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The war for Tijuana, a 20+ year conflict. PART 2

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May 31, 2013

The war for Tijuana is not a new war, nor has it ended. In part 1 of this article we explored the history behind the war for Tijuana, we saw how the Arellano Felix brothers became Mexico´s most powerful cartel in the 90´s, some people didn´t like the article because they thought people like “El Chapo” or “El Mayo” seemed out of league against the Tijuana Cartel, but the truth is, in those days, they didn´t have the power they have now.
Even if some people don’t like to read this, the fact is the Sinaloa cartel had little to no power in Baja California in the early 90´s, as a matter of fact, the Sinaloa cartel didn´t exist as such, they were all under Amado Carrillo´s orders, be it the Beltran Leyva´s, the Zambada´s, and even Chapo, all of them somehow answered to, or were under protection from Amado Carrillo.
Something worth mentioning, is the fact that before all this, Benjamin Arellano was a very good friend of Chapo Guzman, to the point of calling themselves “compadres”, but “El Chapo” wasn´t his only “Compadre”, according to an interview with Amado Carrillo´s mom, Carrillo was the Godfather of Benjamin´s son. She claimed she had nothing but respect for the Arellano Felix family, who promised to respect Amado´s family and their property.
The following are some of the most important facts in the war for Tijuana, some of them didn´t take place in Tijuana, but they surely had an effect on the war for the city.

It was July, 1997, the news about Amado Carrillo´s mysterious death were fresh, suddenly, the powerful Juarez Cartel was without a leader, and many tried to assume that role.
The violence in Ciudad Juarez exploded after Amado´s death, Alfonzo Corral Olaguez aka “El Patas Verdes” (Green feet- he was called this way because he loved to dress with green crocodile boots) was at the time the plaza boss for the Juarez Cartel, he wasn´t seen as a possible successor for “El Señor de los Cielos”, and so he felt relatively safe, he was just a lieutenant for the organization and shared the position with Juan Heriberto Carrillo Olivas, Amado´s nephew.
On August 3, 1997, Corral Olaguez was killed in the Max Fim restaurant. According to news reports of the era, 3 elegantly dressed men arrived on board a limousine to the restaurant; these men crossed the main door and began shooting their AK-47´s at a table. Corral Olaguez tried to save his girlfriend´s life covering her with his body, but she also received the coup de grace by the attackers.
Six people died that day, including then Cd. Juarez plaza boss, Alfonzo Corral Olaguez. This was the beginning of a bloody era for Cd. Juarez, the bloodshed spread throughout the country, with shootouts in Mexico City, Jalisco and Sonora.
Federal Authorities soon realized this wasn´t the Carrillo Fuentes style, they believed this was the dirty work of the Arellano Felix brothers. One DEA agent was quoted as saying “The cartels all work together except the Arellano Felix brothers, they don´t get along with anyone”.
The war didn´t stop in Tijuana or Juarez, it also reached Mexico City.
After Amado Carrillo´s death, the possible merger between the Tijuana and Juarez cartels disappeared, with their most powerful enemies gone, the Tijuana cartel was seen as the biggest and most dangerous criminal group in Latin America, at the time nobody was able to challenge them, “Mayo” Zambada didn´t had the power needed, “El Chapo” and “Guero” Palma were in prison, and the all-mighty Gulf Baron, Juan Garcia Abrego was captured a year before, at the time nobody knew who Osiel Cardenas was, much less the zetas.
Soon after the incursion of the Tijuana Cartel in Juarez, and fearing the violence would cross the border, the FBI named Ramon Arellano Felix one of their Ten Most Wanted fugitives. 50,000 USD were offered as reward for information leading to Ramon´s arrest. This reward was followed by an offer of up to 2 million USD from the US Department of Justice.
Even with all the press Ramon and Benjamin were receiving, the cartel´s operations continued without problems, the cocaine kept arriving at Tijuana and the cartel kept smuggling it to the US.
