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La Barbie: from football star to feared drug lord

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"Intelligence information indicates that 'La Barbie' trafficked one ton of cocaine each month," Federal Police counternarcotics chief Ramon Pequeno said at a news conference Tuesday.

His capture gives a boost to President Felipe Calderón, who declared war on drug cartels after coming to power in late 2006. The death toll, which recently soared past 28,000 people, has soured many Mexicans on Calderón's tough drug-enforcement policies. Valdez is the third top drug lord to be arrested or killed in nine months.

Government officials seemed to be seeking to regain support by offering abundant details about Valdez's background and capture.

Poire declared that Valdez maintained ties to drug gangs operating in the US and Central and South America, and a series of arrests during the day in Colombia appeared to bear out that claim.

From Laredo to Mexico City

Born in Laredo, Valdez's moved to Mexico City, where in 1998 he met Arturo Beltran-Leyva, a drug lord working for the surging Sinaloa Cartel, Pequeno said. As the Texan worked his way up the criminal chain, first in Nuevo Laredo along the border, then starting in 2004 in the Pacific Coast resort of Acapulco, he nurtured a reputation for extreme violence, including frequent beheadings of the Beltran-Leyva group's enemies.

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