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April 30, 2011

Benjamín Arellano extradited to San Diego,
but dragon of drug trafficking
still breathing fire in Tijuana

By David Gaddis Smith

benjamin-arellano-mugIn a 2000 column entitled "Who will slay the dragon in Tijuana?" I wrote about how the brutal Arellano Félix drug-trafficking gang would someday be brought down to earth.

It may have happened sooner than many expected, with the 2002 death of cartel enforcer Ramón Arellano in Mazatlán and the 2002 capture of the gang's organizational brains, Benjamín Arellano, (left) in Puebla. Then came the capture of Javier Arellano by the U.S. when he was boating off Baja California Sur in 2006.

The United States, whose tracking of Benjamín Arellano's daughter was a key element in his capture, finally has him in hand as he was extradited to San Diego on Friday. The daughter had a rare facial deformity, which made her easily recognizable.

enedina arellano mugEduardo Arellano was captured in 2008; the U.S. is seeking his extradition. What is left of the cartel is now run by the Arellanos' cousin, Fernando Sánchez Arellano, and their sister, Enedina, (right) who just turned 50. Proceso's story on Enedina Arellano.

I wrote in that 2000 column that Jesús Blancornelas, the Tijuana muckraking journalist whom the Arellanos tried to kill in 1997, "said that if the Arellanos are not captured this year, the last in President Ernesto Zedillo's six-year term, Mexico's next president 'can't let six years go by living side by side with the much-discussed brothers.' "

That column noted that Abraham Lincoln, who is represented by a gigantic statue in Tijuana, slew the dragon of slavery. The statue shows Lincoln holding broken chains. I wondered whether some day another statue could be erected for whomever might slay the dragon of drug trafficking.

Although the Arellano cartel was greatly weakened during the six-year term of President Vicente Fox, that appears to have been more than offset by Sinaloa Cartel chief Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán's escape from prison during Fox's first year in office. Guzmán's henchmen and other traffickers have come into Tijuana to take market share from the Arellanos, and the city has continued to be a violent place.

Although the Arellanos, and now their successors, represent the figure of a hated dragon, it could be said that bigger dragons are feeding the one in Tijuana and elsewhere in Mexico — namely, U.S. drug consumption and arms smuggling and Mexican corruption and impunity.

Despite major progress on extraditions of trafficking suspects to the United States, that statue looks like it will be a long time coming.

benjamin arellano on the planeBenjamín Arellano on the plane. He was handed over to U.S. authorities at the Toluca airport. (photos from website of Procuduría General de la República)

Proceso's article points out Arellano's longtime legal defender, Américo Delgado de la Peña, was assassinated in his Toluca office in 2009. Delgado had had some success in preventing Arellano's extradition.

The article also says that Enedina Arellano had won a contest to be Mazatlán's beauty queen at age 16, in 1977, but then elected not to wear the crown because her brothers, working for Pacific Cartel chief Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo, were wanted by authorities. She later studied accounting in a private university in Guadalajara.