Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Pablo Acosta " El Zorro de Ojinaga " Part 1

Written for Borderland Beat by Otis B Fly-Wheel, images from Drug Lord by Terrence Poppa
[ Subject Matter: Pablo Acosta Villarreal
Recommendation: No prior subject matter knowledge required]

Pablo Acosta, was one of the top narcotic trafficking Godfathers of  Mexico until his demise, he was also the friend, business partner, and mentor of  Amado Carrillo Fuentes "El Senor de los Cielos" or "the Lord of the Skies". He moved incalculable tonnes of  Marijuana and Heroin which constituted the majority of his illegal trade, in his heyday he was moving 60 tonnes of  Cocaine a year for the Colombian Cartels with a street value today of  $3 billion US a year, along a 200 mile stretch of border that he controlled round the big bend national park area. He died during a confrontation with Government Forces in 1987.

Reporter: Otis B Fly-Wheel

The Ojinaga Plaza

The current plaza system utilized by the major cartels in Mexico today, developed from and owe their roots to the Ojinaga Plaza. The first " Plaza Boss" of Ojinaga was Manuel Carrasco "La Vibora", this was before the term had been used for the first time. The one time campesino and drug mule, made a few extra bucks delivering small quantities of heroin for his wife's uncle.

His wife's uncle was Domingo Aranda, an independent drug trafficker who sold to the Chicago Mafia. Aranda was a small time trafficker compared to the generations after, that put flesh on the bones of, the brainchild of the corrupt Mexican Government that is the Plaza system, the modern day Drug Capo took "ownership" of the Ojinaga Plaza.

Carrasco had his sights set on bigger things than Domingo Aranda. He realised that after establishing USA contacts of his own, that if he locked down the interstate routes, he could move a lot of weight and put his own Boss and relative Aranda out of business.

Carrasco's dreams of running things were soon dealt four aces, as he shot and burned to death Domingo Aranda on the shores of the "Big River" close to Ojinaga, Chihuahua. Carrasco was a cold hearted bastard, and stood and watched his wife's uncle burn to death while drinking beers.

As far as burials go Arandas was not like the modern day gaudy affairs, his killers simply kicked sand over his body which barely covered it and just sauntered away.

Carrasco's sense of self preservation was lacking a certain something, after taking power from Aranda, he murdered someone who had come to collect a debt, and was family of Pedro Aviles. Carrasco, thought if he killed the collector he could wipe the debt by saying he had paid the collector, and that he had no idea where he was or what had happened to him subsequently.

Carrasco, while in Doctors surgery being treated for a gunshot wound sustained in a gunfight, managed to get into a major gun battle in the doctors surgery with security forces, and took this opportunity to shoot the debt collector, who had attended the hospital with Carrasco.

Pedro Aviles  put a "green light" on him and the entire Municipal Police Force in Ojinaga. Word got out that two plane loads of sicarios from Pedro Aviles Guadalajara cartel were heading to Ojinaga to kill Carrasco and wipe out the Municipal Police Force.

The entire Municipal Police Force, with their families fled north of the border to escape the Sicarios, while Carrasco, deciding that discretion was the better part of valor, also fled rather than face retribution that was shortly arriving.

The Government wanted their plaza money and so made immediate demands for the usual amount from Carrascos second in command, Martin "El Shorty" Lopez. This had the effect of promoting him to Plaza Boss.

Lopez a native of Corpus Christi, Texas, had grown up in Odessa. Previous owners of the Ojinaga Plaza were locals. Lopez was a different kind of character to Carrasco and Aranda. Whether by dint of nature, or by design, he could be  compared in some respects to Jesus Malverde from Mexico, the narco traffickers patron saint, or England's Robin Hood.

He operated in the San Carlos region, and genuinely helped many of the people in the area. He gave gifts, but not Ferrari's and luxuries, but tractors, irrigation pumps, fertilizers, as well as help paying peoples bills.

