Translated by Tijuano for Borderland Beat.
Special thanks to Chivis Martinez for pointing out the video.
Santiago Meza Lopez, aka "El Pozolero"(Soup maker)
It was January 23rd, That day Santiago Meza Lopez didn´t care about being seen crying, neither did he care that tens of news reporters, soldiers and curious people wanted to take pictures of him, or ask him how he made “El pozole”(Mexican meat soup), or how much the Sinaloa cartel paid him. He only cared about God´s forgiveness.
Santiago, one of the FBI´s most wanted drug dealers, could barely open his eyes: the beating he received when he was arrested leaved his face swollen. Crying was hurtful, but the cocaine dose he had inside made it bearable.
By that Friday´s mid-day, inside Tijuana´s military base, in Tijuana, the detainee begged constantly “Please, forgive me…”.
Meza Lopez was asking indulgence from the relatives of all the people he dissolved during nine years, first under the orders of the Arellano Felix cartel, then under those of the Sinaloa cartel when El Teo switched sides.
“El Pozolero”(The soup maker), that´s how he was called inside the organization, because he was in charge of getting rid of the bodies of the war that was being fought in Tijuana over the drug routes towards the United States.
Some people say Santiago was crying because he didn´t believe he was guilty, he thought life put him there and that was the job intended for him. He claimed he wasn´t a killer, he wasn´t a kidnapper, he didn´t saw himself as a drug dealer.
Soldiers remember that when he was arrested, in his way from Ensenada to Tijuana, he kept praying out loud. He asked God for forgiveness. “Sorry, sorry” was heard inside the Humvee in which he was moved to Tijuana.
"El Pozolero" leaving one of the properties where he dumped remains.
Little was known about “El Pozolero” in the following 4 years, until the end of 2012, when the Attorney General´s Sub-office for Specialized Investigations of Organized Crime ( Sub-procuraduria Especializada en Investigacion de la Delincuencia Organizada, SIEDO) decided to revive the case, sending a group of specialists to Tijuana with the mission of finding the remains of those who were dissolved in acid. Then his statement came to the public lights.
He was caught in the kitchen
Inside the Federal Attorney General´s office(Procuraduria General de la Republica, PGR) people remember that the Public Ministry waited anxiously. Arriving to their building was a hit man who –they were told- had dissolved more than 300 bodies in acid.
When Santiago Meza arrived, he wasn´t what they expected, a short man made his appearance, with a well cut moustache. He was shacking and had trouble breathing and moving.
“El Pozolero”, a 36 year old native of Guamuchil, Sinaloa, worked for the “big guys” since he was 19. He started as a construction man for the drug dealers that operated in the border. Then he started working full time for the Arellano Felix family, one of the biggest cartels in Mexico.
According to what he said that night in the PGR, being loyal and hardworking made him get promoted, he became office keeper. Drug office keepers take care of the drug depot´s surveillance.
There´s where he met his boss: Teodoro Garcia Simental, aka “El Teo”, considered by some reports as one of the most ruthless and bloodthirsty hit men ever. When “El Teo” began his fight against Fernando Sanchez Arellano and chose to betray him, “El Pozolero” also switched sides: he became an ally of Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman Loera.
Santiago was captured soon. It was a party night in Ensenada, inside Baja Season´s hotel. When the army arrived, Meza couldn´t escape, he was so intoxicated he couldn´t even run. They got him making sea food.
Baja Season Hotel, home of the last party of "El Pozolero"
The recipe came from Israel
In January 25th, 2009, Santiago Meza Lopez shared his recipe to make “Pozole”, it include two empty oil barrels, several pounds of caustic soda, latex gloves, gas masks, and a pair of “teachers”, supposedly brought from Israel.
Authorities mention that somewhere around 2000, the Arellano Felix brothers decided to use new methods to get rid of their enemies. Before they just dumped the bodies in the sewers or the city river, but it was dangerous and someone could catch them.
Benjamin and Ramon Arellano Felix.
They decided to bring to people from Israel who knew how to dissolve corpses in acid. They trained a group of men, including Santiago, who in those days used to take care of drugs that were to be smuggled to the United Stated.
Santiago gave details, he began by buying the empty oil barrels, then he dumped about 100 pounds “powder” which he bought in a hardware store, in the Mariano Matamoros colony, east side of Tijuana. The pounds of “powder” were caustic soda, which he bought at a price of roughly 1.5 dollars a pound.
“The corpses that I was given to make “pozole” were already dead; I dumped them complete inside the oil barrels. A lady once asked me the reason why I bought so much caustic soda , I told her I used it to clean houses…”, told Santiago Meza.
