MEXICO CITY - Once Mexico's deadliest trafficker, the weakened Arellano Felix drug cartel of Tijuana has merged with another gang in a desperate bid for survival, the country's narcotics prosecutor said yesterday.
Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, deputy attorney general for organized crime, said recent intelligence showed that the Tijuana cartel merged with the so-called Gulf cartel led by Osiel Cardenas to fend off usurpers.
The main threat is from the Sinaloa-based conglomerate headed by Joaquin "El Chapo" Guzman and Ismael Zambada.
He said the restructuring of Mexico's seven drug cartels comes amid frequent drug-related murders from Cancun, an entry point for Colombian cocaine, to Reynosa and Tijuana, border transshipment centers.
The recent violence is a sign that efforts by the United States and Mexico to destroy the drug cartels are working, Vasconcelos said: "When the groups lose their leaders, they feel internal and external pressures. The same members begin to fight among themselves for leadership and that leads to violence."
Vasconcelos said proof of the merger includes intelligence showing that Osiel Cardenas, who has been in jail since January 2003, recently lent $100,000 to Benjamin Arellano Felix. On New Year's Eve, Guzman's brother Arturo was shot to death in La Palma prison, the third Guzman associate killed inside the walls of Mexico's highest security prison in 2004. In remarks to reporters, Vasconcelos said he thinks the killing was ordered by the Arellano Felix organization.
That raises the possibility that the murder of Arturo Guzman was revenge for the killing of top Tijuana cartel enforcer Ramon Felix Arellano in Mazatlan in February 2002. U.S. drug enforcement officials at the time described the initial killing as an execution possibly carried out by police controlled by the Guzman and Zambada cartels.
Vasconcelos said that cartel leaders continue to manage their trafficking organizations while jailed. Mexican officials said another sign of the inter-cartel cooperation is that the so-called Zetas - specially trained anti-narcotics troops that were corrupted into joining the Gulf cartel as enforcers - are believed to have acted as hired killers for the Arellano Felix group.
The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.