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Officials free 19 people arrested at drug family wedding

January 9, 1997

MEXICO CITY (AP) _ When 300 soldiers and police descended on the wedding of the sister of Mexico’s No. 1 drug lord, their main target had vanished. Twelve of the 25 people they arrested were fellow police.

On Wednesday, authorities released 19 of the detainees, including 12 local policemen who were guarding the wedding at drug lord Amado Carrillo Fuentes’ ranch in the northwestern state of Sinaloa on Friday night.

But drug experts say the raid sent a signal to Mexico’s drug lords _ and to Washington.

``It shows basically that the new (Mexican drug officials) are doing their jobs, so that looks good to the Americans,″ said Peter Lupsha, a U.S. analyst of anti-narcotics efforts. ``It’s a sign of political good will.″

Officials on both sides of the border have been working together to crack down on Mexico’s increasingly powerful drug cartels, which smuggle an estimated $30 billion a year in drugs into the United States each year.

The raid at the wedding of Aurora Carrillo Fuentes was to have been a trap for the man known as the ``Lord of the Skies,″ for his use of old passenger jets to bring Colombian cocaine into Mexico.

Thirteen of those arrested remain under investigation, prosecutor Martin Ortiz Lerma told the official news agency Notimex.

Police are also investigating the mayor, municipal police chief and federal police commander of Carrillo’s hometown of Navoleto, where the ranch is located, Notimex reported.

It was not known if Carrillo _ leader of the powerful Juarez drug cartel _ attended the wedding, but about 3,000 police and federal troops were combing the mountains of the Sierra Madre looking for him, Mexico City newspapers reported.

Officials’ failure to capture Carrillo _ compounded by the announcement Tuesday of another top drug suspect’s acquittal on drug charges _ shows the difficulty of cracking down on a growing businesses.

But the wedding raid _ and a request to reinstate the charges dismissed Tuesday _ shows aggressiveness by newly appointed federal Attorney General Jorge Madrazo Cuellar, Lupsha said.

``We analysts have been saying that Amado (Carrillo Fuentes) is totally untouchable,″ Lupsha said. ``But this new group in Mexico City seems to have touched his family in a way they have not been touched before. He probably will not be too happy about that. We’ll see who dies.″

Lupsha also applauded Madrazo’s request for reinstatement of drug charges that could have led to a 33-year sentence against Hector Luis Palma Salazar.

The reputed head of the Sinaloa drug syndicate was convicted Tuesday on only minor weapons charges. A court in Guadalajara fined him about $2,500 and gave him a six-year prison sentence.

Palma, who maintains he is merely a cattle rancher, still faces charges involving drugs, arms and criminal association in at least two other courts.

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