The U.S. media gets flack from some Mexicans for focusing so much attention on the drug violence that happens south of the border.
“Why doesn’t anyone write about the top-level drug traffickers in your own country?” was a question posed to me once by Jesus Blancornelas, the editor of Tijuana’s muckracking weekly Zeta newspaper when I first started working as a border reporter with The San Diego Union-Tribune nine years ago. Blancornelas, who regularly wrote about the Arellanos and other drug groups operating along the Mexican border, had almost been killed in an ambush in 1997 that was later tied to the Arellano-Felix drug cartel.
To him, it didn’t make sense that so much attention was placed on drug traffickers and violence south of the border when it appeared to him those drugs had to be distributed through a centralized system north of the border that would require some degree of institutional corruption. I replied that perhaps it was a question of the scope of the problem being much larger in Mexico – a valuable transit area with weaker institutions – than in the United States: Mexico had its capos, and the U.S. had smaller-scale dealers with lower profiles.
Still, his question lingered with me over the years as I occasionally wrote about the Arellano-Felix drug group’s activities in San Diego and Chula Vista. Recently, I read a story in the Los Angeles Times that explored a connection with the Arellano-Felix drug cartel in a 101-Freeway shooting in December, 2008, that left the the driver of a $100,000 Bentley dead. According to a search warrant affidavit obtained by the paper, the victim “might have been selling drugs here for the notorious Arellano Felix cartel.” (Read the article here)
I thought that when I took a job in Los Angeles last year I had left the Arellanos behind, but I guess not. They are, in a sense, everywhere.
Photo of car dealership in Los Angeles that has no known connection to the Arellano-Felix drug group whatsoever.
The fact that another suspected Arellano Felix drug cartel member had been arrested in Tijuana wasn’t as interesting to me as where he was found. Mexican media reported that Filiberto Parra Ramos was detained June 10 either inside or just outside the Total Fitness Gym, in the city’s Zona Rio business district.
That’s the same gym I used to go to when I lived in Tijuana, and to be honest I’m a little surprised he wasn’t going to the swankier Sports World Tijuana gym (the Arellanos’ recreation budget must have been cut). I remember visiting both gyms and deciding not to got to Sports World because the monthly membership was closer to $300 (someone correct me here, if needed…) and because it seemed to be the kind of place where people looked great but didn’t seem to be capable of sweating.
At Total Fitness the equipment area was a little more cramped but there was a lot of sweating going on. Both places had some similar details, such as rock scaling areas and lap pools. At Total Fitness, I had a membership for about $100 a month and a personal trainer who was preparing for a body building competition. At times he seemed more interested in his own physique, but he dutifully kept me from cutting corners with the weights and sneaking off the bikes too early.
Both mega-gyms opened sometime after the year 2000, providing an alternative for wealthier Tijuanenses whose exercise options had previously involved jogging at public park facilities or crossing the border to work out in Chula Vista. For me, the main impetus to work out was to stay fit in my jeans. The stakes are probably much higher for someone like Parra, who was reportedly part of the Arellanos’ killer squad.
Screenshot from Total Fitness website. They have some gym promo going for $35.
Posted in Musings, Travel
Tagged arellano felix, arellanos, Baja California, border, drug trafficking, drugs, el teo, filiberto parra, gym, gymnasium, la perra, mexico, sports world, Tijuana, total fitness
San Diego Magazine is publishing a series of stories about drug trafficking along the border. In the first installment, S.D. Liddick explores the case of the 2006 beheadings of the Rosarito Beach police officers, which was linked to the Arellano-Felix drug organization. It’s well worth the read. Liddick spent considerable time collecting information for this story. I know because at one point when I still worked at The San Diego Union-Tribune, he lost the cell phone number for the former Rosarito police chief Valente Montijo-Pompa – and I helped him get back in touch with the chief.
The story is skillfully written with powerful insights into the corruptible forces of drug trafficking, including some fascinating quotes by realist Montijo-Pompa, who freely admits “I’m not going to fight with somebody whose circumstances are 1,000 to my one. I’m not going to be a hero—to kill my people. I’m not going to sacrifice others or convert Rosarito into a battleground or put innocents in the middle.”
With Mexican drug trafficking violence the “hot” topic over the past year or so, many media groups are jostling for a chance to claim their stake in this story. Of course, the story has been going on for years but the degree of attention tends to correspond to body counts. It’s no surprise that San Diego Magazine would explore this issue in depth, and kudos to the magazine for investing the time and resources in doing so. I look forward to reading the upcoming installments. My only issue with the first article is that I think it takes an unwarranted and unsubstantiated swipe at the quality of border coverage by other media groups in a curious attempt to elevate the article’s authority. You can read my opinion in the story’s online comments section.
Read the first installment of “Blood of Their Brothers: The Border Trilogy” here.
Photo of car dealership in Los Angeles with no apparent link to the Arellano-Felix organization whatsoever.
Posted in Uncategorized
Tagged arellano felix, arellanos, Baja California, border, drug trafficking, drug violence, drugs, mexico, police beheadings, rosarito, rosarito beach, rosarito beheadings, s.d. liddick, san diego reader, Tijuana
I feel an odd sort of connection with Miguel Felix Gallardo, who was reputedly the precursor to the Baja California area’s Arellano Felix drug trafficking organization. A blog post I filed last year – about a web site set up by the reputed drug trafficker’s family – continues to generate a lot of traffic to my own site from people apparently curious about Felix Gallardo’s savvy use of the Internet.
