Special forces from the Mexican army and navy killed one of the country’s top drug kingpins, Arturo Beltrán Leyva, in a firefight in Cuernavaca late Dec. 16. Beltrán Leyva, who was also wanted in the US, was the highest-level drug lord killed since President Felipe Calderón launched his offensive against the cartels in December 2006. Some 400 troops surrounded his apartment in a luxury complex, sparking a two-hour gun battle, in which Beltrán Leyva’s henchmen—known as the “Fuerzas Armadas de Arturo”—responded with automatic weapons and grenades. Six of the the henchmen were killed, one as he jumped from a window, as well as one member of the navy’s Special Forces.
Beltran Leyva was a top kingpin of the Sinaloa Cartel, until he split after a betrayal by Mexico’s most wanted trafficker Joaquin Guzmán AKA “Shorty” led to the arrest of his brother Alfredo Beltrán Leyva in January 2008. In recent months, he had carried out a wave of increasingly gruesome reprisals against rivals, leaving decapitated heads and mutilated corpses with notes left from “el Jefe de Jefes,” the boss of bosses. Mexican naval intelligence had been attempting to track him down for weeks. Six days before the shoot-out, naval forces raided a party Beltrán Leyva had planned to attend, but he managed to escape. With information from that raid, they tracked him to the Altitude luxury condominium development near the center of Cuernavaca.
Calderón called Beltrán Leyva’s death “a convincing blow against one of the most dangerous criminal organizations in Mexico and on the continent.” The US State Department issued a similarly worded statement, calling the slaying a “significant blow.” DEA deputy administrator Michele M. Leonhart implied a role for her agency in the hit, citing an “exchange of information between the police authorities in the United States and our brave partners in Mexico.” (Quote translated back into English from Spanish translation.)
But the Morelos State Human Rights Commission blasted military authorities for not taking sufficient measures to protect the civil population of Cuernavaca, and asserted that one by-stander had been killed. Mortally wounded in the cross-fire, he died ten hours later in hospital—so his death was not included in the initial toll reported in the media.
The slaying came the day after the US delivered five Bell 412 helicopters to Mexico for transport and reconnaissance in the fight against cartels. The aircraft are part of more than $604 million worth of vehicles and equipment that the US is slated to turn over to Mexico in the coming months under the $1.4 billion Merida Initiative. (AP, Dec. 15)