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

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The war for Tijuana, a 20+ year conflict. PART 3

Tijuano for Borderland Beat

Note: My sincere apologies to all the readers who awaited for so long for Part 3 of this series, as I had stated in previous comments, my health had some ups and downs in the last months and I just didn´t feel like I could give my full attention to this article, I´m already working on Part 4 and it should be up soon. You can read Part 1 HERE and Part 2 HERE. Links to the sources can be found by clicking on the top of each story)

It was the year 2000, a time of change in Mexico; for the first time, the Mexican people could claim their President was elected by them and not by the previous President. Many things changed in Mexico with the arrival of Vicente Fox (PAN) at Los Pinos.

The people of Mexico had their hopes set in the new Government, 70 years of the so called “Perfect Dictatorship” by the PRI party left Mexico with some really big issues. At the moment, the drug trade was believed to be a problem suffered only in border cities like Tijuana and Juarez. Amado Carrillo had been gone for 3 years and (at least to the general population) the biggest dealers were the Arellano Felix brothers, they were feared all over the country. What the general population didn´t knew was the fact that the Tijuana Cartel had lost a lot of suppliers in Colombia, some of them were death (Helmer Herrera and Jose Santacruz Londoño, both high ranking members of the Cali Cartel), and others were in prison (Most notably the Rodriguez Orejuela brothers), this caused big problems inside the Tijuana cartel which at the moment was the main source of Colombian Cocaine to the west coast.

The cocaine producers in Colombia had issues with the Arellano Felix brothers, even with all the power they had, they struggled to send money to Colombia and the new cocaine producers soon lost their patience, they began looking for new contacts in Mexico who could keep moving all the tons of cocaine they could make. They search didn´t take long, the Beltran Leyva brothers (then unknown to most people) soon made a deal with the North Valley Cartel. Colombia had a new partner in Mexico and it was none other than the old rival of the Tijuana Cartel.

The war for Tijuana was in high gear, after Vicente Zambada Niebla´s succesfull attempt at “heating up” Tijuana, the Federal Government had to do something.

On December 22nd, 2000, Vicente Fox announced his first action regarding national security, his goal was to “eradicate” organized crime from Tijuana, he planned on recruiting 12 to 15 thousand new Federal Police Officers and take them to Tijuana to fight the Arellano Felix Organization, he was clear on his intentions: “Power to power, We will beat them”. Fox claimed he would do this in a mere 6 months; this was well documented by the national media in Mexico. 

All this sounded good on paper, but truth be told, not much changed in Tijuana. Of the “12 to 15 thousand” new officers, only 2 thousand arrived at Tijuana, and most of them stayed there for only a week or two. According to ZETA newspaper, Tijuana was calm for about 2 weeks on January 2000, but as soon as the Federal Government left, the Cartel operatives went back to work stronger than before.

Former Mexican President Vicente Fox Quesada.

By the year 2000, not many knew the name of Javier Torres Felix, much less that of Arturo Villarreal Heredia, but at least one of this names would soon appear in the national media.

Javier Torres Felix aka “El JT” was a little known drug trafficker who began his career working for Manuel Salcido Uzeta aka “El Cochiloco”, Torres Felix had been previously arrested several times, including once in Mazatlan in the year 1990 (in possession of 800 kilos of Marijuana and 4 AK-47 assault rifles) and once in 1997 in Quintana Roo (this time with 2 kilos of Cocaine), he never stayed more than a year in prison. By this time he was recognized by the DEA as Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada´s right hand man.

In 1999 Jesus Villarreal Heredia was killed in El Carrizal, Sinaloa. Javier Torres ordered the hit over some drugs. At the moment Arturo Villarreal was a low level hit man for the Tijuana Cartel, he began his career in Tijuana kidnapping business man when he was recruited by the Tijuana Cartel as an enforcer. 

Arturo sought vengeance and he volunteered himself to go to Sinaloa and kill Javier Torres, along with his brother, Manuel Torres Felix aka “El M1”.

Arturo knew Torres Felix had a ranch called “El Cajoncito” in Cosala, Sinaloa. He travelled there along several hit men from the Tijuana Cartel, others were recruited in Culiacan and Mazatlan, the plan consisted in raiding Javier´s ranch and killing him. 

After arriving at “El Cajoncito”, Arturo only found some construction workers who were building a cellar. The construction workers were questioned but they claimed they knew nothing; they were taken to a nearby ranch called “El Limoncito”. On their way to “El Limoncito”, the gunmen found Humberto Torres Felix along with other men, when they saw the convoy they got scared but Humberto told them not to fear since it was “Javier and his people”, as soon as the gun men stopped their vehicles the ranchers tried to run and were shot by the Tijuana enforcers, Humberto was captured and taken alongside the construction men.

When the gunmen arrived at “El Limoncito”, people didn´t suspect what was about to happen, the hit men were dressed in military clothing and the town people thought they were just a group of the Mexican Army doing surveillance in the mountains.

It was February 14th, Valentine´s day, the whole town was celebrating the Sheriff’s birthday with a big BBQ, at about 5:30 PM, the group of hit men arrived at Valentin Beltran Arechiga´s house, the leader ordered the hit men to round up all men in town and take them to the town plaza. The hit men raided all the homes asking for Javier and Manuel Torres Felix but none was found.

After searching in all the town homes, most adult males, along with 2 minors were taken to a pick-up truck bed where they were shot to death. 

This massacre made the headlines all over Mexico, giving more pressure to the new Government to act as quickly as possible; “El Chapo” had just escaped from a “Maximum Security” prison and the mass murders between cartels were becoming very common.

Days after the massacre hit the news, several people were believed to be behind the gunmen, for several years the official version claimed it was Lino Portillo Cabanillas aka “Lino Quintana” who led the death squad, if Lino was involved in the massacre is still a mystery, he denied his involvement years later. Arturo´s involvement would be revealed years later in several made-to-order “corridos” (songs) where he claimed to be the “terror of the Torres”. Javier Torres Felix and Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada narrowly escaped a raid by the Mexican Army in Cosala, Sinaloa on October 2001.

