MEXICO UNDER SIEGE
Mexican authorities on Thursday announced the capture of Vicente Carrillo Leyva, a suspected top leader of a family-run drug gang based in Ciudad Juarez and one of the country’s most wanted figures.
Federal law enforcement officials said Carrillo Leyva, the 32-year-old son of deceased drug kingpin Amado Carrillo Fuentes, was arrested Wednesday while exercising in a wealthy neighborhood of Mexico City.
The younger Carrillo was listed among the country’s 24 most wanted drug suspects last week when the federal government offered $2-million rewards for each. Authorities described him as an heir to the organization once led by his father, who was known as the “Lord of the Skies” for his use of aircraft to move drugs.
The announcement came on the same day U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. and Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano met outside Mexico City with top Mexican security officials to discuss how to stanch the southbound smuggling of weapons to drug cartels from the United States.
The arrest of Carrillo Leyva represents a significant victory for Mexican President Felipe Calderon’s 28-month-old war against drug traffickers. But authorities say the younger Carrillo’s uncle, Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, known as “the Viceroy,” remains in place as the leader of one of the four largest trafficking organizations in Mexico.
Carrillo Leyva, considered the Juarez group’s No. 2 figure, helped manage the gang and launder proceeds from its drug sales, authorities said.
Officials said Carrillo Leyva was living in Mexico City under an assumed name: Alejandro Peralta Alvarez. They said they were able to find him in part because his wife, Celia Karina Quevedo Gastelum, kept her name.
Mexico is seeing a crop of younger, university-educated narcojuniors emerging as leaders of drug-trafficking organizations that are bound primarily by family ties. Carrillo Leyva was paraded before news cameras in a white Abercrombie & Fitch sweatsuit and stylish glasses -- a far cry from the narco archetype decked out in cowboy boots and oversized jewel-studded belt buckles.
Two weeks ago, Mexican authorities arrested the 33-year-old son of Sinaloa-based suspected trafficker Ismael Zambada in another wealthy section of Mexico City. He was presented to reporters looking chic in jeans, dress shirt, jacket and fashionably stubbly face.
Marisela Morales Ibanez, who heads the organized crime unit of the Mexican attorney general’s office, said Carrillo Leyva’s capture reflects the “absolute commitment of the federal government to combat all organized crime groups that attack the peace, tranquillity and security of the population.”
The Juarez gang has been locked in a vicious turf war with a band of traffickers based in the northwestern state of Sinaloa and led by Joaquin Guzman, the country’s most wanted fugitive.
The bloodletting left about 1,600 people dead in Ciudad Juarez last year. Violence continued in the border city during the first two months of 2009 but has dipped since Calderon sent 5,000 more troops and hundreds of additional federal police there in recent weeks.
At least 10,000 people have died nationwide since Calderon launched his crackdown on organized crime groups soon after taking office in December 2006.
Thursday’s meeting of top U.S. and Mexican officials near the city of Cuernavaca produced fresh pledges on both sides of common action against gun trafficking. But there were few specifics beyond creation of a binational working group to recommend strategies.
The visit of Napolitano and Holder comes amid a flurry of diplomacy between the neighboring countries. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spent two days in Mexico last week on a visit that focused on border security. President Obama is scheduled to visit April 16-17.
Last week, Napolitano unveiled a border security plan aimed at attacking the cartels and keeping serious violence from spilling into the United States. The plan envisions sending hundreds more federal agents and intelligence analysts to the border region.
Clinton said the White House would seek funding to provide Mexican authorities with $80 million worth of Black Hawk helicopters. Some of those funds would come out of $700 million already approved under the three-year security aid plan for Mexico known as the Merida Initiative.
U.S. and Mexican military officials have discussed greater cooperation against drug-trafficking groups, but Calderon this week ruled out joint operations on his country’s soil.
U.S. lawmakers have proposed boosting aid to Mexico, which already was to receive a total of $1.4 billion under the Merida program, now in its second year.
Mexican officials have urged U.S. authorities to clamp down on the smuggling of drug money and the thousands of assault rifles and other weapons that fortify the cartels’ arsenals.
U.S. law enforcement agencies estimate that Mexican and Colombian traffickers make $18 billion to $39 billion in the U.S. each year -- much of it smuggled back into Mexico.
In addition, the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives says 90% of weapons seized in Mexico and reported to the agency can be traced to the United States.
“There’s no question that the vast majority of weapons, and especially high-powered weapons, that are found here in Mexico . . . come from the United States,” Holder told reporters. “That’s the reality we have to face.”