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Mexico Announces Arrest of 2 Leaders of Top Drug Cartel

The Arellano Felix syndicate, already reeling from the capture or death of other chiefs, is now 'in ruins,' a U.S. official says.

June 08, 2004|Chris Kraul | Times Staff Writer

MEXICO CITY — The Mexican attorney general Monday announced the capture in Tijuana of two leaders of the Arellano Felix drug cartel and said the weakened syndicate faced stiff competition from other mafias for the smuggling corridor it previously monopolized along the nation's border with California.

Once thought to control one-quarter of the cocaine entering the United States, the so-called Tijuana cartel was crippled by the arrest of kingpin Benjamin Arellano Felix in March 2002, the shooting death by police of his brother Ramon the month before and the capture of several high-level functionaries.

The arrests announced Monday "epitomize cross-border cooperation and that this is an unrelenting effort to dismantle the power and erode the ability of the Arellano Felix organization to smuggle drugs into the United States," said John Fernandes, the special agent in charge of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's San Diego office.

Fernandes said his agency helped Mexican authorities locate the suspects, but he would not disclose the "methodology."

In a statement issued Monday from her Washington headquarters, DEA chief Karen P. Tandy said the arrests of the two men left the Arellano Felix organization "in ruins."

Efrain Perez Pasuengo and Jorge Aureliano Felix were captured without a struggle Thursday as the result of a joint operation by special federal police and Mexican army forces.

Both men have been indicted in U.S. federal courts. Rewards of up to $5 million had been offered for information leading to their arrest.

The two men were described Monday as top Arellano Felix operatives who controlled the logistics of Colombian drug deliveries to Baja California from elsewhere in Mexico and enforced the gang's diminishing hold on the local drug trade. Aureliano Felix is a former police officer.

In a news conference Monday, Atty. Gen. Rafael Macedo de la Concha said the power vacuum created by the arrests of major drug lords had led to an often-violent struggle for preeminence among competing cartels.

Among those vying for control of the Tijuana "platform," as authorities call the drug-smuggling corridor, are three gangs that Macedo said are led by Ismael Zambada and Joaquin "Chapo" Guzman of Sinaloa state and the Valencia group from Michoacan state.

"This process of recomposition, of confrontation, is designed to find and occupy the spaces that have been left uncontrolled owing to these arrests," said the attorney general, a former army general.

The captures announced Monday were the latest in a string that shows the resolve of President Vicente Fox's administration to go after the "big fish" who lead the half-dozen or so largest Mexican drug cartels. Among those arrested since Fox took office are Osiel Cardenas, the alleged head of the so-called Gulf cartel, in custody since March 2003.

In 2001, police working with army units captured Alcides Ramon Magana, or "El Metro," linked by authorities to the Juarez cartel. Also that year, former Quintana Roo Gov. Mario Villanueva, who allegedly smoothed the way for tons of illegal cocaine shipments to his state from Colombia, was arrested in Cancun after two years on the lam.

But drugs continue to flow through Mexico to the United States, often with the complicity of police and government officials.

In April, authorities arrested Jose Agustin Montiel Lopez, the police chief of Morelos state, for allegedly facilitating the landings of planeloads of Colombian cocaine at the Cuernavaca airport.

Also in April, authorities announced the suspension of 553 Morelos state police officers, although roughly half have since been reinstated.

Previously, entire police forces in Baja California have been fired for alleged involvement in drug trafficking.

On Monday, Atty. Gen. Macedo emphasized that his office had jailed many police and public servants.

The "purification" of the various Baja California police forces is an ongoing process, he said, adding: "The government of Baja California has been very cooperative."

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