Pubdate: Tue, 18 Feb 2003
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2003 The New York Times Company
Author: Tim Weiner


REYNOSA, Mexico, Feb. 13 - The border is its own country. The Mexicans go 
to work "al otro lado," on the other side. The Texans come south to drink. 
The men wear the same kinds of cowboy boots, speak the same Spanglish and 
mix Miller Lite with their tequila in the border bars that double as bordellos.

Guillermo Gonzalez Calderoni was partly reared here. He started crossing 
over to the other side, to McAllen, Tex., when he was a schoolboy. Thirty 
years ago, he became a Mexico drug policeman. By 1985, he was a unnaturally 
powerful one.

By then, he had crossed the line so many times no one was sure which side 
he was on. Maybe he was crooked as the day is long, but his American 
colleagues swear that he was straight when their lives were on the line.

It may not matter now: he is dead. An assassin walked up to his silver 
Mercedes in McAllen on Feb. 5 and shot him right there on the sidewalk. He 
was 54. The McAllen police, who have identified no suspects, think it was a 
professional job.

He was buried on the other side, in McAllen, where he had fled for his life 
nine years ago. He was under the threat of death from Carlos Salinas, the 
president of Mexico at the time, his American friends testified.

No matter who killed him, his story now seems as remote and romantic as 
cowboys and Indians. Only yesterday, the border guards' biggest worry was 
drug trafficking, not detecting dirty bombs.

Some battle-scarred American drug warriors knew and loved Mr. Calderoni 
from the days when their war was the most important thing in the world down 
here. More than a couple came to his funeral on Feb. 8.

Two of them, Hector Berrellez and Phil Jordan, both highly decorated 
American drug-enforcement agents, were happy to vouch for Mr. Calderoni in 
telephone conversations. Others, more circumspect, wanted to stay anonymous.

They all swear that Mr. Calderoni had quite a career back in the 1980's. 
They say he took a million dollars from one drug lord, Amado Carillo 
Fuentes, to murder another one, Pablo Acosta.

They say he weighed and rejected taking $5 million from another cocaine 
kingpin, Miguel Felix Gallardo, an offer made immediately after Mr. 
Calderoni withdrew the barrel of an AK-47 from Mr. Gallardo's mouth and 
informed him that he was under arrest. They say he was taking money from 
the gulf cocaine cartel, then run by the brother of a boyhood friend, Jose 
Garcia Abrego.

He was "given the ultimatum - lead or silver," take a bullet or take a 
bribe, Mr. Jordan said. "He was an opportunist. He saw an opportunity with 

None of this really mattered to the American agents. What mattered was the 
Enrique Camerena case.

Enrique Camerena, an agent for the Drug Enforcement Administration known as 
Kiki, was captured, tortured and killed by Mexican drug dealers in 1985. 
The investigation into the killing "reached into the highest levels of the 
Mexican political apparatus," said Mr. Berrellez, who worked 24 years for 
the D.E.A. and considered himself among Mr. Calderoni's closest friends.

Mr. Calderoni, he said, broke the Camerena case for the United States. 
Nothing else counted. In their eyes, he became the most trusted police 
commander in Mexico - admittedly, not a long list.

"He was the only one who truly helped us in the Camerena case." Mr. 
Berrellez said. "And he was the only one who stood up the Salinas 
government and exposed their corruption. His information caused Carlos 
Salinas to have to leave Mexico." That information included accusations of 
large cash payments by drug lords to President Salinas's brother Raul.

Carlos Salinas left Mexico after his term ended in 1994 and lives in a kind 
of self-imposed exile, mostly in Ireland. Raul is in prison on charges 
including murder.

Mr. Calerdoni himself fled Mexico for McAllen a decade ago, pursued by 
charges of corruption and torture filed by the Salinas government. In 1994, 
Mr. Berrellez, among others, convinced a federal judge in Texas that the 
charges were bogus.

Mr. Calerdoni settled in McAllen, married a Mexican beauty queen and 
started a second family. By all accounts, he was a happy man. McAllen, a 
town of 106,000 that is mostly Hispanic, poor and striving, felt like home 
to him.

Mr. Berrellez called him from California two days before he died. "He'd 
been hunting that weekend," Mr. Berrellez said. "White-tailed deer. And 
then they came hunting him."

A long list of people had a motive to kill him and the money to hire a hit man.

Now the question is whether the power of his old loyalties will prove 
strong enough to break the case of his killing. The American agents who 
swore by Mr. Calderoni are retired or ready to hang up their badges; their 
drug war is a sideshow now.

But they know they have a blood debt to repay. "Every agent that worked 
with him, regardless of his corruption, knew that he single-handledly 
opened a lot of doors for us to get to the murderers and torturers of Kiki 
Camarena," Mr. Jordan said. "He was a colleague, the s.o.b."
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