Pubdate: Mon, 11 Mar 2002
Source: Independent  (UK)
Copyright: 2002 Independent Newspapers (UK) Ltd.
Author: Jan McGirk in Mexico City


Mexico's most vicious drug trafficking gang, the Tijuana cartel, is being 
forced to regroup after army commandos captured its mastermind, Benjamin 
Arellano Felix, without firing a single shot.

The Mexican soldiers, who swooped early on Saturday, also discovered that 
the gang's sadistic co-leader, Arellano Felix's brother Ramon, was already 

The raid is considered the biggest victory in the international war on 
drugs since the death of the Colombian cocaine lord, Pablo Escobar.

The commandos stormed the hideout in Puebla, an hour's drive south-east of 
Mexico City, after disarming two guards.

When Benjamin, 49, confirmed the death of Ramon, the group's principal 
assassin, law enforcement officials in Mexico and the United States began 
to celebrate the fall of the house of Arellano Felix.

Rafael Macedo de la Concha, the prosecutor general of Mexico, announced: 
"The cartel has been totally dismantled.

"President Vicente Fox said: "This shows we are working with all 
seriousness to eradicate drug trafficking and drug production from Mexico."

The US authorities requested the extradition of Benjamin Arellano Felix for 
trafficking cocaine to America. There was a $2m (UKP1.4m) bounty on the two 
brothers, who have been a fixture on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted Fugitives 
list for years. On Friday, US officials arrested 22 suspected accomplices 
in Denver, Minneapolis and San Diego.

Francisco Arellano Felix, the oldest brother, has been in jail since 1993, 
and another is dead, but four more siblings remain at large. Enedina, a 
sister in her mid-thirties, is reputed to be a financial genius who can 
expertly launder the profits of the billion-dollar empire, which supplies 
some 70 per cent of the world's cocaine. A dozen businesses in Baja 
California were blacklisted by the Bush administration because of suspected 
drug links.

The family firm has grown exponentially in the past 15 years and moves tons 
of cocaine, heroin, cannabis and methamphetamine across the border through 
a network of tunnels and secret airstrips. Their bribery budget allegedly 
runs to $1m per day for politicians, governors, generals, judges, customs 
inspectors and policemen. The brothers were accused of arms smuggling, 
organised crime, torture and murder, and were linked to more than 300 
deaths in turf wars and vengeance killings.

Rumours of Ramon's death circulated following a police shootout in Mazatlan 
last month after a bullet-riddled body was claimed from a funeral home and 
hastily cremated. Testing of DNA from a bloodstained shirt and fingerprints 
taken from his 9mm revolver are under way in Washington. Suspicions that 
the cartel had faked Ramon's death are widespread.

The Arellano Felix gang has dominated the narcotics trade in recent years 
through brutality and bribery. Stephen Soderbergh's film Traffic is based 
loosely on their exploits, and alludes to Miguel Angel Felix's torture 

Even hardened police were shocked by the state of the body of the US drug 
enforcement agent, Enrique Kiki Camrena, after the gang crushed his skull 
in a vice in 1985. Enemies have been routinely found with their throats 
slit, or their bodies pumped with bullets and run over repeatedly. 
Intimidation by maiming rivals' children was standard. Ramon rarely 
delegated the violent murders and liked to be on hand.

The gang's macho mystique and flashy lifestyle fascinated the scions of 
wealthy Tijuana businessmen, who vied to take turns as hitmen for the gang, 
and were known as "narco-juniors". Arellano Felix also bankrolled election 
campaigns for candidates in local political races in Baja California.

Insiders doubt that there will be any decrease in the supply of narcotics. 
In fact, police are braced for a bloody power struggle for control of the 
profitable Pacific drug supply route. Eduardo Arellano Felix, a 48-year-old 
doctor, is predicted to emerge as the chief druglord within the gang.
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