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News (Media Awareness Project) - Mexico: When Cartels Overrun A Town
Title:Mexico: When Cartels Overrun A Town
Published On:2011-07-16
Source:San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Fetched On:2011-07-19 06:03:05

Drug Gangs Unleash Wave Of Violence After Chief Slain By Special Forces; Edgar Gets Mixed Up With A Group Of Killers

Part three

Mexican marines had cornered the "Boss of Bosses" in a condominium
high-rise in Cuernavaca, a sunny retreat an hour's drive from the
nation's capital.

Special forces quietly evacuated the towers and cordoned off

The clatter of assault rifles rang out for two hours until Arturo
Beltran Leyva -- the leader of a fearsome band of drug-trafficking
brothers -- was shot dead inside a bloodied, bullet-pocked room on Dec.
16, 2009.

The government immediately claimed a monumental victory in a military
offensive that President Felipe Calderon launched against top
traffickers when he took office three years earlier.

Within days of Beltran Leyva's death, classified U.S. Embassy cables
warned of the bloodshed to come in Cuernavaca, where corrupt
politicians and police had allowed organized crime to flourish.

Traffickers struck swiftly.

After a state funeral for a Mexican marine slain in the firefight,
cartel allies tracked down his family and killed his mother, sister,
brother and aunt.

Within months, the main highway that winds through Cuernavaca, as it
connects the central highlands of the nation's capital to the sea at
Acapulco, became a showcase of bodies strung up in the night. Crudely
stenciled banners -- hung on bridges, from trees and in schoolyards --
challenged all who stood in the way.

Cartel showdown

Two offshoots of Beltran Leyva's organization declared a showdown in
expletive-laced banners.

"The Boss of Bosses! He is gone. We loved him, but life goes on and
the war is going to be hard," one message announced.

At stake was control of a crucial smuggling route.

The ensuing carnage quickly upended Cuernavaca, a state capital that
long provided a festive escape from big-city life and attracted
visitors to museums and restaurants. Kidnapping victims turned up dead
on roadsides, often with signs they were tortured before being shot or
asphyxiated. Small businesses -- a bar, a car sales lot, an auto repair
garage -- were burned down in brazen acts of extortion.

The violence surged in April 2010.

Two bodies were strung from an underpass on the main highway. Days
later, six youths were abducted from a soccer field in a neighborhood
outside Cuernavaca. Their bodies were found piled on the side of the
main highway, with plastic bags over their heads and their hands and
legs tied.

A message directed at a drug gang enforcer dubbed "Barbie" said, "Pick
up your trash."

A collective fear descended on Cuernavaca.

On a Friday night after payday, when crowds of revelers were typical,
the streets were deserted because of a widely circulated email
foretelling violence and calling for a curfew. Authorities said the
message was a hoax and stepped up patrols, but it didn't matter.

"It was a self-imposed curfew by the people of Morelos state," said
Ursula Oswald, an analyst of social vulnerabilities at the National
Autonomous University of Mexico in Cuernavaca. "With this campaign,
terror took hold."

Soldiers patrolled the streets but offered little protection to
residents. The drug traffickers had taken over daily life.

Workers mapped out the safest commuting routes. Parents kept teenagers
at home. Partyers left nightclubs deserted.

The drug gangs also had extended into adjoining towns and villages --
including three miles away in Tejalpa, where Edgar and his family were

A young recruit

Around this time, a pudgy, well-dressed man in a pickup with tinted
windows started showing up at Edgar's house to visit with his dad,
David Antonio Jimenez Solis. They drank at the kitchen table.

Two family members said David eventually entrusted his son's care for
extended periods to Julio Radilla Hernandez, who went by "El Negro."

Edgar's sister Elizabeth Jimenez Lugo, an outgoing teenager, also hung
out with Radilla, who was in his early 30s.

Soon, Edgar came home with money in his pockets.

He bought jeans, hailed taxis, and treated friends to chips and sodas
at the video arcade. He slipped cash to his older sisters as a small,
increasingly reliable favor.

Over time, relatives wondered why the boy they affectionately called
"Ponchis" was rarely around. They confronted David.

"He acted surprised," said Edgar's aunt Sally Olivia Jimenez Solis.
David said his friend Radilla "was taking care of Edgar, and to mind
our own business."

Army intelligence reports painted a disturbing portrait of Radilla.
They called him a vicious killer for the newly formed South Pacific
Cartel, working under the last of the Beltran Leyva brothers not
killed or captured.

Radilla, who sported an eagle tattoo on his chest, allegedly led a
group of youthful assassins and maintained a network of lookouts and
corrupt police officers to avoid capture.

Asked about his contact with Radilla, David insisted he never knew "El
Negro." He only saw him around town.

"He was just some guy. He's from here," David said. "He hired people.
He said he was helping them."

Asked why Edgar didn't always come home at night, David said, "He told
me that he was staying over at a friend's house. Sometimes it was the

By the time other family members asked Edgar about his gang ties, it
was too late.

"He said he had no way out," one relative said. "He told us how sorry
he was to be mixed up in this, and how it was his fault that this was
happening to us."

Sally Olivia said it became obvious her hometown of Tejalpa was
harboring drug gangs.

A few blocks separated the city's central plaza -- a site for dances
and teen rock concerts -- from a gang safehouse.

