The murky deaths of Mexico’s kingpins
Mexican drug baron Tony Tormenta died in a hail of grenades and gunfire on Nov.5 on the U.S. border, a victory for U.S.-Mexico efforts to clamp down on the illegal narcotics trade. Or did he?
Five days after the Gulf cartel leader’s death at the hands of Mexican marines in Matamoros, no photographs of his body have surfaced. At the navy’s only news conference, there was never any clarification about the whereabouts of his body. Mexico’s attorney general’s office did say on Wednesday that his body was handed over to his wife and daughter on Tuesday. The navy has declined to comment.
It was a similar story with the death of top Sinaloa cartel trafficker Ignacio “Nacho” Coronel in July. The only photograph of the body was leaked to a magazine days after his killing by the Mexican army in western Jalisco state.
In a country where few Mexicans believe in their government, President Felipe Calderon is asking people to take his word that these powerful, billionaire drug lords have, in fact, died.
Over the past five years, Tony Tormenta (Tony Storm) has been repeatedly reported killed and arrested, only to re-emerge weeks later.
Some Mexicans refuse to believe that drug baron Amado Carrillo Fuentes, who used fleets of jets to fly Colombian cocaine to the U.S. border, died during plastic surgery in a Mexico City hospital in 1997. He is still out there trafficking drugs, they say.
When marines killed kingpin Arturo Beltran Leyva in December, the navy did hand out photos of his bloodied, bullet-ridden body, but first they covered his body in wads of cash — a failure of basic human respect that brought widespread criticism.
More transparency is crucial to the Mexican military’s credibility at a time of rising civilian deaths and as more Mexicans question the wisdom of the stumbling drug war, in which more than 31,000 people have died in just four years.
This is especially true in northeastern Mexico, where drug gangs have silenced local media and officials with bribes and threats. Reuters TV cameramen and photographers were unable to cover Tony Tormenta’s killing due to the dangers of the gunfight itself, but also due to the threat of intimidation from the cartels. One of the few local journalists who tried to cover the action died in the crossfire.
Ultimately, neither Tony Tormenta’s nor Nacho Coronel’s death will change the course of the drug war. Only an end to prohibition and to Mexican corruption or a fall in U.S. demand for narcotics will do that. But the last thing Mexico needs are sightings of Tony Tormenta or an uncomfortable sense that the cruel, outlandish thug might still be at large.