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In Mexico, Zetas kingpin’s arrest is display of new restrained style in drug war

In a previous era, it would have been occasion for a big show: The Mexican government had arrested Miguel Angel Treviño, the leader of the dreaded Zetas drug cartel, without firing a shot.

But when the news was delivered by Mexican officials late Monday night, it came with none of the pageantry that used to be the hallmark of major narco take-downs. Television viewers saw a mug shot of Trevino, a.k.a “Z-40,” nothing more.

During the previous administration of Mexican President Felipe Calderon, captured crime bosses were paraded like hunting trophies before television cameras by heavily armed soldiers and the police.

Trevino’s quiet arrest Monday outside the Mexican border city of Nuevo Laredo was the first chance for the administration of President Enrique Pena Nieto to signal to the Mexican public, and its U.S. drug-war partner, that the fight has entered a different-looking phase. Mexican officials say they’re no longer interested in making media celebrities out of drug lords.

Wanted in the United States and Mexico, Trevino is the first major cartel figure to be captured or killed since Pena Nieto took office last December, amid questions about whether his government would hunt crime bosses as aggressively as Calderon, given the reputation of Pena Nieto’s PRI party for making deals with Mexico’s underworld.

Those doubts grew after Pena Nieto officials put new limitations on the ability of U.S. agencies like the CIA and Drug Enforcement Administration to operate in Mexico, prompting warnings from American agents that drug war cooperation would suffer.

Asked by reporters Monday night whether U.S. intelligence played a role in Trevino’s capture, Mexican security spokesman Eduardo Sanchez did not answer the question and credited Mexican forces instead.

“This is the result of an investigation that began with the new government of President Enrique Pena Nieto,” said Sanchez, praising the “efficient teamwork” of Mexican agencies. Trevino was captured by helicopter-mounted Mexican marines early Monday morning, along with a bodyguard and an alleged Zetas financial operative. The suspects’ pickup truck was loaded with $2 million in cash and eight guns, said Sanchez.

U.S. officials offered congratulations, but made no mention of a direct role in the arrest.

“Trevino is of one of the most significant Mexican cartel leaders to be apprehended in several years, and DEA will continue to support the Government of Mexico,” the DEA said in a statement.

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