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No ordinary kingpin? Mexico's capture of Hector Beltran Leyva defies stereotypes

Hector Beltran Leyva was more adept and more connected than most pursuing him imagined. He reconstituted his family's criminal group, working his business and political contacts and operating in some of the least violent places behind his inconspicuous cover.

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    Pictures of Hector Beltran Leyva, head of a family crime syndicate that waged a conflict in Mexico with a former ally, drug kingpin Joaquin 'El Chapo' Guzman, are displayed on a screen during a news conference at the Attorney General Office building in Mexico City on October 1, 2014.
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• InSight Crime researches, analyzes, and investigates organized crime in the Americas. Find all of Steven Dudley's research here.

 Hector Beltran Leyva’s criminal career is an illustration that even the most violent groups need a soft side. 

Mr. Beltran Leyva was captured exactly where anyone who has followed his trajectory would expect: eating a meal at a popular restaurant with a political insider, according to the Attorney General’s Office. 

No bodyguards. No deadly gunfight. Just a quiet arrest, fingerprinting, photos, and a perp walk.

Since becoming the head of the Beltran Leyva Organization (BLO) in 2009, he has passed himself off as as many things, most recently as an art dealer and real estate monger, the government said. It was a good cover for a guy who had a $5 million bounty on his head in the US and a $2 million bounty in Mexico.

Indeed, Hector, alias “El H,” was always on the dollar-side of the business, running the trafficking from above and managing the movement of money, which included funneling it regularly to political and security officials with which he presumably hobnobbed. (See US Treasury list of companies the BLO controlled in 2009 - PDF).

Hector, who also went by the moniker “the Engineer,” an honorific in Mexico, was not known to get his hands too dirty, which is why many thought the BLO would fall to pieces when his brother – the legendary, bloodthirsty Marco Arturo “the Boss of Bosses” Beltran Leyva – was killed in a hail of bullets from the Mexican Marines in 2009, and Hector took over. 

It was a turbulent time. The unraveling of the family empire began when Alfredo Beltran Leyva, alias “Fireant” – who apparently lives up to his name in the worst sort of way – was arrested in 2008. Arturo interpreted this as a betrayal from his longtime partner, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, and declared war on Chapo and his Sinaloa Cartel

The fratricide that followed spread up and down Mexico and turned several states into virtual war zones. The underworld, meanwhile, realigned but with Arturo dead and Fireant in jail, the BLO’s days seemed numbered. 

Initially, under Hector, the BLO lost territory, in particular in Acapulco, a key entry point for drugs and operational stronghold. It also split into factions, which included one led by Edgar Valdez Villareal, alias “La Barbie,” and another led by Sergio Villareal Barragan, alias “the Big Boy.” 

Big Boy allied with Hector but when he was captured and Barbie turned himself in, it looked as if it was a matter of days before Hector himself would fall. That was 2010.

Four years later and it’s clear that Hector was more adept and more connected than most imagined. He reconstituted the BLO, working his business and political contacts and operating in some of the least violent places behind his inconspicuous cover.

Hector made his home in Queretaro, according to Proceso. The state had but 111 homicides in 2013 (see government statistics in PDF here), compared to Morelos, the place where his brother Arturo was thought to have operated, which had 597 homicides in 2013.

Queretaro’s most notorious recent organized crime related act was the kidnapping of Diego Fernandez de Cevallos, a top political operator for the National Action Party (PAN), in a case that remains a mystery to this day.

In recent months, the BLO appeared to be flexing its political muscle, a testament to Hector’s strongsuit. Cases against supposed BLO allies in the military fell apart and those implicated released. The most prominent among these was Tomas Angeles, a retired general and former deputy defense minister.

Hector undoubtedly had a more belligerent side and understood very well that violence was part of the business (a less known nickname he had was the “General”). After Arturo’s death, the BLO firmed up its alliance with the Zetas, Mexico’s most violent criminal organization, and the armed wing of the Juarez Cartel, known as La Linea.

The new alliance has since waged a bloody campaign throughout the states of Sinaloa, Durango and Chihuahua, killing hundreds of rival gunman and displacing thousands more. That battle has extended into Sonora as well where BLO strongman Chapo Isidro has left his imprimatur and made a name in his own right.

But the story of Hector is not one of violent conquests with big guns and narcocorridos. It is that of low key meetings in fancy restaurants with insiders such as German Goyeneche, the man captured with Beltran Leyva.

Mr. Goyeneche’s Twitter account says he is the president of the Citizens' Council "100 percent for Queretaro" and  the president of the Citizen Parliament of Mexico for Queretaro.

Goyeneche’s involvement in the BLO is unknown, but his tweets are from an environmentalist, political, and business perspective, hardly the type one would take for a narco-accomplice, especially in Mexico where bravado is often displayed on YouTube in the form of gruesome beheadings.

“The Engineer” Beltran Leyva’s own appearance at his arrest also belies that of the current typical image of a "Mexican narco." And it fits with his role: that of the political, economic, and social operator that is necessary for every large criminal group.  

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of Latin America bloggers. Our guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. To contact us about a blogger, click here.

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