Meanwhile, underestimated by his rivals, ”El Chapo” Guzman became the owner of the Puente Grande Federal Prison; anything from liquor bottles, to drugs, to woman was at his disposal. He bribed all the guards he could, and threatened those few who refused to obey him. Along with his partner Hector Palma Salazar, “El Chapo” controlled the so called maximum security prison, his future escape -much blamed on the then new Fox administration- was planned during these years.
“WANTED” ads like this were hung in the San Ysidro/Tijuana border
Jesus Blancornelas is a well-known name in the journalist circles in Mexico, at a time of severe censorship, his ZETA magazine was one of the few places were you could read about the narco wars.
ZETA has always covered those stories other media can´t (or simply won´t), drug trafficking, political corruption, etc.
In 1988 Hector Felix Miranda, co-founder of the ZETA magazine was gunned down by Jorge Hank Rhon´s bodyguards, this crime was never solved but ZETA keeps pointing to the Hank family.
ZETA employees always received threats, but in 1997 the threats became reality, it was November 27th, Jesus Blancornelas left his home when a group of hit men ambushed him along with his driver/bodyguard Luis Valero Elizaldi.
The hit men had been following them for days, that morning, one of them took out the air from the four tires of Blancornelas Ford Explorer, and his bodyguard took the Explorer to a tire shop and picked Blancornelas at about 9:30 AM.
Luis Valero noticed a green Pontiac and told Blancornelas they were “mañosos” (slang for mobsters), Blancornelas just told him to be cautious, a few blocks ahead, the green Pontiac caught up with them, Fabian Martinez aka “El Tiburon” began shooting his handgun at them, then David Corona Barron aka “El CH” shoot at them with an AK-47, Valero tried to escape but Corona Barron shoot him in the chest and killed him, Jesus Blancornelas received 4 gunshots in his body, one of them broke his trachea and another one punctured his lung, David Corona was supposed to give Blancornelas the final shot, but he died before he could do it, shrapnel from a bullet fired by one of his associated hit him in the eye killing him instantly.
With all the confusion, the hit men escaped leaving behind the body of one of the most famous killers in cartel history. David Corona had a fake ID with the name of Javier Ortiz Calvo. It wasn´t until the FBI got a tip, that his real identity was known.
Blancornelas survived the attack, but he never recovered his normal life, then President Ernesto Zedillo gave Blancornelas a full time guard, he commissioned 12 special forces soldiers to this task, these soldiers belonged to the elite GAFE(Same group that gave birth to Los Zetas).
According to Blancornelas, Ramon Arellano Felix denied ordering the hit on him, but nobody believed this, the hit came 3 weeks after ZETA published the names and connections of the “Narcojuniors” (Young men from the wealthiest families in Tijuana who acted as Ramon´s personal army).
This failed attempt on the journalist brought extreme heat to the Tijuana plaza, not only did they fail, but they lost their main hit man.
David Corona Barron aka “El CH” after the failed hit.
Fabian Martinez Gonzalez aka “El Tiburon” was a member of a highly respected family in Tijuana, those who knew him at middle school never thought he would become the cold blooded killer he was, while in School Fabian was constantly bullied.
Fabian met Ramon Arellano somewhere in the 80´s, at the time, Ramon was someone who would kill just for fun, they began a friendship and soon the group included many of Tijuana´s most respected heirs.
By the mid 80´s Fabian was selling hundreds of kilos of cocaine, he was seldom inspected in the San Ysidro border, but in 1987 his luck changed, he had just bought 200 kilos of pure cocaine with one of his contacts in Mazatlan, he tried to smuggle them to California, but by the time he reached the border, there were dozens of DEA and Customs agents awaiting for him. Many dealers have spent decades in jail for fewer drugs, but somehow Fabian´s lawyer got him an 18 month sentence, while in Jail, Fabian met the business partner of his Mazatlan´s contact, he confessed to Fabian that Manolo Tirado, aka “El Manotas” had snitched on him.
