MEXICO CITY — Mexican authorities on Tuesday paraded a top drug lord in public, presenting his capture as a much-needed victory in the escalating battle against the country's vicious traffickers.
As police in Mexico City presented US-born Edgar Valdez Villarreal, known as "the Barbie" for his fair complexion, eight people were reported killed in a suspected drug gang attack on a bar in the beach resort of Cancun.
Valdez, 37, was a key lieutenant of Arturo Beltran Leyva, who headed the cartel that bears his name and was Mexico's third most-wanted man until his December 2009 death in a military operation.
"The Barbie," whose jokey name belies a gruesome reputation as the head of an assassination squad, appeared smiling in a police line-up, wearing a green polo shirt, along with six other suspects.
Valdez was captured in central Mexico, following intelligence work which began in June 2009 and involved some 1,200 police, officials said.
Federal police chief Facundo Rosas did not rule out that Valdez could be sent to the United States, where he faces several indictments for drug trafficking.
"We're grateful for the aggressive action and commitment by Mexico, "said US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley in Washington on Tuesday.
The State Department offered up to two million dollars for information leading to his capture, while Mexican authorities offered a similar amount.
Born in the Texan border city of Laredo, Valdez was responsible for dozens of deaths in central Mexico and near the Pacific beach resort of Acapulco in recent months, according to Mexican authorities.
Many of those killed were mutilated, beheaded or hung from bridges.
The arrest offers some relief to President Felipe Calderon's government as it struggles to assert control amid escalating violence in northeastern Mexico, including the massacre of 72 migrants last week, blamed on the Zetas gang.
The bar targeted in Tuesday's attack in a residential area of Cancun, in southeastern Mexico, had reported two earlier attempts at extortion, apparently by the Zetas.
Authorities have removed a string of top drug bosses in recent months amid their controversial military crackdown on organized crime which has accompanied a spike in violence -- more than 28,000 people have been killed in suspected drug attacks since 2006.
But analysts say the killing of one drug lord can lead to more violence as rivals seek to take over.
Valdez was thought to have been involved in a power struggle to replace Arturo Beltran Leyva after the gang was dealt a severe blow with their leader's death last December, followed by the arrest of his younger brother, Carlos.
The gang broke off from the powerful Sinaloa drug trafficking organization in 2008, and was thought to have made an alliance with the Zetas.
The Mexican government on Monday said that 3,200 members of the federal police force -- nearly 10 percent -- had been fired this year to try to root out corruption.
The move sought to clean up the notoriously corrupt police in a campaign which has become increasingly urgent as drug violence escalates across the country.
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