- The Washington Times - Monday, August 23, 2004

Mexican federal agents have captured a key member of a drug cartel accused of bringing hundreds of tons of cocaine into the United States in the past 20 years, U.S. authorities said yesterday.

Gilberto Higuera Guerrero, identified as a major player in a cocaine-smuggling ring founded by Ismael “Mayo” Zambada-Garcia in the border state of Baja California, had been the subject of a $2 million reward offer by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

Mr. Higuera Guerrero was arrested Sunday at a house just inside the Mexico border in the northern city of Mexicali. U.S. authorities said he was responsible for the shipment of about half the illegal drugs smuggled annually from Mexico into the United States.

Mexican Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha told reporters in Mexico City that Mr. Higuera Guerrero was detained on four arrest warrants for smuggling cocaine and other illegal substances.

“This man handled 50 percent of the drugs that crossed the border,” Mr. Macedo said, adding that Mr. Higuera Guerrero also ran units of hired gunmen and ordered the killing of rival traffickers. “This man’s fame is practically one of the legends of drug trafficking.”

Mr. Higuera Guerrero formerly was a high-ranking member of the Arellano Felix cartel in Mexico, considered among the most brutal in that country. DEA officials said he joined the Zambada ring last year and rapidly became the organization’s “principal operator.”

His cartel switch led to several clashes between the two groups in the border cities of Tijuana and Mexicali, authorities said.

The United States has sought Mr. Higuera Guerrero’s extradition, although Mexican authorities said he likely is to be prosecuted at home first.

Mr. Higuera Guerrero was among a dozen senior members of the Arellano Felix organization named in two indictments in San Diego in July 2003, accused of being part of a conspiracy to import and distribute hundreds of tons of cocaine and marijuana in the United States beginning in the early 1980s.

The cartel leaders were accused of negotiating directly with Colombian cocaine trafficking organizations, including a guerilla outfit, for the purchase of multiton shipments of cocaine. They also were accused of recruiting bodyguards and assassins to protect the leaders of the organization and eliminate rivals.

The Zambada operation is thought to be one of the most powerful in Mexico, smuggling cocaine and marijuana through almost every port of entry in Arizona and elsewhere along the 1,940-mile Southwest border.

Zambada-Garcia emerged as one of the top drug smugglers in Mexico after a bloody battle with the Arellano Felix organization, the once-powerful Tijuana cartel.

Zambada-Garcia was captured two years ago and, U.S. authorities say, Mr. Higuera-Guerrero emerged as the cartel’s chief operating officer.

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