But like many traffickers both old and new, they had no intention of dwelling for second to think of the pain and hopelessness, crime and violence that their Mexican black tar heroin brought to American cities. The traffickers saw this trade as supply and demand, simple economic theory, black and white with no shades of gray.

At this time, Pablo Acosta was languishing in Jail in the United States, serving an eight stretch in Leavenworth for heroin possession. Acosta made important connections in the Texas prison that would prove extremely fortuitous later on in Pablo's career.

It was towards the end of the 60's when Mexico's corrupt PRI government dreamt up the plaza system, to grease their palms with cash, and the lackeys below them who wanted to get their snouts in the trough too.

They thrashed out the details, and in truth the system today is a much more watered down variant of the original. The "owner" of the Plaza, or top capo in his area, such as Guadalajara and Culiacan, would make a monthly payment of $100,000.00 to the designated collector, usually a Police Chief or High ranking Military commander.

They in turn would arrange for a transfer of the funds, under armed guard, to their superiors minus a small commission. Most people suspect that at the top of this chain of corruption and deceit, killings and impunity rests the President of Mexico himself.

Those above the "owner" of the plaza were able to render services in the form of military and police escorts for drugs to the border area, arresting or disappearing competitors. But, like goodfellas, you have to come up with the cash every month, " your house burnt down? fuck you pay me", and it better be on time.

The only way to find out if you are able to cope with this kind of pressure, i.e. lack of performance = torture and death, is to sink or swim. Pablo Acosta thrived in the pressure cooker environment of drug trafficking, he pioneered the operations of the plaza system, he started thinking in terms of international scale logistics, fostering links with politicians, and like previous relatively successful drug traffickers like "Lola La Chata", he knew who to bribe and exactly how much was required, and his successful business model was soon taken up by traffickers on both side of the border.

Word soon spread of how Pablo was "taking care of business", and ears were pricking up in the top echelons of the Guadalajara Cartel, where Pedro Aviles ruled. Pablo started making a lot of men rich, and that was when his problems started in their infancy...

The Acosta family

Pablo came from a large family that were migrant farm workers for many generations, scratching out a living from the Chihuahua and Sonoran deserts bordering the United States. Each year the large and extended family would send the men out into the fields taking those children who were old enough for the manual labor.

The younger children stayed at home with the women, including Pablo's mother Dolores. The Acosta men went to Texas and New Mexico, with Pablo learning from his father Cornelio, on farms around Fort Stockton, Odessa and Lovington.

Pablo had been on the migrant work trail with his father for 9 years by 1958, and had begun to get in trouble. He was a genuinely likable character by all accounts, but after a drink was quite happy to fight anyone at the drop of hat.

Pablo arrested for fighting while drunk smirking at the camera

The Acosta family, had a blood feud with another Mexican farming family named Baiza, like most blood feuds the reprisal killings had been going on for generations. And so it happened that in October of 1958 when Pablo was in a bar called Sandy's Lounge having a drink with his father, someone came into the bar, and told Cornelio, that there was someone waiting to talk to him outside.

Cornelio went outside the bar. Pablo heard a gunshot from inside the bar, and rushed outside to find his father laying face up in the gravel with a bullet hole in his forehead. A car screeched away and Pablo raced after it, but could only get close enough to read the number plate.

Pablo went to the Fort Stockton Police, and they traced the vehicle to a certain Pablo Baiza. He was arrested and brought to trial where the details of the two families long running feud were made public before the Court.

Pablo Baiza's Lawyer argued that, it was expected of Pablo Baiza to carry on and avenge his family in the feud. They Lawyer explained that the feud had taken a turn for the worse when one of Pablo's relatives killed a Baiza, then hung him up in an abandoned adobe house, and locked two hungry dogs in there.

Pablo Baiza was found guilty of murder with Malice Aforethought, and the court handed down a sentence of 5 years probation! As he had served 3 months in prison since waiting to come to trial, he was released from Court, which obviously did nothing to quash the family feud.