Massacre at El Limoncito de Alaya.

In 2001, Humberto Rodriguez Bañuelos aka “La Rana” was one of the main hit men for the Arellano Felix brothers, Rodriguez Bañuelos was a former Sinaloa police chief, in 1988 he was accused by journalist Manuel Burgueño of protecting the interests of drug lord Manuel Salcido Uzeta aka “El Cochiloco”, that same year Manuel Burgueño was killed by 2 men under orders of Rodriguez Bañuelos, this caused an uproar in Sinaloa which prompted the Federal Authorities to act, his brother was arrested and accused of helping in Burgueño´s murder, however he escaped prison along with 96 other inmates.

“La Rana” escaped Sinaloa, and for some time nothing was heard of him, until he was mentioned as the leader of a group of armed men who participated in the murder of Catholic Archbishop Juan Jesus Posadas Ocampo under orders of Ramon Arellano Felix, it was in 1993 when the Government knew he was now working for the Arellano Felix brothers. His involvement in this crime is still in doubt, some claim he was there protecting Ramon Arellano´s escape, others said he went to the airport with the orders of killing the Archbishop, neither has been confirmed. “La Rana” had a huge criminal record in Jalisco, he was investigated in at least 19 murder cases, when some of his men were arrested, he sent someone nicknamed “El Tio” to speak with the State Prosecutor in order to make him an offer, the Prosecutor said no, so he was killed.

Rodriguez Bañuelos was arrested on March 2001 after a shootout in Tijuana, in that shootout he killed 2 Municipal Police Officers and was taken to the Tijuana prison under the name of Carlos Duran Montoya. Nobody recognized “La Rana” at the moment of his arrest; he had undergone plastic surgery to change his face and submitted himself to a liposuction which helped him loose about 90 pounds.

It wasn´t until several months later when an anonymous informant gave the authorities the tip of who Duran Montoya really was, he was transferred to Puente Grande Federal Prison (same one Chapo had escaped a year before) as soon as the authorities knew the true identity of Rodriguez Bañuelos. His capture was another major hit to the Tijuana Cartel, Rodriguez Bañuelos was a man with direct contact with the Cartel leadership, someone who could give inside information on the daily movements of the Arellano brothers. “La Rana” was convicted to 37 years in prison.

Humberto Rodriguez Bañuelos aka "La Rana", before and after liposuction.

3 months after Fox´s declaration of war, the Tijuana Cartel had receive only minor hits (save for La Rana´s arrest), but this all changed in March 23rd, 2001 when the Mexican Federal Forces arrested Rigoberto Yañez Guerrero aka “El Primo” and Bernardo Araujo Hernandez aka “El Jabali”, they were at the time Ismael Higuera´s right hand men.

Rigoberto was in charge of receiving the cocaine shipments arriving from Colombia at the Mexico City International Airport, Rigoberto is Ismael Higuera´s cousin hence the nickname “El Primo”. Bernardo Araujo was in charge of making sure the cartel´s money had a safe trip down to Colombia in order to pay for the cocaine shipments, he also was in charge of providing the necessary security to cartel bosses when they were in the city. Both of them were arrested in the Benito Juarez district in Mexico City by Federal Police Agents.
Later that year, in June, the Federal Government gave another major hit to the Tijuana Cartel when Ivonne Soto Vega aka “La Pantera” was arrested in Tijuana by the Mexican Army. Soto Vega had a close relationship with the Arellano Felix brothers and their wives, she even went on vacations with them on several occasions, her role in the organization was to launder money, she was considered at the time of her arrest the main money laundered for the Arellano brothers, by estimates of the U.S. Department of the Treasury, “La Pantera” laundered over 120 million USD during a 3 year investigation.

According to Federal reports, in 2001 the Tijuana Cartel had a presence in 15 Mexican States while the Sinaloa Cartel only operated in 5 Mexican States and only with help of the Juarez Cartel who had a major presence in 17 Mexican States. Sinaloa as a Cartel didn´t had the resources it now has; it was a “Satellite” Cartel to the Juarez Cartel.

Nowadays that situation has greatly changed, and it was in part the result of the major hits received by the Tijuana Cartel.

Ivonne Soto Vega and Eduardo Arellano Felix.

2002 will be remembered by many as a fatal year for the Tijuana Cartel, on February 10, 2002, Ramon Arellano Felix was killed by a Sinaloa State Police Agent in Mazatlan, Sinaloa.

Ramón Arellano was known for personally “hunting” his enemies, he loved to take action in the executions of his rivals, he attended and participated in the execution of capos such as Armando “El Rayo” Lopez, Rigoberto Campos Salcido and Manuel Salcido Uzeta aka “El Cochiloco”, among others.

His passion for killing rivals would ultimately be the reason for his death. According to ZETA magazine, somewhere in late January, a tourist from Sinaloa was arrested in Guadalajara by Federal Agents, the “tourist” had was drunk and began telling the Federal Agents about his “friends” in Sinaloa, he mentioned a party being organized by Ismael “El Mayo” Zambada in Mazatlan during its carnival. The “tourist” was set free and the Federal Agents immediately called their contacts on the Tijuana Cartel, they gave them the info they had about “El Mayo”.

Ramon arrived at Mazatlan on February 5th, for five days he toured the city, he wasn´t able to locate Zambada anywhere. 

Ramon kept looking for Zambada, on February 10th, Ramon was travelling aboard a Volkswagen sedan when State Agents pulled him over, 4 hit men accompanied him, when they pulled over, 2 of the hit men ran away, Ramon identified himself as Federal Investigative Agent Jorge Perez Lopez, while he was showing his “badge”, Ramon took out his gun and shot State Agent Antonio Arias twice in the chest, Agent Arias was fatally wounded and fell to the floor with a shot to his heart, Arias, however, was able to pull out his gun and shot once, hitting Ramon Arellano straight in the head.

Fake Fedral Agent ID used by Ramon Arellano Felix.

