A look inside a giant drug cartel
A bicontinental investigation is leading to arrests and searches for
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Santiago has never drawn attention as a hotbed of drug trafficking or of drug-money laundering. But when President Clinton traveled there for the Summit of the Americas in April 1998, local journalists joked about how the US delegation was staying in what they called a "narcohotel," a glitzy new property that according to some muckraking media investigations had been built with drug money.Skip to next paragraph
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In what may have been one of the final steps in his plan to disappear from Mexico and carry on his business elsewhere, Carrillo Fuentes went under a plastic surgeon's knife in Mexico City in July 1997 in an attempt to alter his physical appearance. Exactly why he died during the operation is not clear - in fact some people believe the death was staged and that Carrillo Fuentes is still running cocaine. The story of what really happened may never be known. The two doctors who performed the unsuccessful surgery were later found dead along a highway, stuffed in oil drums.
Carrillo Fuentes's death set off a wave of violence focused in Jurez as lieutenants battled to assume the throne or other drug thugs tried to move in. Several leaders were killed, while other high-ranking operatives were arrested.
Last month the man considered to be one of the cartel's top money launderers was arrested in the US Embassy in Mexico City as he tried to obtain a visa using false documents.
It was also a former hitman for Carrillo Fuentes - a onetime judicial police commander in Jurez whom Mexican officials say moonlighted for $5,000 a month as a cartel bodyguard - who helped lead Mexican justice officials to the Jurez graves.
Mario Silva Calderon was called "The Animal" by fellow cartel minions for his ruthlessness.
The nickname rose from the way he finished off suspected turncoats or the poor country boys who worked as "mules" taking drugs across the border but ended up knowing too much.
Under arrest in Mexico and seeking a lighter sentence, Mr. Silva apparently started talking about the graves. But even with its deaths and arrests, no one thinks the Jurez cartel is anywhere near undone.
'El Metro' takes over
Another Carrillo Fuentes bodyguard and former judicial police commander, Alcides Ramn Magaa, has moved the operations eastward along the Gulf coast and into the Yucatn Peninsula.
The man nicknamed "El Metro" had quick success in Quintana Roo state, home of Cancun, a favorite US vacationing spot. In very little time El Metro took what had been Colombian traffickers' territory and made it his own, US investigators say. In the process he brought the state's former governor, Mario Villanueva, into his fold.
Mr. Villanueva disappeared a few days before leaving office in April and hasn't been seen since. As one US investigator said, the Jurez cartel turned Quintana Roo into a narcostate, and its highest elected official into a narcogovernor.
The Interpol-Mexico investigation detected at least $25 million that was sent from Mexico to banks in New York and Los Angeles, before being wired on to Argentina and the Cayman Islands. The US end of the cartel's laundering scheme involved Citibank, which is already under investigation in the US for its role in the holding and transferring of millions of dollars for Raul Salinas de Gortari, brother of former Mexican president Carlos Salinas de Gortari.
Raul Salinas is in prison for planning the murder of a political rival.
According to Interpol's Mr. Ponce, the investigation revealed that the Jurez cartel's Argentina laundering operations depended on a network of Argentine businessmen and public officials, including at least two high-level government officials from the 1980s.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society