MEXICO CITY — Clambering to proclaim victory after more than three years of bloody narcotics warfare, Mexican authorities paraded a Texas-born accused kingpin before the media Tuesday and offered abundant details of his climb through the violent drug underworld before his capture in a mountain hideout.
While speculation surged that Mexico would deport Edgar Valdez-Villarreal, a 37-year-old former football star from Laredo, Texas, to stand trial in the United States, where he's still a citizen, there was no immediate sign of action by Mexico or the U.S.
National security spokesman Alejandro Poire described Valdez-Villarreal as "highly dangerous," a reference to his drug cartel's practice of beheading its enemies.
The accused drug lord "has one foot in the airplane bound for the United States," the usually well-informed El Universal newspaper reported.
Security officials paraded the handcuffed Valdez-Villarreal before the media early Tuesday in an airplane hangar. Hooded security agents stood at his side, and a black helicopter provided the backdrop. Valdez-Villarreal smirked, and even chuckled, at the assembled journalists.
Federal Police Commissioner Facundo Rosas said the capture of Valdez-Villarreal, who's known by the unlikely nickname of "La Barbie" — given because of his blue eyes and fair complexion, reminiscent of Ken, the Barbie doll's companion — came after a yearlong hunt that involved as many as 1,200 law enforcement officers.
By Monday afternoon, a ring of security officers encircled the rustic mountain house in Salazar, about 20 miles west of Mexico City, where Valdez-Villarreal had holed up, Rosas said. Mobile phone service in the area was spotty, and the target and six underlings couldn't summon backup to fight their way free, he said. They were detained around 6:30 p.m. without any gunfire.
"Intelligence information indicates that 'La Barbie' trafficked 1 ton of cocaine each month," Federal Police counternarcotics chief Ramon Pequeno said at the news conference.
Valdez-Villarreal's capture gives a boost to President Felipe Calderon, who declared war on drug cartels after taking office in late 2006. The death toll, which recently soared past 28,000 people, has soured many Mexicans on Calderon's tough drug enforcement policies. Valdez-Villarreal is the third top drug lord to be arrested or killed in nine months.