Pubdate: Sun, 12 Jan 2003
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2003 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Author: Anna Cearley


TIJUANA - Members of a Mexican federal anti-narcotics squad were
detained and their office abruptly closed Friday night after soldiers
found almost five tons of unreported marijuana in their building.

According to the Mexican Attorney General's Office, at least seven
agents with the group known by its Spanish acronym FEADS were being
questioned, as well as two civilians who are believed to be linked to
the 1,897 packets of drugs.

The civilians had apparently been held at the group's office for three
days, a federal law enforcement source said.

The agents never notified the Mexican Attorney General's Office of the
drug find as required, prompting speculation that they were working
for a drug-trafficking group.

The Fiscalia Especializada para la Atencion de Delitos Contra la
Salud, the special prosecutor's office for attention to crimes against
health. The FEADS office is Mexico's equivalent of the U.S. Drug
Enforcement Administration. It was formed in 1997 to replace another
federal drug-fighting squad that was disbanded after its agents were
found to be working for drug traffickers.

Cartels try to form alliances with law enforcement agents to
streamline the passage of drugs into the United States. The Arellano
Felix drug cartel, which has traditionally dominated the Baja
California border, has been particularly adept at cultivating these
ties. But since the arrest and death of two of the Arellano brothers
last year, other groups have attempted to muscle into the region and
create their own police links.

The military found the marijuana when soldiers were doing a routine
check of firearms and security measures at the FEADS' Tijuana
headquarters, according to a news release issued yesterday by the
Mexican Attorney General's Office.

However, the federal law enforcement source said the military was
tipped off about the drugs.

By Friday evening, dozens of soldiers had surrounded the group's
Tijuana office, an inconspicuous gray building on Boulevard de las
Bellas Artes, five blocks west of the Otay Mesa border crossing. No
injuries or shootings were reported.

Soldiers remained stationed around the building yesterday. A soldier
said no one was inside and no one was permitted to enter.

The federal law enforcement source said about 15 agents operated out
of the Tijuana office, including the commander, Miguel Angel Uribe,
who is said to be among the seven detained.

The five-year-old FEADS has had its martyrs. In 2000, three FEADS
agents who were investigating the Arellano cartel were tortured and
slain, their deaths masked as a traffic accident. The agents' work had
led to the detention of Jesus Labra Aviles, one of the cartel's top
lieutenants. Their deaths drew attention on both sides of the border,
because the agents were known and respected by U.S.

But the Mexican Attorney General's Office has apparently grown
concerned that FEADS is becoming too insular. Just days ago the office
made a point of reminding its agents that they must report their
activities to the federal attorney general's offices in each state.

Mexico has continued creating drug-fighting forces - and disbanding
others - in an effort to keep its police force clean. President
Vicente Fox, faced with the same dilemma, has created two such
agencies during his two-year-old administration.

The Policia Federal Preventiva, or Federal Preventive Police, is an
intelligence-gathering group that reports to the Secretary of Public
Security, a cabinet post. The force's investigations contributed last
year to the discovery of a tunnel used to move drugs into the United

The Agencia Federal de Investigacion, or AFI, stands for the Federal
Agency of Investigation, and it's sometimes compared to the U.S.
Federal Bureau of Investigation. Like FEADS, it falls under the
Mexican Attorney General's Office.

At least a dozen AFI agents were apparently flown in from Mexico City
yesterday to investigate the FEADS case.

"I don't know why they keep on creating more groups rather than create
one that has less corruption," said Victor Clark, a Tijuana-based
human-rights activist who follows the underworld.

"They haven't been able to eradicate drug trafficking, and now the
police are divided into many groups and that gives the drug
traffickers more options to work with."

Though the military has been taking a greater role in combating drug
trafficking, most notably in last year's arrest of Benjamin Arellano
in Puebla state, it hasn't been immune from corruption.

Gen. Alfredo Navarro Lara, now imprisoned, was working on behalf of
the Arellano cartel in 1997 when he offered a $1 million bribe to the
head of the federal Attorney General's Office in Baja California, who
turned it down. Navarro said he had been threatened and pressured by
the cartel.

That same year, Mexico's drug czar, Gen. Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo, who
headed the agency that FEADS later replaced, was arrested after
officials said he had received protection money from a drug
trafficking group headed by Amado Carrillo. Carrillo, now deceased,
was a bitter enemy of the Arellanos.
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