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In order to actualize their international agenda, the Arellano Félix organization also recruited thugs from the United States, including gangsters from Logan Heights. The Arellano brothers were well on their way to becoming part of a drug-trafficking network that, according to U.S. authorities, was estimated to be worth between $13.6 and $48.4 billion per year.

Logan Heights

In 1990, the Logan Heights community was home to 13,488 people, most of them Mexican immigrants. Forty-four percent of the neighborhood lived below the poverty level. Occupying four square miles of turf, the Logan Heights gang had over 400 members, making them San Diego’s largest Hispanic gang. The gang comprised several neighborhood sects, including Calle Treinta, Red Steps, Logan Heights 33rd, and Logan Heights 13.

The Logan Heights gangs date back to the car clubs in the ’70s, when automotive enthusiasts would cruise Southeast San Diego streets in customized vehicles. The club grew into a gang when they began dealing marijuana and, in the early ’80s, PCP. In the mid-’80s, after a string of homicides involving rival gangs Shell Town and Sherman Heights, David Barrón took control of the gang.

“David had this look,” retired San Diego Police officer Jorge Sánchez said in a History Channel Gangland special about Logan Heights. “And once you interacted with him, you knew the look. David was a murderer.”

Barrón made connections with members of the Arellano Félix organization in federal prison, proving his allegiance by performing hits for the cartel. When he was released in 1988, he had a job secured as bodyguard for Benjamín and Ramón. On November 8, 1992, Barrón demonstrated his loyalty to the Arellano brothers in Puerto Vallarta, when 40 Sinaloa cartel members dressed as federales and led by “El Chapo” Guzmán opened fire on the discotheque where the Arellano brothers were partying, killing innocent bystanders and eight Tijuana cartel members in an attempt to take out the capos. The attack was a retaliation against an increase in the transit tax that cartels had to pay to the Arellano brothers in exchange for transporting drugs across the Tijuana-Mexicali corridor. Barrón returned fire and helped the brothers escape through a bathroom skylight, thus establishing his position as an invaluable asset to the drug lords.

The incident was a wake-up call to the cartel bosses. Barrón was sent to recruit dozens of his Logan Heights thugs to be taken to an isolated ranch in Mexico, where they were trained with AK-47s, handguns, and grenades to be hit men, or sicarios. The gang was then released onto the streets of Tijuana dressed as federal police officers in siren-equipped vehicles to take out rivals of the cartel. The heavy artillery and cartel connection made Logan Heights the most renowned and powerful gang in San Diego. Chicano and Memorial Parks became no-man’s-lands, where gangsters would sell PCP-laced marijuana cigarettes. Gang violence increased as more drugs and weapons made their way into the hands of Logan Heights gangsters. The summer of 1993 saw the worst of it, when 26 people were murdered in San Diego as a result of a turf battle over the meth market between the Tijuana cartel and other competing organizations.

The reign of Logan Heights in Mexico came to an end on May 24, 1993, when a hit squad of more than 20 assassins were sent to Guadalajara to kill Sinaloa cartel boss “El Chapo” Guzmán at the airport. Guzmán was Mexico’s most-wanted drug trafficker, whose estimated net worth of $1 billion made him the 701st richest man in the world, according to Forbes magazine. It was reported that he would be arriving in a white Mercury Grand Marquis. When the vehicle arrived, the hired gangsters riddled the car with over 30 bullets before hopping a plane back to Tijuana. They soon learned, however, that they had hit the wrong car. In addition to the driver, they had inadvertently killed Cardinal Juan Jesús Posadas, the ultimate faux pas in a 90-percent Catholic country.

Both Logan Heights and Tijuana cartel members were forced to lie low as the media continued to release information about the sacrilegious homicide. The heat brought on by the situation resulted in the arrest of the oldest Arellano brother, Francisco, who was detained in Tijuana in December 1993 and booked on weapons charges. In order to assuage the situation, Benjamín cut a deal with Mexican authorities, handing over $10 million and two Logan Heights assassins, Juan “Puma” Vasconez and Juan “Spooky” Méndez. Puma was convicted of weapons charges and sentenced to nine years. Spooky was killed in prison.

