Pubdate: Sun, 31 Mar 2002
Source: Corpus Christi Caller-Times (TX)
Copyright: 2002 Corpus Christi Caller-Times
Author: Tim Weiner, New York Times News Service
Bookmark: (Mexico)


Informants Have Led To The Capture, Arrest Of Dozens, Including A Gulf 
Cartel Leader

MEXICO CITY - Outgunned and outspent, the Mexican government is nonetheless 
scoring striking victories against the drug cartels that have corrupted the 
country for two decades.

More than 20 of Mexico's most-wanted men have been arrested in recent 
months, in an anticrime wave without real precedent.

The accused drug lords are reputed to have controlled billions of dollars 
in cocaine and paid bribes to thousands of police officers, prosecutors and 
judges. The latest suspects to fall were Benjamin Arellano Felix, charged 
as the leader of the Tijuana drug cartel, on March 9, and Adan Medrano 
Rodriguez, known as the Gulf cartel's operations chief, on March 27.

Turning into informants

What changed? A handful of traffickers became government informants, 
officials said. The information led to arrests, and some of those arrested 
turned into informants, leading to many more arrests.

"The quality of the intelligence has gone up," Asa Hutchinson, chief of the 
U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, said in a telephone interview on 
Friday. "These building blocks of intelligence let us get to the 
highest-level traffickers."

American trust in Mexican officials - a trust that did not exist two years 
ago - is deepening with each new arrest. The United States is channeling 
secret intelligence to Mexico without fearing that corrupt agents will sell 
it to traffickers.

Taking out the leaders

Still, the quantity of drugs that reaches American streets from Mexico is 
undiminished. The traffickers shrug off seizures of multimillion- dollar 
cocaine shipments. They have "an unlimited ability to lose tons of dope and 
still make a profit," the senior law enforcement official in Mexico said.

But the arrests have had an effect in Mexico. The chiefs of the Tijuana and 
Sinaloa cartels are in prison. So are the two top lieutenants of the Gulf 
cartel and the operations chief of the Juarez cartel. All this has happened 
in the last 11 months.

"The trick is to take down the people," the senior law enforcement official 
in Mexico said.

"It's one thing to lose your money, your property, your residence. It's 
another to lose your life or your freedom."

Now turf wars and fratricide are breaking out among the cartels.

"We see a scattering within the organizations," said Jose Santiago 
Vasconcelos, chief of Mexico's federal organized-crime unit. "We're seeing 
an internal struggle."
- ---
MAP posted-by: Ariel