LATIN AMERICA

Top drug lord arrested in Mexico

Fall of Héctor Beltrán Leyva signals the end of the cartel that bears his name

Héctor Beltrán Leyva is the last of four brothers to fall in drug busts.
Héctor Beltrán Leyva is the last of four brothers to fall in drug busts.ALFREDO ESTRELLA / AFP

Mexican authorities on Wednesday arrested Héctor Beltrán Leyva, better known as El H, who was the head of one of the country’s top drug cartels.

The arrest was made in San Miguel de Allende, around 200 kilometers from Mexico City, without the need to resort to violence, official sources said.

Héctor was the heir to the infamous Beltrán Leyva cartel following the death of his brother Arturo, who was shot down in Cuernavaca, 100 kilometers from the capital, in December 2009.

The 49-year-old drug kingpin was detained by army personnel inside a restaurant, where he was meeting one of his financial advisors. For the last few months he had been keeping a low profile, living in the city of Querétaro and passing himself off as a real estate entrepreneur, according to the investigation.

The four Beltrán Leyva brothers (Arturo, Alfredo, Héctor and Carlos) began their criminal career in northwest Mexico as hitmen for the Sinaloa cartel, then led by Joaquín El Chapo Guzmán. Their activity focused on shipping cocaine from Central and South America to the United States and Europe.

But their relations with El Chapo cooled off after Alfredo Beltrán Leyva was arrested in January 2008. The brothers accused El Chapo of betrayal, and this triggered a bloody vendetta. That same year, the Beltrán Leyvas reached a deal with Los Zetas, El Chapo’s chief rivals and lords of the Gulf drug routes.

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El Chapo was himself arrested in February of this year, triggering internal fighting over control of the powerful Sinaloa cartel.

The Beltrán Leyva cartel extended its power with help from a hitman named Edgar Valdez Villareal, known as Barbie because of his fair skin and blue eyes. But the group’s structure changed with the death of Arturo – who was gunned down in a spectacular military operation on December 16, 2009 – and the arrest of Carlos, the youngest brother, two weeks later.

Although the gang’s activities had declined after the fall of three of the four brothers, US authorities had detected new movements under the orders of the remaining sibling, Héctor. The Mexican Attorney’s Office stated that the cartel had now diversified into synthetic drug production and money laundering.

The Mexican government was offering a $2.5 million reward for El H, while the US had set a price of $5 million for his capture.

With the arrest of the last remaining Beltrán Leyva, “one of the main drug trafficking leaders in Mexico” authorities believe it is the end of the once-powerful narcotics dynasty.