MEXICALI, Mexico – A bloody trail of death, revenge and violence among Mexican drug cartels has ensued after the death of the alleged drug lord Arturo Beltrán Leyva, known as “El Barbas” or “the bearded one.”
The gangs are entrenched in a turf war to control the corridors that Beltrán Leyva’s ruthless cartel used to smuggle millions of dollars’ worth of drugs into the United States and abroad. The routes are so coveted they could cause a war among Mexico’s cartels, whose wave of violence already has engulfed much of Mexico, according to Arturo Chávez, Mexico’s attorney general.
But even in death, Beltrán Leyva’s cartel – at least what is left of it – still is very much alive, according to Luis Enrique Montenegro, a former general of the national Colombian police. He said the cartel has maintained its connection with Colombian cartels El Norte del Valle, allegedly led by Daniel “El Loco” Barrera and Luis Enrique Calle Serna.
“The main routes are the Pacific, the Caribbean coast and the Atlantic Ocean,” Montenegro said, noting the Beltrán Leyva cartel is a major player in the trafficking of cocaine, methamphetamines and alkaloid.
Montenegro said Beltrán Leyva’s death, which happened during a gunfight with the Mexican navy in December of last year, has made the cartel’s hierarchy unclear. Beltrán Leyva has four brothers, but Alfredo was arrested in January 2008 in Culiacán, the capital of the Mexican state of Sinaloa, and Carlos was apprehended by Mexican federal police in January of this year after showing a forged driver’s license.
Meantime, Héctor and Mario Alberto Beltrán Leyva, who are wanted by Mexican and United States law enforcement, are believed to be among those leading the cartel. The United States and Mexico have offered rewards of collectively more than US$7 million for information that leads to the apprehension of either brother.
Montenegro, who also is the foreign advisor to the federal secretary of public security of Mexico, said the Beltrán Leyva cartel could merge with another Mexican gang, namely “Los Zetas,” a Tamaulipas-based paramilitary group that has been one of its biggest allies.
“In actuality, cocaine continues to pour out of Colombia, but the Mexican groups control the trade to the American market and the routes in which they move the drugs,” said Ricardo Vargas Meza, a Colombian specialist in narco-trafficking. “They control the borders and have distribution networks in the United States in order to distribute the drugs.”
The Mexican and Colombian drug cartels currently use Central American countries as hubs in routing the drugs to the United States and Europe. The cartels also use Africa as a stop in transporting drugs into the “old world,” according to Vargas Meza. Africa doesn’t have the resources to fight the illegal drug trade, which makes it easier for Colombian and Mexican cartels to move their products into Europe, according to Vargas Meza.
“In the face of governmental pressure that both Colombia and Mexico have placed on drug trafficking, the cartels in both countries are not doing business in Mexico or Colombia,” he said. “Instead they are going to Panama, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras and Puerto Rico. These criminals are doing their business there in order to avoid being detected in Mexico and Colombia.”