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Top Mexican Drug Trafficker Arrested, Charged With Murder

June 25, 1995

GUADALAJARA, Mexico (AP) _ Soldiers and federal agents arrested one of Mexico’s most wanted drug traffickers, who was charged with murder in the 1993 assassination of a Roman Catholic cardinal, authorities said Saturday.

Luis Hector Palma Salazar, leader of the Sinaloa drug cartel, was arrested Friday afternoon in a plush residential area of Guadalajara, Attorney General Antonio Lozano Gracia said at a Mexico City news conference late Saturday.

Seven federal agents acting as bodyguards were arrested with him, and authorities said by Saturday night 33 federal agents who worked with Palma were in custody. Among them was federal judicial police Cmdr. Apolinar Pintor Aguilera, who Palma said had shielded him from arrest.

The agents’ arrests highlighted the collaboration between Mexican police and the cartels shipping tons of cocaine and other drugs into the United States. ``There are bad public servants,″ Lozano said.

Soldiers surrounded the Guadalajara office of the federal attorney general Saturday to guard against retaliation.

Palma acknowledged that a pistol encrusted with diamonds and emeralds in the shape of a palm tree was his, but denied any link to drug trafficking. He said he earned $8,000 a month as a cattle rancher.

Police were alerted to Palma’s location after his plane crashed Thursday night on its way to Guadalajara, Lozano said. Two people were killed in the crash, but local residents rescued Palma.

Palma, known as ``El Guero″ for his fair hair, was arrested in Guadalajara the next day.

Authorities say Palma took over the Sinaloa cartel after its leader, Joaquin Guzman Loera, was arrested in Guatemala in May 1993. The cartel is based in the northwestern state of Sinaloa.

Both Guzman and Palma were implicated in the murder of Cardinal Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo, his driver and five others in a spray of gunfire at the Guadalajara airport in May 1993. Authorities have not released details of their reputed involvement.

The two also are suspected of involvement in a November 1992 shootout at a Puerto Vallarta discotheque that left six people dead.

Palma faced nine arrest warrants for ``several homicides,″ but investigators refused to give details on the charges.

Prosecutors initially said that the cardinal died in a shootout between rival drug gangs. Later they acknowledged he was assassinated.

Footage of the cardinal’s bullet-riddled body, slumped over in his luxury car, shocked this predominantly Catholic nation. His chauffeur and five others also were slain.

Posadas, 66, was an outspoken critic of the drug cartels. The slaying focused attention on a seamy side of Mexico in which drug traffickers have been allowed by local authorities to operate freely, shipping tons of marijuana, cocaine and heroin each month to the United States.

Federal officials plastered the country with wanted posters for Palma and other drug traffickers wanted in Posada’s slaying. They offered a 5 million reward for information leading to the traffickers’ arrests.

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