Logan Heights were cast out of Mexico, but in San Diego their reputation flourished. Violence skyrocketed with Logan Heights’ ego. The gang started selling methamphetamine and conducting business using cell phones and pagers, generating vast amounts of money dealing narcotics. In 1998, in response to Logan Heights’ escalated operation, the U.S. Attorneys Office indicted nine gang members who were part of the hit squad that killed the cardinal. Three pleaded guilty and were given 18 to 22 years. The San Diego Police Department also cracked down, putting many key members in jail.

Still, according to California Department of Justice special agent Steve Duncan, the connection to the Tijuana cartel remained strong. Logan Heights members who started as hit men went on to become lieutenants in the Arellano Félix organization.

The Reign of the Arellano-Félix Organization

The Arellano-Félix organization flourished from the mid-’90s to the early 2000s, when it was believed to have supplied over half of the cocaine sold in the United States. It solidified territory in the Mexican states of Sinaloa, Jalisco, Michoacán, Chiapas, and Baja California South and North with such brute force that the Drug Enforcement Agency dubbed it “one of the most powerful, violent, and aggressive drug-trafficking organizations in the world.”

The cartel used the 100-mile corridor between Tijuana and Mexicali as its primary point of entry for cocaine, marijuana, heroin, and methamphetamines. It sent “mules,” foot-traffickers carrying large backpacks, across the shoddily fenced border and used high-tech tunnels connected to rural farmhouses to transport billions of dollars of drugs into San Diego to be distributed across the United States. The San Ysidro-Tijuana border crossing, with over 50,000 vehicles crossing daily, was and still is a key entry point for illegal drugs.

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Comments

David Dodd Sept. 23, 2010 @ 4:43 a.m.

Oh man, I don't even know where to begin picking this apart. Chad, you've missed what I think are about four or five angles on this that would've been much more engaging. For example, you open with some statement about the "Tijuana cartel". There isn't one.

In many examples where one wants to discover the source of something illicit, where the cause is otherwise unknown, they say one must "follow the money". While that might be true even in this case, a better way to find where there is no real control by any one source when it comes to smuggling in Mexico, is to follow the body count. Over twenty billion dollars worth of drugs per year (probably much more, I'm quoting the U.S. source here) cross the border. Where control of that is taken away, a vacuum develops immediately. Where no cartel is present, the vacuum is fought over by smaller factions.

I have no idea if you read Spanish, but I recommend looking into violence in Reynosa, Juarez, and Monterrey. These are locations that have historically been controlled by one cartel - like Tijuana once was - and are now involved in turf wars. The idea that the Sinaloa cartel has a strong hold on anything is ridiculous. If it did, then Los Zetas would still be working for them. If it did, Mexico would not be seeing these turf battles.

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DonCarlos Sept. 24, 2010 @ 6:42 a.m.

These so called experts, could no be more wrong, as in the options to deal with the problem.

First - Astorga, the so called expert, it is not that they are hard to buy them now, the Plata or Plomo (which literally translate is Silver or Led, Plata ought to be interpreted as another way to say "Money", therefore is: Pay up or Led. That formula is a lot cheaper.

There will never be a solution to the problem, unless you will have a total extermination of everyone involved, at any price, at any cost. It has to be a Dictatorship. A shoot and kill first, and then ask questions if any survivors left alive. That is how they do it. That is why they are so successful.

Even the closest solution mentioned, which will be a pact, can not be possible. These criminals multiply, the growth is compounded, and they do value a dog, a cat, even roach life, than that of a Human being, So is Mexico makes a pact with them, the ones below will not sit still. They will say that is not my pact!

Mexico is done. The Southwestern states of the U.S. are next, if not dealt with an iron fist.

