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Arrested Mexican Drug Lord May Face US Extradition

Mexican authorities on Monday arrested a U.S.-born drug trafficker who had become the leader of one of that country's largest drug cartels. The man nicknamed Barbie may face extradition to the United States after being tried in Mexico.

The man who Mexican authorities say ran the Beltran-Leyva drug trafficking organization until he was arrested Monday is Edgar Valdez Villarreal, known in the criminal underworld as La Barbie, a reference to the popular children's doll, Barbie. The 37-year-old defendant was born and raised in the Texas border city of Laredo, where he played football. But Valdez made his fortune and established his gruesome reputation for violence in Mexico.

Valdez has a $2 million price on his head in the United States. A federal Grand Jury in Atlanta recently indicted him for smuggling tons of cocaine from South America through Mexico and across the US border. Mexico has extradited some top drug smuggling suspects to the United States in the past and there is a possibility of that in this case as well. But Gary Hale, former chief of intelligence for the Houston office of the Drug Enforcement Administration, who now runs the private consulting firm Grupo Savant, says Mexico may hold off on that for now.

"Traditionally, Mexico subjects defendants to their judicial system first before they extradite anyone, anywhere. So it would make sense that they will follow the same processes that they have in the past and that is that they will look at the strength of their case against him and see if they have witnesses who can testify against him and things of that nature," he said.

Valdez is thought to have risen to the leadership of the Beltran Leyva organization after Mexican marines killed its leader, Arturo Beltran Leyva, in Cuernavaca in December of last year. But authorities say he was being challenged by the deceased cartel leader's brother, Hector Beltran Leyva, and by the Sinoloa cartel, allegedly run by Joaquin Chapo Guzman.

Critics of Mexican President Felipe Calderon's war on drug traffickers have accused the government of going after lesser cartels, like the Beltran Leyva organization and the Juarez cartel, more than the Sinoloa gang. But Gary Hale says his long years of working in cooperation with Mexican law enforcement officials gives him a different perspective.

"With regard to the allegation that the Mexican government favors one cartel over the other, I do not believe that that is true. It is probably more related to accessibility. They probably have penetration, that is organizational penetration, better with other cartels than they have had with the Sinaloa cartel," he said.

Last month, Mexican troops killed a top member of the Sinaloa organization, Ignacio Coronel, in a gunfight in the western state of Jalisco. In the past few years, 28 thousand people have died in Mexico in drug-related incidents.

The latest crime to make headlines worldwide occurred at a bar in the resort city of Cancun, where gunmen attacked a bar with fire bombs, killing at least eight people. Although the incident occurred outside the main tourist zone, it could further damage Mexico's tourist industry, which has been put under pressure by frequent news reports of violence in the country.