It took just 15 minutes to arrest Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel leader José Antonio “El Marro” Yépez Ortiz, army chief Luis Cresencio Sandoval said Tuesday.
Speaking at the president’s news conference in Tepic, Nayarit, the National Defense Minister gave a blow-by-blow account of the operation to arrest Yépez at a property in a small Guanajuato town in the early hours of Sunday morning.
Cresencio said that 260 soldiers including 120 special forces troops began mobilizing for the operation at 3:00 a.m. Sunday.
Backed up by hundreds of state police, marines and members of the National Guard, they raided a farm property in the municipality of Juventino Rosas at 3:30 a.m., based on evidence that El Marro was on the premises. Intelligence had also revealed that the gang leader never slept more than one night in the same place.
At 3:45 a.m., El Marro, considered one of the main instigators of violence in Guanajuato, and five accomplices were taken into custody, Cresencio said. A 52-year-old businesswoman who had been held hostage by the cartel was rescued at the same time.
The army chief said the cartel members didn’t put up significant resistance, although they did fire shots. The soldiers returned fire and one suspected cartel member was wounded.
At 4:00 a.m., Yépez was put on a helicopter and he arrived at a state police facility at 4:30 a.m. The other five suspected criminals left the farm property at 5:30 a.m., Cresencio said.
One of them, Yépez’s presumed security chief, Saulo Sergio N., was taken to hospital to be treated for a gunshot wound to the leg, while the other four were turned over to state police.
By 7:15 a.m., El Marro and his four uninjured accomplices had all been placed in state police custody. They were transferred on Monday night to the Puentecillas state prison.
Cresencio said that security forces located Yépez last week and had been monitoring four properties in the area where he was detained. The Milenio newspaper reported on Monday that drones were used to search for the criminal leader and monitor his movements.
At the property where El Marro was detained, soldiers seized five rifles, three handguns, a grenade launcher and an explosive device, Cresencio said.
After highlighting the “great effort” and dedication of the military to detain the cartel members, and the risk the operation entailed, the army chief called on law enforcement authorities and state and federal judges to do their part to ensure that the suspected criminals are held to account.
Yépez was detained on charges of fuel theft and organized crime but will likely face accusations of murder as well.
President López Obrador also called on the judiciary to act with honesty and integrity to ensure that there is no impunity in the case.
(There have been countless cases in Mexico in which judges have released suspected criminals after they received, or allegedly received, bribes).
López Obrador declared that state and federal judicial authorities must “apply the law” in the case against Yépez and the other suspects.
“All this [violence and corruption] that we’re suffering in Mexico … has a lot to do with impunity,” he said.
“Authorities of all levels of the three branches [of government] have been involved in illegal activities and impunity has resulted in the culprits not being punished. There’s no adherence to the law, suspected criminals are set free because of decisions by both federal and state judges. I don’t want to generalize because there are very good and honest public servants but in Mexico we’ve suffered from impunity,” López Obrador said.
The president said that it’s up to Guanajuato authorities to carry out the judicial process against the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel members but added that the federal Attorney General’s Office is seeking to lay federal charges.
“We’re all going to be vigilant so that there is justice,” López Obrador said, adding that the suspects won’t be accused of fabricated crimes but nor will they have crimes they did commit removed from their records due to the “complicity of authorities.”
El Marro himself appeared to be resigned to his fate after his arrest.
“Everything has a beginning and an end,” he told security forces on Sunday. “My own end has now arrived.”