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December 4, 2005 - New York Times

Mexican Drug War Escalates In Blood

With Older, Less Brutal Drug Lords Now in Jail, a Younger Rivalry Has Killed About 1,000 in 3 1/2 Years.

By Ginger Thompson

Return to Drug War News: Don't Miss Archive

Nuevo Laredo, Mexico - The lucrative drug trade on the Mexican border seemed up for grabs after Mexican authorities arrested the powerful leader of the Gulf Cartel nearly three years ago. The rival Sinaloa Cartel sent Edgar Valdez Villarreal, a young upstart known as La Barbie, to do the grabbing.

The wave of killings that followed has turned into an all-out drug war that has spread to almost every corner of Mexico, leaving about 1,000 people dead since March 2003 and bringing harsh criticisms from Washington about the failure of President Vicente Fox's government to end it.

The most spectacular gunfights began in Nuevo Laredo last spring, federal law enforcement authorities said, and usually took place from 8 in the morning to 1 in the afternoon, on the elegant Avenida Colon.

While the number of killings has gone down since Fox sent a battalion of federal officers to try to take back control of the city's streets, the violence has not ended, but it has moved to other parts of Mexico, especially the central state of Michoacan and the Pacific coast resortof Acapulco.

The rise of men like Valdez, 32, helps explain why, said Deputy Attorney General Jose Santiago Vasconcelos said.

Valdez is part of a younger generation of rash and ruthless traffickers, Vasconcelos said, who are fighting to take over the drug trade after the Fox administration put at least a dozen of the older drug bosses in jail.

Last week, law enforcement authorities linked Valdez to a video that appeared to show the interrogation of four bruised and bloody men who admitted to being hired killers for the Gulf Cartel.

The video, which was sent in an unmarked envelope to The Kitsap Sun in Washington state and was posted on the website of The Dallas Morning News, ended by showing one of the men being shot in the head. The authorities said they suspected that Valdez conducted the interrogation.

The prize for the winner of the drug war is the lucrative land routes that carry more than 77 percent of all the cocaine and about 70 percent of all the methamphetamine sold in the United States.

The more experienced drug kingpins, Mexican prosecutors said, were more willing to reach peace among themselves, to respect one another's territories and to stay out of sight in order to avoid causing trouble for local authorities.

New operatives like Valdez, however, fight for all or nothing, Vasconcelos said. And they seem willing to keep up their fight, no matter what the cost.

"Why are we in this situation?" Vasconcelos said. "Because the only leaders who can contain the violence are the ones who are in jail.

"The structures they used to maintain - of corruption and obstruction of justice - when we took those away, they were forced to use violence," he said. "It's a beast."

Valdez, a.k.a. La Barbie, does not look like a monster. He gets his nickname, authorities said, because he has the light complexion and blue eyes of a Ken doll.

Law enforcement authorities, however, have described him as the mastermind of numerous killings and kidnappings across the country.

They have raided homes that they believe had been rented by him and found grenades, automatic weapons and police uniforms.

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