Pubdate: Sun, 16 Mar 2003
Source: North County Times (CA)
Copyright: 2003 North County Times
Author: Mark Stevenson, Associated Press 


MEXICO CITY (AP)- The arrest of reputed drug cartel leader Osiel Cardenas,
nearly a year after the death of a notorious drug lord and the arrest of his
brother, could mark the end of an era for the narcotics kingpins who have
dominated the nation for two decades. 

Smaller, more businesslike gangs, which fight less among themselves but
react violently to police pressure, appear to be taking the place of the big
"corporate" cartels. 

"These cartels have changed, they have fragmented, they have become more
rationalized in some aspects," Mexican Defense Secretary Gen. Gerardo Vega
said. "Obviously, this makes it harder to detect who their leaders are." 

Cardenas, who allegedly headed an army of 300 hit men and drug traffickers
in the Gulf coast state of Tamaulipas, was so powerful he enlisted dozens of
police as bodyguards. 

He was captured Friday after a shootout with Mexican troops in the border
city of Matamoros, across from Brownsville, Texas. 

Ramon Arellano Felix, once Mexico's most-wanted drug lord, was fatally shot
by police in the Pacific coast resort of Mazatlan in February 2002. His
brother Benjamin was arrested at his home east of Mexico City a month later. 

"It's possible that Ramon Arellano Felix was the last of the truly violent
drug lords," Mexico's top anti-drug prosecutor, Estuardo Bermudez told The
Associated Press. 

Arellano Felix's wrath was the stuff of legend: He once killed a traffic cop
because he didn't like the man's looks. 

But the days of that kind of bravado, like the raging gunbattles between
platoons of drug hit men in discos and airports in the early 1990s, may be

"Those that remain are no longer killing each other. We're no longer seeing
those battles where they sought to eliminate each other," Bermudez said. 

Many of the drug lords were so rich, so well-protected that even a man such
as Arellano Felix -- then at the top of the FBI's most-wanted list --
managed to cross the border to Texas, travel to California to visit his
family, then cross back to Tijuana undetected, Mexican police say. 

They left behind vast mansions, jewel-encrusted guns -- Cardenas' pistol
grips had a gold panther inlaid on one side, a skull worked in rubies on the
other -- and hundreds, if not thousands, of graves. 

At least two suspected drug lords -- Vicente Carrillo Fuentes and Joaquin
Loera Guzman -- remain at large, but their organizations appear to have been
fractured by previous arrests. 

While lacking the big names and reputations of the past, the new, nameless
breed of traffickers may be smarter. 

"The drug traffickers interact with each other," Bermudez said. "They've
found out that the best way to get manage things is to tolerate each other." 

Which is not to say they aren't just as deadly. 

This past week, for the first time ever in Mexico, traffickers protecting
opium poppy fields began shooting down drug fumigation helicopters. On
Monday, gunmen blasted two such police helicopters out of the sky, killing
all five agents aboard. 

In fact, while smaller drug gangs could be less murderous toward one other,
they pose new problems for police. 

The larger cartels were veritable corporations, with full-time accountants,
bankers, and money launderers. They shipped such huge quantities of drugs
into the United States that they could write off the loss of a small
percentage of shipments to police seizures as just a cost of doing business
- -- like bribing police. 

But a smaller trafficker may see his whole operation folded by one police
raid or fumigation run -- and thus may be more inclined to try to fight off
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