Manolo Tirado was murdered in Tijuana just a few days after the release of “El Tiburon”.
This wasn´t Fabian´s first murder, nor his last, Fabian killed a lot of people, he became one of the most proficient killers for the Arellano Felix brothers, along with his “narcojunior” friends, Fabian was responsible for countless deaths in places such as Sinaloa, Jalisco, Michoacan, Sonora, Cd. Juarez and Mexico City.
Fabian was known for his skill with an AK-47, he was so cocky about his “career” that he used to challenge the Police Agencies using their own radio frequencies, in 1992, after the murder of the Olmos brothers, Fabian and his friends kept cursing at the cops, they played songs in the radio frequency and event told them “You know who we are, you know where we are, come and get us…If you dare, we still have lots of bullets for you”.
In 1998, Fabian was sent to Zapopan, Jalisco, his mission was to murder Napoleon Flores Gaxiola, a Sinaloan who stole drugs from the Tijuana Cartel. Fabian had no trouble finding and killing Flores Gaxiola, when Fabian tried to escape he ran into the police who followed him and his partners, a shootout started and one of his partners was hurt, their gateway car broke down and Miguel Angel Galvez Castro was arrested, two other men successfully escaped on foot but “El Tiburon” didn´t share their luck, he took down a man from his vehicle, while on the run he confronted the Zapopan police, as luck would have it, his recently stolen vehicle broke down too, police agents followed him to a phone booth where he was surrounded, not wanting to life the rest of his days in prison, Martinez pointed his gun at himself and told the officers he would kill himself if they approached him, at this moment he made a final phone call, legend has it he called Benjamin Arellano letting him know what happened, after this, the police officers ran towards him and he shot himself.
Some people still believe Fabian didn´t die, his body was never recovered, his forensic records disappeared and it was proven by the PGR that his autopsy report was forged.
Fabian Martinez Gonzalez aka “El Tiburon”.
Fermin Castro Ramirez, a former teacher from Ensenada, Baja California, used to land airplanes arriving from Sinaloa; his job was to safeguard the shipments and then hiding them in false bottoms on cattle trucks going to Tijuana.
Fermin Castro worked alongside Oscar Quiñonez Beltran aka “El Naty” and Eduardo Basurto aka “El Guayito”. They all worked for a cell of the Arellano Felix Cartel. Sometime in 1998, Quiñonez Beltran owed 80 thousand dollars to Fermin Castro, Castro convinced “El Guayito” to give him a shipment(some say up to 800 kilos of Marijuana) from Quiñonez Beltran in exchange for 10 thousand dollars.
On September 13th, 1998, Basurto arrived at Castro´s home in Ensenada, he demanded the 10 thousand dollars Castro promised him, instead, Basurto received a few dollars to fill up his gas tank and head back to Tijuana. Fermin Castro called “El Naty” and told him he wouldn´t return the drugs until he received his money.
4 days later, at about 3 AM, several armed men arrived at Castro´s house, the compound where Castro live consisted of three homes belonging to three different families inside the same ranch.
The armed men took positions outside of the three homes, they knocked on the first home, property of Francisco Flores Altamirano, not knowing what was going on his mother opened the door and the hit men began shooting, there they shoot a 12 year old boy and left him for dead, the commando then ordered those in the house to step out to the backyard while other members broke into Esperanza Tovar´s home, Tovar´s family was taken to the backyard along with Macaria, and 8 month pregnant woman and Gerardo, his husband, all of them were thrown in the dirt and ordered to remain face down. The last home the broke into was that of Fermin Castro, he was shot in his bedroom; the armed group took his wife and 1 year old son to the backyard with the rest of the people. The interrogation began, the armed men asked for someone nicknamed “Chapo” or “Chaparro”, none of the family members could give any info so Lino Quintana ordered his men to kill them. Lino Quintana was the leader of the armed group, he was at the time one of the most feared hit men from the Arellano Felix brothers.