Pablo Baiza was killed a short time later in a different Fort Stockton bar.


Pablo's violent behavior when drunk took a turn for the worse in 1964, as there was little to do for Latinos in Fort Stockton, as Latinos were not welcome at most establishments at the time. There were a couple of Latino bars, which Pablo used to frequent.

As usual after a few beers, Pablo's aggression got the better of him, an argument over a girl led Pablo to offer the guy a fight outside the town limits. When Pablo got into his car the other guy fired at him, the bullet or bullet fragments wounding him in the cheek.

He raised his .22 rifle and opened fire, wounding one of the men. The local press had a field day after the exchange of gunfire.

Pablo had a reduction in the charges against him to illegal use of a firearm and was given a ninety day sentence.

Not long after Pablo was busted on his first drug mule trip with heroin taped to his arms, he was handed an eight stretch form the Pecos Federal District Court.

He made important contacts in both the Latino and Caucasian prison inmate communities, he already had contacts south of the border with his black tar heroin supply from Manuel Carrasco. With his new contact north of the border he had everything he needed to setup a drug trafficking network that would rival any in Mexico.

He left prison 3 years early for good behavior in 1973, and 3 years after he had a run in with two USA anti-narcotics agent in a drug deal gone bad and had to flee south of the border to Ojinaga.


Pablo's return to Mexico was to a time of uncertainty in the Ojinaga Plaza. Despite the fact that Manuel Carrasco had fled, Pablo saw this as an opportunity. He love the excitement of smuggling drugs, and at the time, the excitement it gave this farm worker was his main motivating factor and not the money as at the time he wasn't moving any serious weight.

Martin El Shorty Lopez had inherited the Ojinaga Plaza, and as he and Pablo were buddies from Leavenworth prison, they met in Ojinaga like old friends. Lopez set Pablo to work straight away.

Lopez at this time was earning a lot of money, he had all the trappings of a Narco, big ranch with an airstrip, vehicles, storage facility for drugs, he could afford to buy anything he wanted pretty much.

Lopez decided that, unlike Carrasco, he would go with a hearts and mind campaign, the more of the local population he looked after, the more eyes he had between himself in Santa Elena and Ojinaga the better.

Lopez would go shopping in Ojinaga and buy huge amounts of groceries and other sundries, and on the way back from Ojinaga would stop at Adobe houses dropping of food to the hard done by. The San Carlos area of around 2000 inhabitants were all beneficiaries of Lopez's altruism.

This though was a two way street, as the inhabitants farmed, fruit, vegetables, livestock, they went to the USA as export goods accompanied by drugs in the trucks. Lopez found it easy, some days he would stand on the Mexican side of the river at big bend, and various buyers would come to the USA side and ask " are you a messkin?", and Lopez would sell them as much marijuana and heroin as they wanted.

Lopez was enjoying life and his patronage of the surrounding areas, but Manuel Carrascao who had been hiding out in Chihuahua City, seethed at the success of Shorty Lopez which he believed was rightfully his.

He put word out that Martin Lopez time was up, and that he was going to take care permanently of the usurper Ojinaga Plaza Boss, and reclaim what he saw as rightfully his

Shorty Lopez used to drive to Ojinaga and back from his ranch high up the Sierra Ponce of the Santa Elena  with a bodyguard and sometimes alone.

Shorty used to deliver his plaza fee to the Police Chief at Chihuahua City, on this particular day he happened to run into Manuel Carrasco. After an exchange of pleasantries, which were mostly death threats to each other, they parted ways.

Shorty Lopez's men told him he should have talked to Manuel and worked things out, but Lopez like Carrasco before was feeling the power of being "untouchable" as Plaza Boss.

Carrasco made the arrangement and set up an ambush for Lopez, he knew the return route Lopez would take over the rough mountain roads of the Sierra Ponce with its Limestone cliffs.

Carrasco's hit men were waiting for Lopez over a rise in the road, meaning Lopez wouldn't see the ambush until it was too late. However, Carrasco had not figured in that everyone in the area were beneficiaries of Lopez's altruism, and were his un-official halcones.

