TIJUANA, Mexico — Federal troops stormed a seaside vacation home and captured one of the country’s most brutal drug lords Tuesday, the second time in less than a month that Mexico has taken down one of its most powerful traffickers.
The arrest was considered another victory for enhanced surveillance techniques being cultivated with the assistance of the United States. American anti-drug officials helped Mexican authorities track Teodoro Garcia Simental for more than five months.
Garcia, known as “El Teo,” was arrested before dawn near the southern tip of the Baja California peninsula, where his gang had been bringing in planeloads of drugs to smuggle across the U.S. border, said Ramon Eduardo Pequeno, head of the federal police’s anti-drug unit.
Garcia, in his mid-30s, is connected to the deaths of at least 300 people, authorities say, and ordered his rivals disposed of in especially grisly ways: beheading them, hanging their bodies from bridges or dissolving them in caustic soda. He took hefty ransom payments from kidnapping Tijuana business leaders.
He’s also believed to be behind many of the dozens of assassinations of Tijuana police officers over the last two years. Pequeno said Garcia had recently stepped up efforts to kill Baja California’s attorney general, Rommel Moreno, and Tijuana’s public safety chief, Julian Leyzaola.
President Felipe Calderon launched an all-out war upon taking office in December 2006, sending thousands of troops to combat the drug gangs. But until recently the government had little success in taking down the top kingpins, and Mexicans have been growing increasingly frustrated with a war that has left more than 15,000 casualties.
That changed on Dec. 16, when another drug lord, Arturo Beltran Leyva, was killed in a raid by Mexican marines in the colonial city of Cuernavaca, just south of Mexico City. Authorities said U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration officials had been helping them track Beltran Leyva as well. On Jan. 2, federal officials arrested his brother, Carlos Beltran Leyva.
“The government is being more subtle with regard to its pursuit of drug traffickers,” said George W. Grayson, a Mexico expert at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. “It’s relying much more on electronic techniques, eavesdropping, inspection of one’s lifestyle. It’s also paying pretty good money to informants.”