Pubdate: Sat, 15 Mar 2003
Source: San Jose Mercury News (CA)
Copyright: 2003 San Jose Mercury News
Author: Mark Stevenson, Associated Press


MEXICO CITY - Reputed drug lord Osiel Cardenas was arrested Friday after a 
shootout with Mexican soldiers, cutting short the career of a man so bold 
he once threatened U.S. federal agents, leading the FBI to offer a $2 
million reward for his capture.

Allegedly the leader of the gulf drug cartel and the third major drug boss 
to fall in the last year, Cardenas was arrested in Matamoros, across from 
Brownsville, Texas, Defense Secretary Gen. Gerardo Vega Garca told a news 

Three Mexican soldiers were wounded, one seriously, in the shootout with 
Cardenas' henchmen, who Vega said numbered at least 300 throughout the 
border state of Tamaulipas. Vega did not say how many took part in Friday's 
shootout, nor how many were arrested besides Cardenas.

"There was a confrontation with his people, and he's got a lot of them. . . 
. Shots were fired," Vega said, adding that the arrest came as the result 
of a six-month investigation.

Long bursts of automatic weapons fire echoed throughout the 
lower-middle-class neighborhood of Matamoros where the shootout took place, 
and television footage showed one wounded soldier being loaded onto a 

Cardenas is wanted by the FBI on charges of organized crime, drug 
smuggling, money laundering and assaulting federal agents. He was flown by 
police to an undisclosed location to await arraignment.

Vega said Mexico has received a U.S. request for Cardenas' extradition, but 
noted that "he will face justice here in Mexico first" on drug, weapons and 
homicide charges before extradition is considered. Mexico generally 
extradites its citizens, as long they won't face the death penalty or life 

U.S. Ambassador Tony Garza praised the arrest as "a great victory for law 
enforcement," adding that "there is no doubt that Americans and Mexicans 
will be a lot better off with him and his cohorts behind bars."

However, Garza urged Mexican and U.S. officials to "not let our guard down" 
and continue working together to arrest drug leaders.

Cardenas, 35, is believed to be linked to the kidnapping and killing of 
four Mexican anti-drug agents in recent months.

But what most infuriated U.S. law enforcement agencies was Cardenas' attack 
against two DEA agents who went to Matamoros to investigate him in 1999. 
His henchmen surrounded the agents' car on a city street and forced them to 

With assault rifles trained on the vehicle, the drug hit men -- including 
men in Mexican police uniforms -- held the DEA agents and their Mexican 
informant until a man identified as Cardenas emerged from the crowd. He 
demanded the U.S. agents hand over the informant for execution.

"You gringos, this is my territory," he was quoted as telling the agents. 
"You can't control it, so get the hell out of here."

The Americans refused to hand over their informant to certain death, 
toughed out the standoff and were eventually allowed to drive away -- after 
reportedly telling Cardenas it wouldn't be a good idea to kill U.S. agents.

The arrest is the latest in a series of blows against drug trafficking by 
President Vicente Fox, who personally ordered Friday's raid. Last year, the 
government dealt two key blows to the Tijuana cartel.
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