Lopez was warned about the ambush, but Lopez being what he was, decided he would take on his ambushers. There was only him and his driver/bodyguard.

They were approaching the ambush point, when Lopez got out of the pickup with his AR15 rifle and some spare mags, and climbed onto the rear bed of the vehicle. His driver had his pistols ready, cocked, with the safeties off ready to go.

As his vehicle came over the rise, one of the ambushers stepped out in police uniform and said " Stop! Judicial", he saw that Lopez was not in the vehicle. Lopez then jumped up and fired a burst at the Sicario, who fell.

Lopez then opened up on other men who were crashing out of the mesquite brush, and downed several of them, then all hell opened up and Lopez's pickup was hit by gunfire from three sides. Lopez's driver jumped out of the pickup and was immediately hit and fell, Shorty Lopez ran back up the track firing back at the ambushers.

One of the Sicarios took aim with his .45 and shot Lopez in the back, dropping him like a stone.

The Sicarios then drove a heavy vehicle over his body again and again before finally driving over his head to put his out of his misery. A Sicario then chopped at his skull with such force that he severed his head from the hair line.

Pieces of the Shorty skull were then distributed to all sicarios and they were made to wear them around their necks on chains, as a lesson to all what the price of perfidy was.

Carrasco could not take back the Plaza with a Guadalajara Cartel green light on him.

The Candidates

After the death of Lopez, who funeral had been attended by a lot of people, locals, in whose eyes, the charity Lopez showed absolved him of most of his crimes, came to pay their respects.

With Carrasco out of the picture and shorty dead, that left only three people from the area who had the necessary prior involvement and nous to become the plaza boss.

Pablo Acosta, Victor Sierra and Rogelio Gonzalez. All three of them knew that if they took the Jefe position, the piso for the plaza would have to be paid. Pablo did not volunteer, as he knew what it would entail. Eventually  Victor Sierra was the dubious winner of the title.

He took it upon himself to deliver the piso to the Police commander in Chihuahua as had Carrasco and Lopez before him, the Police chief was more than a little surprised that Sierra had appeared from nowhere.

He got his guys to torture Sierra for three days straight to see if he had the "huevos" to resist torture and therefore not give up the Police commander if he was captured.

Sierra passed the test and was given control of the plaza. Though by dint of his torture which included cattle prods to the testicles,  for 6 months after Sierra could not "stand to attention" for his many girlfriends.

Victor remained in charge of the Ojinaga Plaza for three years, nobody really knows when Pablo took over the plaza from Victor Sierra, and it was done by osmosis rather than a coup d'etat. Pablo went on behind the scene fostering connections to important people in the Mexican judiciary so when the time came he would be ready to take over.

He did not have to go through the same ordeal with the Chihuahua Police Commissioner as did Victor Sierra. Everyone found out for sure, that Pablo was in charge in 1981 when an agent of the US Clayton McKinney travelled to Mexico to meet a gringo pilot that had done some favours for the Mexican intelligence agencies.

During the interview the agent heard men outside the office arguing, and one said to the other " but Pablo said to let him go", and a few minutes later an officer came in and said to McKinney that the interview would have to stop, and McKinney was asked to leave.

Pablo had started paying the Plaza piso to people in Mexico City, when the Federal Police launched a new headquarters in Ojinaga, Pablo then paid his piso to the local commander and he passed it up the chain of corrupted officials.

Pablo was smarter and quicker witted than those before him, later it turned out that, when the new Federal Police force was made in Ojinaga, Pablo had handpicked the officer  recruits from his own men.

One of Pablo's most important contacts was Ismael Espudo Venegas. Though not Mexican, he was from the USA originally, he had a high post in the Internal Police of the Public Ministry. He furnished Pablo and his Lieutenants with official identification cards from the Public Ministry, Federal, and Municipal Police, which gave them carte blanche to operate with impunity.

