The charismatic drug lord who led a cult-like cartel and published rambling videos in the western Mexican state of Michoacan has been caught, reports said Friday.
Authorities were expected to formally announce the arrest of Knights Templar leader Servando Gomez Martinez, also known as "La Tuta," later today in Mexico City. Reports citing official sources said Gomez was apprehended in the Michoacan capital city of Morelia in the early hours of the day.
It was a "clean job" and no shots were fired, sources inside the National Security Commission told the daily El Universal.
Gomez emerged as leader the Knights Templar, which itself emerged from the formerly dominant La Familia Michoacana cartel, both groups that characterized themselves with self-fashioned religious dogma published in Bible-like booklets.
Gomez, trained as a school teacher, introduced himself to the public by calling into television programs in Michoacan in 2009. He soon became known for publishing YouTube videos with philosophical monologues defending his campaign against rivals he described as tyrants.
In his videos, La Tuta and his "brotherhood" would be seen with images of iconic Latin American revolutionary figures such as Pancho Villa and Che Guevara.
A video statement by Servando Gomez Martinez.
He also effectively used videos to criticize what he described as the corruption of state officials and journalists working in Michoacan. Gomez has been recorded having conversations with the son of a former governor, with reporters for national media giant Televisa, as well as with several mayors.
Jesus Reyna Garcia, a former interim governor of Michoacan, is behind bars for allegedly protecting "La Tuta."
'La Tuta was isolated, and his operational capacity was very limited, because they were hunting him.'
It was not immediately clear how the arrest would impact the crime and security situation in Michoacan, a key mining state and producer of limes, avocados, and methamphetamine. Critics of the government's actions cast doubt on the idea that citizens might see a drop in violence with La Tuta's arrest.
The arrest also came on the five-month mark of the disappearance of 43 teachers college students in the neighboring state of Guerrero, and the day after the Mexican attorney general who handled the case, Jesus Murillo Karam, was reportedly removed from his post.
"Things here don't happen by chance. It makes you think that the two events, the capture of La Tuta and the Murillo Karam's exit, are simultaneous to help improve the image of the federal government at a difficult moment," said Eduardo Nava, a political science professor at the Universidad Michoacana de San Nicolas de Hidalgo, in an interview with VICE News.
"It's an element of distraction in the face of other, more serious, matters," Nava added.
The Knights Templar battled heavily with citizen militia groups called autodefensas, which emerged in early 2013 vowing to destroy the cartel. Splinter groups and major cartels from neighboring regions have also battled with the Knights Templar, leading to a quagmire scenario of attacks and confrontations with government security forces.
Jose Luis Segura, the parish priest in La Ruana, one of the towns where the autodefensa movement grew, told VICE News on Friday he thought La Tuta's capture was "a good thing."
"This was the principle complaint of the autodefensas," that La Tuta wasn't captured, Segura said.
A community militia member descends the stairs of a Knights Templar roadside chapel in Buenavista, Michoacan, in May 2013. (Photo by Marco Ugarte/AP)
The government's inability to disarm the vigilante groups or break down the cartel led to the removal in late January of the federal commissioner sent to stabilize the state, Alfredo Castillo. And in recent months, yet another organized criminal group emerged in the state, calling themselves Los Viagra.
Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto visited Michoacan on Tuesday, pledging to bring peace and economic development to the state. Peña Nieto inaugurated a new infantry battalion army base in the municipality of Coalcomán.
Analysts and officials noted that in recent months La Tuta's reach had been diminished, under pressure from the militias and the security forces.
"It has symbolic worth, because he was the most visible face [of the cartel]," independent security analyst Alejandro Hope told VICE News. "According to the authorities themselves, La Tuta was isolated, and his operational capacity was very limited, because they were hunting him."
"La Tuta" published one of his last audio messages in early February.
"I have no deals, not with the Army, not with the Navy, not with the Gendarmerie, not with the Federal Police, not with the DEA," Gomez says in the clip. "What I do know is that I have to protect myself from them."
"God bless you all," Gomez finishes.