Of all the possible ends a drug lord as Ramon Arellano could have had, this was it, he received a fatal shot to the head by an agonizing Police Officer who died with no clue he had just killed one of the FBI´s Ten Most Wanted Fugitives.

After Ramon died, one of the hit men tried to run from the scene, he had identified himself with a Federal Police badge under the last name of Solorzano, he was tracked down by State Agents who killed him after he fired his gun at them.

Ramon Arellano Felix´s body was taken under the name of Jorge Perez Lopez to Calderon Mortuary in Mazatlan, at the moment nobody knew he was Ramon Arellano so no special guards were given to his remains by the Federal Government.

On February 11th, a man arrived at Calderon Mortuary to claim the body of “Jorge Perez Lopez”, he showed and ID with the name of Celestino Lopez and claimed to be a relative of “Jorge”. Ramon´s body was cremated and his remains were never recovered by the Federal Government.

On February 21st, the Sinaloa State Attorney Office identified “Agent Solorzano” as Efrain Quintero Carrizosa, a known hit man from Culiacan, Sinaloa. Quintero Carrizosa was believed to be part of the “Death Squad” responsible for the massacre of Javier Torres Felix´s relatives at “El Limoncito” ranch one year prior.

The Mexican Federal Government got word that Jorge Perez Lopez was in fact Ramon Arellano Felix, they tried to run DNA tests but Francisco Rafael Arellano Felix (then an inmate in La Palma Maximum Security Prison) refused to provide them with blood, skin and hair necessary to run the tests. 

Even so, it would take less than one month for the Federal Government to get access to the DNA samples they needed.

Ramon Arellano Felix killed by Sinaloa State Police.
Ramon Arellano.

Ramon Arellano was gone, the man in charge of the hit men squads from Tijuana was no more, with Ramon dead, and many felt it was just a matter of time for the Cartel to fall to pieces, on Tijuana very few knew of the whereabouts of the remaining Arellano Felix brothers, even they ignored the location their brothers.

The promise Vicente Fox gave of finishing the Tijuana Cartel was finally showing signs of being true. On March 9th, 2002, Benjamin Arellano Felix was arrested in Puebla by members of the Mexican Army elite team known as GAFES (Grupo Aeromovil de Fuerzas Especiales) without firing a single shot.

The key to Benjamin´s capture was his family, for months, members of the GAFES conducted a surveillance operation on Benjamin´s family, they learned all their movements and followed them everywhere; they knew sooner or later Benjamin would show up, it was just a matter of time.

Benjamin´s family was tracked thanks to Manuel Martinez Gonzalez aka “La Mojarra”, Manuel´s brother was none other than Fabian Martinez Gonzalez aka “El Tiburon”, one of the most famous hit men from the “Narco-Juniors”. Being a relative of such key member in the Tijuana Cartel gained Manuel the trust of Benjamin, “La Mojarra” was in charge of delivering 30 thousand USD every 3 days to Benjamin´s wife, he would receive them and take them to her wherever she went.
Manuel Martinez Gonzalez aka "La Mojarra".
For years, Benjamin´s family lived in California, sometimes in Beverly Hills, others in San Diego or Coronado; they used to visit Las Vegas frequently without being harassed by the DEA. This all changed by 2000, when Mexican Agent Jose Patiño was about to find them, he changed his residence to San Diego, California in order to track them down, but was sold by his peers at the Mexican Federal Attorney General´s Office. He was kidnapped, tortured and executed for this. Benjamin sent his family to Mexico immediately, thay changed their location constantly to avoid both authorities and rivals, on 2001, Benjamin´s family moved to San Pedro Garza Garcia, Latin America´s richest city, a city where their wealth would go unnoticed by everyone, but a city also in control of his rivals, the Beltran Leyva brothers. San Pedro has long been considered a safe haven for Mexico´s drug lord families.

On February 13, 2001, Jesus Medina Alvarado, son-in-law of Miguel Angel Felix Gallardo was executed in Monterrey, following the investigations, Mexican Army personnel found a security house in Monterrey, inside the house, they found a video taken at a birthday party celebrated in Monterrey, the birthday girl was Benjamin Arellano´s daughter, along with the video they found an agenda with several addresses and the phone number of a private school, the same school Benjamin´s daughter attended in San Pedro Garza Garcia.

Benjamin remained in the USA during this time; he travelled from San Diego, California to San Antonio, Texas, where he would meet with his wife and children from time to time.

Benjamin´s wife was able to discover the surveillance operation and warned Benjamin, she immediately prepared herself to leave San Pedro and head to Mexico City, unknown to her was the fact that she was unable to get rid of the GAFE´s surveillance. Two months after arriving at Mexico City, Ruth Corona (Benjamins´s wife) bought a house in Puebla under the fake name of Maria Garcia Romo.

Manuel Martinez kept delivering money to Ruth Corona, his mistake was to use the same vehicle in San Pedro, Mexico City and Puebla, he was soon recognized, “La Mojarra” was now under surveillance too.

On March 8th, Benjamin Arellano finally arrived at his wife´s new home, he had received reports telling him the GAFE´s were gone, they weren´t.

Just when Benjamin was about to go to bed, a group of Special Forces raided his house, Benjamin had a .38 handgun with him but was unable to use it as he was quickly subdued by the Special Forces.

Benjamin was questioned by the Army on his own house, there he had an altar honoring Ramon, his father and Fabian Martinez aka “El Tiburon”, his captors showed him a pictured of Ramon´s body which he immediately recognized.

Just like this, the once almighty Tijuana Cartel leaders were gone, Ramon was dead and Benjamin was in prison, both Mexican and American Governments rushed to claim the end of the Tijuana Cartel, in less than one month both heads were taken out and nobody believed the other brothers would be able to take care of the Cartel.

Up to this moment Tijuana had ties with the Italian Mafia, the Colombian Cartels, the Japanese Yakuza and the Chinese triads, with Benjamin gone, all this was at stake.

Benjamin Arellano at the moment of his arrest in Puebla, Mexico.

For decades, Ismael Zambada Garcia aka “El Mayo” was able to keep a low profile, even today, there´s not much known about him, his fame is just a small fraction of that of “El Chapo”, his power however, is not.

