Mexico Captures Reputed Drug Lord 'The Barbie'

A reputed drug lord believed to be involved in a brutal turf war is in custody. Mexican federal police say they arrested Edgar Valdez Villarreal near Mexico City. Valdez, aka "The Barbie," also is wanted in the U.S. on drug trafficking charges.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Its MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne.

Some good news in Mexicos bloody drug war. It has captured one of its most wanted drug lords. He's known as La Barbie, as in the doll, because hes considered good-looking - that combined with a reputation for a chilling brutality. He was important enough that Mexico and the United States had a $2 million reward on his head.

NPRs Jason Beaubien joins us from Mexico City. Good morning.

JASON BEAUBIEN: Good morning.

MONTAGNE: Tell us more about the arrest and more about who this man is.

BEAUBIEN: This is quite a big blow against organized crime in Mexico. This is Edgar Valdez Villarreal - as you said, known as La Barbie. He moved his way up through the Sinaloan cartel, became very important in the Beltran Leyva organization as that organization was falling apart. He has branched off on his own and has been causing a lot of chaos around Cuernavaca, just south of Mexico City.

Yes, theres a $2 million reward, both from the Mexican government and another separate one from the U.S. government. He grew up in Texas, one of the rare U.S. born and bred members of the drug cartels and leaders of these drug cartels. And he was known as incredibly brutal. He ran the enforcement wing of the Beltran Leyva organization, basically carrying out a lot of their killing, a lot of their torturing and a lot of their ancillary crime, robbery, extortion, kidnappings, things like that.

MONTAGNE: So this is a guy who was born in Texas. How did he end up getting so high up in a Mexican drug cartel?

BEAUBIEN: It actually is one of the things thats unique about Valdez, about La Barbie, is that he is a U.S. citizen. He grew up in Texas. He was a high school football star in Laredo, where he went to school, and this was one of his strengths, actually, was that he had feet in both worlds. Hes fluent both in Spanish and in English, started out as a small-time marijuana dealer on the U.S. side of the border, got involved with the cartels, and then quickly rose up through the ranks.

So yes, hes very unique inside the Mexican drug cartel world. There are other Americans who've been arrested but there's nobody from the U.S. who is as high up as La Barbie is inside these organizations.

MONTAGNE: So a big victory for President Calderon?

BEAUBIEN: Absolutely. And its a big victory at a time when President Calderon is really looking for some good news in this fight against organized crime. Just last week, he had 72 migrants killed in Tamaulipas, apparently by the Los Zetas, another one of the drug cartels thats also involved in human smuggling and kidnapping. Also another mayor was killed yesterday up in Tamaulipas.

There have been six mayors assassinated just in the past couple of months in Mexico, presumably all of them by the drug cartels. There was a gubernatorial candidate that was gunned down just days before the election. So yes, for President Calderon this is progress, this is what hes trying to do to chop the heads off some of these cartels.

MONTAGNE: And Jason, what happens next then? I mean he's a U.S. citizen, but what? Hell be tried in Mexico, or will he be extradited to the U.S. for drug trafficking charges?

BEAUBIEN: Most likely he will be extradited to the United States. That has been the strategy of the Calderon administration with these very high-profile figures. They actually dont want them inside the Mexican prison system for fear that they will corrupt the system around them and eventually break out or continue to run the organizations from inside the penal system here in Mexico. So its most likely that the Calderon administration will try to just extradite him to the United States, face the charges that hes facing in the United States, and have him completely out of their hair.

MONTAGNE: Jason, thanks very much.

BEAUBIEN: Youre welcome.

MONTAGNE: NPR's Jason Beaubien, speaking to us from Mexico City.

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