MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Mexican soldiers have captured a top member of the Sinaloa cartel in a raid in western Mexico as the government tries to chase down the gang’s leader and most-wanted trafficker Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman.
Suspected drug boss Martin Beltran Coronel, a cousin of slain kingpin Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel, was arrested on Thursday in Mexico’s second city Guadalajara, the army said on Friday as they presented him to the media in the Mexican capital.
His arrest could provide vital intelligence for President Felipe Calderon’s military campaign against cartels waging a brutal war for control of drug routes to the United States.
Bearded and wearing a bright orange vest, Beltran Coronel, known in the criminal underworld as “El Aguila” (The Eagle), appeared with three other suspects, including a woman, who are all accused of running cocaine from South America.
“Beltran Coronel had the blessing of Joaquin Guzman ... which made him part of the leadership of the cartel,” Colonel Edgar Luis Villegas told reporters in the presentation, adding that he was arrested in an swanky neighborhood of the wealthy Zapopan suburb of Guadalajara.
Soldiers also found weapons, jewelry and more than $400,000 in cash, all U.S. dollars, the army said.
Beltran Coronel took over from “Nacho” Coronel, who was shot dead by soldiers last July in a dramatic sweep in Guadalajara, the army said. “Nacho” Coronel was one of the country’s most-wanted traffickers, known as the “King of Ice” for his multimillion-dollar methamphetamine business.
Guzman, who U.S. anti-drug officials say is the most powerful criminal in the Americas, escaped from a high security prison in a laundry van in 2001 and has consolidated huge power over the past decade, making him the top target in joint U.S. and Mexican efforts to crush the drug cartels.
Constantly on the move, Guzman is believed to be hiding in and around his home state of Sinaloa in northwestern Mexico.
Calderon’s image has been stained by the violence that has killed more than 38,000 people across Mexico since late 2006, and rights group say he has failed to implement promised clean-ups of corruption in police, courts and prisons.
The government says the growing violence is a sign of the cartels’ weakness. Security experts say taking down capos is having little effect on the drugs trade, instead risking more of the violence that scares some investors. Violence in Guadalajara has surged since Coronel’s death. [ID:nN09167340] (Reporting by Alberto Fajardo in Mexico City and Robin Emmott in Monterrey; editing by Anthony Boadle)