Zambada Garcia began at a very early age in the drug business, like many other drug lords, he began on the bottom and steadily grew to become of of the world’s biggest drug dealers.

By 2000, his name was known all over Sinaloa; even so, the Federal Government had failed to act against him, or his organization. Prior to the escape of “El Chapo”, Zambada was considered a member of the Juarez Cartel, he allies with them after the Arellano Felix brothers got him out of Tijuana. After Amado Carrillo´s death, he became more independent, the problems with Amado´s successor began as soon as the news of his death were known, drug lords such as Arturo Beltran Leyva aka “El Barbas”, Juan Jose Esparragoza Moreno aka “El Azul” and Zambada himself felt they owed their respect and loyalty to Amado, but no one else.

Vicente Carrillo wasn´t felt as a good leader for the Juarez Cartel and soon the frictions began, the arrival of “El Chapo” in 2001 just made things worse.

In 2002, Ismael Zambada was included in the Kingpin Act by President Bush.

“El Chapo” was by then considered the leader of the (then small) Sinaloa Cartel, Joaquin had a plan to change that. When “El Chapo” escaped prison, he already had big plans for his Cartel, with the help and protection of the Beltran Leyva brothers and Zambada, Guzman quickly recovered the power he once had, he began by allying himself with the Juarez Cartel; his plan included using Juarez as an entry point for his drugs into the US, at first “El Chapo” paid taxes to the Carrillo Fuentes family, but this wouldn´t last long. His lieutenants began skipping payments, working for themselves and hiding from the Juarez people. This caused small frictions but Guzman always told Carrillo he would take care, they thought it was no big deal back then.

With this union, a new group was created, the Sinaloa Federation was born, the most prominent cartel (Juarez) had allied themselves with the most notorious fugitive (Chapo), the idea behind this (at least, what was told to the Juarez Cartel) was to overcome the weakened Tijuana Cartel and to fight for Tamaulipas, then believed to be plazas without a real leader, the consequences of this actions are still felt today all over Mexico.

"Azul", "Mayo", "Barbas", "Viceroy", "Chapo", "Nacho".

By mid-2002 many expected a huge rise in violence in Tijuana, but it didn´t happen, the Government expected a full offensive by Sinaloa/Juarez but it simply didn´t happen. The truth is Sinaloa had their sights in another plaza: Nuevo Laredo.

By 2001, after “El Chapo” escaped from prison, his main goal was to monopolize the drug trade, that´s the idea behind the Sinaloan Federation, in order to do this, the Sinaloan Federation decided to get a Nuevo Laredo for them, after the fall of Juan Garcia Abrego, the Gulf Cartel appeared to be dismantled, but it wasn´t, a young newcomer was in the process of rebuilding it, his name was Osiel Cardenas Guillen, in the Sinaloan Federation nobody had heard of him before. At the time, the Milenio cartel (Valencia brothers-Michoacan) was the major force in Nuevo Laredo, a gang known as Los Chachos served as their enforcers.

In February 2002, Osiel Cardenas asked permission to Jose Dionisio Garcia aka “El Chacho” to smuggle 2 tons of Cocaine through Nuevo Laredo in exchange for a “tax”.

The drugs left Matamoros in 3 armored vehicles, under the surveillance of Eduarco Costilla aka “El Coss” and a man named Heriberto Lazcano aka “Z-3”.

According to a former CDG member, Costilla was to meet with the Federal Investigations Agency commander in Nuevo Laredo to discuss the terms under which the cocaine was to be smuggled. The commander however, tried to arrest them. The commander and his people were easily neutralized by Lazcano and his people but “El Coss” gave the order to let them go.
When the CDG operatives left the scene, the Federal Agents chased them resulting in a shootout between the people from Osiel and the Federal Agents who were aided by local police. The CDG operatives were able to escape after they blocked the road with a pick up truck.

After this treason, Osiel was enraged, he ordered his team of hit men known as “Los Zetas” to reunite in a safe house, there he ordered them to take Nuevo Laredo for him once and for all.

El Chacho wouldn´t live much more, on May of that year he was kidnapped by Los Zetas in Monterrey and severely tortured, his death body was left in Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas.

This would be the beginning of another war for a plaza, Armando Valencia planned on sending 200 men to recover Nuevo Laredo, he was aided by Arturo Beltran Leyva who recruited as his enforcer a young man from Laredo, Texas named Edgar Valdez Villarreal.

The war for Nuevo Laredo exploded in full force, the Sinaloan Federation used a lot of their resources to gain control of Nuevo Laredo but they failed. Their mistake was to underestimate Osiel Cardenas, his army of hit men was too much for the Sinaloan hit men, The war ended(briefly) after Osiel Cardenas met with Arturo Beltran Leyva, then the criminal leader in Nuevo Leon, they both agreed to cease fire and respect their respective plazas. Osiel would pull out from Monterrey if Arturo left Nuevo Laredo.

Osiel Cardenas Guillen aka "El Mata Amigos", former leader of CDG.

On August 2002, ZETA magazine founder, Jesus Blancornelas wrote about a new incursion in Tijuana by other cartels, this time they didn´t came from Sinaloa, but from Juarez and Nuevo Laredo, he wrote about how drug shipments were arriving from cities like Ciudad Juarez and Nuevo Laredo, and how people from those cities were being executed in Tijuana, the operation had no logic, why would someone travel all the way from Juarez or Nuevo Laredo to Tijuana to smuggle drugs when they had their own lucrative plazas? One theory supports the idea of sending “test” shipments to learn the plaza.

This incursion was short lived, it just wasn´t worth it for them, the Tijuana Cartel still had very strong hold on the city and they were losing a lot of operatives and drugs for nothing. Just like the Federation underestimated Osiel in Nuevo Laredo, CDG underestimated CAF in Baja California. Tijuana had a new leader and soon everybody would hear about him.

Popular sticker found on vechicles in Tijuana.


While everyone believed the end for the Tijuana Cartel had arrived, a new leader had arrived at Tijuana, Francisco Javier, the youngest of the Arellano Felix brothers, was ready to fill up the hole left by his brothers.

