Federal police have captured a man described as a key operator of the powerful Sinaloa cartel who served briefly in the U.S. army before taking on the trafficking of 2 tons of cocaine a month into the United States.
Jose Vasquez Villagrana, 40, was arrested Sunday in his home town of Santa Ana, Sonora, which borders Arizona, authorities said Monday.
He joined the U.S. military in Arizona in 1990 and deserted a year after getting his U.S. citizenship, according to Mexico's federal Public Safety Department. He is believed to have returned to Mexico, where he began trafficking.
Vasquez is accused of smuggling Colombian cocaine through Panama and other countries to the northern Mexican state of Sonora. The drugs were stored at his ranch and then sent to the United States.
U.S. officials could not immediately confirm Vasquez's citizenship nor his role in the U.S. military.
Police described Vasquez as a key player in the Sinaloa cartel, although he does not appear on a list of Mexico's most-wanted traffickers.
Vasquez slowly built up his operation in Sonora, eventually buying planes that he put at the service of Sinaloa kingpin Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, police said.
He initially worked with the Beltran Leyva gang but sided with Guzman when the two organizations split, the police statement said.
Vasquez's capture comes amid accusations dogging President Felipe Calderon that his government has not pursued the Sinaloa cartel as aggressively as other gangs.
Sinaloa - a west-coast state where 14 people were killed Sunday - has not seen the benefits of Calderon's frontal assault on cartels, said Manuel Clouthier, a Sinaloa lawmaker from Calderon's National Action Party.
"The government of Felipe Calderon is 3 years old and in Sinaloa, we have not seen decisive action against the narcos," Clouthier said. "Nothing serious is being done."
The government has denied the allegations, and party leaders demanded that Clouthier retract his remarks. He has refused.
Sunday was a particularly bloody day in Sinaloa, said the state's Attorney General Martin Gastelum.
In the worst incident, six people - including two women and a minor - were found shot to death in a cemetery in the Juan Jose Rios. In the same town, two men were found strangled in a house, one with the cable of an iron and another with a wire hanger.
Investigators have not determined whether the 14 deaths were related.
Since taking office, Calderon has sent tens of thousands of troops to trafficking hotspots across Mexico, vowing to wrest back territory from brutal cartels, which have responded with record violence.
More than 15,000 people have been killed by drug violence since 2006, including the Sinaloa cartel's chief rival, Arturo Beltran Leyva, who died in a shootout with marines in December. Weeks later, troops captured Teodoro Garcia Simental, the alleged leader of a gang that broke with the Tijuana cartel and aligned itself with the Sinaloa organization.
Dozens of banners have appeared in the past week in seven Mexican states accusing government officials and police - some by name - of protecting the Sinaloa cartel. The banners were purportedly signed by the Zetas, a group of hit men tied to the Gulf cartel.
Such banners and speculation have been common since Sinaloa leader Guzman bribed his way out of a Mexican prison in 2001.
By ALEXANDRA OLSON
February 22, 2010
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Mexico captures Sinaloa cartel cocaine trafficker