Mexican police detain drug kingpin's father-in-law

Guillermo BARROS
File picture shows a wanted poster in Monterey, Mexico, offering a five million dollar reward for information on members of the Sinaloa cartel. Mexican police arrested the father-in-law of the head of the cartel, Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman, dealing a personal blow to the most wanted man in the country, officials said Tuesday

Mexican police arrested the father-in-law of drug lord Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman near the US border, dealing a personal blow to the most wanted man in Mexico, officials said.

Ines Coronel Barreras, who is suspected of smuggling marijuana to the United States, was captured by federal police in a house in the northern Sonora state "without taking a single shot," said senior interior ministry official Eduardo Sanchez Hernandez.

The 45-year-old alleged member of the Sinaloa drug cartel was detained alongside four other suspects in the town of Agua Prieta, which borders the US state of Arizona, Sanchez told a news conference.

Police also seized two vehicles, four rifles, one gun and 255 kilograms of marijuana. Sanchez said Coronel was growing marijuana and smuggling it into Arizona.

The government showed a video of the burly, mustachioed Coronel coming off a federal police airplane in handcuffs, wearing a short-sleeve checkered shirt and holding his head down.

One of the four other detainees was identified as Ines Omar Coronel Aispuro, 25, but officials did not say if he was related to Coronel Barreras.

The US Treasury Department designated Coronel as a "key operative" of the Sinaloa drug cartel in January, blacklisting him alongside a "senior lieutenant" of Guzman identified as Damaso Lopez Nunez.

The designation bars any US citizen from conducting business with them and freezes any assets they may have in the United States.

Coronel is the father of Guzman's third wife, former beauty queen Emma Coronel Aispuro, who married the drug kingpin in the northern state of Durango in 2007.

She reportedly gave birth to twin girls in California in 2011 but was not detained because there were no charges against her.

Coronel's arrest "is more a personal blow to El Chapo than against his organization," Raul Benitez Manaut, a security specialist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM), told AFP.

Guzman has been in hiding since escaping from a Mexican maximum security prison in 2001. He had been captured in Guatemala in 1993.

The United States has offered a $5 million reward for information leading to the arrest of Guzman, who was taken off Forbes magazine's list of billionaires this year.

Coronel's arrest came two days before US President Barack Obama visits Mexico for talks with President Enrique Pena Nieto amid a shift in Mexico's approach to the drug war.

The talks on Thursday come as Pena Nieto, who took office in December, has recalibrated the strategy by focusing on reducing violence and implementing crime prevention programs after more than 70,000 people were killed in the past six years.

His predecessor, Felipe Calderon, deployed thousands of troops to take on the cartels and forged a close relationship with US intelligence and law enforcement agencies in the drug war. Pena Nieto said he would keep soldiers in the streets of Mexico until the levels of violence come down.

Benitez Manaut said the shift has fueled rumors that the intensity of the drug war has come down and that the Mexican government wants to negotiate with drug bosses. With the arrest of Guzman's father-in-law, "they can demonstrate that it's not the case," he added.

"Maybe the government is looking for a high impact story that the war against drug trafficking continues in the face of stories that Obama's visit is only about the economy," the analyst said.