Drugs Continue to Flow across U.S.-Mexico Border despite Recent Government Efforts to Dismantle Cartels

SourceMex Economic News & Analysis on Mexico, August 27, 2003 | Go to article overview

Drugs Continue to Flow across U.S.-Mexico Border despite Recent Government Efforts to Dismantle Cartels


During the past several years, Mexican and US authorities have taken steps to dismantle huge drug-trafficking networks, but the moves are expected to have only a small impact on the flow of narcotics into the US in the long run.

The most notable development in recent months occurred in late July, when US and Mexican law-enforcement officials, in cooperation with Colombian authorities, announced the arrest of more than 240 individuals in both countries involved in smuggling narcotics to the US.

The arrests were the result of a 19-month investigation called Operation Trifecta, which also saw the seizure of nearly 6 metric tons of cocaine, almost 25,000 pounds of marijuana, and more than US$8 million in suspected drug proceeds.

Authorities detain leaders of Sinaloa cartel

In Mexico, those arrested included four leaders of the Sinaloa Cartel, whose operations have been assumed by Ismael Zambada Garcia, known as El Mayo. Among those arrested in Jalisco state are Zambada's lieutenants Manuel Campas Medina, David Castro Siqueiros, and Ismael Lugo Diaz. Another key cartel leader, Javier Meza Fernandez, was arrested in Sonora state.

Zambada, who remains at large, has been known to work closely with the Juarez Cartel but also has a reputation for engaging in ruthless turf wars with the Tijuana Cartel (see SourceMex, 2002-10-30). The Sinaloa Cartel is widely blamed for the murder of Ramon Arellano Felix, an influential leader in the Tijuana Cartel (see SourceMex, 2002-03-06).

The murder of Ramon Arellano Felix, along with the arrest of his brother Benjamin in early 2003, temporarily weakened the Tijuana Cartel and allowed Zambada to expand his operations in recent years.

"This cell was one of the main supply lines to the United States," said Attorney General Rafael Macedo de la Concha, in reference to Zambada's operation.

Operation Trifecta also involved the destruction of cocaine-production units in Colombia and the arrest of dozens of traffickers in nine US cities, including New York, Miami, Los Angeles, and Phoenix.

The arrests of the Sinaloa Cartel leaders is only the latest chapter in the commitment of President Vicente Fox's administration to take on the country's powerful drug cartels. Since Fox took office, authorities have arrested Ramon Alcides Magana of the Juarez Cartel, Benjamin Arellano Felix of the Tijuana Cartel, and Adrian Medrano Rodriguez and Osiel Cardenas of the Gulf Cartel (see Sourcemex, 2001-06-20, 2002- 10-02, 2003-03-26).

More recently, the Procuraduria General de la Republica (PGR) also detained Jose Ramon Laija, who has assisted in the operations of notorious drug traffickers like Joaquin Guzman, also known as El Chapo, and Hector Palma, alias El Guero. Laija, who is said to have offered his services to the highest bidder, is accused of transporting Colombian cocaine from ports on the Pacific Coast to smuggling locations along the border with Texas.

The Fox government's campaign against drug trafficking also involves an effort to root out corruption among members of the Mexican armed forces and local politicians and bureaucrats. Macedo de la Concha has fired or arrested 1,500 federal agents and police on drug corruption charges (see SourceMex, 2002-10-30).

Earlier this year, the PGR dismantled the federal drug agency (Fiscalia Especializada para la Atencion a Delitos Contra la Salud, FEADS) after uncovering evidence that the agency had been corrupted by drug traffickers. The functions of the FEADS were transferred to the PGR, giving Macedo greater control over anti-drug operations (see SourceMex, 2003-01-29).

Similarly, the PGR and military authorities have arrested members of the armed forces for helping protect drug traffickers (see SourceMex, 2002-10-16). …

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