Kingpins Fall, But Drugs Keep Coming

ByABC News
September 27, 2002, 12:40 PM

Sept. 29, 2002 — -- On the U.S.-Mexico border crossing, the new most-wanted posters went up last June, and the biggest, most violent suspects in the multibillion-dollar drug business are finally out of the picture, their faces crossed out because they are out of commission.

Mexican officials had arrested or killed key leaders of the mighty Arellano Felix cartel, said to supply 40 percent of the cocaine that comes into the United States. In all, Mexico has arrested about two dozen big fish since President Vicente Fox came to office.

But law enforcement officials say the street price of cocaine, the key measure of supply and demand, has barely budged. That suggests the hydra effect, where new leaders of criminal or terrorist organizations inevitably emerge to replace even the biggest fish.

They didn't come much bigger than Benjamin Arellano Felix, head of the drug cartel alternately known as AFO. Mexican Army officers arrested Arellano Felix quietly at a home in Puebla, Mexico, on March 9, a month after his brother Ramon, the AFO's enforcer, was killed in a shootout.

Benjamin Arellano Felix had more influence and power over the U.S.-Mexico drug trade than anyone else in either country. Untouchable for 13 years, his cartel corrupted countless officials, generals and senior police. Those they couldn't buy, they killed. Ultimately, their power rivaled that of the Mexican state.

"After Ramon was killed, when Benjamin was taken into custody, the phone has rung off the hook," says Jack Hook, the Drug Enforcement Administration's special agent in charge of the Arellano Felix task force. "We have more leads, more witnesses and sources to talk to than we can probably handle right now."

For years, fear stopped informers from dialing the hot line, so that is a big change. But it appears to remain business as usual on the border good business for drug runners.

"We still see tremendous amounts of cocaine coming across the border," Hook told ABCNEWS' Nightline. "And, not much has changed at all.