The story of the Arellano Felix brother´s is somehow unique in the way that they were rich before they began selling drugs, an example of this is Francisco Javier´s wealth since he was 14, at that age he became the legal owner of several properties, including 2 mansions and commercial plazas. The Arellano Felix family had a prosperous way before their days in Tijuana, this helped them blend easily on Tijuana´s rich neighborhoods. 

Francisco Javier had always been under the shadows of his brothers, he began his criminal career in the early 90´s, after his life was spared by Joaquin Guzman´s hit men in 1993, “El Tigrillo” as he was known, began recruiting a team of hit men and bodyguards for the Cartel leaders, 

After a failed attempt at killing Hector “El Guero” Palma on March 3rd, 1994, and his arrest by State Police after the shootout, his brothers took him out of Mexico, on his book “El Cartel”, Jesus Blancornelas narrates how Ramon was angry at Francisco Javier´s addiction, he went all the way to kill those who sold or gave drugs to him, “El Tigrillo” was sent among other places, to Thailand, there it is said he began practicing Muay Thai and this helped him leave behind his addiction, this, coupled with his new liking of lifting weights, got him the new nickname of “El Conan”.

In 2002, after Ramon´s death, many jumped ships to Sinaloa, one of those was Gilberto Higuera Guerrero aka “El Gilillo” or “El Gallo” who was in charge of the plaza of Mexicali, Higuera Guerrero had connections all over Mexico and Colombia, his brother, Ismael, was for years the main importer of Colombian Cocaine for the Tijuana Cartel, his contacts with high level members of the Mexican Army, especially on the 28th Infantry Battalion, in Baja California, gave him the nickname “El 28”.

Francisco Javier sent a group of men to retake Mexicali, but the hold “El Gilillo” had on the plaza was too strong.

With many of the old members changing sides, Francisco took the decision to give new blood to the Cartel, his inner circle consisted of young men he met at Tijuana´s discotheques while partying, one of those your men was his brother-in-law Jorge Briseño Lopez aka “El Cholo”, Briseño steadily grew in power inside the Cartel, climbing from a simple go-getter to a cell leader, at first, many attributed this to his relationship with “El Tigrillo”, but soon he would gain fame by his own “merits”.

The new generation, as Francisco Javier called his team, was comprised of then unknowns such as Manuel Diez Castillo aka “El Buda”, Jorge Briseño Lopez aka “El Cholo”, Arturo Heredia Villarreal aka “El Nalgon” and his brother Amado Villarreal Heredia aka “El Gordo”, Marco Antonio Garcia Simental aka “El Cris” (brother of “El Teo”), former “Narco-Junior” member Saul Montes de Oca Morlett aka “El Ciego”, Victor Magno Escobar aka "El Pareja" or "El Matapolicias" (Cop killer), a young man named Luis Fernando was also with him most of the time. 

For a time, a relative peace prevailed in Tijuana, Francisco Javier was able to maintain control of a large part of the Cartel and his dominion of Tijuana was unquestionable, many knew him and recognized when he was out partying, his entourage grew bigger every time and began getting attention, this however, didn´t matter to Francisco, all the made-to-order corridos about him and the “New Generation” are proof of that.

The new leadership had arrived, but with as with any new leadership, new contenders also appeared for the throne. The war for Tijuana would soon prove to be far from over.

Top: "Tigrillo", "Cholo", "Nalgon"; Bottom: "Matapolicias", "Gordo", "P1".

To be continued...


  1. el gallo de tijuanaAugust 15, 2013 at 4:16 PM

    como estas tijuano espero que te encuentres bien de salud he eschuchado que sufres del diabetes y alta pression espero que la tengas controlada me cais bien alrespecto atu reporte te felicito nomas algo que note que mucha gente piensa que el caf pagaba rente al producto por mes el caf cambio las reglas ellos compraban en gradisimas cantidades el producto lla era de ellos y el gillilo si traisono al caf se dice que el motivo que hiso eso fue porque lo ivan a quebrar porque piensan que el entrego a su hermano y la razon de eso fue porque le habia habierto las puertas a cds la fuga del chapo vino de muy arriba en el gobierno si vicente fox la voy a poner muy facil si un bmw cuesta 4000 dollares llega alguin y te ofrece 50000 ten enmente que enrealidad estamos hablando de billones otros carteles no estaban dispuestos ha pagar eso el poder de chapo crecio porque calentaba las plazas de los enemigos y les llamo mucho la atencion mientras el chapo navego por abajo otros carteles estaban haciendo atacados por el gobierno y la dea el arresto del tigrillo del caf fue una captura que enrealidad no era afectada economica ni politica ni pararia el caf con su poder larealidad la estructura del caf empezo desde 2000 la captura de el senor chuy labra pero lo menos que la gente sepa mejor y ahora la estan biendo cds no es el mismo poder porque mucha gente sabe sus movimientos y estructura y del caf nada tambien cds ah perdido mucho de su apollo los blo y cdj y nuevo jalisco y al terminar pagando piso en tijuana baja norte pero termino para deciarte que te mejores y muy buen reporte otra cosa los levantones y ejecutiones en tijuana son cellulas de cds no pagando renta y lo chistoso es como que quieren hacer lo mismo en juarez se esconden para no pagar a tiempo es por eso que levantan a su gente y quien tenga que ver con ellos ahora te digo mi tijuano quien manda en realidad en la frontera norte

  2. Great write up! As always. Look forward to the next one. Take your time. Your health comes first

  3. Los del caf eran pesado la perra era maton y el tiburon tambien but the arrellano brothers were to ruthless that's why they all ended up were there at know Att: un vato de durango

  4. Tijuano great work I was waiting and looking for it everyday take care and keep up the great work!!!!!!! From PHX AZ ....

