Insight on the News

Guardian Angel looks out for ‘Lord of Heaven.’

Guardian Angel looks out for ‘Lord of Heaven.’ – Juarez, Mexico drug cartel leader Carillo Fuentes survives assassination attempt, includes other news of US-Mexico drug enforcement efforts

Jamie Dettmer

U.S. newspapers wasted no time on Jan. 8 in accepting at face value Mexican government claims of a major breakthrough in the war against drugs. “Mexico Arrests 27 Allegedly Linked to Drug Cartel,” the Washington Post headlined its report detailing an antinarcotics raid on the wedding of a sister of Amado Carillo Fuentes, Mexico’s top trafficker. The swoop at a ranch near Culiacan in the Mexican state of Sinaloa in fact failed to net any prominent cartel figures, and all but five of those arrested were freed immediately.

Carillo Fuentes himself wasn’t present at the festivities for his sister, Aurora, because he was tipped off several hours before the raid, which was a joint operation undertaken by the Mexican army and the National Institute to Combat Drugs, Mexico’s equivalent of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, or DEA.

While American newspapers fell for the “good-news” line coming out of the Mexican attorney general’s office, far more important developments were occurring along the Southwest border coinciding with the wedding raid — none of which augur well for U.S.-Mexican cooperation in the fight against the country’s audacious narcotraffickers, who are responsible for three-quarters of the cocaine flowing into America and at least a third of the heroin loads flooding in.

The developments also suggest there will be no letup in the drug-related wave of violence terrorizing Mexican border towns and beginning to spill over into Texas, Arizona and California.

News alert! has learned that Juarez cartel leader Carillo Fuentes survived an assassination attempt on the night of Jan. 7. The botched hit supposedly was carried out by Mexican federal judicial police in the pay of the Tijuana cartel, which is run by Benjamin Arellano Felix and his brothers Ramon, Javier and Rafael, say Mexican law-enforcement sources. “We knew that it was coming,” says a U.S. lawman. “But neither we nor the Mexican government were involved.”

While few outside the Juarez cartel would shed a tear if the 41-year-old Carillo Fuentes — nicknamed the “Lord of Heaven” because of the large fleet of aircraft he runs — were dropped by an assassin’s bullet, the failed hit likely will trigger even greater bloodletting along the border and innocents risk being caught in the middle of the bitter feud between the two top narcotrafficking organizations. So far dozens have died because of the rivalry between the cartels, including several Tijuana-based Mexican policemen who were in the pay of Carillo Fuentes. Mexican lawmen attached to a secret unit also have been killed, as close relatives of the Arellano Felix brothers. The Lord of Heaven is unlikely to let the assassination bid against go unpunished. “We’re braced for the proverbial to hit the fan,” says a Custom source. “Let’s hope it’s just the bad guys who get killed.”

News alert! also has discovered that on-the-ground border cooperation between U.S. and Mexican law enforcement is breaking down just at the moment the Juarez and Tijuana cartels potentially are the most vulnerable.

According to several Washington sources, all U.S. Customs Service, FBI and DEA agents based north of the border have been told they no longer can enter Mexico — except with special permission. The blanket order, which will disrupt ongoing investigations and jeopardize special operations, has been prompted because of the resurfacing of an old dispute between Mexico City and Washington about whether U.S. law-enforcement officers can be armed when working south of the border.

Two years ago, a memorandum of understanding was signed between the two governments allowing lawmen from either country to be armed when crossing the frontier on official business. Infuriated American antidrug agents learned of the breakdown in the agreement the second week of January — DEA agents were alerted to the ban on the night of Jan. 9, and Customs officers on the morning of Jan. 10 after an E-mail management order was sent out by Assistant Commissioner Samuel Banks

A Customs source remarked: “Every once in a while the Mexican government suddenly turns around and says we can’t go down with firearms. It is mystifying. We’ve done nothing to trigger their no-guns ban.”

DEA frustration is mounting also over Mexico’s reluctance to unleash four vetted antinarcotics task forces against the traffickers. The units — each consists of about 20 Mexican officers, half-a-dozen DEA agents and a translator — recently completed training, which was undertaken by the DEA and financed by the United States, but have been left untasked and kicking their heels by the Mexican authorities.

One source maintains that when the units’ recruits arrived they came without food, equipment or any place to stay — they had to be put up in hotels at DEA expense. Three of the units — their existence is highly classified — are spread out south of Texas and another is based in Tijuana. They are modeled on the units used in Colombia to take down drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. “What’s the point in having them if the Mexicans won’t use them?” asks a U.S. lawman.

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