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Origami_Astronaught Sept. 24, 2010 @ 12:54 p.m.

I was anticipating some critical feedback from you, Refried! I agree that the notion of a Tijuana cartel does not mean as much as it did five or ten years ago, and I stressed the current state of disarray under "The New Breed" heading. I do read Spanish and will check out the suggested reading. Thanks for the input!

DonCarlos, yes, the phrase basically means take money or a bullet. The extermination approach which you are vouching for seems to be more or less the policy instated by Calderon in 2006. Nearly 25,000 people (soldiers, police, thugs, and civilians) have died in drug-related violence since. And while a stimulating thought, I don't see how Astorga's work would benefit anybody with the "plata o plomo" ethic. Thanks for reading!

-Chad

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David Dodd Sept. 24, 2010 @ 3:13 p.m.

Chad,

It's a very difficult thing to keep on top of. There is no shortage of newspapers in Mexico; unlike in the U.S., they seem to be thriving here. The problem is that you track these stories all over the place, but there's rarely any follow-up. You'll read about, say, a gun battle that leaves a certain number dead and even though the press won't publish the note that was left behind (mostly because the authorities wont release the content), the press might even speculate on which factions were battling. But there's never any follow-up, except when they capture a high-profile cartel member. While the press is busy with that person, there is a power grab going on and no one pays attention to it.

Sidenote: Small amounts of drugs have already been decriminalized in Mexico.

So far as the solutions, there is one glaring aspect that is mostly missed by anyone writing on drug smuggling in Mexico: Drugs are being smuggled into the U.S. Seems to me that the big ol' elephant in the room that no one wants to talk about is that the U.S. fails to stop people from smuggling drugs into the U.S. This means one of two things: Either the possibility exists for terrorists to smuggle nuclear bombs into the U.S. because the U.S. cannot control the situation, or the U.S. is allowing over twenty billion dollars each year of drugs to be smuggled in because - for whatever reason one wishes to consider - they simply permit it.

That's what scares me, as an expat. For the record (hopefully qualifying that my opinion isn't based on ideology), I believe that all drugs should be legalized. That would certainly solve this particular problem.

And to balance out any perceived criticisms, your research was excellent and presented very well.

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Writeon Oct. 1, 2010 @ 9:44 a.m.

This was a well-researched and interesting read. Regrettably, journalists south of the border are censored by the lawless. Not that we don't have censorship in the U.S., we definitely do. Unfortunately, on the U.S. side we take journalism for granted. What I would suggest for a future effort is to examine the powder trade (cocaine, crystal meth) and it's effects on those who use and used. Interviews with the families friends, employers, law enforcement and social service agencies who have had to endure those who use and abuse "the powders" may be informative and instructive. While some will fight tooth(less) and nail to protect their buzz, it would be interesting to examine just what each of the powders are cut with so people can decide for themselves if the buzz is really worth the negatives for one and all. Ruthless and greedy types in all levels of the powder supply chain make their cuts and could care less about what the end user puts in their body. The buzz is not worth the negatives that come after the sniff. We need to think about it.

As always, a great read. I read every issue of The Reader or it sits in a pile until I get to it!

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David Dodd Oct. 1, 2010 @ 4:16 p.m.

Blogdelnarco is often a tool of the smugglers, they receive a lot of video from them. Is it useful? Perhaps, in that you won't see the reality of this from most other sources. Curiously, some good neutral sources in Mexico that existed on Facebook have been suspended, without explanation. It is widely believed that the Mexican government is responsible, that in attempting to limit the information available to the smugglers is also accomplished through social networking control.

I would expect that blogdenarco will also be shut down at some point, if the videos from the narcos themselves continue to appear. Whatever anonymity this blogger ostensibly has, well, one would be surprised at the resources here.

But the main thing to take note of, is that the locations of the blog entries are not centered on one particular cartel or specifically in one area, although there is often repetition in the locations.

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