MEXICO CITY — Mexican soldiers have captured an alleged drug lord with a $2 million bounty on his head, dealing a blow to a brutal narcotics gang with tentacles in South America, officials said Thursday.
Officials described Gerardo Alvarez Vazquez as a leader of one of several splinter groups that broke away from the powerful Sinaloa cartel.
Prosecutors brought Alvarez Vazquez, 45, before the news media a day after he was detained amid a shootout between soldiers and gunmen in Huixquilucan, on the outskirts of the capital. The gun battle left three civilians dead.
Mexican army Brig. Gen. Edgar Villegas Melendez said the alleged capo, who goes by the alias "El Indio," the Indian, was responsible for his gang's ties to traffickers and cocaine producers in Central and South America.
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Alvarez Vazquez is wanted on a four-count federal indictment in Southern California, and the State Department had offered up to a $2 million reward for his arrest and conviction.
Alvarez Vazquez allegedly was once a lieutenant to Arturo Beltran Leyva, a drug lord aligned with the Sinaloa cartel, one of Mexico's largest narcotics organizations, who broke away in 2008 to form an independent gang.
Mexican Marines killed Beltran Leyva on Dec. 16 and his splinter faction has been torn further by infighting, which has left a wake of beheadings, dismembered police officers and bodies hung from bridges in recent weeks, especially around Acapulco in Guerrero state and in the state of Morelos.
Prosecutors say that Beltran Leyva's surviving brother, Hector, is fighting for control of the group with a faction led by Alvarez Vazquez and a Texas-born Mexican-American, Edgar Valdez Villareal, who has the nickname "La Barbie" because of his light complexion. One of the two sides earlier this month began calling itself the South Pacific Cartel because of its coastal base.
A U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman, Rusty Payne, hailed the arrest of Alvarez Vazquez, saying that he and his followers "are dealing with huge amounts of drugs. They are big. They are significant."
The internal war among the drug factions led to a raging gun battle in daylight on the main boulevard in Acapulco's tourist zone a week ago. The shooting left six people dead and five wounded, and a pileup of bullet-riddled vehicles.
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