  5. Good article i hope caro quintero slaps chapo for being a selfish idiot

  6. I got a feeling mayo and azul are going to leave chapo because of his dumb moves of being a rat

  7. If they couldn't take control of tj wen they wer down wat makes u think they can do it now...from PHX AZ

  8. Glad you feeling better been waiting on this for a while this is some good reading. Keep up the great job. Peace

  9. Really good article, good job on the pics. I'll be waiting for the next article

  10. This is an awesome post have you guys made a map a recent map of the cartel territory?

  11. El trigillo and el cholo look almost exactly the same

    1. Haha they do.. same hair line too

    2. They look like identical twins.

  12. Ojala y se recupere compa Tijuano de lo que tiene, sin duda un gran articulo para leer nomas leei la parte del CDG y la famosa guerra en Nuevo Laredo.Donde la federacion mamo! En contra la compañia y CDG.

    A ver si mañana me aviento todo el articulo con un buen tequilita con limon y sal.Saludos de los doz Laredos pareja!

    Y arreee como dicen en Tijuas!

    Doz Fronteras

  13. Finally part 3! Ive been waiting for this! Thank you for this great article!

  14. Puro Sinaloa. We took over TJ. Puro killer

    1. No seas pendejo no controlan nada

  15. Absolutely loved reading all 3 parts. I really enjoy reading about the history of past cartels and their members. I hope to see many more series like the war for Tijuana. Keep up the great work!!

  16. I'm new here..but I read all the parts..awesome post..can't wait for next part

  17. Hope you get well T
    You guys on BB should run a story like this on the nuevo laredo war ive read it before but I got more info from it on this story & seems more legit than anywhere else for example nowhere else can you hear of the impact los valencias and abl had
    Keep up the great work

  18. Did Javier Arellano Felix have plastic surgery prior to his apprehension? He looked way different from that picture above to his capture pictures.

  19. Great post, now it's time to bug chivis about Tuta part 2

  20. @Tijuano: Excellent article. I especially liked the bits on Benjamin's capture and the death of Ramon in Mazatlan in 02. The fake MexFed ID card Ramon had is interesting: he looks like a babyface with the mullet, but in the fake ID--with close-cropped hair--he looks like a sixty year old man. Weird. Of course, this game will age a body quickly.

    Get better from your illness and come back with a vengeance. Looking forward to Part IV. ;)


  21. Yes, Javier had surgery after that pic bcuz it was getting too hot n everyone knew his ugly face.


  22. @Tijuano: Part 3, more thankies.

  23. very nice tijuano that you finally posted this and got your health back you should research and do this for every cartel ... im pretty sure you will find a lot of info and you dont need to grow up in tamaulipas or sonora .. imagine how dope:

    The war for Sinaloa, a 20+ year conflict.

    The war for Tamaulipas, Michoacan, Jalisco, Veracruz, or The war for Matamoros or Juarez or Guadalajara

    1. You mean the War for all of

  24. Yo no soy de ni de tamaulipas, ni sinaloa, chihuahua, tijuana, o durango... Yo soy de zacatecas.. y neta ke siempre desde hace unos 30 años se ha sabido ke pal negocio del trafico de drogas Chihuahua y Sinaloa y hasta Michoacan se la han rifado bien y bonito.. Y tiene sentido lo ke dice el compa de Sinaloa ke tamaulipas siempre a tenido fama de cruzar mojados pal otro lado y nada mas... muy apenas se oye mentar ke mueven mota por tamaulipas pero pal negocio del polvo no hay como Sinaloa, Juarez o Tijuana... Esas si son plazas muy pesadas para la pinche coca, y apenas se empezo a levantar el narco en tamaulipas y se chingo todo el asunto en todo el pais.. con secuestros y extorciones y asaltos... ya culaquier pendejito de quinta se cree muy zeton o muy golfito.. cosa ke no se ve con los sinaloense... aki en Zacatecas no he oido de ningun Sinaloense cobrando cuota ni secuestrando no mas los pinches zetacuaches y los golfitos ke se vienen de laredo, monterrey o reynosa a fregar a la gente honrada de zacatecas... Asi ke mis respetos pa la gente de Sinaloa, Chihuahua y Michoacan ke si son narcos y no delinquentillos comunes y por supuesto corrientes como los de tamaulipas y nuevo leon (pobres pendejos)

    1. Cada quien tiene su punto de vista, y es verdad en Tamaulipas no tienen mas tiempo que los del CDS y CAF traficando merca.Pero te dire una cosa cuando el Golfo y Z eran aliados aun recuerdo que todos querian ser Z.Los de Tamaulipas y Nuevo Leon cambiaron el juego y fueron los mas sanginarios en esa guerra contra la Federacion.Nunca uvo ningun cartel que se atreviera meterseles hasta por la cocina al CDS.Como lo hizo los Z y CDG y en Tamaulipas no pudieron en Nuevo Laredo.Pero las cosas ya cambiaron mijo ya no estamos en los 70's o 80's.Muchos culpan al CDG y Z en quitarles la inoccencia a la gente en donde llegaban los Z y CDG como en Zacatecas,San Luis,Veracruz,etc.Segun que nomas llegaron ellos y las muchachas se volvieron putas y los chavos en droga adictos y malandrines.

      La frontera de Nuevo Laredo es la mas importante para el trafico de drogas ya que te lleva basicamente a muchas rutas en los USA.

  25. just some small mistakes like "on January 10, 2002, Ramon Arellano Felix was killed" its February

    "the drugs left Matamoros in 2 armored vehicles"
    its in 3 armored vehicles

    "El Chacho wouldn´t live much more, on March of that year he was kidnapped by Los Zetas in Monterrey"

    it was in May

    1. U forgot to mention , that isnt "el tigrillo" next to "el cholo" .. Hahagahaha ..

    2. You BB reader are stupid believin tht thats actually "Javier" .. Compare both pic ?? Their identical .. same hair line , same jaw bone structure .. looks like they just photoshopped the socalled "Tigrillo" pic raised his eyebrows a bit .. Theirs much better pics of him .. but other than tht MISTAKE good article ..

