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Top Mexican drug cartels join forces

24 July 2004: Two of Mexico’s top cartels have joined forces to fight for control of drug smuggling into the United States in a pact forged by their leaders in prison, the government says.

Mexico’s top organized crime prosecutor, Jose Luis Santiago Vasconcelos, said the cartels based in Tijuana and along the Gulf coast were now working together to rebuild a network of gunmen and defend their territories.

“For us, it is dangerous. We don’t see it as something at all good,” he told reporters on Thursday, although he said both cartels had been seriously weakened in recent years and his agents were continuing to strike against them.

The Tijuana-based cartel, which smuggles drugs across the western end of the U.S. border, is led by the notorious Arellano Felix family but it has been ravaged by a series of arrests over the last three years.

The Gulf Cartel is run out of the northeastern state of Tamaulipas, across the border from Texas, and its leader Osiel Cardenas was arrested last year.

Santiago Vasconcelos said a group of ruthless gunmen known as the “Zetas”, led by former army commanders and linked to the Gulf Cartel, recently sent representatives to Tijuana to help the Arellano Felix cartel rebuild its network of hitmen.

The alliance was forged in prison last year by Cardenas and Benjamin Arellano Felix, the mastermind of his family’s cartel who was arrested two years ago.

Experts had warned the two gangs might be working together but this is the first time the government has confirmed it.

Apart from training new groups of “sicarios”, as hired gunmen are known in Mexico, the two cartels have apparently agreed to do business together.

Mexico’s cartels move massive amounts of cocaine, heroin and marijuana across the U.S. border. They are ruthless in wiping out rivals or police informants and have traditionally bought the protection of officials in Mexico’s police forces, the army and all levels of government.

President Vicente Fox pledged to crack down on the cartels when he took office in 2000 and has had some success.

Analysts often compare the war on drugs to squeezing a balloon — press down in one point, and it expands somewhere else — and the flow of drugs has continued with smaller outfits emerging as big cartels come under pressure.

But Santiago Vasconcelos said the new cooperation between the Tijuana and Gulf cartels was a reflection of their weakness and that even the Zetas, feared because of their army training and discipline, were losing their clout.

“No single organisation can now sustain its territories by itself,” he said.

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