By E. EDUARDO CASTILLO
Soldiers have captured the nephew and suspected successor of a Sinaloa drug cartel leader who was killed last year in a gunbattle with troops, a Defense Department official said Friday.
Martin Beltran Coronel, alias "The Eagle," was arrested along with four other people in an exclusive neighborhood of Zapopan, a suburb of the western city of Guadalajara, said Gen. Edgar Luis Villegas.
It is the same suburb where his uncle, Ignacio "Nacho" Coronel, died in a battle with soldiers who raided his mansion in July 2010. The elder Coronel had been considered one of the top three leaders of the powerful Sinaloa cartel, along with Ismael "El Mayo" Zambada and Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, who remain among the world's most-wanted men. Ignacio Coronel's death was the biggest blow against the Sinaloa gang since President Felipe Calderon intensified a crackdown on cartels in late 2006.
Martin Beltran took over his uncle's trafficking operations in a promotion approved by "El Chapo," Villegas told a news conference. He oversaw cocaine trafficking from South America through Mexico's Pacific routes in the states of Jalisco and Colima, Villegas added.
One of Beltran's alleged lieutenants, Juan Francisco Lopez Coronado, was also captured. The three others arrested, including two women, were in charge of Beltran's security, Villegas said. Nine guns, six cars, jewelry and $400,000 in cash were seized at the house.
Masked soldiers paraded the five suspects one-by-one in front of journalists, a practice the government routinely uses to tout its drug war victories but that has been criticized by human rights activists and some opposition politicians. Beltran, wearing a red shirt and sporting a dark mustache and beard, looked grim as cameras flashed in his face.
Although Villegas said Beltran had reached the top ranks of the Sinaloa cartel, the Mexican government had not publicly mentioned him before his arrest. Villegas, however, said soldiers had been searching for Beltran for months. In January, soldiers raided a Guadalajara house owned by Beltran, seizing guns and tens of thousands of dollars and pesos in cash.
Calderon's government has brought down an unprecedented number of capos since he deployed tens of thousands of federal police and soldiers to root out drug cartels in their strongholds.
Drug-gang violence has surged as increasingly fractured cartels fight gruesome turf battles, claiming at least 35,000 lives since late 2006.
In one of the most horrifying discoveries, soldiers continue digging for corpses in mass graves found last month in the northern state of Durango, a battleground between the Sinaloa and Zetas cartels.
Five more bodies were unearthed Thursday night, bringing the total to 201, the state Public Safety Department said in a statement. Investigators have said some victims have been dead as long as four years, while others were killed as recently as three months ago.
Many are likely drug gang members killed by rivals, but others may be missing police officers or ordinary citizens who were victims of kidnapping or extortion, Durango state Interior Secretary Hector Vela has said.
The excavations in the Durango capital have exceeded the number of bodies found in the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, where security forces unearthed 183 corpses from 40 pits throughout April. Many of the victims appear to be people kidnapped from passenger buses by the Zetas.