anonymous source told the magazine that Costilla Sánchez set up his rivals, the Cárdenas Guillén family, to get arrested or killed by the Mexican Navy, consequently allowing him to emerge as the leader of the Gulf Cartel. Costilla Sánchez reportedly gave millions of dollars to the Navy to allow him to operate freely in Tamaulipas, and in return the Navy reportedly protected his faction by ceasing to target them and going against the Cárdenas Guillén clan.
The last days of Costilla Sánchez's leadership began in 3 September 2012, when several banners were reportedly put up in Ecatepec, State of Mexico, accusing the capitan of the Mexican Naval Infantry, Marina Efraín Martínez Talamantes, of protecting Costilla Sánchez. Nine days later, Costilla Sánchez was arrested in an operative where not a single shot was fired. The anonymous source said that the Navy arrested him because the accusations were starting to gain some weight, while others said that once the Navy was done "using Costilla Sánchez" to their advantage, they "betrayed him" so that his capture could serve as a symbolic medal for the Navy and the administration of Felipe Calderón. The sources stated that before his arrest, Costilla Sánchez was allegedly seeking to forge an alliance with Miguel Angel Treviño Morales (Z-40), one of the leaders of The Los Zetas Organization, the former armed wing of the Gulf Cartel.
InSight Crime, however, states that the fact that the whole article relies on a single anonymous source and that there are no voice recordings raises suspicions about the reliability of the story. The agency does recognize that Costilla Sánchez's ties with the Navy were possible, but indicated that "if his enemies were looking to make life difficult both for him and for the military units operating in Tamaulipas, feeding falsehoods to reporters would be an easy way to do so."
Costilla Sánchez was placed among the most-wanted drug lords in Mexico, and the government was offering a 30 million pesos (US$ 2.3 million) bounty for information leading to his arrest. In the United States, he has been charged with 12 counts of drug trafficking and money-laundering and is also wanted for assaulting a federal law enforcement officers in 1999 in Matamoros, Tamaulipas.
The U.S. Department of State was offering a reward of up to $5 million USD for information leading to his arrest and/or conviction.
Costilla Sánchez has several aliases, including but not limited to: Cos, El Coss, Costi, El Judas, George XX, and Sombra.