Pubdate: Mon, 13 Dec 1999
Source: Newsweek (US)
Copyright: 1999 Newsweek, Inc.
Contact:  251 West 57th Street, New York, N.Y. 10019
Author: Alan Zarembo and Donatella Lorch with Michael Riley in Mexico City


Just 15 miles south of the U.S. border, officials are searching for the
bodies of victims killed during a vicious drug war

Unlike his rival drug lords, Amado Carrillo Fuentes never liked public
executions. They attracted too much attention.

Carrillo preferred to make people he viewed as a threat disappear.

And during his tenure as kingpin of the multimillion-dollar Juarez drug
cartel--from 1993 until his death in 1997--more than 100 people, including
several Americans, vanished from the area. Many were last seen being led
away by Mexican police.

Not a single case has been solved.

Last week the fates of some of the missing may have been clarified.

Working from a tip provided to the FBI, U.S. and Mexican agents stormed a
Juarez ranch last Monday to search for the remains of scores of missing

By the end of the week six sets of human bones had been found on the ranch,
which U.S. agents say they have long identified as linked to the Juarez
drug cartel.

Authorities believe more bodies may be scattered over the property--known
as the Bell--and other nearby sites.

The Juarez cartel is among the most powerful drug organizations in the
world. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration estimates that it ships
more than half of the cocaine that enters the United States, worth about
$10 billion a year. The cartel is also believed to spend $200 million
annually in bribes; its payroll once included Gen. Jesus Gutierrez Rebollo,
Mexico's former anti-drug czar who is now serving a 32-year prison
sentence. It was Carrillo who built the cartel to its massive size. He
earned the nickname "Lord of the Skies" for pioneering the use of
stripped-down Boeing 727s to fly massive loads of cocaine produced in
Colombia to northern Mexico.

All sorts of people have vanished in Juarez. Eleven years ago, Manuel
Hernandez was convicted of dealing marijuana in Texas. After serving an
18-month prison sentence, he returned to his El Paso construction outfit
and told his family across the border in Ciudad Juarez that he had given up
the drug business.

But Hernandez, a naturalized U.S. citizen, could not escape his past. On
Jan. 11, 1997, while Hernandez was visiting Juarez, men dressed as federal
agents forced him and his brother-in-law, Gerardo Ortega, into a truck. "We
thought they were in jail," says Gerardo's wife, Norma. "But there was no
record of their arrests."

Families of the missing were often too afraid to approach the police. "When
people push and pressure the authorities, these guys get revenge," says
Ivan Kihara, an El Paso retiree whose brother was kidnapped in 1995. The
authorities themselves were scared. "For our own security, we didn't look
into things too much," says one Mexican ex-federal agent.

Anti-drug officials had hoped that Carrillo's death in July 1997 would slow
the killings.

The kingpin died from an overdose of anesthesia after undergoing plastic
surgery to change his appearance. But his death set off a new killing spree
of up to 60 people--starting with his three surgeons, whose bodies were
found stuffed into barrels in Mexico City. Juarez suddenly became the
murder capital of Mexico, as Carrillo's lieutenants battled to inherit his

In the end, his heirs apparently cut a deal among themselves to share power.

The main break in the search for the disappeared reportedly came from a
former Mexican police officer, who described the grave sites to the FBI.
Worried that corruption inside the Mexican government would spoil the
operation, U.S. officials persuaded their Mexican counterparts not to
notify Juarez police and to tell federal authorities only at the last
moment. That deal forced Mexican officials to answer accusations that the
operation violated the country's sovereignty. "I'm not selling out my
country," Attorney General Jorge Madrazo Cuellar told reporters. "I'm
fighting vigorously against narcotraffickers." Agents at the Bell ranch
were obviously worried that the cartel was watching: many of the Mexicans
wore ski masks as they went about their work. Even American forensic
experts taped newspapers over their car windows.

They know better than anyone what can happen to enemies of the Juarez
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