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Mexico nabs a top cartel boss in a trendy Mexico City neighborhood

Kate Linthicum, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

MEXICO CITY -- Mexican authorities have arrested the alleged leader of the Zetas drug cartel -- long one of the country's most powerful and notoriously brutal criminal groups.

Jose Maria Guizar Valencia, who is accused of overseeing an organization that traffics thousands of pounds of cocaine and methamphetamine to the United States each year, was nabbed Thursday while entering a hotel in a fashionable neighborhood in Mexico City, authorities said Friday.

Mexican National Security Commissioner Renato Sales said in a statement that Guizar, 38, was captured without force.

In a nation gripped by escalating violence driven by warring criminal groups, Guizar was one of Mexico's most-wanted men. The United States had offered a $5 million reward for his arrest and had formally requested his extradition. Sales said there are arrest warrants for Guizar in several U.S. states for crimes including arms smuggling, kidnapping and murder.

His capture was celebrated by public officials from both sides of the border, with U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Roberta Jacobson tweeting that Guizar's arrest and other law enforcement efforts "make Mexico and the United States safer."

But others reacted with caution, noting that in the past, Mexico's "kingpin strategy" of targeting cartel leaders has not reduced violence, and in fact may have increased it.

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In the decade since Mexico sent tens of thousands of soldiers into the streets to battle drug trafficking organizations so powerful they were often compared to multinational corporations, dozens of drug lords, including Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, have been taken into custody or killed.

While the kingpin strategy may have stopped Mexico from being completely overtaken by drug cartels, it unleashed a wave of bloodshed as criminals fought for control of lucrative drug trafficking routes and extortion and fuel theft schemes. Mexico's homicide rate is soaring. Last year it hit a 20-year high.

"It must be said that as soon as a leader is arrested, another leader often appears," security expert Ricardo Ravelo said in a radio interview Friday.

In the year since Guzman was extradited to face charges of murder and drug trafficking in the U.S., his Sinaloa cartel has weakened significantly, and is now battling an ascendant group called the Jalisco New Generation Cartel in several states.


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