  26. Nice One Tijuano big fan
    I Have a Carnal in Tijuana
    I hope he is doing good
    thanks Tijuano you gave me
    a good pic in my head on how dangerus Tj
    can be. like the bumper sticker said
    welcome to Tijuana.
    WHO would vist TJ now
    the sticker means if you vist
    you will end up kidnapped.
    and the only reason americans vist TJ
    is to but or use drugs.
    -Al Quds

    1. Tijuana isnt as dangerous right now, many people go to Tijuas every weekend. Theirs many reasons to go; Family, friends, cheap beer, and women.

  27. It is disturbing to think about the way the so called 'war on drugs' has evolved over the past twenty years, and the lives that have been lost on both sides. On television we really aren't exposed to the full story when it comes to the drug trade driven violence here in the United States, so seeing this type of graphic timeline is shocking. We keep hearing that things are getting better, conditions are improving, and cartels are being slowly taken down from the western media outlets, but then we see the truth in articles like these and it makes us question the motive behind keeping the full truth hidden. This seems like an epidemic that will plague Tijuana and surrounding areas of Mexico that are near the border between Mexico and the United States until lawmakers return to the drawing board and accept the fact that what they have been doing over the past two decades simply isn't working.

  28. El Tigrillo Arellano's team of capos Gustavo Rivera P1 , Jorge Briseno El Cholo , Arturo Villareal El Nalgon , Armando Villareal El Gordo , plus a few Narco Juniors still around, all had the potential to put the crown on el Cartel again just how Benjamin and Ramon once upon a time did it.

  29. That pic from Javier Arellano Felix came straight from the DEA poster, it´s not photoshop, he had many plastic surgeries since the 90´s, the reason they wear the SAME shirt, coat and tie it´s because they, along with dozens of other CAF members bought fake State Police IDs, they took turns in front of the camera and used the same shirt, tie and coat for the pictures, there was a DEA page called that had all the pictures, the reason Jose Briseño was known as 5-5 is because he was number 55 in the narctip website. There were several CAF members in that website, including Teo, los Palillos, Macumba and others, this takes part in PART 4 of the series, ZETA editor Francisco Ortiz Franco was murdered for publishing this pictures.

  30. @August 16, 2013 at 11:38 AM:

    Thanks for pointing them out, I´ll fix it right away!

    @August 16, 2013 at 12:45 PM, Al Quds:

    That sticker was aimed at members of other cartels arriving at Tijuana, the truth is tourist are relatively safe in TJ(at least as safe as other US cities).

  31. Thanks to all the readers who have replied to this post, I really appreciate your comments, regarding a "War for (write your favorite plaza here)", I might just do it, but for now, it got my hands full with TJ, I´ll try to include events in others plazas that had an impact in TJ. My research for this article led me to some really interesting information, especially from Nuevo Laredo, like I said, I might do another series after I end this one.


    1. Tijuano how much power as a drug lord did this guy Benjamin have? I kind of compare the Arellanos to the Corleone family in the godfather.. Micheal as benjamin who had the brains and ramon as sonny who would act violently

    2. Tijuano what do you know about the plaza in tecate.. By the way great article

  32. Tijuano, you are the Micheal Hastings (RIP) of this Borderland Beat blog. Your articles about Tijuana/Baja's past and current underworld is what makes me and others come back to read. I do believe that el CAF was the creme de la creme of Mexico's organized crime since the fall of Guadalajara Cartel in the late 80sl. Not too many folks know how much power to corrupt this Mafia crime family withheld during their golden years.
    You mentioned that the AF brothers were losing main contacts for product down south, but in reality they always had the respect and business of the FARC. The FARC were the reliable connection to the highest quality of pure cut lavada. Another question is you didn't mention Everado "El Kitty" Paez? He was in the Consejo de Jefes of Benjamin. Such a low key associate I suppose.
    The Tijuana Cartel is still around but now its different ballgame. What you think?
    Hopefully your recovery is heading a healthy path.

    Saludos desde Atlanta , Georgia ( San Diego-chula vista native)

  33. Please read the rules on commenting:

  34. Great story, Tijuano. Thanks for including the Limoncito massacre.

  35. @August 16, 2013 at 6:36 PM:

    Kitty Paez was originally in Part 1, somehow I deleted it and forgot about him, he will be mentioned in Part 4 however, he had a relationship with Angelica Aguilar, she was murdered on March 5th, 2004, at the time Kitty was a suspect of her murder.

    You´re right, CAF were the first to make big deals with FARC, but even they stopped providing them with coke after Gilillo left for CDS, sometime later Francisco Javier was able to regain the connections in Colombia, but it took him some time.

    Saludos desde la Baja!

  36. @ Siskiyou_Kid:

    You´re welcome!

  37. "Eduarco Costilla" its Eduardo

  38. tijuano what about the part when benjamin goes to jail and wants to escape with osiel

  39. Benjamin had a lot of power, he had connections everywhere, from the President´s office to the Catholic church, his criminal connections went as far as Japan, Russia and India, he was one of the first(along with Juan Garcia Abrego) that bought the Colombian Cocaine instead of just smuggling it for the Colombian Cartels,

    But like everyone else in the drug trade,his days were numbered, he really has brains, actually, most of the Arellano brothers do, as far as I know all of them went to the university and have a degree of some kind.

    This is by no means an apology or as some call ir here "nut-hugging", just the facts of one of the most ruthless cartel leaders.

    1. No doubt. "El Gran Zar de los negocios del Imperio Mexicano" -los tucanes
      They just don't say that to anybody.
      Tijuano by the way, Speculations report that Los Tucanes de Tijuana were brought up to the spotlight by Ramon Arellano?

  40. @August 16, 2013 at 10:35 PM

    The brief union between Osiel and Benjamin comes in Part 4, as far as I knew Benjamin was never in the escape plan. Osiel wanted to get out, but Lazca "failled" his mission.

