By Dudley Althaus
The Houston Chronicle
MEXICO CITY — Mexican army troops captured a leader of the country's most important drug trafficking organization Monday as the government's offensive against organized crime continued.
Alfredo Beltran Leyva, a member of a family allied with the so-called Sinaloa Cartel drug smuggling organization, was captured during an army sweep in Culiacan, the capital of the violent Pacific Coast state for which the organization is named.
Beltran Leyva had responsibilities for smuggling cocaine and other narcotics through a wide swath of western Mexico, officials said in announcing the arrest.
The Sinaloa Cartel, under at least the nominal control of Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, is widely considered the most important organized crime syndicate in Mexico.
The organization's rivalry with the Gulf Cartel, another gangster confederation from cities bordering Texas, has been responsible for much of the underworld violence now claiming more than 2,000 lives a year in Mexico. Much of the violence in recent years in Nuevo Laredo, across the Rio Grande from Laredo, has been blamed on the Beltran Leyva family's battle with Gulf Cartel gunmen.
Members of the Gulf Cartel, whose purported leader Osiel Cardenas is jailed in Houston awaiting federal trial on drug charges, have long claimed that the government favors the Sinaloa gangsters. But authorities have gone after the Sinaloa group, seizing 23 tons of cocaine last fall from a ship docked in Manzanillo and arresting a number of its members.
Bush proposes help
Monday's arrest follows a large-scale operation last week in the border city of Tijuana, home of yet another "cartel" that resulted in a number of arrests and deaths, including those of six kidnap victims being held in a gangster safehouse.
Mexican troops have also battled the Gulf Cartel in the cities Rio Bravo and Reynosa, which border the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Nearly two dozen alleged gangsters were arrested in sweeps in Coahuila and Tamauilipas states, which border South Texas.
The Bush administration has proposed a $1.4 billion, multiyear program of equipment upgrades, intelligence improvement and police training to aid Mexican President Felipe Calderon's offensive against the smuggling gangs. Congress is expected to vote on the proposal sometime this summer.
"When Mexico takes dangerous criminals like Beltran Leyva and his crew off the streets, the people of the United States also benefit," U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza said in a statement praising the arrest.
Calderon launched his campaign upon taking office 13 months ago. Despite successes in drug seizures and arrests, the offensive has yet to stem the violence, which claimed more than 2,500 lives last year.
Copyright 2008 The Houston Chronicle
Leader of powerful Mexican drug cartel nabbed