18 people died that day including women and children, only two people survived the attack, the 12 year old boy who was shot first, and Viviana, the oldest daughter of Fermin Castro, who remained hidden in a closet while the armed men killed her whole family.
This massacre ignored the unwritten law among cartels of respecting woman and children; no mercy was shown towards pregnant woman and small children. In an era where mass murders were unheard of, this tragedy brought even more pressure on the Tijuana Cartel, and their leaders.
“El Rodeo” crime scene, woman and kids were killed that day.
The war soon reached Cd. Juarez, after Amado Carrillo´s death, the Juarez Cartel was in need of a new leader, several names were mentioned at the time, among them were those of Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada Garcia and Juan Jose “El Azul” Esparragoza Moreno, but at the end it was Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, Amado´s brother, the one who took the reins of the Juarez Cartel.
Vicente has been described as man with a lack of leadership, a very bad temper, and an extremely violent personality; someone who acts more on impulse than reasoning. This is the reason quoted by many for the defection of some of Amado´s closest allies, this included Arturo Beltran Leyva, “El Mayo”, “El Azul” and many more.
Knowing how paranoid Vicente was, none of this man felt they needed to be near him, besides, their loyalties were with Amado, not Vicente. For a time, all of this men operated by themselves, but that soon changed.
This is the time when the Sinaloa Cartel began to form as such, Carrillo´s former lieutenants formed their own groups, took some of the connections they had and began their operations in the Pacific. This is the time when “El Mayo” felt he could go back to Baja California and fight for the plaza.
Vicente Carrillo Fuentes aka “El Viceroy”.
Several high profile murders took place in Tijuana at the end of 1999 and the beginning of 2000, including those of: Jose Contreras Subias, former right hand man of Rafael Caro Quintero; Dr. Sergio Guillermo Perez, believed to be associated with the Arellano Felix brothers; Joaquin Baez Lugo, an Attorney who worked for the Tijuana Cartel; Former Judge Rodolfo Gallardo Hernandez, along with his wife and son; Victor Manuel Dominguez Verdugo; Jesus Araiza Sanchez aka “El Flaco”, a known drug smuggler; Police agent Pedro Vazquez and many more.
At the time it was a known fact that a hit squad from outside the city was conducting the murders, the man in charge of this hit squad was none other than Vicente Zambada Niebla aka “El Vicentillo”.  Zambada Niebla, then 24, was sent by his father, Ismael Zambada Garcia to fight for the Tijuana plaza, his mission was to “heat up” the plaza, knowing the brothers were far from the city, “El Mayo” saw this as an opportunity to take it from their hands. The idea was to kill as many high profile targets as possible, it didn´t matter if the victims weren´t related to the Tijuana Cartel, they just wanted to bring the attention of the Federal authorities to Tijuana.
Alfredo De la Torre Marquez was the Police Chief in Tijuana, he had been appointed by then City Mayor Francisco Vega de la Madrid(now running for Governor), at the time it was known that the Tijuana Cartel tried to bribe De la Torre, however, the Police Chief didn´t accept those bribes. The Arellano´s weren´t pleased with him, but as long as he didn´t mess with them, they wouldn´t mess with him (at the time, the local police had no jurisdiction over drug crimes).
In February 2000, Alfredo De la Torre was murdered, the group under Vicente Zambada known as “El Comando de la Muerte”(Death´s commando) ambushed him, they had infiltrated the Tijuana Police and knew Alfredo had no bodyguards on Sundays, more than 100 bullets were fired at his Suburban, of those, about 50 hit him, there was no way he could had survived the attack.
One week after the murder of De la Torre, Baja California´s Attorney General announced to the media the capture of six members of the “Death´s Commando”, years later it was known that people from the Tijuana Cartel captured them and handed them to local authorities.
Alfredo De la Torre´s Suburban.
