Pubdate: Sat, 15 Mar 2003
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2003 Los Angeles Times
Author: Marla Dickerson


The Reputed Capo Of The Gulf Cartel Is Seized After A Savage Firefight In 
City On Border With Texas

MEXICO CITY -- Soldiers from the Mexican military seized reputed narcotics 
kingpin Osiel Cardenas in a wild shootout near the Texas border Friday, 
striking a blow at one of this nation's most brazen drug cartels.

At least three soldiers were injured in the firefight that raged for more 
than an hour on the streets of Matamoros, a gritty industrial city across 
the border from Brownsville, Texas. Cardenas was taken by plane to an 
undisclosed location after his capture, the result of a six-month 
investigation, according to Mexican authorities.

The alleged head of the Gulf drug cartel and one of Mexico's most wanted 
men, Cardenas likewise faces charges in the United States, where he is 
accused of involvement in drug trafficking, organized crime, money 
laundering and assaults on U.S. federal agents. So audacious was the 
35-year-old former police officer, say U.S. authorities, that he threatened 
to kill two U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials during a 
confrontation on the streets of Matamoros in 1999, then threw a raucous 
party the next day to celebrate his exploits. The State Department had 
offered a $2-million reward for his capture.

"This is the latest of a series of impressive blows dealt by the 
administration of President Vicente Fox to dismantle the major 
drug-trafficking cartels," the department said in a statement released Friday.

Cardenas' arrest is the latest in a series of high-profile strikes against 
Mexico's powerful drug cartels, which until recent years had operated with 
near impunity. In May, Mexican soldiers captured Albino Quintero Meraz, a 
major trafficker aligned with the Juarez cartel. Two and a half months 
earlier, authorities toppled the leadership of the violent Tijuana drug 
mafia, nabbing the cartel's alleged boss, Benjamin Arellano Felix, and 
killing his brother Ramon in a shootout.

Under Fox, Mexico has also made progress in rooting out corruption among 
police officers who aid drug cartels. In January, soldiers and police shut 
down 11 offices of the Federal Special Prosecutor's Office for Drug Crimes, 
roughly the equivalent of the DEA, searching for evidence of corruption 
among agents.

American drug enforcement officials were effusive Friday in their praise of 
Fox, who is credited with sparking a new spirit of cooperation between U.S. 
and Mexican law enforcement.

"The arrest of Osiel Cardenas is a testament to the hard work and diligence 
of the Mexican authorities and the Fox administration," said John B. Brown 
III, acting administrator of the DEA. "With Cardenas' arrest, yet another 
violent and dangerous drug trafficker -- in this case, one who has also 
directly threatened federal drug agents -- has been taken off the streets."

A onetime police communications specialist, Cardenas allegedly switched 
sides and rose quickly through the ranks of the region's drug trade.

The Gulf cartel, which is based in Tamaulipas state, smuggles cocaine and 
marijuana into the United States. The cartel was considered the most 
powerful along the border until then-leader Juan Garcia Abrego was captured 
in 1996. He was turned over to U.S. authorities and later sentenced to 11 
life terms in Texas. Last March, Mexico arrested the alleged No. 2 figure 
in the Gulf cartel, Adan Medrano, in Matamoros.

Federal prosecutors believe Cardenas was trying to rejuvenate his empire by 
forging an alliance with the Juarez cartel, which operates across the 
border from El Paso, Associated Press reported.

Friday's shootout, which began just before 10 a.m., sent bystanders 
scrambling as bursts of automatic weapons fire ricocheted through the 
border city's streets.

"It was really ugly, lasting more than an hour," said Rigoberto Ramos, a 
reporter with the Matamoros daily El Bravo.
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MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens