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US-Mexico Cooperation Results in Drug Busts - 2002-04-03

U.S. law enforcement officials are crediting a high degree of cooperation from Mexican authorities for the recent progress in breaking up drug trafficking gangs operating in Mexico. But, officials in both countries expect the vacuum left by recent arrests to be filled soon by other drug smugglers.

In the past few months, Mexican authorities have scored some spectacular blows to narcotics trafficking organizations that had been seen as almost invincible in the past.

In February, police in the coastal city of Mazatlan killed a man who was later found to be Ramon Arellano Felix, the top enforcer for the Tijuana-based drug smuggling organization run by him and his brothers. A month later, authorities captured his brother, Benjamin, thought to be the main strategist of the smuggling group. Then, last week, police arrested Adan Medrano, known as the chief of operations for the rival Gulf cartel.

In his weekly radio address Saturday, President Vicente Fox made clear that his government would continue to pursue drug traffickers wherever they may be.

He said his government is dedicated to stopping the production, trafficking, and sale of drugs. His government has also focused on the growing problem of drug abuse in Mexico. Mexican authorities concede that aside from being a producer and transit country for illicit drugs, Mexico is also a drug-consumer nation.

In the 16 months that Mr. Fox has been in office, police and military squads have brought to justice nine-major drug traffickers. This compares with 15 arrests during the entire six-year term of his predecessor, President Ernesto Zedillo.

U.S. law enforcement officials credit the Fox government for promoting high-level cooperation to attack the drug trafficking groups.

In the case of Ramon Arellano Felix, they say, Mexican authorities provided blood, urine, and other physical evidence to U.S. officials to compare to DNA samples taken from his family members. U.S. specialists conducted several tests, including one that took three-weeks to complete, before declaring the man killed in Mazatlan was the infamous drug trafficker and murderer.

But U.S. officials say the arrest of Benjamin Arellano Felix was an entirely Mexican affair. Mexican military agents working on a money-laundering investigation in the city of Puebla, 130 kilometers east of Mexico City, spotted the wanted man as he entered a house that was under surveillance.

Two more Arellano Felix brothers remain free, but officials do not see either of them as being able to run the organization as well as Benjamin. U.S. and Mexican authorities say a violent turf war could break out as other gangs move in on the Arellano Felix operations.

They also see the possibility of a confederation between the remaining gangs to combine efforts in both trafficking and countering law enforcement efforts directed against them. Such a cooperative association had been proposed by some smugglers, but the Arellano Felix brothers rejected the idea.

Now that their organization is badly crippled, at least some of the major groups could come together. But investigators say these groups are not known for trusting each other, so rivalries leading to bloodshed are likely to emerge in the months ahead.