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In Mexico's drug kingpin landscape, who will replace 'La Barbie'?

August 31, 2010 | 11:03 am

La barbie mexico kingpin latimes

Federal police in Mexico on Monday captured a notorious drug kingpin, Edgar Valdez Villarreal, also known as "La Barbie." Valdez, 37, is the Texas-born don with boyish blondish looks, considered attractive in Mexico, who operated within the Beltran Leyva drug-trafficking organization.

Authorities presented Valdez in a customary parade before the Mexican press Tuesday morning. The captured kingpin, wearing the same jeans and polo shirt from his Monday arrest, looked down a few times and smiled sheepishly, or shrugged, ignoring questions (see video in Spanish at El Universal). Valdez allegedly trafficked a ton of cocaine a month, federal police said (link in Spanish).

The arrest is a victory for President Felipe Calderon and his struggling, nearly four-year-long assault on powerful cartels, but few people here are likely cheering at the news. In Mexico, the removal of one drug-trafficking boss usually leads to a flurry of violence as various deputies, or even outsiders, attempt to move in and fill the power vacuum. Valdez had been locked in just such a battle with Hector Beltran Leyva, brother to Arturo Beltran Leyva, the cartel chief who died in a shootout with Mexican marines in December. 

As Tracy Wilkinson reports in The Times: "But arresting Valdez will not necessarily quell the violence since others may rise to fight for control of the Beltran Leyva operations."

The question for many now is, 'Who will take La Barbie's place?' A top anti-organized crime investigator told reporters that Valdez has already told them of a "summit" held last year in Cuernavaca between top drug kingpins, an attempt to quell the surging violence across the country (link in Spanish). But the death of Arturo Beltran Leyva caused those talks to break down.

-- Daniel Hernandez in Mexico City

Photo: Edgar Valdez Villarreal, or "La Barbie," after his arrest Monday. Credit: Mexico federal policeMexico

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