Mexican police have captured alleged drug lord Carlos Beltran Leyva, just two weeks after his even more powerful brother was killed in a shootout with troops — back-to-back victories in President Felipe Calderon's drug war.
The Public Safety Department said in a statement Saturday night that Carlos Beltran Leyva was arrested in Culiacan, the capital of the Pacific coast state of Sinaloa, where he and several of his brothers were born and allegedly started their gang.
Two weeks ago, his brother Arturo, reputed chief of the Beltran Leyva cartel, was killed in a shootout with Mexican marines in the central city of Cuernavaca. He was the highest-ranking cartel suspect taken down since Calderon sent tens of thousands of soldiers and federal police across the country three years ago to fight brutal drug gangs.
Mexican officials in the past have described Carlos Beltran Levya, 40, as a key member of the gang, but it was unclear if he took over as chief of the cartel after his brother died.
A third brother, Alfredo, was arrested in January 2008. At least one other brother, Mario, remains at large and is listed as one of Mexico's 24 most-wanted drug lords, with a $2 million reward offered for his capture. Carlos Beltran was not included on the list, although the Public Safety Department said there had been a warrant for his arrest since 2008.
Officials from the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, whose intelligence information helped track down Arturo Beltran Leyva, have said one of the brothers would likely fill the void. DEA intelligence chief Anthony Placido said last month the U.S. was getting sporadic reports of plots to break Alfredo Beltran Leyva out of prison.
The arrest of Carlos Beltran Leyva sent a strong signal that Calderon's government has no intention of backing down in its campaign to destroy the cartel despite a chilling reprisal attack for Arturo Beltran Leyva' death. Days after he was killed, gunmen massacred the mother and three other relatives of a marine who died in the Dec. 16 shootout.
Calderon vowed he would not be intimidated. However, authorities were far quieter in announcing Carlos Beltran Leyva's capture, waiting three days to make the arrest public.
In its terse statement, the Public Safety Department said federal police found Beltran Leyva on Wednesday carrying two guns, ammunition and a false driver's license identifying him as Carlos Gamez Orpineda. He later acknowledged he was Arturo Beltran Leyva's brother, the department said.
Public Safety officials said there would be no immediate comment beyond the statement.
The Beltran Leyva brothers worked side by side with Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, the leader of the Sinaloa Cartel, before they broke away after Gulf Cartel leader Osiel Cardenas was arrested in 2003. They soon seized the lucrative drug routes in northeastern Mexico.
U.S. officials say the Beltran Leyva cartel has carried out heinous killings, including numerous beheadings. The gang also has had great success in buying off public officials, police and others to protect their business and get tips on planned military raids.
While a victory for the Calderon government, the downfall of the Beltran Leyva brothers has raised fears of an intensified turf battle over areas controlled by the beleaguered cartel, leading to more deaths in a war that has already killed more than 15,000 people since Calderon took office in 2006.
In a possible sign of that fight, the bound, beaten bodies of two men were found Wednesday hanging by their necks from a highway overpass in the Sinaloa town of Los Mochis.
Nearby, a message written on a piece of cardboard said in part that "this territory already has an owner." The message appeared to be from the Beltran Leyva cartel.
By ALEXANDRA OLSON
January 3, 2010