Pubdate: Sun, 10 Mar 2002
Source: Observer, The (UK)
Copyright: 2002 The Observer
Author: Tony Thompson


At first it seemed like just another incident on the increasingly violent 
streets of Mexico. Three men, brandishing guns and driving a battered 
Volkswagen through the Mexican port city of Mazatlán, a Pacific coast beach 
resort popular with Americans, failed to stop at a routine police 
checkpoint. A chase and shoot-out in front of a hotel left two of the three 

Four weeks later, police have learned that the incident struck the single 
biggest blow against the world narcotics trade since the death of Pablo 
Escobar. One of the dead men turned out to be none other than Ramon 
Arellano-Felix - the world's most powerful drugs baron and a leading 
fugitive on the FBI's most wanted list.

Comfirmation of his identity was delayed because immediately after the 
shooting, people claiming to be family members retrieved the body and had 
it cremated.

In the photo of Felix on FBI posters, he has a chubby face and sports a 
lengthy hairdo that went out of fashion years ago. The dead man looked very 
different and he is believed to have had plastic surgery - a common 
practice among drug lords. DNA from blood samples confirmed his identity 
last night. Soon afterwards police announced they had arrested his brother, 
Benjamin, who was responsible for running the financial side of the cartel.

Richer and more powerful than Pablo Escobar, the Arellano-Felix brothers 
had quietly risen up the ranks to become the suppliers of 70 per cent of 
the world's cocaine. Fearless and supremely confident Ramon once tested a 
new gun by simply shooting the first person he passed in his car, confident 
no one in his home town would dare report the crime.

Their gang's vicious reputation of gunning down victims in broad daylight 
has turned Tijuana, a border city through which 40 million people pass 
every year, into one of Mexico's most violent places.

Ramon Arellano-Felix is personally believed to have been behind the 
killings of police commanders, lawyers, judges, pregnant women, even 
children roused from their beds and forced to line up with their families 
as gunmen riddled them with bullets. He famously enlisted the sons of some 
of Tijuana's wealthiest families to do his dirty work. Dubbed 
'narco-juniors' and pumped up with cocaine, these rich young men were 
especially brutal.

In one killing, in 1996, gunmen shot a state prosecutor more than 100 times 
outside his Tijuana home and then drove their van over his body dozens of 
times. In another instance they killed a three-year-old boy, cut him open 
and stuffed his internal cavities with drugs. They then dressed him and 
strapped him into the baby seat of a car which crossed the border.

The cartel is known to spend $75 million per year bribing police, military 
and government officials. In the past five years at least six Mexican 
generals have been jailed because of links to the cartel, including the 
head of the army's anti-drugs unit. The power of the cartels was 
highlighted in Steven Soderbergh's award-winning film Traffic, in which the 
drug barons were based loosely on Arellano-Felix and his men.

Although his death and the arrest of his brother is seen as a major 
victory, no one believes it will make any difference to the drugs trade. 
'The Tijuana cartel is like a Fortune 500 company,' said Will Glaspy of the 
US Drug Enforcement Administration. 'Their stocks may go up and down a bit, 
but it is not going to shut down. The organisation is very powerful, very 
violent and very dangerous. They will continue smuggling tons of cocaine, 
heroin and marijuana into the US.'
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