4 Mexican military officials accused of organized crime ties

Edgar Valdez Villareal a.k.a. 'La Barbie'  -- one of the most ruthless drug traffickers in Mexico -- was captured in August, 2010.

Story highlights

  • A former deputy defense secretary is charged with connections to organized crime
  • Four top military officials are in a maximum-security prison
  • A notorious suspected drug lord is also accused in the case
  • The case rekindles debate over the military's role in Mexico's drug war

Mexican authorities accused four top military officials of connections with organized crime in a high-profile case that has renewed debate over the role of government troops in the drug war.

A former deputy defense secretary was among the officials in a maximum-security prison in central Mexico Wednesday, a day after prosecutors accused them of having cartel ties.

One of Mexico's most notorious accused drug lords, Edgar "La Barbie" Valdez Villarreal, was also indicted in the case Tuesday, but authorities did not specify the connection between him and the military officials.

Authorites have described the American-born Valdez, known as "La Barbie" because of his blue eyes and fair complexion, as one of the most ruthless drug traffickers in Mexico. A judge charged him with homicide Tuesday, but authorities did not provide details about the allegations against him.

Valdez is also accused in the United States of attempting to launder money and conspiring to import and distribute cocaine.

More than 47,500 people have been killed in drug-related violence in Mexico since December 2006, when President Felipe Calderon announced a crackdown on cartels.

In the halls of Mexico's Congress, this week's indictment of the military officials rekindled discussion over a hallmark of Calderon's strategy: deploying thousands of troops into the streets to patrol hot spots where warring cartels are battling over turf.

"While the army is in the streets, when there are these kinds of topics that are very sensitive coming up, it seems to me that we must look at this process with all the transparency in the world so that there aren't any doubts about the fair trial that everyone deserves, including the generals," Sen. Ruben Camarillo of the conservative National Action Party told Mexico's state-run Notimex news agency.

Mary Telma Guajardo of the leftist Democratic Revolution Party told Notimex that the case was an unfortunate sign that organized crime had infiltrated the military's ranks.

"We have to find a way to protect the Mexican Army because it is one of our most prestigious institutions," she said.

Brig. Gen. Roberto Dawe Gonzalez, retired Lt. Col. Silvio Isidro de Jesus Hernandez Soto and retired Gen. Ricardo Escorcia Vargas and Tomas Angeles Dauahare -- a retired general and former deputy defense secretary -- were charged Tuesday.

The military officials were arrested in May, but Tuesday's indictment marked the first time formal charges were brought against them.

Angeles' attorney, Ricardo Sanchez, told CNNMexico.com that the former defense official had been expecting the charges and welcomed the opportunity to defend his innocence in a trial.

In May, after the officials were detained, all three major political parties in Mexico called for a full investigation into reports that he and other officers were being bribed to protect the now defunct Beltran Leyva cartel.

Lawmakers have lamented what could be one of the highest-level corruption cases in Mexico's recent history.

"If proven, the full weight of the law must be applied because they have been federal government officials and are responsible for combating organized crime, and if they are colluding with them the punishment should set an example," legislator Arturo Santana told state-run media.

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