Tue, May 24, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Mexico mass graves signal major cartel rift

DISPUTE:The Sinaloa cartel had seemed immune to the internal power struggles that have plagued other drug gangs — until the discovery of 219 corpses, an official said


The vacant car repair lot hardly looks out of place in a vibrant, but gritty part of the northern colonial city of Durango, famous as the set for John Wayne westerns.

Only a closer look reveals the secrets hidden at “Servicios Multiples Carita Medina,” clues to exactly what kind of “multiple services” were rendered. The freshly turned soil is sprinkled with lime to kill the smell and littered with discarded Latex gloves and an empty cardboard box: “Adult Cadaver Bag. 600 gauge, Long Zipper, For Cadavers of up to 75 inches. 15 pieces.”

In the most gruesome find in Mexico’s four-year attack on organized crime, police dug up 89 bodies in the repair lot, buried over time in plain sight of homes, schools and stores.

Then, like the killers, authorities left one of Mexico’s most puzzling crime scenes completely open and unprotected.

It was the largest of seven graves found in bustling urban areas of the city of almost 600,000, where a total of 219 bodies have been uncovered since April 11.

Publicly, authorities say they don’t know who’s inside the graves in a state that was home to Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa, but that today is more synonymous with the country’s powerful Sinaloa drug cartel. Officials only say the mass graves probably hold the corpses of executed rivals from other gangs or possibly kidnap victims and even some police.

However, a new and more detailed account comes from a top federal police official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of security reasons. The official said investigations indicate the grave holds rivals of the Sinaloa cartel and that the once orderly and brutally efficient gang is undergoing a bloody internal power struggle in Durango.

The Sinaloa cartel had seemed immune to the kind of missteps, mindless violence and internal power struggles that have plagued other drug gangs, to the extent that most Mexicans believed the Sinaloa cartel was either exceedingly sophisticated or in cahoots with the government.

However, the portrait now emerging from the 219 corpses is of a cartel that is riven by internal cracks, the official said.

In recent months, at least two local groups sought to break off from Sinaloa and control the drug shipment routes through Durango for themselves, the official said. A third group, known as the “M’s,” remained loyal to Sinaloa boss Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who has been named one of the richest and most influential people in the world by Forbes magazine, with a fortune of more than US$1 billion.

A leading member of the “M’s” and the fourth-highest ranking Sinaloa operator in Durango, Bernabe Monje Silva, was arrested by federal police on March 27 and led police to the grave sites, the police official said.

Jorge Chabat, a Mexican expert on the drug trade, said that while the Sinaloa cartel is one of Mexico’s most stable gangs, it has had internal divisions, as witnessed several years ago when the Beltran Leyva brothers broke off to form their own cartel.

Chabat said disputes like the one in Durango “are part of the jockeying that goes on in the world of drug trafficking,” adding that the split will probably result in increased violence in Durango.

The Sinaloa and Zeta cartels had already been in a dispute for remote territory in Durango long dismissed as narco-land. Cartels grow marijuana and poppies in the secluded mountains, where outsiders don’t go without military escorts and rumors have it that Sinaloa boss Guzman himself has been hiding.

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