Three days after the capture of Zambada´s hit men, another capture took Tijuana by surprise, but this time it was a much bigger fish, on March 11th, 2000, a group of Special Forces surrounded Tijuana´s famous Lazaro Cardenas Federal High School, they had received an anonymous call with information about the location of Jesus Labra Aviles aka “Don Chuy”, that day, Labra Aviles arrived at the High School to see his son´s football game, he felt safe, knowing that his people had captured the Zambada team just three days before, he felt so safe that he only had two bodyguards with him.
It was about 2:30 PM, it was the game´s halftime when the bodyguards left Labra Aviles alone in the stands, they went to the bathroom and that was the chance the Special Forces were looking for, they didn´t care for the bodyguards, they just wanted to capture the man who was considered the “brain” of the Tijuana Cartel, as soon as the bodyguards left, the soldiers ran towards Labra, “Don Chuy” tried to escape, but he was no match to the youth and speed of the Special Forces soldiers who quickly caught up with him. Labra quickly surrendered and knelt and raised his arms asking not to be shot.
When the bodyguards saw this, they simply threw their weapons and fled the scene; nothing was heard from them again.
“Don Chuy” was a key element in the Tijuana Cartel, he was the one who introduced the Arellano Felix brothers to the large scale drug business, he was the one who inherited the “plaza” to them, and he was the one in charge of most of the cartel´s profits. Labra had connections in every aspect of the social life in Tijuana.
Many people mark this capture as the beginning of the fall for the Tijuana Cartel, Labra´s arrest took place 13 years ago, and since then, the US Government has claimed the Tijuana Cartel is history.
Jesus Labra Aviles at the moment of his capture.
The capture of “Don Chuy” was a major hit to the Tijuana Cartel, but it wasn´t the only hit they received in 2000, two months after Labra´s arrest, another group of Mexican Special Forces arrested Ismael Higuera Guerrero aka “El Mayel”, quite possible the most proficient cocaine “lander” in Mexico´s cartel history, this man was in charge of landing planes arriving from Colombia and taking the tons of cocaine to the United States, by the time of his capture he was considered by some newspapers as the new boss of the Tijuana Cartel, he had connections with the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers, with the Londoño family in Colombia and with the FARC, he was seen as a highly respected partner in Colombia. The famous narco-corrido CLAVE PRIVADA was written for him by Los Tucanes de Tijuana.
There are two stories on Higuera´s capture, one claims the Mexican Army noticed two beautiful ladies arriving from Colombia with fake papers at the Mexico City airport who took another flight to Tijuana, they commissioned another group to follow them to their destination, the ladies arrived at Tijuana´s airport and quickly boarded a brand new Suburban on their way to Ensenada, Baja California. In Ensenada they arrived at a luxurious house near the beach, the soldiers noticed armed men and took pictures of them, a day later they received confirmation on the identities of some of these men; one of special interest to them was Ismael Higuera Guerrero. Knowing the firepower of Higuera´s bodyguards, they waited till the early morning of the next day, then stormed the house and caught “El Mayel” naked with one of the Colombian ladies, his 15 year old son was also naked in another room with the other lady. It is said that they were so high in cocaine that “Mayel” tried shooting at them but hit nothing but air.
The other version claims the army personnel received an anonymous call, much like the one in Labra´s capture, claiming there were armed men in a beach house in Ensenada, the soldiers arrived at the house where Higuera´s bodyguards began shooting at them, this version claims the army personnel had no idea who they had just captured.
Either way, when his identity was confirmed, Ismael Higuera was quickly taken to Mexico City, they feared a full scale attack on them trying to save him, this was a man believed to be responsible for about three thousand murders, they knew he controlled tens, maybe hundreds of hit men and thought keeping him in Baja was too risky. Years later “El Mayel” would be extradited, while in jail he became christian, when he faced Judge Larry Burns in San Diego he just said “In the name of Christ, I ask to be forgiven for my sins”, he is serving a 40 year sentence in the ADX Supermax.
