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MEXICO UNDER SIEGE

Mexico military says drug lord's successor arrested

Martin Beltran Coronel, a nephew of Sinaloa cartel kingpin Ignacio Coronel, is captured outside Guadalajara, in the same suburb where his uncle was slain in July.

May 13, 2011|By Ken Ellingwood, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Mexico City — Mexican soldiers have arrested the man who authorities say replaced slain drug lord Ignacio Coronel as a ranking leader of the powerful Sinaloa cartel, the military said Friday.

Soldiers captured Martin Beltran Coronel in Zapopan, an upscale suburb of the western city of Guadalajara. Authorities described him as a nephew of Coronel, one of Mexico's most powerful drug kingpins, who was killed by troops in July during a raid in the same suburb.

Gen. Edgar Luis Villegas said Joaquin Guzman, Mexico's most wanted drug fugitive and head of the alliance of Sinaloa traffickers, chose Beltran to assume command over Coronel's faction. The move vaulted Beltran to the highest rungs of the cartel, alongside Ismael Zambada and Juan Jose Esparragoza, Villegas said.

The military called the arrest further sign of the government's effort to weaken the Sinaloa cartel. President Felipe Calderon has denied charges that his government avoids showdowns with Sinaloa while attacking its rivals.

The Coronel faction allegedly controlled cocaine shipments to the western states of Jalisco and Colima, along the Pacific coast. Authorities said the organization was weakened by Coronel's death.

Troops captured Beltran, known as "the Eagle," in a luxury subdivision of Zapopan, seizing nine firearms, six vehicles, jewelry and more than $400,000 in U.S. currency, Villegas said. Also arrested were two women and a man who were said to be in charge of Beltran's security.

Beltran's arrest also led to the capture of his lieutenant, Juan Francisco Lopez, the army said.

A military statement said Beltran indicated that he bought cocaine in South and Central America for shipment to the United States.

In January, a military raid at a Beltran property in Guadalajara yielded weapons and about $50,000 in Mexican and U.S. currency.

The Calderon government's 4-year-old crackdown on the cartels has led to the arrest or slaying of a number of high-profile suspects. But the country's rising death toll — more than 34,000 since December 2006 — has turned many Mexicans against the strategy, even though most of the carnage has been caused by violence between rival drug traffickers.

Tens of thousands of protesters called for an end to the government's crackdown during a demonstration in Mexico City on Sunday.

On Friday, authorities in the northern state of Durango said new discoveries of bodies in a series of mass graves brought the total of dead there to 201.

In addition, Durango officials this month have recovered at least 21 decapitated bodies, including that of a prison supervisor. They attribute the killings to clashes between drug gangs.

ken.ellingwood@latimes.com

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