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Mexican drug lord: Why Arturo Beltran Levya's death matters

The death of Mexico's top drug lord gives President Calderon a much-need victory in his three-year old strategy of using the Mexican military to attack drug-trafficking cartels, say analysts.

By Jonathan RoederCorrespondent / December 17, 2009

Members of Mexico's Navy guard the main entrance to a luxury apartment complex where drug lord Arturo Beltran Leyva was shot dead by security forces in Cuernavaca, Wednesday.

Margarito Pere/Reuters


Mexico City

The Mexican military killed one of the country’s most powerful drug traffickers late Wednesday, handing the government a badly needed victory in its three-year war against drug traffickers.

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President Felipe Calderón lost no time in underlining the significance of the death of Arturo Beltrán Leyva – known as “the boss of bosses” – calling it “a resounding blow” in the nation’s bloody battle against organized crime.

Beltrán Leyva, whose henchmen were known to dismember and decapitate police and rival gang members and had successfully infiltrated Mexicans security forces in recent years, was killed along with six bodyguards in a shoot out that lasted 90 minutes at a luxury condo in Cuernavaca, an hour south of Mexico City.
Local television footage showed helicopters and military vehicles circling the site while hundreds of gunshots rang out. One of Beltrán Leyva’s bodyguards reportedly took his own life rather than surrender to the Mexican Navy, which carried out the operation. One soldier was killed and two were injured.

Beltrán Leyva, who Calderón said is “one of the three most wanted” Mexican drug traffickers, had a $2.1 million bounty on his head by Mexican authorities and was wanted in the US on narcotics trafficking charges.

Carlos Humberto Toledo, a lawyer specializing in security who currently teaches at Mexico’s Autonomous Technological Institute (ITAM), agrees that the operation was “a great achievement for this government” and “great news for the US government, because an enemy has been removed.”
“Yesterday’s death of Arturo Beltrán Leyva ... was a breakthrough for the government,” he says. “For the first time in more than three years, a leader of organized crime has been defeated … by the armed forces.”

Since taking office in 2006, Calderon has deployed 45,000 soldiers in troubled areas such as the cities of Ciudad Juarez, Tijuana and Beltrán Leyva’s home state of Sinaloa, located in Mexico’s Pacific Northwest. Deaths attributed to the fight against organized crime have steadily risen, totaling more than 14,000 since 2006.

Critics of Calderón’s strategy say the military deployment has led to greater violence and rising incidents of rights abuses by soldiers, who have set up roadside checkpoints to search vehicles in areas where drug traffickers have a strong presence.