The United States is welcoming the arrest by Mexican authorities of Benjamin Arellano Felix, reputed head of Mexico's most violent and powerful drug cartel. The arrest comes in advance of President Bush's visit to Mexico and meetings with President Vicente Fox next week.
Administration officials are calling the capture of Mr. Arellano Felix the most significant arrest of its kind ever, and say it could lead to the dismantling of a drug gang responsible for smuggling in as much as one-quarter of all the cocaine illegally consumed in the United States.
The drug figure was captured by Mexican troops Saturday in an operation in the city of Puebla east of Mexico City. They say Mr. Arellano Felix told authorities after his arrest that his brother Ramon the other leading figure in the cartel had been killed in a shootout with police in the town of Mazatlan in February, though his body has not been recovered.
News reports say the arrest was facilitated by intelligence information provided by U.S. authorities and that the the capture reflects new and growing cooperation between U.S. and Mexican counter-narcotics forces.
Briefing reporters, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher called it a great victory for Mexican law enforcement. "The Arellano Felix organization," he said, "is one of the most violent and brutal cartels in the world. They're also responsible for shipping tons and tons of drugs into the United States. And the arrest of Benjamin Arellano Felix is the most significant arrest ever of a wanted drug trafficker in Mexico. It also advances the bilateral Mexico-U.S. effort to dismantle a violent and powerful trans-border criminal organization."
Members of the gang are accused of killing some 300 people — including police officers, prosecutors, judges, drug rivals and innocent bystanders in a bid to control the cocaine and marijuana trade along the U.S.-Mexican border.
Mr. Arellano Felix, who made his first appearance in court Monday, faces a long list of criminal charges in Mexico and the Justice Department is expected to seek his extradition for trial in the United States.