Santiago was helped by two young men who he identified as “El Chalino” and “El Yiyo”, a pair of 25 year olds, who were also born in Sinaloa. Both left Guamuchil and arrived at Tijuana with the idea of making lots of money. The diligence entrusted to them was “to learn how to make pozole…”.
“The way they gave me the corpses was as follows, “El Teo” would call me and tell me that at a certain hour, in a certain place, I was to be given the merchandise. He would call me and tell me that they didn´t knew in which the corpses were being transported. Then they would call me and tell me in which car they were. They would make a light signal and the delivery was made”, explained Meza.
Teodoro Garcia Simental aka "El Teo", former boss of "El Pozolero".
Santiago stated that working with caustic soda is no child´s play. You got to be careful and he always was; He used as protection latex gloves and gas masks.
The location was also well chosen: They used a property located in the road to Tecate, a desolated area called “Ojo de Agua”. “There´s where the “pozole” was dumped, we dumped about 60 corpses”. They also used a small ranch in the outskirts of Tijuana by the Boulevard 2000.
“But my only task was to get rid of the bodies!”, Santiago made this clear, he even considered this as a normal job, he was paid 600 dollars per week and was given the “ingredients” for his “meat soup”.
He wants to leave jail
Fernando Ocegueda Flores, president of the United Association for the Disappeared (Asociacion Unidos por los Desaparecidos) says that relatives won´t forgive Santiago. They don´t believe in his tears. “He´s an evil being, even though Santiago didn´t kill their relatives, they believe that only someone mentally disturbed would desecrate a corpse like that”.continues next page
With a gasped voice, Fernando Ocegueda explains: “We believe that his asked for forgiveness because he was still drugged and felt his whole world falling apart. When we looked for him, he didn´t want to help, he didn´t want to tell us where our relatives were buried”.
“El Pozolero” is imprisoned in the El Rincon Federal Prison, in Nayarit, and the only charge against him is for his presumed possession of illegal firearms.
The Republic´s Attorney General Office said that his case is still open, “in process”. However, activists were told that an habeas corpus was promoted this year and that Santiago could be set free in the next few months.
“He shouldn´t be free, he must be in jail. The only thing he knows is to make “pozole”, and he´ll be back to his old habits”, says Fernando Oceguera.
Fernando Ocegueda Flores and Mexican poet Javier Sicilia.
The man who dissolved corpses in acid, the same man that cried that day in January, 2009, has apparently been forgiven by God. At least that´s what Rafael Romo Muñoz, Tijuana´s Archbishop, told the media: “Even if he got rid of 300 corpses, he still has God´s forgiveness if he is truly sorry. There´s always forgiveness in God, no matter the sin you committed.
3 drums filled with "pozole" left in a Tijuana street, circa 2008
Q: What kind of people did you get rid of?
A: I didn´t knew what kind of people they were.
Q:Were they already dead?
A: Yes, they were.
Q: Did you chop them?
A: No, full bodies.
Q: How did you do the “work”?
A: I would just put them in an oil barrel and the acid dissolved them.
Q: How gave you your “tools”?, How did you get them?
A: I bought it.
Q: How much time did it took you to get rid of a body?
A: 24 hrs.
Q: What did you do with the remains?
A: I used to throw them in a pit.
Q: Mainly, what kind of people did you get rid of?
A: I don´t know.
Q: Woman, children, men?
A: I don´t know what kind of people they were, they gave them to me, I didn´t knew who they were.
Q: How much did you get paid?
A: 600 dollars per week.
Q: What kind substance did you use?
A: Caustic soda.
Q: Who did you work for?
A: El Teo.
Q: Who is he?
A: El Teo, don´t tell me you don´t know him.
Q: How did you meet him?
A: I knew him from a log time ago.
Q: Where did you meet him?
A: Here, in Tijuana.
Q: Who introduced him to you?
A: Nobody, from my job
Q: Where did you work before?
A: In construction.
Q: Where there 300 bodies just from last year?
A: About 300, more or less.
Q: Once they disintegrated, what did you do with the liquid?
A: I threw it on a pit.
Q: Where is it?
Q: Are there bodies where we are standing?
A: Yes, here.
Q: Who else does this for El Teo?
A: I don´t know.
Q. You don´t know anyone else?
Q: How many bodies did you get rid of in a week?
A: No answer.
Q: How many bodies do you have here?
A: About ten.
Q: And when did you dissolve them?
A: About three months ago.
Q: How much time did you spend with the bodies you were given?
A: 24 hrs.
Q: Are you regretful?
Q: Were there only drug dealers? The ones you executed?
A: I don´t know.
Q: Who brought you the bodies?
A: They were different people.
Q: What would you say to the relatives of those who you dissolved in acid?
A What can I say? Ask them for forgiveness.
Q: Why were you crying moments ago?
A: Before giving an answer, the soldiers took him away.