Mexican Drug Cartels Thrive Under New Traffickers

Mexican Drug Cartels Thrive Under New Traffickers
Posted by FoM on December 06, 1999 at 09:39:36 PT
By James F. Smith - Los Angeles Times
Source: Kansas City Star
When cocaine boss Amado Carrillo Fuentes died in July 1997 during plastic surgery to disguise his identity, some analysts predicted the collapse of his Juarez cartel, one of the hemisphere's premier drug-smuggling gangs. 
But the four suspected cemeteries of Juarez cartel victims discovered last week near the border city of the same name provide gruesome evidence that Mexico's major drug gangs remain powerful and vicious threats to Mexico and the United States. The key Mexican drug cartels, U.S. and Mexican officials agree, have evolved constantly in recent years even amid a crackdown against them. A new generation of younger traffickers, sometimes called "narco-juniors," has added a cold, high-tech sophistication to the arsenal of old-fashioned corruption and brutality that made the cartels so feared. The narco-juniors are no less brutal, but "their human and material structures are lighter, they disguise their merchandise, they move with more discretion, they are better-educated, and they have more of an entrepreneurial vision of their business," Proceso magazine said in an August analysis of the new breed. Thomas Constantine, who resigned recently as head of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, assessed the power of the cartels on ABC's "Nightline" last week. He said the drug cartels in Mexico "are really more powerful than the government. The reason I say this is they make hundreds of millions of dollars, they kill hundreds of people, they are charged time and again in U.S. courts, and they are never arrested." He added: "The only conclusion I can draw is that they are operating in a sanctuary, and in that sanctuary they are more powerful than the central government." Richard A. Fiano, the Drug Enforcement Administration's current chief of operations, agreed with that conclusion in testimony to a congressional subcommittee in September. Mexico's four major cartels, he said, are in many ways the 1990s versions of the mob leaders and groups that U.S. law enforcement has fought since the beginning of the century. "These international organized-crime leaders, however, are far more dangerous, far more influential and have a greater impact on our day-to-day lives than did their domestic predecessors," he said. "Their power and influence are unprecedented." The four major cartels, smuggling drugs ranging from marijuana to Colombian cocaine and Mexican-grown heroin, dominate Mexican cross-border trafficking to U.S. cities. The Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that these cartels provide 60 percent of the cocaine and 14 percent of the heroin consumed in the United States. The Juarez cartel is considered one of the two most powerful cartels. The other is the Tijuana cartel, run by Benjamin and Ramon Arellano-Felix. A third major cartel, run by Miguel Caro-Quintero, is based in Sonora in northern Mexico. The fourth significant player, according to Drug Enforcement Administration analysts, is the Amezcua brothers' methamphetamine smuggling operation, based in Guadalajara. Three Amezcua brothers are in custody and awaiting extradition proceedings that would bring them to the United States for trial. Some analysts still include the Gulf cartel among the major players, but most say it has been broken up with the arrest of its boss, Juan Garcia Abrego. Bitter fighting between the Juarez cartel and other bands for the spoils of the Gulf cartel has led to constant killing in Tamaulipas and other cities along the Gulf Coast. That kind of violence also occurred within the Juarez cartel as well after the bizarre death of Carrillo Fuentes. Despite the bloody succession battles that followed the death of "the lord of the skies," the Juarez cartel not only survived but spread its wings, establishing a formidable operation in the resort city of Cancun. That operation apparently even corrupted the governor of Quintana Roo state, Mario Villanueva, who went into hiding in February on the day his term ended. Mexican prosecutors said Cancun and the nearby Caribbean coast had become a primary Juarez cartel gateway for drop-offs by high-speed boats of Colombian cocaine. Prosecutors have indicted Villanueva in what they call the "maxi-process" against the Juarez cartel, which names more than 100 defendants, some in custody and others on the run. But arrest warrants and prosecutions don't necessarily mean convictions and jail time for Mexican traffickers. Fiano told the congressional subcommittee that the Mexican cartels' "ability to avoid arrest and continue to ship drugs into the United States is attributable to their ability to intimidate witnesses, assassinate and corrupt public officials." Mexican Attorney General Jorge Madrazo argued last week that the discovery of the purported cemeteries near Juarez showed that U.S. and Mexican authorities were working together effectively and achieving some breakthroughs against the Juarez cartel. Madrazo has pointed to several high-level arrests of Juarez cartel figures this year and a well-publicized crackdown on the organization's burgeoning Cancun smuggling operation as signs of progress. On Wednesday, his U.S. counterpart, Janet Reno, also lauded Mexico's attempts to fight internal corruption and take on the powerful cartels. Madrazo says that as many as 22 U.S. citizens are among the 100 persons officially reported missing in Juarez in the mid-1990s, underlining the cross-border nature of the threat. The working hypothesis, Madrazo says, is that the graves contain victims of the Juarez cartel. The extent of the Juarez cartel's reach into Mexican life became clear last year when officials disclosed that its leaders had nearly managed to buy a Mexican bank, Banco Anahuac, as a conduit for money-laundering operations of the cartel's profits. The deal was thwarted when regulators became suspicious. The international scope of the cartel was underlined Thursday when Juan Miguel Ponce Edmonson, director of Interpol in Mexico, disclosed that Argentine police had arrested suspected money launderers for the Juarez cartel and had seized several properties. Ponce said evidence showed that the cartel also had operated in Brazil, Chile and Uruguay at least until Amado Carrillo's death. While the Juarez cartel has suffered some substantial blows from Mexican law enforcement initiatives, the Tijuana cartel of the Arellano-Felix brothers appears to have survived relatively unscathed. Constantine, testifying before Congress in March, described the Tijuana cartel as "arguably the most violent of the drug-trafficking organizations," but he noted that "the truly significant principals have not been arrested and appear to be immune to any law enforcement efforts." Published: December 5, 1999All content  1999 The Kansas City Star Related Articles:From Bad To Worse - 12/06/99 Don't Give Up On The Drug War - 12/05/99 Massacres Reflect Failure of US War On Drugs-12/03/99
Home Comment Email Register Recent Comments Help

Post Comment

Name: Optional Password: 
Comment: [Please refrain from using profanity in your message]
Link URL: 
Link Title: