US joined Central American bid to nab Mexico drug lord

By Dialogo
September 16, 2010

Authorities in Central America, Colombia and the US joined forces in a 10-month probe to capture one of Mexico’s most wanted men, alleged drug kingpin Sergio Villarreal, officials said on September 13.

Villarreal, dubbed “El Grande” because he stands some two meters (six feet six inches) tall, was arrested as a result of the long collaboration between “agencies from Central America, Colombia and the United States,” Jose Luis Vergara, director of communications for Mexico’s marines said.

Villarreal, who is said to work for the notorious Beltran Leyva cartel, was detained in a peaceful operation in the central Mexican city of Puebla.

Mexican authorities had offered a reward of up to 30 million pesos (2.2 million dollars) for information leading to his arrest.

According to authorities, Villarreal was a key participant in a bloody struggle for the leadership of the Beltran Leyva cartel that began after former chief Arturo Beltran Leyva was killed last year.

Beltran’s death “created a schism within the organization,” Vergara told reporters here.

Villarreal and Hector Beltran Leyva, Arturo’s brother, were feuding with would-be cartel leaders including Edgar Valdez, also known as “La Barbie,” who was captured by authorities on August 30.

“La Barbie,” so-called for his fair complexion and light colored eyes, is accused by both Mexican and US authorities of drug trafficking and murders.

Villarreal is similarly accused by Mexican authorities of trafficking and carrying out murders for several of the country’s brutal drug cartels, which have killed tens of thousands of people in bloody turf wars and confrontations with Mexican authorities.

The leadership struggle within the Beltran Leyva cartel has left dozens of people dead, with authorities in cities including Acapulco and Cuernavaca discovering multiple bodies, some of them beheaded or mutilated.

Villarreal’s arrest provided a much-needed boost for President Felipe Calderon, who so far has been unable to forge a national consensus around the war on drugs he unleashed four years ago.

More than 28,000 people are believed to have been killed in drug cartel-related violence in Mexico since 2006, when Calderon launched a military crackdown.