He also arranged with the local forces for busts to happen, but these were busts of his own product. He was growing Sensemilla which grew large flower heads, the rest of the plant was not used. So come harvest time, Pablo's men would harvest the flower tops, then invite the Federal Police to bust the now useless plant stems and leaves. Which gave good press for the local Federal Police every year. Even today if you watch some of the videos of army chopping down marijuana plants they "discovered", you can plainly see they have no flower heads on and so have already been harvested.

Friend or Foe?

Fermin Arevalo was an independent with links to opium, heroin and marijuana traffickers in Sinaloa. His two sons were also involved in his business and ran it for him when he spent time in prison. His son Lili taking the prominent role.

When Pablo took over the Ojinaga Plaza, Fermin was taking being passed over for the Plaza very badly indeed. They were friends previously, their families mixing at events with their children playing together. Indeed they had served time together in Chihuahua State Penitentiary, and Fermin had lent money to Pablo to pay for a Lawyer to get him out of prison.

At this time Pablo was still relatively unknown outside of Ojinaga, moving small weight just enough to keep himself and his family fed and watered. Fermin was moving more weight and often gave drugs to Pablo on credit, and vice versa. They had an understanding.

This understanding broke down fairly quickly after Pablo had a load busted and suspected Fermin's son Lili of giving up the load to the USA authorities. Pablo had needed to get three Cessna loads of marijuana to Texas in a single night. Rogelio Gonzalez was to be the pilot, and he was to land on a small tarmacked road at night. He would be met by a ground crew that included Pablo's brother.

Pablo watched Rogelio take off into the night with the first load, when he didn't return presently Pablo began to worry. As Rogelio had landed, he was met by two crews, Pablo's and one from the DEA. The DEA had been waiting close to the landing site after receiving information about the incoming load.

Rogelio, who normally stayed in the plane as the drugs were unloaded, had actually got out this time. As the DEA agents pounced and shouted warnings, Rogelio pressed himself against the fuselage of his plane and backed away.... straight into his own propeller, which according to the DEA agents split him in half from the top of the head to mid abdomen. One of Pablo's crew was shot dead, and 6 were arrested including Pablo's brother Juan.

Pablo found out what had happened, he had lost a plane, his pilot dead, his brother and one third of a load of marijuana, 5 of his men, vehicles used by the ground crew. Pablo felt the loss keenly.

Pablo found out there was an outstanding debt owed to Rogelio Gonzalez, and that it was Lili Arevalo that owed it. The debt had been given over as security in the form of a souped up pickup. Which Lili had retrieved from Rogelio's property before Pablo had even found out about the incident with Rogelio, from his sources both sides of the border. While this in itself was not evidence enough to act, Pablo knew things were turning sour in his relationship with the Arevalo's.

Some time later, Pablo arranged a deal through Lili Arevalo with a cousin of Pablo's in Texas. The load was delivered, Pablo's cousin had delivered the money to Lili personally. Lili claimed he had never been paid for the drugs and so didn't owe Pablo anything.

Pablo then kidnapped his own cousin and brought him to Ojinaga. His cousins sons also went of their own volition as they had been there when the money was delivered. Pablo sent them in a vehicle with two of his men to see if the could identify the man to whom they gave the money.

Lili was instantly identified they moment they set eyes on him. What happened next would have profound consequences for everyone, and led to what the DEA called the "Arevalo Wars".

Pablo's men sped around the block and dropped off the two sons of Pablo's cousin. Then they returned to the bar where Lili and his brother were buying ice creams. Pablo's men opened fire, hitting Lili multiple times, Lupe his brother was hit in the liver and fell into the gutter. Pablo's man Marco stepped out and shot Lili in the head with his .45.

An acquaintance of Fermin notified him about the shooting of his sons, he asked Fermin who did it. Fermin knew who had done it, and with a steely resolve swore to avenge the death of his son.