Ismael Higuera Guerrero aka “El Mayel”.


What can be said about Joaquin Guzman that hasn´t been said before? Joaquin Guzman Loera was a powerful drug lord at the moment of his capture in Guatemala, most people believed his power vanished when he was admitted in the Puente Grande “Maximum Security” Prison. For years “El Chapo” dedicated himself to create a corruption network inside Puente Grande like no drug lord had ever created in Mexico.
This corruption network wasn´t the sole work of Joaquin Guzman, there´s no way he could have corrupted so many people by himself, while in jail he received constant help from his crew in Sinaloa and from his then friends and allies, the Beltran Leyva brothers and Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada.
Mexican media, especially left wing media have for years claimed “El Chapo” escaped with help from then Mexican President Vicente Fox (PAN), there no proof about this, many conspiracy theories involve Fox receiving 20 million dollars for Guzman´s freedom, but again, no proof exists of that.
What is known is the fact that during the term of President Ernesto Zedillo (PRI), Joaquin Guzman gained full control of the so-called Maximum Security Puente Grande Prison; Parties, alcohol, drugs and woman were at Guzman´s disposal 24/7.
He was known for throwing big parties in Christmas and New Year, for helping the families of those inmates who had no money, but he also was known for having any woman he wanted inside the prison, it didn´t matter if they wanted to be with him or not.
Guzman had a powerful ally inside Puente Grande who would, years later, become another drug lord sought by the US Government: Damaso Lopez Nuñez aka “El Licenciado”, Lopez Nuñez took the role of Puente Grande´s Security Chief in 2000, before that he was at some time State Police Commander in Sinaloa.
One of the first theories about Guzman´s escape dealt with the fact that he could be extradited at any moment, Human Rights groups got word of his constant abuse towards prison personnel, his extravagant parties and the full control he had in Puente Grande. The Federal Government also began an investigation on Guzman´s power inside prison.
Just days before Guzman´s escape, the Federal Government ordered the prison director to increase security around Joaquin Guzman, Hector Luis Palma aka “El Guero” and Arturo Matinez aka “El Texas”, the order was given, but the prison personnel did nothing about it.
The official report claims Joaquin Guzman escaped in a laundry kart, helped by Javier Camberos aka “El Chito”. The investigation by PGR claims Camberos was able to take Guzman inside a laundry kart through the multiple security doors without anyone noticing, when he reached the parking lot, Guzman jumped inside the trunk of a vehicle driven by Camberos and took off. Camberos claims he drove for some time and then Chapo got out of the trunk, then they drove towards Zapotlanejo but “El Chapo” told him he was thirsty, Camberos stopped to buy Guzman a drink, but when he returned to the car, Guzman was gone, at least that´s what Camberos said.
Conspiracy theories aside, Joaquin Guzman´s escape proved to be a one of the key factors, if not THE key factor in the following years of the narco wars, his escape would have an impact not only in Sinaloa or Tijuana, but in all Mexico.
El Chapo was back and he wanted to regain what he felt was his…and much more.
Alleged picture of “El Chapo” years after his escape from prison.


People wrote claiming I stole the info, others(rightfully) believed credit should be given to the sources for this article, I foolishly thought that since this info was of public domain in Tijuana, and since I didn´t translate anyone else´s article on the war for Tijuana, no credit was due(I know, that was stupid of me). So here´s a list of sources I have used to learn all the above information.(I wasn´t able to locate links for all the stories since some of them I knew from friends or from TV).
El Cartel by Jesus Blancornelas (That’s a GREAT book, here´s a link to some of his stories)
TELEVISA (No link here, some parts of the article I just remember from seeing them in the news)
Ensenada.Net (Didn´t really use this as source, but you can find a LOT of info on the Ensenada massacre here, it also has some great info on Mayel and his connections in Baja).

About Doc

Spreading the word about the dangers of methamphetamine.

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