Pubdate: Wed, 23 Dec 2009
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Page: Front Page, continued on page A24
Copyright: 2009 Los Angeles Times
Author: Tracy Wilkinson, Reporting from Mexico City
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Bookmark: (Mexico Under Siege (Series))

Mexico Under Siege


Hours After the Burial of a Marine Who Died in a Raid That Killed a 
Drug Lord, Gunmen Burst into His Home.

By Tracy Wilkinson, Reporting from Mexico City

The young marine received the highest military honors that the 
Mexican state could offer. Killed during a raid that ended the life 
of a notorious drug lord, the marine was buried a hero, ushered to 
his grave by an honor guard of commandos in camouflage, his mother 
awarded a folded flag.

Hours later, the grieving mother, the marine's sister, his brother 
and an aunt were mowed down by gunmen in a revenge attack that sent a 
chilling message to the Mexican military combating drug traffickers.

The slaughter of Melquisedet Angulo Cordova's family early Tuesday 
horrified Mexicans seemingly inured to a drug-war brutality that has 
claimed more than 15,000 lives in three years of spectacular 
violence. The killing, especially, of a mother seemed to violate the 
most basic code of conduct that even coldblooded hit men and 
traffickers obeyed.

Was it a mistake to have so publicly identified the family of the 
felled combatant? Military commandos carry out their dangerous 
missions with their faces covered by masks and with no hint of 
personal identity.

By contrast, the Angulo family had been seen in newspaper photos and 
on television, first during an elaborate memorial ceremony at navy 
headquarters over the weekend and then at the marine's funeral Monday 
in his home state of Tabasco. It appeared that no special protection 
was provided for the family.

Angulo, 30, died in a fierce gun battle a week ago in the city of 
Cuernavaca when navy special forces attacked the hide-out of Arturo 
Beltran Leyva, head of a major narco-trafficking organization. 
Beltran Leyva and six of his gunmen were killed in what the 
government immediately hailed as an important victory in the war on 
organized crime -- and one it was eager to celebrate.

Officials at the time also predicted more violence as Beltran Leyva's 
lieutenants might fight for control of the organization and other 
cartels would push to seize pieces of Beltran Leyva's empire. 
Instead, the first blow appears to have been an act of revenge and 

Beltran Leyva, who split with the powerful Sinaloa cartel, had allied 
with the so-called Zetas, ruthless gunmen who authorities speculated 
might be responsible for the slaying of Angulo's family members.

"The message was to the military and to the government, that if you 
hit us hard, we will respond in unprecedented ways," said Raul 
Benitez, a security expert. "This is the wrath of the Beltran Leyva 
family. It is very worrisome and should put the entire government on alert."

The decision by officials to show off pictures of Beltran Leyva's 
body -- half undressed and covered in peso bills -- may also have 
goaded the dead trafficker's allies into such depraved retaliation, 
several experts said.

President Felipe Calderon condemned the killings as "cowardly, 
barbaric" acts that showed a complete "lack of scruples" by criminal 
gangs. But he vowed to press ahead with the military-led offensive 
that has deployed about 45,000 troops across the nation.

Critics said the slaying of the Angulo family members exposed a 
serious security lapse emblematic of the government's troubled 
offensive against the powerful drug cartels, which Calderon launched 
shortly after taking office in December 2006. The gunmen evidently 
had no trouble locating the marine's home, suggesting they had 
benefited from inside information.

"This has shown the inability of the state to offer protection to its 
frontline troops," said Ricardo Aleman, a columnist for El Universal newspaper.

"We do not have the training, intelligence or other elements to wage this war."

Prosecutors in Tabasco said the gunmen converged on the family home 
in at least three vehicles shortly after midnight. They burst into 
the small residence where the family slept and opened fire.

The mother, Irma Cordova, 48, was killed by a single gunshot. 
Angulo's sister Yolidabey, 22, was hit by seven bullets; the aunt, 
Josefa Angulo, 46, by 10. A 28-year-old brother, Benito, was shot 
once and died later at a hospital.

Nearly three dozen spent bullet casings were found in the house, 
state prosecutor Rafael Gonzalez said.

Army troops canvassed the area Tuesday. No suspects had been arrested.

Javier Ibarrola, an expert on the Mexican military, described the 
attack as "unprecedented," yet also predictable.

"What is really most alarming is that there wasn't the intelligence 
to foresee this, to adequately study what the traffickers' reactions 
were going to be," Ibarrola said, adding that it was no longer 
possible for the government to dismiss deadly violence as mere 
"killing among cartels."

"We are not facing a criminal group but a corps of combatants who are 
going to exact revenge and take territory from the government," he 
said on Mexican television. "The government is not prepared for this. 
Presidential speeches do not scare them."

Angulo's mother had spoken to reporters Monday at the funeral, 
telling them how important her children were to her.

"Thinking as a mother, I used to feel very sad and hurt for the 
families of soldiers and police who had been killed. It would make me 
cry," she said. "And now, now it is my turn."
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake