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Former Sinaloa Drug Lord Dead in Shootout

Mexican drug lord Arturo Beltrán Leyva, known as the Boss of Bosses, was killed Wednesday night after a two-hour grenade and gun fight with Mexican Navy forces. The Financial Times calls it:

one of the clearest victories for the government since it declared an all-out war against organised crime.

Last year Beltrán Leyva, known as "El Barbas" and his brothers had broken up with Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, eader of the Federation (which combined the Sinaloa and Juárez cartels), in a bloody drug war. The Beltranes then joined forces with the Gulf Cartel and the cartel's enforcers, the Zetas.

Beltrán Leyva had consolidated a drug empire in the state of (warning: gruesome photo at the link) Morelos, where he controlled 15 of the 33 municipalities. Whole sections of Cuautla, Jojutla y Cuernavaca were under his control, while he was headquartered in Cuernavaca after his January 2008 break-up with Sinaloa.

Following last year's outbreak of violence, Beltrán Leyva's wide-ranging criminal activities had been under pressure by Mexican authorities. The Washington Post reports:

Mexican authorities had been closing in on Beltrán Leyva in recent months, capturing and killing his junior associates. They raided a lavish party in the colonial town of Tepoztlan, near Cuernavaca, last week and killed three alleged Beltrán Leyva cartel members. Performing at the party was Ramón Ayala, a popular Texas-based singer, whose attorney denied that his client had any ties to organized crime. [On Thursday, a judge ordered Ayala jailed for up to 40 days pending investigation, the Associated Press reported.] In another near-miss, Beltrán Leyva associates were arrested after attending a baptism he hosted in Acapulco.

Beltrán Leyva was alleged to have masterminded a corruption racket involving high-level Mexican officials in the attorney general's office and federal police, including a former chief of the unit targeting organized crime, Noé Ramírez Mandujano. Ramírez is suspected to have taken almost $500,000 in bribes from Beltrán Leyva.

Mexican officials also hold Beltrán Leyva responsible for the assassination of federal police chief Edgar Eusebio Millán Gómez last year.

Mexican and U.S. drug officials had hinted for two months that authorities would soon capture some "big fish" in Mexico. The death of Beltrán Leyva follows a strategy pushed by officials on both sides of the border to go after his cartel's leadership.

The apartment where Beltrán Leyva was found was only one of several safe houses his cartel owned.

You can watch a Mexican TV news report (in Spanish) here.

Mexican authorities predict an increase in violence may be possible in the power struggle to take Beltrán Leyva's place.

Mexico's president Felipe Calderón praised the Mexican Navy's operation.

The Wall Street Journal has an interactive timeline of Mexico's war on drugs since Felipe Calderón took office in 2006. Associated Press has a time line of arrests, deaths of Mexican druglords. Last January I posted on the Mexican drug wars, and included a link to the 2007 CRS Report for Congress on Mexico’s Drug Cartels, which provides an overview of Mexican drug cartels and their operations.