Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

La Barbie: From Football Star to Feared Drug Lord

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

La Barbie: From Football Star to Feared Drug Lord

Article excerpt

La Barbie, whose real name is Edgar Valdez Villarreal, was a Texas football star before he moved to Mexico City and joined the Sinaloa Cartel.

Clambering to proclaim victory after more than three years of bloody narcotics warfare, Mexican authorities paraded a Texas-born accused kingpin before the media Tuesday and offered abundant details of his climb through the violent drug underworld before his capture Monday in a mountain hideout.

While speculation surged that Mexico would deport Edgar Valdez Villarreal, a 37-year-old former football star from Laredo, Texas, to stand trial in the United States, where he's still a citizen, there was no immediate sign of action by Mexico or the US.

Federal Police commissioner Facundo Rosas said the capture of Valdez, who's known by the unlikely nickname of "La Barbie," came after a yearlong hunt that involved as many as 1,200 law enforcement officers.

By Monday afternoon, a ring of security officers encircled the rustic mountain house in Salazar, about 20 miles west of Mexico City, where Valdez had holed up, Rosas said. Mobile phone service in the area was spotty, and the target and six underlings couldn't summon backup to fight their way free, he said. They were detained around 6:30 p.m. without any gunfire.

"Intelligence information indicates that 'La Barbie' trafficked one ton of cocaine each month," Federal Police counternarcotics chief Ramon Pequeno said at a news conference Tuesday.

His capture gives a boost to President Felipe Calderon, who declared war on drug cartels after coming to power in late 2006. The death toll, which recently soared past 28,000 people, has soured many Mexicans on Calderon's tough drug-enforcement policies. Valdez is the third top drug lord to be arrested or killed in nine months.

Government officials seemed to be seeking to regain support by offering abundant details about Valdez's background and capture.

Poire declared that Valdez maintained ties to drug gangs operating in the US and Central and South America, and a series of arrests during the day in Colombia appeared to bear out that claim.

From Laredo to Mexico City

Born in Laredo, Valdez's moved to Mexico City, where in 1998 he met Arturo Beltran-Leyva, a drug lord working for the surging Sinaloa Cartel, Pequeno said. As the Texan worked his way up the criminal chain, first in Nuevo Laredo along the border, then starting in 2004 in the Pacific Coast resort of Acapulco, he nurtured a reputation for extreme violence, including frequent beheadings of the Beltran-Leyva group's enemies.

The grisly reputation contrasted with his unlikely nickname, given because of his blue eyes and fair complexion - reminiscent of Ken, the Barbie doll's companion.

By 2007, Valdez ranked senior enough to take part in a meeting in the weekend getaway of Cuernavaca in which bosses of the Sinaloa, Juarez and Gulf cartels - along with the Gulf Cartel's armed wing, Los Zetas - gathered to hash out an end to conflict between the rival groups, Pequeno said. …

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