"I feel like the traffickers started to look for the exact place where
they could take away innocent people, where they could do what they
pleased," Sally Olivia said. "It was an innocent, naive town."

Rumored child assassin

As the gangs' campaign of intimidation and bravado spilled onto the
Internet, army investigators took notice of certain images.

In one, a boy in a baseball cap crouched in the foreground, clutching
a high-powered rifle.

In an anonymously posted video, a gagged and bound man dangled from a
ceiling by his wrists. Men took turns thrashing his torso. Amid
laughter and mugging for cellphone cameras, a boy's high-pitched voice
could be heard and a diminutive figure appeared.

"Ponchis would like to have a turn," one man said.

Word spread of a child assassin.

On Cuernavaca's streets, more gruesome scenes were playing

Last year, on a Sunday morning in August, four mutilated bodies were
discovered hanging from a highway bridge. Severed heads and genitals
were found nearby with a threat signed by the South Pacific Cartel.

Authorities later linked the killings to Edgar.

The victims, ages 20 to 24, were a student, a cook at a university, a
gas station attendant and a small-business owner. Little more is known
about them.

One night in late October, soldiers came banging on the door to
Edgar's family compound looking for him and his sister Elizabeth.

The two weren't home, but troops arrested their cousin David Jose
Mario Jimenez on organized crime charges that he denies. His arrest
put Edgar and Elizabeth on notice that authorities were closing in,
and they made plans to leave town.

International spotlight

Edgar and Elizabeth passed through security at Cuernavaca's airport,
but soldiers captured them 10 minutes before takeoff to Tijuana.

Edgar's arrest set off an international spectacle. The army thrust him
in front of reporters and cameras at the federal prosecutor's office.

"Who gave you orders?"

"El Negro."

"Are you scared?"


"Do you know what's going to happen, that they're going to take you
and put you on trial for federal crimes?"

The boy nodded yes.

With a swollen lip and eye, Edgar made a muddled confession that he
was forced to behead four people while under the influence of marijuana.

He said that he and his sister were trying to get to their mother in
San Diego.

Elizabeth was turned over to federal authorities on accusations she
participated in kidnappings while in a romantic relationship with gang
leader Radilla. Sister Lina Ericka Jimenez Lugo, who drove her
siblings to the airport, also was arrested.

Both sisters remain jailed and maintain their innocence.

Edgar is in a juvenile detention center outside Cuernavaca where his
attorneys declined to comment on the case for his own protection.
Because he was 14 at the time of the killings, he faces a maximum
sentence of three years.

"The government wanted to show him off like a trophy," said Javier
Valdez Cardenas, a Mexican journalist and author of a recent book on
the experiences of children affected by drug trafficking. "They
presented him as the grand narco, the kingpin, ultra-dangerous."

Peace movement

Edgar's case capped a year of high-profile arrests that further
weakened what was left of the Beltran Leyva organization.

In recent months, violence has reached new thresholds throughout
Mexico. Traffickers shot and killed U.S. immigration agent Jaime
Zapata on a highway in the central state of San Luis Potosi. Mass
graves, some containing hundreds of bodies, have been unearthed across
Mexico's northern border region, evidence of fighting among rival
cartels that also extort and kill passing migrants. More than 400
bodies were found in Tamaulipas and Durango states.

In March, a late-night burst of bloodshed in Cuernavaca prompted a
weary nation to vent its pent-up grief and disgust. Seven asphyxiated
bodies were found in a car on the side of a road, among them the son
of prominent poet Javier Sicilia.

The killings allegedly stem from a confrontation between the victims
and the employees of a nightclub over a stolen cellphone and camera.
The club's management called in a drug gang to silence the group,
Sicilia's attorney said.

Sicilia reacted to the senseless deaths by publicly challenging the
complacency of politicians and heaping shame on criminals.

"Nobody dares get angry with drug traffickers," said Valdez Cardenas,
describing how Sicilia emboldened others fed up with the violence. "We
have to get outraged."

At sit-ins and marches, a movement was born that has focused on what
it considers the government's failure to protect its citizens from the
drug war or bring even a small fraction of criminals to justice.
Participants have advocated fighting cartels and corruption by relying
less on the military, which they link to escalating violence, and more
on undermining smuggling profits.

Federal authorities threw themselves into the Sicilia case, arresting
Cuernavaca's police chief on alleged ties to organized crime.

Mexico's attorney general offered a $900,000 reward for the man
accused of ordering the killings -- Radilla, also suspected of luring
Edgar into gang life.

For Sicilia, the only explanation for Radilla's ability to elude
federal forces for months was local police corruption.

"It's curious, everyone knew where he was," Sicilia told The San Diego
Union-Tribune. "Everyone talked about him: 'He ate tacos over here. He
lived over there.' And the only ones who didn't know were the police
and the army."

As pressure mounted in the manhunt, Radilla's own cartel disavowed
him. "The Beltran Leyva firm separates itself from 'El Negro.' He does
not belong," proclaimed a banner in Cuernavaca.

In May, the 34-year-old Radilla was found in the Gulf Coast state of
Veracruz and arrested after a brief firefight. A judge ordered
Radilla's continued detention as organized crime investigators build
their case.

Those closest to Edgar still refuse to believe the boy became a
perpetrator of the violence that enveloped their hometown.

"A father's heart tells you when your children aren't well, when
they're sick," said Edgar's father, David. "And this, what they say
about him? No. He didn't do it."
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