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[stop-polabuse] corMX12-US agents said Mexican police, drug lords ran ranch cemetery

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  • Michael Novick
    Agents knew of graves in 93 They believed Mexican police, traffickers had control 12/02/99 By Tracey Eaton / The Dallas Morning News CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico -
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 2, 1999
      Agents knew of graves in '93
      They believed Mexican police, traffickers had control


      By Tracey Eaton / The Dallas Morning News

      CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico - American authorities knew in 1993 of the mass
      graves now being uncovered here but didn't act because Mexican police and
      drug traffickers were thought to control the secret cemeteries, former U.S.
      agents said Wednesday.

      Associated Press
      Investigators carry a body bag into a rental truck at a ranch south of
      Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The body was one of three that authorities confirmed
      finding Wednesday. Five bodies have been recovered since agents began
      searching the mass graves.

      "We knew the locations of the ranches, but we couldn't do anything about
      it," said Phil Jordan, former head of the El Paso Intelligence Center. "You
      can't turn to Mexico's federal police because they are the ones who buried
      some of the people."

      Mexican authorities had no immediate comment. Attorney General Jorge
      Madrazo has long acknowledged that drug corruption is a serious problem,
      but he has said the Mexican government has made great strides in cleaning
      up its law enforcement agencies. U.S. officials did not return calls

      U.S. and Mexican agents began digging late Monday for as many as 100 bodies
      thought to be buried at ranches outside Ciudad Juarez, a sprawling border
      town and one of the main gateways for illicit drugs bound for the United

      The unprecedented binational effort - involving more than 600 Mexican
      agents and soldiers and 65 of the FBI's top forensic experts - marked one
      of the biggest U.S.-Mexico investigations ever undertaken on Mexican soil.

      FBI and Mexican agents on Wednesday journeyed to two ranches - one called
      La Campana, or The Bell, and the other La Esperanza, or Hope.

      Agents were also investigating two other undisclosed Ciudad Juarez
      locations, where some victims were tortured and murdered before being
      buried on the ranches, said a law enforcement source who requested anonymity.

      Five bodies had been recovered as of Wednesday evening, authorities said.

      Mr. Jordan, a former Drug Enforcement Administration special agent, said at
      least some graves near Ciudad Juarez were first dug under the supervision
      of Rafael Aguilar Guajardo, former head of Mexico's Federal Security
      Directorate, or DFS, by its Spanish initials.

      The DFS, now disbanded, was linked to the 1985 torture and murder of DEA
      special agent Enrique Camarena.

      While at the DFS, Mr. Aguilar protected drug traffickers, DEA agents say.
      He was gunned down in Cancun in 1993 over differences with his boss, Amado
      Carrillo Fuentes, then head of the powerful Juarez cartel, a February 1994
      DEA intelligence document said.

      The growth of the Mexican cartels is a direct product of the rise of
      cocaine smuggling and the marriage of Colombian drug lords and Mexican
      smugglers in the early 1980s.

      Initially, Colombian cocaine cartels contracted with Mexican organizations
      for use of their smuggling networks, paying fees ranging from $1,500 to
      $2,000 for each kilogram of cocaine they smuggled into the United States.

      By the end of the decade, Mexican organizations had grown powerful enough
      to dictate new terms to the Colombians. They demanded a larger share of the
      proceeds, eventually working out an arrangement in which Mexican
      traffickers received as much as 50 percent of the cocaine as payment.

      Mr. Carrillo, nicknamed "Lord of the Skies" for his pioneering use of old
      commercial aircraft in drug smuggling, died in July 1997 after plastic

      Exactly who heads the Juarez cartel now is not entirely clear. Prominent
      players include Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, Amado's brother, and Juan Jose
      Esparragosa Moreno, also known as El Azul.

      Mexican authorities said the Juarez cartel was probably responsible for the
      mass graves now being uncovered.

      Some victims could be low-level workers from the rival Arellano-Felix gang
      on Mexico's Pacific coast. Others are probably informants, witnesses and
      drug mules. As one former U.S. agent put it, "It's a variety package of

      Ciudad Juarez police almost certainly were involved in some of the murders,
      said Hector Berrellez, a former DEA special agent who investigated Mexico's
      drug mafia. "They probably killed the people."

      His claim is supported by a Juarez group for relatives of the nearly 200
      people - including as many as 22 Americans - reported missing in the border
      town in recent years.

      "We believe that the Mexican police have always had knowledge of where our
      loved ones are," said Jaime Hervella, head of the Association for Relatives
      and Friends of Missing Persons.

      In virtually all the missing persons cases his group has documented, "the
      victims were picked up by people in military, attorney general or municipal
      police uniforms," he said.

      Leandra Pfeiffer said her son, Ricardo, a real estate agent, was abducted
      from his home in Ciudad Juarez in August 1996. The kidnappers asked for

      A municipal police officer arrived to pick up the money, and her husband
      tackled him. The suspect and an accomplice were arrested and jailed.

      The captured officer told Mexican authorities where the victim was being
      held - as it turns out, at a spot a few yards from the one of the mass
      grave sites near Ciudad Juarez, Mrs. Pfeiffer said. But authorities didn't
      act, and the victim was never found and is believed dead.

      "My son was a victim not of the drug cartels, but of the Mexican police
      themselves," said Mrs. Pfeiffer, who drove from her Albuquerque home to
      watch the search operation.

      Indeed, death can come quickly and quite unexpectedly in the violent world
      of the Mexican mafia. Steal, cheat, lie. Lose a drug load. Land in jail. It
      can all get you killed.

      "It doesn't take much. The worst thing you could do is look at one of the
      drug capo's girlfriends," Mr. Jordan said. "All you need is a rumor that
      you're talking to the authorities or double-crossing the traffickers and
      you're dead. These people are trigger-happy, just like those in the movie

      Victims are often close to the drug organization, one DEA agent said.

      "These are usually people who informed on their superiors, ripped them off
      or stole from them," he said.

      Once it comes down to killing, enforcers for the Mexican cartels are often
      very nonchalant, former U.S. agents said. One DEA intelligence report
      describes a hitman who always headed to his favorite restaurant after
      shooting someone because he said killing made him hungry.

      Juan Garcia Abrego, a former drug kingpin now in prison in the United
      States, was said to have a penchant for killing people on the 17th of every
      month - so people stayed out of his way that day.

      "As the legend goes, he had a quota. He had to kill someone every month,"
      said Cesar Romero, who writes about the drug trade for Mexico City's
      Reforma newspaper. "It's probably not true, but it's a good story."

      Traffickers often torture their victims before killing them to find out
      what they know.

      "You're not talking about a lot of sophistication," Mr. Jordan said. "They
      like to use cattle prods on the most sensitive parts of your body. They
      pour carbonated water up your nose, burn you with cigarettes. Typical
      torture to make people talk."

      Mr. Carrillo, a shrewd businessman who amassed a fortune smuggling drugs,
      was considered a peacemaker among traffickers but didn't hesitate to use
      violence when necessary, DEA agents say.

      His death more than two years ago triggered an intense power struggle in
      Ciudad Juarez and a flurry of killings, including brazen daylight
      machine-gun murders. But by then, at least some of the graves now being
      examined may not have been in use.

      So other killing fields are likely to be out there, former U.S. agents said.

      "Every trafficking organization has their favorite grave sites, and they
      are often protected by the police," Mr. Jordan said. "This is not a new

      Staff writers Alfredo Corchado and Nancy San Martin in El Paso and David
      McLemore in San Antonio contributed to this report.

      ©1999 The Dallas Morning News

      In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is
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