Shot in the arm for drug drive by Mexico

Mexico City - Mexican officials yesterday announced the capture of a drug lord responsible for tonnes of cocaine entering the United States, just before a US decision on whether to re-certify Mexico as an ally in the drug war.

The attorney-general's announcement came as Congressmen urged President Bill Clinton to deprive Mexico of its official status as a fully co-operative ally in attempts to curb drug smuggling. Such status means Mexico can receive US financial aid to fight trafficking. The State Department was expected late yesterday to announce Mr Clinton's decisions on whether to certify the drug programmes of Mexico and 31 other countries.

Under arrest yesterday was Oscar Malherbe de Leon, head of the Gulf cartel, once ranked Mexico's second most powerful. A statement said prosecutors were preparing charges, including drug trafficking and possession. It did not say when he was captured. The arrest was another blow for the cartel, which grew from a backwoods marijuana operation into a booming operation under its now jailed kingpin, Juan Garcia Abrego. The statement said Mr Malherbe assumed the leadership after the arrest last year of Garcia Abrego, convicted in autumn by a US court of smuggling 15 tonnes of cocaine into the US. He was given 11 life sentences and fined $128m.

Mr Malherbe's arrest is the latest in a flurry of last-minute disclosures before today's Clinton deadline to submit his drug certification recommendations to Congress.With US sentiment growing to deny Mexico status as an anti- drug ally, Mexico's navy burned a tonne of cocaine on Thursday in a public display of its resolve to crack down on trafficking.