MEXICO CITY — Soldiers on Sunday captured Albino Quintero Meraz, described as a major drug trafficker aligned with Mexico's so-called Juarez cartel who claimed to have shipped as much as a ton and a half of cocaine each month from Guatemala to the United States.
At a joint news conference Monday, Defense Secretary Ricardo Vega Garcia and Atty. Gen. Rafael Macedo de la Concha said Meraz was a kingpin on a par with Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and Ismael Zambada, both fugitives from Sinaloa state, and Tijuana cartel leader Benjamin Arellano Felix, who was captured March 9.
Meraz was taken prisoner in the Gulf of Mexico port city of Veracruz, an important way station for northbound drugs. Six others, including federal police officer Oscar Barron Amador, who allegedly provided protection to Meraz, were also taken into custody, the government said.
As a "cell leader" in the cartel led by Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, Meraz worked with Alcides Ramon Magana to arrange shipments of cocaine by air and sea from Central America to mainland Mexico. Former Quintana Roo state Gov. Mario Villanueva is alleged to have received $500,000 per load in exchange for protection.
Magana was arrested last June and Villanueva last May after having been at large for two years.
"The fact they arrested [Meraz] is good news because it shows they're pursuing the infrastructure of the various cartels, the people doing the everyday work of handling money and arranging the transportation," said Donald Thornhill Jr., special agent in the San Diego office of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
Meraz was wanted on organized crime and drug-trafficking charges in Mexico, but there is no outstanding request for extradition from the U.S., the attorney general said.
"I want to reiterate that this arrest deals a strong blow to transnational criminal organizations dedicated to drug trafficking," Macedo de la Concha said. Meraz "purchased, transported and delivered drugs to the United States."
The arrest is another step in President Vicente Fox's crackdown on drug dealers who in past years enjoyed near-immunity from arrest and prosecution. Still at large are alleged narcos such as Guzman, who escaped from a maximum-security federal prison in January 2001, and Osiel Cardenas, head of the so-called Gulf cartel based in Tamaulipas state.