Mexico captures reputed head of Juarez Cartel |

Mexico captures reputed head of Juarez Cartel

MEXICO CITY – Mexican federal agents arrested a former medical student who seized control of remnants of the powerful Juarez Cartel, Attorney General Daniel Cabeza de Vaca said Monday, shedding light on a violent split within what was once Mexico’s most powerful cocaine smuggling gang.Ricardo Garcia Urquiza, alias “The Doctor,” was captured in a shopping mall in southern Mexico City on Nov. 11 and is accused of overseeing an organization that moved up to 5 tons of Colombian cocaine a month into Mexico and on to the United States.Cabeza de Vaca said that since becoming the head of the Juarez Cartel in late 2004, Garcia Urquiza was responsible for as much as 20 percent of the narcotics that reached America’s streets from Mexico.”This was a mega-cartel, perhaps not as violent, perhaps operating in a different manner, but a mega-cartel,” the country’s top law enforcement agent said at a crowded news conference.Garcia Urquiza, his brother Jesus Omar, and Maria Nereida Garcia, a suspected cartel accountant who was arrested leaving her home with nearly US$3 million (euro2.5 million) in cash, were among 11 people captured as part of an investigation dubbed “New Generation.”Cabeza de Vaca said the name reflects the fact that the suspects fall into a modern category of drug lords who live in relatively modest homes and drive ordinary vehicles without small armies of attention-attracting body guards.”They act more like businessmen,” Cabeza de Vaca said. “The prototype is a bit more discreet, a little more normal.”A senior U.S. government official who said his name could not appear in print for security reasons, called Garcia Urquiza “a big, big target who basically remained under the radar screen.””He could walk down the street and you would think he’s a banker,” said the U.S. official, who said Garcia Urquiza had far-reaching authority over hundreds of cartel foot soldiers.But his emergence was so fast and his profile so low that his name does not appear on a list of 216 “most wanted” suspects posted on the Internet by the Mexican attorney general’s office.Under Garcia Urquiza’s guidance, the gang smuggled much of its cocaine and marijuana into the United States through corridors near Ciudad Juarez, across the Rio Grande River from El Paso, Texas.From there, the drugs went to distribution centers in Los Angeles, Chicago and other major U.S. cities, with the profits carried back to Mexico – sometimes in massive bundles of newly minted US$20 bills – for laundering at cartel-controlled currency exchange houses on the border and in Mexico City, Cabeza de Vaca said.The Juarez Cartel was considered the country’s largest drug trafficking organization under the leadership of Amado Carrillo Fuentes, known as “Lord of the Skies” because the gang flew planes packed with cocaine directly into U.S. territory.After Amado’s death from botched plastic surgery to alter his appearance in July 1997, control of the cartel fell to his brother, Vicente. But other powerful smugglers – including Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada and Juan Jose “El Azul” Esparragoza – have challenged Carrillo Fuentes’ leadership in recent years.Defense Secretary Gen. Gerardo Clemente Vega told the news conference that Carrillo Fuentes’ hold on the cartel began to crumble with the capture of feared hitman Arturo “El Chucky” Hernandez and 26 of his lieutenants in April 2003.The split between Carrillo Fuentes and the rival faction controlled by the other drug lords – known as the Sinaloa cartel – came to a head on Sept. 11, 2004, when Vicente’s brother, Rodolfo Carrillo, was shot and killed on orders of Guzman, Vega said.Fearing for his life, Vicente Carrillo Fuentes fled, but continues to operate with a few cells of drug smugglers, Vega said.In his absence, control of the gang allegedly fell to Garcia Urquiza, a close ally of Rodolfo who forged strong contacts with Colombian drug producers while studying to become a surgeon.”Vicente Carrillo, at the moment of the death of his brother, couldn’t maintain leadership,” Cabeza de Vaca said. “He had to flee because of fears about El Chapo’s group.”The part of the Juarez Cartel controlled by Garcia Urquiza had no link with the Sinaloa cartel, but the two gangs have also not engaged in the kind of bloody war for territory that Guzman and his allies have waged with other smugglers, Cabeza de Vaca said.”This is one of the most important strikes against drug trafficking in the country’s history,” he said.But the U.S. government official said Vicente Carrillo still headed the Juarez Cartel, and was forced to maintain contact through intermediaries with rivals from the Sinaloa syndicate in order to ensure some smuggling operations continue to run smoothly.”They still do business together,” the official said.Guzman, who escaped from a western Mexican prison in 2001 and has overseen a bloody war for control of the U.S.-Mexico border city of Nuevo Laredo, is often referred to as the country’s top drug lord.Garcia Urquiza’s arrest brings authorities no closer to catching Guzman, Cabeza de Vaca said.Vail, Colorado

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