Known as “El Marro” (The Mallet), Yepez was arrested in the early hours of Sunday by soldiers and state officials during a raid on a house in Guanajuato, a central state that has become the main flashpoint of record gang violence, authorities said.
“This is a tremendously successful blow for the government,” said Raul Benitez, a security expert at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM).
Boss of the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel, a Guanajuato-based outfit, Yepez has been engaged in a bloody struggle for supremacy in the state with the Jalisco New Generation Cartel (CJNG), one of Mexico’s most powerful and violent gangs.
Yepez, 40, is the highest profile narco arrested so far under Lopez Obrador, who pledged to bring down record levels of violence plaguing Mexico when he took office in December 2018.
Instead, homicides have further increased, and last October, the Lopez Obrador administration suffered serious embarrassment when it botched the detention of Ovidio Guzman, a son of incarcerated kingpin Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman.
Guanajuato’s government said security forces captured Yepez and five other suspected gang members in a village called Franco Tavera in the Santa Cruz de Juventino Rosas municipality, a few miles north of where the Santa Rosa de Lima Cartel was born.
During the swoop on two buildings, soldiers freed a local businesswoman who had been kidnapped and seized a cache of weapons, including a grenade launcher, the Defense Ministry said.
Three people were found in the second property, including a sixth suspected gangster.
News network Milenio broadcast a video of the night-time arrest of Yepez, who was wearing a grey hooded sweatshirt, jeans and sneakers. Flanked by several soldiers, Yepez gave his full name and age before also identifying himself as “Marro.”
Security forces have been gradually closing in on Yepez but he had managed to evade capture thanks to a tight network of informers who allowed him to stay one step ahead of his pursuers, according to analysts and media reports.
A thorn in the government’s side for several years, El Marro has appeared in expletive-laden videos threatening his enemies, and in June a clip of an emotional Yepez lamenting the arrest of his mother and sister was widely broadcast.