Letter from Mexico

Drug lord 'La Barbie' takes spotlight in Mexico City

Stashing cash in spare tires, engine transmissions and truckloads of baby diapers, couriers for Mexican drug cartels are moving tens of billions of dollars south across the border each year. U.S. border and customs agents at crossings such as this one in Laredo, Tex., inspect vehicles for drug money in an effort to catch the bulk cash before it makes it into Mexico.
By William Booth and Nick Miroff
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, September 4, 2010; 5:48 PM

MEXICO CITY - A ritual is performed when drug lords are arrested here. They are paraded before the news cameras, often with black eyes and fresh bruises, then stand shackled and grimacing between a pair of masked police.

The tough guys look tough, and they don't talk so much as mumble.

But the alleged gringo gangster called "La Barbie" smirked. And bragged.

In videotaped confessions that have riveted this country, a sweaty, cocky, beefy Barbie boasts he was pals with the most famous crime bosses in Mexico, that he was rich, had "offices" in Colombia and Panama, and that he paid "some movie guys" $200,000 to film the story of his life - but didn't much like the script.

What happened to the filmmakers?

He says doesn't know.

Edgar Valdez Villarreal was arrested after a 14-month manhunt involving 1,200 Mexican federal police and an unknown number of U.S. agents. He faces multiple indictments in the United States for importing tons of cocaine. Mexican authorities say he is a kidnapper, torturer and murderer - as well as a major trafficker of marijuana and cocaine.

"Someone should write a book about this guy," said a senior U.S. law enforcement official who works in Mexico.

The agent added that the United States would like to bring Valdez home for trial - he wouldn't even need to be extradited. La Barbie is a U.S. citizen and could simply be deported as an illegal alien. "We would like to nail him," the official said.

Valdez, 37, was born and raised in south Texas. He reportedly was a good student and a high school football star in the border town of Laredo, where he lived in a nice house in a nice neighborhood and went to a private high school. According to law enforcement agents, he began his climb up the criminal ladder after he started drinking and driving in Texas - and killed a man in an auto accident.

He got his nickname, Barbie, from a coach who thought the lean, dark-haired, square-jawed teen was as handsome as a Ken doll -- though these days with his smirking grin stretched across chipmunk cheeks, La Barbie looks more like a sinister version of actor Seth Rogen.

Had he been arrested in the United States, an alleged criminal mastermind of Valdez's stature would probably have zipped his lips. But in Mexico, where organized crime and celebrity often go together, Valdez has been more than willing to puff up the legend. Shown boasting to police interrogators about his "investments" in Colombia in one recent video clip released to the press, Valdez was asked: drugs?

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