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Mexican pop star, associates gunned down

Times Staff Writer

A popular singer, his manager and his driver were gunned down Saturday in an ambush after a concert in the border city of Reynosa in an apparent gangland hit, as unabated drug-related violence continued across Mexico.

The singer, 27-year-old Valentin Elizalde, was killed about 20 minutes after he performed at a fair. Elizalde was a mainstay of the accordion-based norteno music variously known as banda or grupero, and was also known as “the Golden Rooster.”

According to media reports, two vehicles chased Elizalde’s black Suburban as he left the concert and opened fire with automatic weapons before dozens of witnesses. As many as 70 spent cartridges were found on the street around Elizalde’s SUV. According to media reports, Elizalde was hit as many as eight times.

The singer often toured in the United States and recorded several albums for Universal Music. Among his biggest hits were “Vete Ya,” “Ebrio de Amor” and “Soy Asi.”

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He also penned lyrics honoring one of Mexico’s most notorious drug lords, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, leader of the Sinaloa cartel. Last year, he sang one of his narcocorridos, ballads honoring the exploits of drug dealers, to a crowd of more than 3,000 convicts at the Puente Grande prison in the central state of Jalisco.

Guzman escaped from a neighboring prison in 2001 and remains at large.

More than 2,000 people have been killed in the continuing war among competing cartels and the police over Mexico’s lucrative trade in illicit drugs, according to media reports.

On Saturday, the toll included a federal prosecutor gunned down in the northern city of Monterrey, and a police chief and city councilman in the Monterrey suburb of Santa Catarina.

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Baltazar Gomez Trejo of Santa Catarina was the sixth police chief killed in the northern state of Nuevo Leon this year.

He had been in office for 23 days and had purged the city’s drug-enforcement unit, according to the newspaper El Universal.

In a ceremony this month at the Gibson Amphitheatre in Hollywood, Elizalde received the “soloist of the year” prize at Los Premios de la Radio awards for regional Mexican music. He was depicted in a mural in Pico Rivera, a Southern California center for norteno music, in December.

The son of a musician, Elizalde was born in the northern state of Sonora. Once a law student, he began recording in the late 1990s.

According to the Guadalajara newspaper Mural, the convicts at Puente Grande joined in with Elizalde on “Clave Privada” (Secret Code), a song celebrating Guzman’s exploits, when Elizalde performed a Mexican Independence Day concert there in 2005.

Guzman’s Sinaloa cartel is battling the Gulf cartel and other criminal groups for control of key smuggling points across the U.S.-Mexico border.

In a 2005 Spanish-language interview with the Associated Press, Elizalde defended narcocorrido songs.

“In no way do I think they should be banned, because they are part of popular expression, what the people sing and what they want,” he said. “All we do is sing them, like minstrels.”

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hector.tobar@latimes.com


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