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Mexico Arrests Major Tijuana Drug Gang Leader

Audio

Aired 1/13/10

One of the most wanted drug gang leaders in Tijuana has been arrested. Teodoro Garcia Simental (SEE-MEN-TAHL), known as "El Teo," has been one of the main forces behind drug violence and kidnappings in Tijuana for the last few years. KPBS Border Reporter Amy Isackson joins us to talk about the arrest.

One of the Tijuana's most wanted drug gang leaders has been captured in Baja. Mexican authorities say he's responsible for much of the bloodshed and violence south of the border in the past few years. KPBS Border Reporter Amy Isackson joins us to talk about the arrest of Teodoro Garcia Simental. Good morning, Amy.

AMY ISACKSON: Good morning.

DWANE BROWN: So, tell us how he was captured.

ISACKSON: Early yesterday morning Mexican federal forces descended on a house in a very fancy beach neighborhood of La Paz. A team of at least 50 officers grabbed "El Teo" and they whisked him to Mexico City for a press conference. There Mexican federal police linked "El Teo" to just the worst of the worst of the drug-related violence and mayhem in Tijuana: at least 300 murders in Tijuana, beheadings, desolving people in acid, kidnapping businessmen there and along the border to finance his operations, and they say "El Teo" was threatening to kill Baja California's attorney general, the police chief. So law enforcement authorities on both sides of the border called the arrest of "El Teo" a major score.

PAMELA DAVIS: Amy, who is "El Teo"?

ISACKSON: "El Teo" worked himself up through the ranks of Tijuana's Arellano Felix drug cartel, he was a top hitman, but in 2008 he split with the cartel, he aligned with the Sinaloa cartel, and came back to Tijuana and declared war on the Arellano Felix group. Just his name inspires fear for many in Tijuana. Here we can listen to a woman named Lilian who I met on the street in Tijuana yesterday.

LILIAN: When I hear his name, I feel scared, insecure, sad, no? Because I don't want to be living in a place with people like that. But now I feel better, yes, because that is an example of our government, what they can do for our country. And that makes me very happy and very comfortable.

ISACKSON: And many people yesterday in Tijuana's streets told me that they feel safer because of the arrest, but many added the caveat that there's still a lot of work to do.

BROWN: Yeah, you've been covering these rival factions for quite a while. What do you think it will mean on the bigger picture for Tijuana?

ISACKSON: That's really the big question here. Baja California's attorney general says it will end the war between "El Teo" and the Arellano Felix Cartel, and he says that's left about a thousand people dead during the last two years. However, analysts, like Victor Clark in Tijuana, predict that the drug gangs will regroup.

CLARK: They have this capacity to reproduce themselves, and I'm sure that soon we will know who is replacing these men.

ISACKSON: And so authorities say "El Teo" himself actually moved up in the Arellano Felix cartel's ranks due to some key arrests. Analysts also worry that "El Teo"'s arrest will generate more violence in Tijuana while the groups battle it out to readjust, and while "El Teo"'s supposed replacement tries to make himself emerge from those groups. They -- Victor Clark also says that the arrest does not attack the base of drug cartels and their financial power in Tijuana, and also in Baja California, and he says their political power in Tijuana. And Clark says "El Teo" was a worker bee. Albeit, he was savage and he was a most wanted worker bee, but there's a replacement waiting in the hive.

BROWN: This is the same man who's threatened the police chief as well as the attorney general?

ISACKSON: He is, that's what they say, they say that those threats picked up again in October, and in Tijuana they're seeing a new round of violence just since December through now, just since the beginning of the year 60 people have been killed in drug-related violence in Tijuana.

DAVIS: KPBS Border Reporter Amy Isackson. Amy, thank you so much for joining us this morning.

ISACKSON: Thank you.

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