MEXICO CITY — Mexico officials announced late Monday that they captured Edgar Valdez Villarreal, or “La Barbie,” one of the country’s most-wanted men. Authorities have described him as a powerful drug lord responsible for supplying the American market with cocaine.
The arrest handed Mexican President Felipe Calderón a badly needed victory just ahead of his annual state-of-the-union address Wednesday.
Mr. Valdez, who was born in Texas and nicknamed “La Barbie” for his fair complexion, was captured Monday outside Mexico City. He is the third major trafficking suspect to be taken down in the past eight months. The military killed Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel, a suspected leader in the Sinaloa Cartel, in a July operation in Jalisco. In December, Arturo Beltran Leyva, the founder of a group that Valdez is allegedly vying to control, was killed by Mexican marines.
The capture is already being touted by Calderón’s administration as a major success. “The capture of Valdez Villarreal is a high-impact blow against organized crime,” national security spokesman Alejandro Poire said in an e-mailed statement Monday night.
Mr. Poire said the capture demonstrates that the federal government’s public security office and its intelligence-gathering operations are capable. He said the search for the suspected drug lord was carried out across six Mexican states.
The government says that Valdez, 37, is a top player in the Beltran Leyva Cartel, and that his power has grown since the group´s founder Arturo Beltran Leyva was killed late last year. The group is suspected of being behind the growing violence in the central state of Mexico, bringing the types of beheadings and gangland violence to the capital region that were once confined to border towns hundreds of miles away.
Poire called Valdez a “highly dangerous criminal” who made connections with groups in Central and South America to smuggle drugs into the US, where he is also wanted. The US had offered $2 million for his capture, after an indictment alleged he had smuggled thousands of pounds of cocaine into the US.
The capture comes amid a string of recent setbacks for the Calderón administration, including the assassination of two mayors, a massacre of 72 migrants, and car bombs and continued attacks against journalists.
On Monday, 3,200 federal police were fired for alleged corruption and other offenses, another blow to an administration attempting to rebuild the federal police force and instill public trust in the institution.
But it is unclear whether the capture will quell violence or cause it to increase in the short-term. More than 28,000 people have been killed since Calderón took office nearly four years ago, in part, the government says, because pressure has caused drug gangs to splinter and fight one another.