A leading source for news and analysis about Mexico and the U.S.-Mexican border.

Feb. 18, 2000

Who will slay the dragon in Tijuana?

This article was originally published in the San Diego Union-Tribune, now U-T San Diego, when David Gaddis Smith was foreign editor of the paper

By David Gaddis Smith

The late-night caller to my voice mail was scornful.

After having read last week's column about the history behind the statue of Abraham Lincoln in Tijuana, he posed a challenge.

Why, he asked, didn't the Union-Tribune practice "real journalism" and write instead about the properties drug traffickers own in the immediate vicinity of the statue?

I actually had thought of mentioning last week that anonymous Mexican officials have been quoted as saying as much, but ultimately decided the column was about Lincoln and Mexico, not narcotics.

It makes sense that an organization that takes in billions of dollars would buy real estate and businesses. A series of articles about Tijuana's Arellano Félix drug cartel by the Reforma-El Norte group of newspapers alleges this is the case and lends support to the caller's claim.

Who will bell the cat? Who will slay the dragon?

I have long thought about Tijuana drug traffickers in these terms. It seems that virtually every "knight" who has gone up against the dragon has been rebuffed, bought off, wounded or killed.

Some of the supposed "white knights" turned out to be black ones acting as agents for rival traffickers.

Other "knights" have drawn blood — such as the arrest of Francisco
Arellano Felix in 1995 — but achieved nothing close to a mortal blow. And Francisco Arellano Félix could be released within two years.

"Key family members reportedly dispense an estimated one million dollars weekly in bribes to Mexican federal, state and local officials," the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration has said.

The Arellano Félix organization is described as Mexico's most brutal,
killing those it cannot buy off. This has contributed to a climate of fear and violence that has seen 62 people murdered in Tijuana so far this year.

There long was an unwritten rule involving Tijuana reporters and drug traffickers. Journalists could safely write about what was on the official record or what Mexican officials said. Going past that line was dangerous.

But then the line shifted, although Jesús Blancornelas of Tijuana's weekly Zeta newspaper didn't find this out until he was ambushed in November 1997 after running a series of articles about Arellano Félix gunmen. Blancornelas was wounded and his bodyguard and one of the gunmen were killed.

In a recent column, Blancornelas 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."

There is a lot of frustration to go around, and it got to DEA agent
Salvador Michael Martinez. He pleaded guilty Feb. 3 to charges of hiring a hitman to slay a man he thought killed his cousin.

The cousin, Lionel Jordan, was killed during an apparent carjacking in El Paso, Texas, and the man accused in the killing was acquitted.

"Jordan's family has long contended the crime was not a carjacking, but a warning to Jordan's brother, former DEA agent Phil Jordan, to stay away from Mexico's Juarez drug cartel," a Reuters report said.

This week, it was reported that the Ciudad Juarez organization may have offered $200,000 to anyone who kills a U.S. agent on the border.

Peter Romero, a top State Department official, responded by saying the United States would react to any such killing with all its might.

Last year, the DEA said the Arellano Felix organization transports and distributes drugs as far away as New York, Ohio, Kentucky and Illinois — the land of Lincoln.

It could be said that Lincoln, backed by a strong supporting cast, slew the dragon of slavery. He is honored for this today in Tijuana.

Someday, might there also be another statue dedicated to whoever frees Tijuana from drug traffickers?


Reproduction of this column courtesy of U-T San Diego