The Juarez cartel remains the most powerful drug mafia in Mexico despite predictions by Mexican and U.S. law enforcement officials that the death of its leader more than two years ago would lead to the breakup of the organization.

U.S. authorities estimate that more than half of the cocaine that enters the United States through Mexico is moved by the cartel.

While Ciudad Juarez, which shares a border with El Paso, Tex., is the primary headquarters and trafficking center of the cartel, the organization has reorganized into three main cells since the death of Amado Carrillo Fuentes following plastic surgery and liposuction in July 1997.

His brother, Vicente, has taken control of the organization, which operates key cells in the western city of Guadalajara and the Yucatan resort of Cancun.

While mid-level distributors and traffickers hired by the Juarez cartel have helped build Ciudad Juarez's reputation as perhaps the most violent city on the nearly 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexican border, the cartel's leaders rewrote the code of behavior for drug mafia kingpins.

Amado Carrillo Fuentes eschewed the flashy lifestyle of his predecessors, who frequented restaurants in the company of television soap opera stars, pop musicians and sports figures, instead living a relatively low-key existence behind high-walled compounds. He reportedly threatened the lives of Ciudad Juarez newspaper editors who tried to publish photos of him.

Juarez cartel leaders have avoided arrest by providing millions of dollars in bribes to Mexican police and army officials in return for protection for their personnel and drug shipments.

Agents of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration frequently cite the Juarez cartel as less prone to indiscriminate violence than its chief competitors, the Tijuana-based Arellano Felix brothers.

Even so, in the aftermath of Amado Carrillo Fuentes's death, Ciudad Juarez suffered an unprecedented spurt of violence, mostly between Vicente Carrillo Fuentes's faction and lesser leaders who tried to challenge his authority, as well as between mid-level associates who tried to renege on payments owed the cartel.

The cartel always has used murder and the threat of violence to discipline traffickers who lose drug shipments or attempt to abscond with the cartel's drugs or money.