A reckoning at El Salto

Hector, Pablo's younger brother, talked to Pablo about the situation with the Arevela's. If the feud didn't stop a lot more people would die and get hurt. Pablo could either try and talk it out or shoot it out. Pablo chose the former.

He went out with four men and staked out the Arevela ranch known as "El Salto". They watched the property for two days baking in the sun during the day. When Pablo was sure that Fermin was at the ranch he drove down to the ranch house.

Fermin's wife answered the door to Pablo alone, no sight of Fermin though Pablo knew he was inside. Fermin's wife could hardly contain her anger, and Pablo genuinely wanted to come to a deal with the Arevalo's.

Pablo offered his .45 pistol with the safety off and a round chambered, to Fermin's wife and asked her to shoot him if it would put an end to the feud. Pablo's men looked on nervously as he passed her the gun. She no doubt wanted to shoot him, but probably thought better of the reprisals that his men would take out on her and her family inside the house.

Fermin's maid came to the door and whispered to Fermin's wife, she now seemed to be stalling Pablo, and he rightfully thought that Fermin was somewhere close, setting up an ambush. Fermin's wife remonstrated with Pablo for killing her son Lili who she claimed was just a boy. After an hour, Pablo left the widow with a parting shot "tell Fermin if he doesnt want to end this feud, we are gonna screw him over real good".

Pablo had his men in two vehicles, there were two routes out of the ranch and Pablo took the one he thought Fermin would not choose to ambush him on. He sent his other men down the other route.

Pablo's vehicle had reached the cattle grid on the road, when he noticed a truck heading towards him, driven by one of the ranch managers on El Salto. Pablo thought Fermin may be in the vehicle and that they should stop it, when Fermin launched his ambush. He had been waiting in a ditch by the side of the cattle grid, with a ranch hand opposite him in a ditch on the other side.

Both Fermin and ranch hand opened up with automatic weapons, in the back of the vehicle shards of glass flew into the faces of Pablo and his brother Pedro, they both ducked when bullets grazed the head of Pablo and slammed into the bullet proof jacket worn by Pedro.

Fermin fired until his assault rifle was empty, big mistake, this gave Pedro the instant he needed to engage with his own weapon. In a scene reminiscent of the bank shootout in "Heat", Pedro fired from inside the pickup through the windscreen, the first burst hit Fermin, the second burst hit the ranch hand and the third burst he fired at the truck that had stopped on the other side of the cattle grid.

The ranch manager jumped out of the truck and aimed to fire at Pablo's pickup, one of Pedro's bullets hit him in the head and killed him instantly. Pablo climbed out of the riddled pickup, blood streaming down his face, with his men, they looked for a third attacker in the trees but only found his weapon, Zacarias, one of Pablo's men in the truck had had a relative, a Police chief, killed by Fermin and was about to exact his revenge. He drew his knife ripped Fermin open from the lower abdomen to the sternum, the bone in the centre of the ribs that protects the heart.

Another one of Pablo's men finished Fermin off with another burst of gunfire.

Later, several different versions of how Fermin died were heard but were embellishments. One was that, Fermins wedding veg, had been cut off and then offered to his wife. Another was that after Fermin had been ripped open, and disemboweled, his body cavity had been filled with rocks, and then dragged behind a vehicle until it was pretty much unrecognizable as a human being.

None of the embellishments were true, but they made good rumours and consolidated the fear that people had of Pablo. Fermins autopsy, confirmed the cut to his body, and 21 bullet wounds. Those being the only injuries.

Pablo and his men returned immediately to the El Salto ranch. Once there for the second time he kidnapped Fermin's wife and maid. He drove back to Ojinaga, stopping to show the widow Fermins body.

Not long after the rest of the Arevalos either moved to Presidio or Houston. Fermins wife stayed in Ojinaga, and she made a criminal complaint against Pablo. Pablo had to pay 20 milion pesos to get the arrest warrants for him and his brother overturned.

Part 2 Pablo Acosta "El Zoro de Ojinaga coming soon.