Mexico: Sinaloa kingpin busted as Rice schmoozes top cops

Supposed Sinaloa Cartel kingpin Jesús “El Rey” Zambada was among 16 arrested Oct. 22 after a street battle with police in which a grenade destroyed a car. Prosecutor General Eduardo Medina said Zambada’s son and nephew, two federal police officers and one state police officer were also among those arrested. Zambada was identified as the brother of Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada, who allegedly heads the cartel along with the wanted Joaquin “Shorty” Guzmán.

Zambada was allegedly in charge of operations in central Mexico, including cocaine and methamphetamine trafficking through the international airport. He is suspected in the death of several people found decapitated around the airport in 2007. “He is one of most important importers of cocaine and methamphetamine to this country from South America,” said Marisela Morales, head of the organized crime division at the Prosecutor General’s Office.

In January, police arrested renegade Sinaloa kingpin Alfredo Beltran Leyva. “The arrest of Jesus Reynaldo Zambada Garcia stands out, without a doubt, as one of the most significant of the government of President Calderon,” Medina said. He said authorities have arrested nearly 48,000 cartel operatives since President Felipe Calderón took office in December 2006, seized nearly 69 tons of cocaine and recovered more than 24,000 illegal weapons.

Prosecutors said Zambada is suspected of involvement in a failed bomb attack against a Mexico city police commander in February and in the May assassination of acting Mexican federal police chief Edgar Millan.

El Universal newspaper reported Oct. 22 it has counted at least 4,000 killed across Mexico this year, a record number. Federal acknowledge homicides have surged, though they do not regularly release figures.

Zambada gave a false name upon his arrest, and it took investigators several days to confirm his identity, Morales said. The 16 suspects were lined up in front of reporters, standing behind a table cluttered with weapons following the shootout. None of the 16 have been charged. Morales said prosecutors will ask a judge to order them held while investigations continue. (AP, Oct. 22)

The White House is showing growing concern for the escalating instability in Mexico. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice arrived in Puerto Vallarta Oct. 22 for meetings with Exterior Secretary Patricia Espinosa. Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey met with Medina in Mexico City several weeks earlier. Last week, John P. Walters, the director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, made the rounds of the Mexican capital. (NYT, Oct. 23)

See our last posts on Mexico’s narco wars.