In the Borderland Beat from the Rio Grande to Mexico's Valley of the Beheaded, there is no shortage of stories about "La Barbie," the top-level drug trafficker born in Laredo and arrested Monday in Mexico.
In the U.S., when the police want to display a suspect for journalists and the wider public, they commonly do a "perp walk," showing off the alleged perpetrator as they walk him to the vehicle transporting him to and from jail.
But nit in Mexico, this week masked police paraded a handcuffed Edgar Valdez Villarreal before reporters. Wearing a green polo shirt and jeans, the man nicknamed "La Barbie" for his fair complexion grinned openly as officials discussed his capture near Mexico City on Monday.
In Mexico, like many other places in the world, police and prosecutors put the captured alleged bad guy on display in a set piece that often features masked police officers or members of the military who in a show of force flank the now hapless and powerless suspect.
Mexico paraded one of its most violent drug lords on Tuesday after a police raid that President Felipe Calderon's government hopes will mark a breakthrough in its campaign against powerful cartels.
Federal Police Commissioner Facundo Rosas said the capture of Valdez-Villarreal came after a yearlong hunt that involved as many as 1,200 law enforcement officers.
Mexican authorities had been closing in La Barbie's allies in recent weeks. On July 10, marines raided a house in Acapulco and captured Gamaliel Aguirre Tavira, suspected regional chief of the Valdez faction.
Narcotics agents hunting "La Barbie" got a lucky break in a raid on Aug. 9 in the elegant Bosques de las Lomas district of Mexico City, which turned up evidence leading them to the accused drug lord's mountain safe house in Salazar, Rosas said.
By last Monday afternoon, a ring of security officers encircled the rustic mountain house in Salazar, about 20 miles west of Mexico City, where Valdez-Villarreal 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 a shot being fired.
The special unit that conducted the operation is “highly qualified to enter in various types of terrain, as well as in the use of all kinds of weapons,” thanks to extensive training both in Mexico and abroad, Rosas said.
Police confiscated two rifles, a grenade-launcher, nine packets of cocaine, computer and communications equipment and three vehicles.
Calderon confirmed the arrest in a short message on Twitter: "Federal police trapped 'La Barbie,' one of the most wanted criminals in Mexico and abroad." Government officials seemed to be seeking to regain support by offering abundant details about Valdez-Villarreal's background and capture.
"This is an extraordinary achievement," Felipe Gonzalez, head of the Senate commission on public security, told Foro TV. "There was an air around this guy that he was untouchable, that he would never be caught."
The arrest is certain to give Calderon, who faces sagging public support, a boost in his campaign to confront drug traffickers, even at great human cost. So yes, the capture of Valdez-Villarreal does give the president Calderon a boost who declared war on drug cartels after taking office in late 2006. The death toll, which recently soared past 28,000 people, has soured many Mexicans on Calderon's tough drug enforcement policies. But the effort has produced some results, Valdez-Villarreal is the third top drug lord to be arrested or killed in nine months.
Less than a month ago, law enforcement agents in Guadalajara killed Ignacio "Nacho" Coronel, a drug lord in the Sinaloa Cartel who was considered the "king of ice," or crystal methamphetamine.
Certainly this arrest dealt "a high impact blow to organized crime," said Alejandro Poire, a spokesman for Calderon's national security team. Poire said Valdez-Villarreal had ties to gangs operating in the United States, Central and South America.
But the capture of Edgar "La Barbie" Valdez, a Texas-born 37-year-old, may do little to halt the flow of drugs into the United States or staunch bloodshed in Mexico's most violent areas, many of them along the U.S. border.
It is unusual for an American to climb so high in the ranks of Mexican organized crime, but not unprecedented.
Texas-born Juan Garcia Abrego was captured in Mexico in the 1990s and sent to Houston, where he was convicted of drug-trafficking crimes as the head of the Gulf Cartel. He is now serving multiple life sentences.
"The operation that resulted in the arrest of la Barbie closes a chapter in drug trafficking in Mexico," senior federal police official Facundo Rosas told local television. Six other men, including another Texan, were arrested with Valdez, and police found weapons, SUVs, cocaine and cellphones at a safe house guarded by cartel gunmen.
But it's too early to celebrate, while La Barbie is now in custody, we've seen this movie before. His arrest has clearly left an opening for others to become the new kingpins.
While the United States congratulated Mexico on the arrest, officials in Washington declined to say whether they would push for Valdez, born in Laredo, Texas, to be sent to face trial in U.S. courts where he has been indicted for drug trafficking. The U.S. government had offered a reward of up to $2 million for his capture.