Mexican Drug Cartel Leaves Dire Calling Card

By William Booth
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, April 23, 2009

MEXICO CITY, April 22 -- The bishop has now been warned.

Last week at a news conference, Héctor González Martínez, the Roman Catholic archbishop in the state of Durango, announced what many Mexicans suspect: that "everyone knows" where the country's most wanted drug lord lives, "except the authorities."

The archbishop's provocative challenge was quickly denounced as reckless talk by President Felipe Calderón's supporters, while others applauded the blunt suggestion that the federal government was either too corrupt or incompetent to capture Joaquín "El Chapo" Guzmán, the leader of the powerful Sinaloa drug cartel.

Events then took a deadly and macabre turn, as they often do in Mexico's ongoing drug war. On Tuesday, two military officers were found dead near their bullet-riddled Ford Fiesta in the rough country of the Sierra Madre north of Durango, a region known as the Golden Triangle. It is a hub for drug trafficking and the cultivation of marijuana and opium poppies.

The army lieutenants, dressed in casual clothes, were reported to be working undercover in the area when they were abducted and executed.

The two were found with arms tied and eyes bound with tape. They had been shot multiple times by AK-47 rounds. Nearby was a taunting message that read: "You'll never get El Chapo -- not the priests, not the government."

According to a recent assessment by Forbes magazine, Guzmán, whose nickname means "Shorty," is one of the richest men in Mexico, worth about $1 billion. As he was being readied for extradition to the United States in 2001, Guzmán escaped from prison, reportedly in a laundry van.

When the archbishop said that "everyone knows" where El Chapo lives, he named the place -- "just before Guanacevi," an isolated mining town at the end of the highway, beyond which there are only dirt roads, deep canyons and mountains.

The two dead army lieutenants were found about 40 miles south of Guanacevi, near the town of Cienega de Escobar.

After the archbishop said that El Chapo lives in the mountainous redoubt of Durango, the religious leader apologized. Nevertheless, the office of the federal attorney general said the bishop is legally obligated to tell what he knows.

At a news conference at the opening of the annual meeting of the Bishop's Council of Mexico, the bishop from Matamoros, Faustino Armendáriz, urged caution when speaking about drug cartels. Priests should exercise "prudence when voicing opinions, especially if they can't back it up," Armendáriz said.

Meanwhile, the police commander in Guanacevi told reporters that he had not seen any sign of Guzmán.

In a poll published on the front page of the newspaper Reforma on Wednesday, 69 percent surveyed said the archbishop's claims should be investigated. An equal percentage thought that his life is probably in danger.


© 2009 The Washington Post Company