Pubdate: Sat, 23 Jun 2001
Source: The Southeast Missourian (MO)
Copyright: 2001, Southeast Missourian
Author: Julie Watson, The Associated Press


MATAMOROS, Mexico -- The six state police officers handed over their guns 
and laid down on the floor of their headquarters, obediently following the 
orders of the masked assailants.

Another dozen heavily armed assailants stood outside the Tamaulipas State 
Police Ministry as the late afternoon sun beat down on Lauro Villar 
Boulevard, where people came and went from nearby stores and traffic 
whizzed by only blocks from the Texas border.

As the group hurried into getaway trucks, a frustrated officer ran out and 
fired his gun. The group showered the building with bullets. Then they 
disappeared -- taking with them a soldier who was being questioned about a 
drug-related kidnapping.

The account of Tuesday's assault was given Thursday by Tamaulipas police 
Officer Isidro Torres.

While authorities tried to assure residents the raid was an isolated 
incident, it gave a sobering peek at the strength of organized crime in 
this border city, where such drug violence had become rare since the fall 
of reputed kingpin Juan Garcia Abrego.

In the raid, a dozen AK-47 toting men dressed in black and wearing 
bulletproof vests took control of the three-story police building within 

"At first we thought it was a joke by the federal police," Officer Ulises 
Rodriguez said. "But upon seeing their assault weapons we obeyed their orders."

Revived operations

The Gulf Cartel -- whose name comes from Mexico's northern Gulf coast, 
where it is most active -- was the strongest of the border-based Mexican 
cartels until 1996, when Garcia Abrego was sentenced in Houston to 11 life 
terms for drug smuggling.

The cartel was reportedly revived by drug lord Osiel Cardenas but has 
stayed out of the public eye until recently.

Police believe cartel members may be behind Tuesday's raid that took Jose 
Ramon Davila, 22. The soldier from Tijuana had told police he was hired to 
kidnap businessman Ricardo Garcia Garcia and his wife "to settle accounts," 
Torres said. Davila would not say who hired him to do the job.

Early Thursday, authorities arrested two people involved in the raid of the 
police building, and said they were looking for 20 others who participated 
as well.

Police are also trying to rescue Garcia Garcia and his wife, who were 
kidnapped Tuesday.

'What are we winning?'

Matamoros knows the wrath of drug traffickers well. In 1984, gunmen ran 
down the hallways of a private hospital where a rival drug smuggler was 
being treated, shooting into the rooms and killing five people. In 1991, a 
drug ring organized inside a state prison rioted, burning down the jail and 
killing 18 people.

"This is not new to us. It's part of the enormous power of the drug 
traffickers, and I don't see any possibility of stopping them by the way we 
are doing things," historian Andres Cuellar said. "The only results have 
been deaths, which number in the thousands each year, in exchange for 
nothing. What are we winning? The drugs keep going to the United States and 
people keep using them."

Cuellar believes the answer is to legalize certain drugs and launch public 
service campaigns about their health dangers.

But for Torres, who was on duty but not in the building when the group 
seized it, the only way is to match the drug traffickers' force.
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