Felix Gallardo, according to Mexican and U.S. reports, is an older relative of the Arellano Felix brothers (a family member says this is not true), and he was said to be a major Mexican drug trafficker in the 1980s. He has been locked up in a Mexican prison since 1989. Family members started a web site to document his health needs in prison as well as a forum for people to ask questions and send greetings to Felix Gallardo. You can check out the site here.
Here are a couple of media updates on Felix Gallardo:
McClatchy News Service wrote a story about the Felix Gallardo website and about the use of the Internet by Mexican drug traffickers in general. Reporter Marisa Taylor interviewed Felix Gallardo’s son, who started the website. You can read the story here.
In February of this year, Mexican media ran a story about Felix Gallardo writing a 32-page letter to La Jornada newspaper detailing his experiences with certain Mexican law enforcement officials, as well as other juicy details of his own arrest. You can read the La Jornada story here.
Screenshot of the Miguel Felix Gallardo web page.
The Los Angeles Times’ Richard Marosi writes about one of the people believed to be responsible for a whole lot of killings in Tijuana: Teodoro Garcia Simental. You can read and learn more here about the suspected drug trafficker, who is also known as “El Teo.”
These guys don’t like being placed in the spotlight, speaking from personal experience from my days of covering this sort of thing for The San Diego Union-Tribune. But perhaps “Teo” feels a little better with the attention since he was overlooked on Detail magazine’s blog of “Most Influential” people of the year. (His nemesis – suspected trafficker Francisco Sanchez Arellano – made the list).
If you are looking for more information on the personalities behind the big guns, you can read this story by Tracy Wilkinson, also of the Los Angeles Times, about Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the suspected head of a drug group that is battling the Tijuana region’s once-dominant Arellano-Felix cartel.
I wish I could link to an indepth profile of the former head of the Arellano cartel – the now-imprisoned Benjamin Arellano-Felix – that was written by S. Lynne Walker. She wrote it when she was based out of Mexico City for Copley News Service, but it doesn’t seem to be available online. If anyone finds that story, or any other noteworthy profiles, let me know.
Posted in Crime & public security, News & current events
Tagged Add new tag, arellano felix, arellanos, Baja California, drug wars, drugs, el teo, killings, los angeles times, mexico, teodoro garcia simenal, Tijuana, tijuana killings
The capture of a major suspected drug trafficker at a Tijuana house this weekend got me thinking about the place I called home for almost two years: The apartment complex is in a peaceful neighborhood just a few minutes from Tijuana’s Avenida Revolucion, but as you can see it’s surrounded by walls
I ended up at here because I wanted to feel safe. If you write enough stories about the drug cartels, people come out of the woodwork with unclear motives. Besides, I also needed a place to park both my personal car and the company car (belonging to The San Diego Union-Tribune). Most places I looked at had parking space for just one car, but this one gave me two spaces that were tucked out of the sight of car thieves. So I ended up paying about $680 a month for a unit in this four-storied condo complex, which had a light-filled atrium and a daytime security guard/handyman called Raul. There was constant turnover in this complex, and a fair number of expensive vehicles, but most everyone who lived here kept to themselves and I was left to imagine the untold stories behind these quiet walls.
Homes in Tijuana’s nicest neighborhoods homes are typically protected with fortress-like walls to keep out burglars and car thieves. The irony is that sometimes the true criminals are living inside these same protective enclaves. This past weekend, Mexican authorities detained Eduardo Arellano-Felix, who comes from a drug trafficking family that once dominated Tijuana but whose members are rapidly moving into shabbier quarters at Mexican and U.S. prisons. Looking more like a soccer dad than one of the Drug Enforcement Agency’s Most Wanted, Arellano was found in a house in one of Tijuana’s nicer neighborhoods, with his young daughter, according to The San Diego Union-Tribune.
In addition to this Union-Tribune story about his detention, you can read this story in The Los Angeles Times and listen to this report by KPBS-San Diego.
Photos: My own former Tijuana home: From outside the walls (top) and from inside looking to the adjacent home’s backyard (below)
Posted in Crime & public security, Musings, News & current events
Tagged apartments, arellano felix, arellanos, Baja California, border, drugs, eduardo arellano, mexico, Tijuana
Almost everyone has a web site these days. That includes – so it seems – the Arellano Felix drug cartel family.
I stumbled across this page recently. It has the domain name of miguelfelixgallardo.com. Miguel Felix Gallardo was an older relative of the Arellano Felix brothers, according to U.S. and Mexican reports. Miguel Felix Gallardo, said to be a major cartel leader in the 1980s, remains in a Mexican prison since 1989. Ramon and Benjamin Arellano Felix took over the Baja California portion of the business around that time, but in recent years the Arellano clan and their associates have been getting arrested and killed. The web site claims to be maintained by the remaining Felix family: “The reason and objective is to let others know the health condition of our father, uncle, brother, friend and grandfather Miguel.”
The site includes a biography (under construction) of Miguel Felix Gallardo, photos, and a forum where someone claiming to be Miguel Felix Gallardo responds to questions such as “what do you think of the narco corridos that have been written about you?” and “how can criminal activities be stopped?” The answer to that one: More funding for sports and education, and less salaries for government officials.
I’ve seen and heard a lot of strange things in Tijuana and this one begs the question: Is it quasi-real? Has it been set up by investigators as a trap? Is it a joke? In the murky underworld here it can be hard to say for sure – but who’s to argue Miguel Felix Gallardo looks pretty jaunty on that motorcycle.