  41. When I am in Tijuana everybody stays scared.

  42. @August 16, 2013 at 11:41 PM

    check this out it says a rumor but i think he had plans to espace with osiel yea i know osiel had his own dope plan with mamito and that lazca didnt want to lose power

    "Investiga PGR intento de fuga de Osiel Cárdenas y Benjamín Arellano"

  43. Wow. So many great writers and contributors on Borderland Beat. Keep it up Tijuano, your building a nice following for yourself with the great stories. Growing up in San Diego and going to TJ weekly in the late 90's/ early 2000's was a trip. The CAF had the whole city on lock. Cocaine was pure as hell and cheap. If you knew where to go, there were really nice restaurants where you could get a bucket of beers and an 8-ball from your waiter, one stop shop. I'll never forget I was sitting on a balcony in downtown TJ(1999)when all of a sudden a convoy came through the town. It was a whole line of black Chevy Suburbans and pick-ups with armed men riding in back standing up. They were rolling right down Revolucion like they owned that shit. I asked the waiter what branch of military they were cuz they had all the same uniforms but he just laughed and said "this is not the millitary". If you went down to TJ looking for trouble, you were guaranteed to find it, but if you went down there with respect and to just chill and have a good time you were fine. The Arrellano-Felix clan understood that a peacefull and tightly-controled plaza was a money machine. I actually loved TJ then. It was Mexico at it's finest, "Money talks, bullshit walks"...

    1. Los Arellano rarely had convoys of that calibre patrolling Tijuana , indeed they had the power and influence to buy or obtain a military tank if they desired but that would have drawn to much heat to Tijuana. What is actual reality is that Ramon and the Juniors would drive around in luxury cars all over the Tijuana perimeter and later host a private party in a luxurious condo behind el Hipodromo. Lavada straight from the South and top shelf booze were a must. There they would sit and talk business.
      Fabian had a blacked out BMW with a hidden weapon compartment and limo tinted windows all around. Police of all levels knew not to pull that car over. It would be breaking the law in Tijuana.

  44. Dang I forgot what part 1 and part 2 were all about or have little recollection. Good job!

  45. @August 17, 2013 at 12:06 AM:

    I got not proof of it, but I´ve heard thar rumor since I they released the "Clave Nueva" CD.

    @Chito Cano:

    Tecate is peaceful right now, it´s still used for drug and human smuggling, but not much makes the news.

  46. From some of articles I've read concerning the CAF, the Hank Rohns/Gonzales seems to come-up. Jorge Hank Rohm seems to own everything in Tijuana and seems to own every casino/race track in Mexico. What that is telling me is nothing will happen in Tijuana without HR nowing about it; in fact, considering he is a PRI politician, that would make sense. According to an article DD put on the thread, the Hank family even had a role in the success of El senor de los cielos through the dad Carlos: powerful PRI bureacrat/politician. That had something to do with A.Carillo Fuentes usage of Carlos Hank Gonzales 's airplanes for the trafficking of CDJ's cocaine, bought or stolen, and laundering of the cartel proceeds. That includes CDT's drug proceeds!
    If that is the case, the real power of CAF and CCF is the Hank Rohn/Gonzales. That would make Arellano Felix and Carillo Fuentes figureheads. If any family would have complete impunity, that would be the Hanks. I think the Hank Round/ Gonzales involvement in narco trafficking needs a more closer scrutinizing.

    1. Amen. And I'm surprised this hasn't been mentioned in these articles.

  47. I love this series...

  48. @August 17, 2013 at 6:27 PM:

    That was the time when "Vicentillo" heated things up in Tijuana, althought rare, sometimes you could see those convoys, the truth is the Gocernment turned the other way around in those years. Those could have been Mayel´s people, he used to go around in that kind of convoys, like you said, Ramon was more the Mercedes Benz, Porsche or BMW kind of guy, although he loved black Cheyennes (Silverados).

    1. It was known that El Mayel had el puerto de Ensenada on lock. He not only helped that community but he had solid connections everywhere. But then again he was an "Arellano" capo so people looked at that bigger picture.
      He was always transported from Tijuana to el Puerto or vice versa in a caravan of convoys with marksmen shooters just incase the situation got funny. Tijuano, there was this theory that he wanted to take over the reigns of the Cartel ? I mean the man was the major contributer in the importation and exportation of coke for the organization...

    2. Tijuano what happend to el Cholo 5-5 from CAF I've heard stories that he died but never seen an article

    3. Tijuano, not much is known about Aurelio Sanchez Quintero any info? Heard he was frequently in TJ and other plazas. Any clue on who had him murked? What about Ines Calderon, or Baltazar Diaz and many other low key Grandes?

    4. Hey tijuano iam not really into the whole narco thing but i really enjoyed the war for tijuana storys i also grew up around all that shit in colonia jardin iav been waiting for part four man

  49. what was ramon doin when antonio arias was down

  50. GOOD STUFF! loved all three parts :-) this is the best stuff to from here in a long time.

  51. Helmer "Pacho" Herrera from the Cali Cartel was a somebody in the 80s and early 90s. An financia expertisel and professional exporter, a real mind behind the operations of the Cali Cartel.
    He sold tons of coke to el CAF for a good amount time. That man once in prison was estimated to have a vast personal fortune of $2.000 million dollars ( over a $1.5 billion). The DEA simply called him the "Manager" because besides him just being the coordinator for the exportation of the purest cocaine , he was also responsible to bring back the profit proceeds back to Colobmia. Pacho was so successful that even Pablo Escobar himself put contract on his head with one assasination attempt which failed but also set him up with the DEA and Interpol. What is more surprising, is that "Pacho" turned himself in to authorities in 1996. Comes to show that this man never really needed the spotlight. He was always considered incognito. Legend

  52. anything on the Palillos Organization and their attacking of the AFO in San Diego.

  53. I take pleasure in, result in I discovered exactly what I used to
    be taking a look for. You have ended my 4 day lengthy hunt!
    God Bless you man. Have a great day. Bye

  54. I met Arturo Villareal -aka nalgon-nunca le gusto el nombre.-Just Arturo, or Villareal-He never met el chapo or anybody, I also met Benjamin in Coleman USP-1-both men were respectful, como decimos los mexicanos, otro pedo-*They will help out alot, and they never coperated with police, I saw their police reports. Part of the Paisa grup they run in Federal prison. The cops thing that they got them in check. They are wrong, __


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