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Mexicans Describe Killing Grounds

December 1, 1999

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ The two ranches that police say were used as clandestine graveyards for perhaps 100 or more victims of the drug war are apparently a legacy of what was once Mexico’s best-organized and most violent trafficking gang: the Juarez cartel.

The cartel was so organized it could fly old passenger jets over the border stuffed with tons of cocaine. It was so far-flung that it set up a branch operation on the Caribbean coast.

And it was so violent that when cartel founder Amado Carillo Fuentes died in 1997 at the hands of his own doctors, soon afterward the doctors’ tortured bodies were found stuffed in oil drums.

Shootouts and killings raged in Ciudad Juarez during the battle to succeed Carrillo Fuentes. The violence reached a climax in August 1997, a month after his death, when a gang of gunmen opened fire on nine people at a table in a Ciudad Juarez restaurant with what police estimated were more than 100 rounds of .45-caliber bullets. Five people were killed and three wounded.

The leadership fight culminated on Sept. 10 when the body of Carrillo’s successor, Rafael Munoz Talavera, was found shot to death in a bulletproof car.

Carrillo’s brother, Vincent, is now believed to control the remnants of the cartel. Vicente Carrillo is wanted in Mexico on drug-trafficking charges and in the United States on a 26-count indictment for trafficking and money laundering.

Bodies were supposedly buried at the two Ciudad Juarez ranches between 1994 and 1996, during the cartel’s heyday. So many people disappeared in Juarez during those years that the Mexican government sent an elite task force to Ciudad Juarez in 1997 to investigate.

But in May 1998, the Attorney General’s office recalled the unit after three of its members _ soldiers assigned to police duty in hopes of stamping out corruption _ were arrested themselves for allegedly staging a kidnapping.

Relatives said many of the missing persons whose bodies are being sought on the ranches were last seen being taken away by men dressed as police.

The belief that the cartel long had ties with some Mexican police officers was strengthened Tuesday when prosecutors announced the arrest of Mario Silva Calderon, a former federal agent who allegedly served as one of the cartel’s `moles’ inside police forces.

Officials have said the Juarez cartel is somewhat weaker now.

``It cannot be as strong as it once was because it’s under so much scrutiny right now,″ said Dave Alba, special agent in charge of the FBI office in El Paso. ``They don’t have the same strength. They’re watching for each other to see who’s going to kill them to try to take over. Because they’re so well-organized and so well-entrenched in their distribution systems, they’re still damaging.″

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