By Lizbeth Diaz and David Alire Garcia
MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexico has captured a leader of the country's Gulf Cartel in one of the highest-profile arrests in months in President Felipe Calderon's war on drug gangs.
Mario Cardenas, alias "Fatso," was captured in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas on Monday by Mexican marines. He was paraded in front of the media in Mexico City on Tuesday.
"The capture was carried out following an infantry operation yesterday in Altamira, Tamaulipas, as (Cardenas) brandished a large weapon in the entrance of a building," Navy spokesman Vice Admiral Jose Luis Vergarathe said.
The Gulf Cartel's power has waned in recent years in a feud with Mexico's most brutal gang, the Zetas, which began life providing protection to the cartel's operations in northeastern Mexico.
"This is certainly a hit to the cartel, but historically new leaders are tapped very quickly," said Vicente Sanchez, a Tijuana-based security researcher with Mexico's Northern Border University.
Sanchez added that it's too soon to tell how Cardenas' capture will affect the balance of power between the Gulf Cartel and the Zetas going forward.
Cardenas has helped run the Gulf Cartel since his brother Antonio Cardenas, known as "Tony Tormenta," was killed in a 2010 gunfight with the Mexican government.
Wearing a blue flak jacket and flip-flops and flanked by two masked marines wielding semiautomatic rifles, the balding Cardenas stood impassively, looking up occasionally, as officials read out details of the operation to capture him.
An official said he was caught with weapons, ammunition, around $10,000 worth of pesos in cash, and four small envelopes containing a white powder that appeared to be cocaine.
Cardenas was arrested and convicted on organized crime charges in 1995. He was first incarcerated in a prison in the city of Matamoros, across the U.S.-Mexico border from Brownsville, Texas, where he was caught organizing large shipments of cocaine and marijuana from inside the prison walls.
In 2003, he was transferred to the Puente Grande prison in western Mexico, the same facility where Joaquin "Shorty" Guzman, head of the Sinaloa cartel and Mexico's most wanted man, escaped in a laundry cart in 2001.
Cardenas was released from Puente Grande in 2007. Authorities suspect the Gulf Cartel split in two branches following his brother's killing, with some following him and others a rival.
During Calderon's six-year offensive against cartels, there have been more than 55,000 drug-related killings. More than 3,000 police and soldiers have died, although many were involved with the gangs.
(Editing by Simon Gardner, Eric Beech and Jackie Frank)