- The Washington Times - Monday, May 10, 2010

MEXICO CITY | Mexico has extradited a former state governor to the United States to face charges of helping smuggle cocaine through Cancun to the U.S., in a high-profile demonstration of the nation’s increased willingness to extradite suspects as it battles surging drug violence.

Mario Villanueva, governor of the Caribbean state of Quintana Roo from 1993 to 1999, was in U.S. custody on Sunday, a day after authorities handed him over, Mexico’s Attorney General’s Office said in a statement.

Meanwhile, two young men were found murdered near the Pacific beach city of Zihuatanejo, and federal police in Morelia were searching for attackers who shot and killed an officer while he was eating at a taco stand.

Mr. Villanueva is charged in New York federal court with helping the Juarez cartel smuggle hundreds of tons of Colombian cocaine to the U.S.

He is the 326th suspect Mexico has sent to the U.S. under President Felipe Calderon, who stepped up the extraditions as part of increased cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking. But he is the first former governor to be extradited.

Mr. Villanueva “gave orders to allow shipments of cocaine to be unloaded and stored in ranches in Quintana Roo, to be later sent to the neighboring country by land or air,” the Attorney General’s Office said.

Mr. Villanueva was convicted in Mexico of money laundering and sentenced to six years in prison. He was released in 2007, but immediately rearrested on the U.S. extradition request.

Washington has supported Mr. Calderon’s military-led offensive against drug cartels with equipment and training under the $1.3 billion Merida Initiative.

Several top drug lords have been arrested or killed since Mr. Calderon deployed tens of thousands of troops and federal police across the country. But gang violence has surged, claiming more than 22,700 lives in the past three years.

Also Sunday, Mexican police were investigating the killings of a teenager and a young man whose bodies were found tortured near the beachside resort of Zihuatanejo, about 150 miles northwest of Acapulco.

Guerrero state police released a statement on Sunday that said the victims, discovered by relatives, were 17 and 21 years old. Neither a suspect nor a motive had been determined.

The U.S. State Department warned this week that parts of southern Guerrero state could be dangerous for travelers due to drug violence, and on Saturday, police said eight people were found murdered outside Acapulco.

In the central city of Morelia, federal police said an officer was shot and killed while having dinner with a colleague at a taco stand. A second officer was wounded. The suspects fled and have not been caught, police said.