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 18-Person Massacre in Mexico Linked to Drug Trade


September-October 1998

On September 17 in Baja California, Mexico, 18 people were slain, including eight children, in what was reportedly a turf battle in the drug trade. At approximately 4:30 a.m., armed gunmen believed to be looking for Fermin Castro, a reputed drug dealer, invaded a cluster of three country houses on the outskirts of Ensenada, 80 miles south of San Diego. The families were roused from their sleep, led to Castro's patio, and shot execution-style (Ken Ellingwood and Eric Lichtblau, "18 Slain Execution-Style at Farm Near Ensenada," Los Angeles Times, Washington Edition, September 18, 1998, p. A1; Dudley Althaus, "18 Men, Women, Kids, Slain in Mexico," Houston Chronicle, September 18, 1998; "Mexicans dragged from beds, killed near U.S. border," USA Today, September 18, 1998, p. 10A; Sam Dillon, "Drug Gangs' Deadly Toll: Indian Villagers in Baja," New York Times, September 26, 1998, p. A4).

Although Mexican authorities presently deny that Castro oversaw marijuana production in the area for the notorious Arrellano Felix's drug cartel, the top federal prosecutor, Jose Chavez, confirmed that Castro had formerly been the subject of a federal investigation of his suspected links to organized crime.

According to U.S. authorities, the Arrellano Felix cartel, based in Tijuana, is responsible for moving much of the marijuana, heroin, and Colombian cocaine that eventually enters the United States. Many experts believe this gang has become Mexico's strongest drug-trafficking organization since the death last year of Amado Carrillo Fuentes, whose organization was based in Ciudad Juarez, across the Rio Grande from El Paso, Texas.

There has been extensive killing in connection with the drug trade in Northern Mexico in recent years with numerous assassinations of law enforcement officials and drug traffickers (see "MEXICO: Anti-Drug Journalists and 8th Drug Prosecutor Murdered," NewsBriefs, January 1997, p. 20). Less than a week before the massacre, another reputed drug trafficker, Rafael Munoz Talavera, was killed. Both U.S. and Mexican authorities have suggested that Munoz was killed in the continuing fight to succeed Carrillo Fuentes as the key trafficker in the region.

Many of the 250 murders that have been reported in Baja California this year have been linked to the drug trade. Jose Chavez said, "We had indications that the problems here in Ensenada were getting worse, that drug trafficking was getting worse. . .This is all because of the proximity to the border. This is a corridor" (Dudley Althaus, "Victims' Drug Ties Likely Behind Mexico Massacre," Houston Chronicle, September 19, 1998; Mark Stevenson, "Execution-style killing linked to feared Mexican drug gang," Fort Worth Star-Telegram, September 19, 1998, p. 12A; Richard Chacón, "Authorities link drugs to Mexico executions," Boston Globe, September 19, 1998, p. A1).