Thu, Nov 05, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Mexico mayor announces death before body is found

FOUL PLAY? Mauricio Fernandez said US authorities told him that ‘Black Saldana’ was planning to kill him and intelligence sources later told him the drug lord was dead


Mauricio Fernandez couldn’t have been happier.

Here he was, being sworn in again as mayor of one of northern Mexico’s most exclusive communities, and he had wonderful news to share: “Black Saldana, who apparently is the one who was asking for my head, was found dead today in Mexico City,” he told his cheering supporters on Saturday in San Pedro Garza Garcia, near Monterrey.

The problem was that the barefoot, blindfolded corpse of “Black Saldana” — whose real first name is Hector — wasn’t found for another three hours, Mexico City prosecutors said. And he wouldn’t be identified for two days.

Now this cartel-plagued nation, usually nonchalant about a spate of kidnappings, extortion and executions, is engrossed with this not-so-straighforward murder that links drug lords and politicians.

The mayor is facing tough questions about the killings: How did he know his nemesis was dead before the authorities apparently did? Does he have associations with the cartel that may have killed the men?

And what exactly did he mean when he said, during his acceptance speech, that he knew Saldana and his associates wanted to hurt him, and that “by fair means or foul, we are not going to accept any kind of kidnapping ... and if not, they will pay for it.”

The mayor’s initial answer, repeated in a series of interviews, was simple: “Sometimes there are coincidences in life; it’s better to look at it this way.”

But when pressed, Fernandez offered an intriguing explanation. He said US authorities tipped him off that somebody intercepted cartel communications and learned Saldana was planning to kill him, and he said unspecified intelligence sources told him Saldana was dead hours before the bodies were found.

A Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman in Washington, Paul Knierim, said on Tuesday he couldn’t comment on Fernandez’s situation, but he said US agents routinely coordinate with Mexican investigators trying to crack down on cartels.

“And if we learned in the course of an investigation that somebody’s life was being threatened, we would definitely, definitely make sure that information was passed on to the appropriate authorities,” Knierim said.

Newspapers around the country on Tuesday demanded answers about how Fernandez could have known of the deaths hundreds of kilometers away before police even arrived at the scene.

A columnist in one of the nation’s leading newspapers, Reforma, speculated he might have something to do with the killing. “Death squads?” the headline asked.

Fernandez wasn’t apologetic.

During a radio interview on Tuesday, he said he was setting up a group to clean up crime in San Pedro Garza Garcia and surrounding communities.

“Will this cleaning group act outside the law?” he was asked.

“In some form that’s correct,” he said.

With upscale strip malls, posh private schools and well developed parks, San Pedro holds beautiful and well-guarded estates that are called home by some of the nation’s leading business executives — and allegedly some leaders of the Beltran Leyva cartel.

Until recently, the suburb of Monterrey was considered one of the cleanest, safest towns in this country.

But a spate of kidnappings and extortion changed that. Fernandez blamed Saldana, who allegedly took over the Beltran Leyva drug cartel operations there a few months ago.

Fernandez told El Norte newspaper that Saldana and his gang had been kidnapping two or three people a week, demanding about US$375,000 each. Fernandez said they also were demanding monthly payments from stores, restaurants and bars.

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