Blog dedicated to reporting on Mexican drug cartels
on the border line between the US and Mexico

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Mexican Mayor Announces Rival's Death Hours Before Body is Found

Mauricio Fernandez couldn't have been happier.

Here he was, being sworn in again as mayor of one of northern Mexico's most exclusive communities, and he had wonderful news to share: "Black Saldana, who apparently is the one who was asking for my head, was found dead today in Mexico City," he told his cheering supporters Saturday in San Pedro Garza Garcia, near Monterrey.

The problem was that the barefoot, blindfolded corpse of "Black Saldana" — whose real first name is Hector — wasn't found for another 3 1/2 hours, according to Mexico City prosecutors. And he wouldn't be identified for two days.

Now this cartel-plagued nation, usually nonchalant about a spate of kidnappings, extortion and executions, is engrossed with this not-so-straighforward murder that links drug lords and politicians.

The mayor is facing tough questions about the killings: How did he know his nemesis was dead before the authorities apparently did? Does he have associations with the cartel that may have killed the men?

And what exactly did he mean when he said, during his acceptance speech, that he knew Saldana and his associates wanted to hurt him, and that "by fair means or foul, we are not going to accept any kind of kidnapping ... and if not, they will pay for it."

The mayor's initial answer, repeated in a series of interviews, was simple: "Sometimes there are coincidences in life; it's better to look at it this way."

But when pressed, Fernandez offered an intriguing explanation. He said U.S. authorities tipped him off that somebody intercepted cartel communications and learned Saldana was planning to kill him, and he said unspecified intelligence sources told him Saldana was dead hours before the bodies were found.

A Drug Enforcement Administration spokesman in Washington, Paul Knierim, said Tuesday he couldn't comment on Fernandez's situation, but he said U.S. agents routinely coordinate with Mexican investigators trying to crack down on cartels.

"And if we learned in the course of an investigation that somebody's life was being threatened, we would definitely, definitely make sure that information was passed on to the appropriate authorities," Knierim said.

Newspapers around the country on Tuesday demanded answers about how Fernandez could have known of the deaths hundreds of miles (kilometers) away before police even arrived at the scene. A columnist in one of the nation's leading newspapers, Reforma, speculated he might have something to do with the killing. "Death squads?" the headline asked.

Fernandez wasn't apologetic.

During a radio interview Tuesday, he said he's setting up a group to clean up crime in San Pedro Garza Garcia and surrounding communities. Is he really saying he would create an anti-crime “cleaning squad”? Is he talking abot setting up death squads in Garcia, Mexico?

"Will this cleaning group act outside the law?" he was asked.

"In some form that's correct," he said.

With upscale strip malls, posh private schools and well developed parks, San Pedro holds beautiful and well-guarded estates that are called home by some of the nation's leading business executives — and allegedly some leaders of the Beltran Leyva cartel.

Until recently, the suburb of Monterrey, about 135 miles south of Laredo, Texas, was considered one of the cleanest, safest towns in this country.

But a spate of kidnappings and extortion changed that. Fernandez blamed Saldana, who allegedly took over the Beltran Leyva drug cartel operations there a few months ago.

Fernandez told the El Norte newspaper that Saldana and his gang had been kidnapping two or three people a week, demanding about $375,000 each. Fernandez said they also were demanding monthly payments from stores, restaurants and bars.

Six months earlier, while running for mayor, Fernandez set off a national debate over ties between politicians and gangsters when Mexican news media broadcast a recording of him telling supporters that he knew top drug traffickers lived in the town and had an interest in keeping it quiet.

His words were widely taken to suggest that he would avoid confronting the Beltran Leyva cartel to maintain the peace.

Fernandez acknowledged making the remarks, but he said they were taken out of context.

"I don't know, nor have I sat down with or anything of the sort, with anyone from organized crime," he told The Associated Press.

But his remarks highlighted the dicey course political leaders face in this country where drug cartels wield tremendous power.

On Saturday, during his acceptance speech, Fernandez said he was going to crack down on crime, with or without federal or state assistance.

"We will take the bull by the horns," he said. "We will do this directly."

The statements drew a plea from state security secretary Carlos Jauregui that all elected officials should abide by the law when confronting organized crime.

"We should all govern with state, federal and city laws and we cannot transgress from that," he said.

Hours after Fernandez's speech, authorities found four bound bodies — Saldana, his brother, his half brother and another man — shoved in an SUV in Mexico City. They bore a clear message: "Kidnapper" was scrawled across three of their backs in black marker.

There were notes there, too. One said "For kidnapping," and was signed: "The Boss of Bosses" — a relatively new nickname for alleged drug lord Arturo Beltran Leyva, one of Mexico's most wanted criminals. Another note said "Job 38:15," a reference to the biblical verse "The wicked are denied their light, and their upraised arm is broken."

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