In scenes reminiscent of The Godfather, Mexican mourners paid their last respects yesterday to South America's leading drug lord, Amado Carrillo Fuentes, nicknamed for his use of converted passenger aircraft to fly cocaine from Colombia to Mexico before smuggling it across the border into the United States.
The 42-year-old Mexican peasants' son had taken over from the Medellin cartel's Pablo Escobar, as well as Colombia's other major cartel in Cali, as the biggest shipper of cocaine to American cities, making an estimated $100m (pounds 60m) a month and paying off thousands of local, state and federal government officials to get his shipments through.
Most of the mourners who arrived in Guamuchilito, his home village on Mexico's Pacific coast, in luxury vehicles with tinted windows and without number plates were asking the same questions: how did he die? Did rival drug lords "rub him out" or were the gringos involved possibly by infiltrating his bodyguards? Whatever the case, US agents predict a violent turf war between his Juarez Cartel, now likely to be headed by his 34-year-old brother, Vicente, and rival gangs in Tijuana an the Mexican Gulf coast.
The fact that he was mysteriously found dead on the Fourth of July, the Americans' Independence Day holiday, was seen by some as pointing the finger at US agents, or at least Mexican agents under US direction. The US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) said it believed the official Mexican version that Carrillo Fuentes had died of a heart attack around 4am on 4 July in Mexico City's private Santa Monica hospital after undergoing liposuction and plastic surgery to alter his appearance.
The Mexican television network Televisa, closest to the government, cited sources at the hospital as saying the drug lord, whose net worth was estimated at $25bn, may have been killed by a lethal injection, or an almohadazo, suffocation by a pillow held over him by a bodyguard. The Mexican daily, La Jornada, said a "hit" ordered by US DEA agents was one of the most likely theories, choosing 4 July as a strong hint to other fugitive drug lords. DEA officials denied involvement.
Mexican officials were also questioning three doctors who had performed the plastic surgery and are now under police protection fearing for their lives. A fourth, Brazilian doctor reportedly fled back to Brazil. He and two of the Mexican doctors were apparently brought to the hospital by the drug lord, who took over an entire floor and a maternity wing and posted bodyguards with automatic weapons around his room.
Adding to suspicions of US involvement was the fact that the DEA chief, Thomas Constantine, was among the first to say, on 6 July, that he believed the man who died in the hospital, although listed Antonio Flores Montes, was Carrillo Fuentes. "He may have escaped earthly justice, but I'm sure there's a special place in hell for those like him who have destroyed countless human lives," Mr Constantine said.
The DEA confirmed the identification two days later, on 8 July, citing fingerprint evidence, while Mexico's Attorney-General's office said it was still not sure until Thursday when it said that DNA evidence confirmed it was the cocaine baron.
Meanwhile, in Guamuchilito, dozens of Mexican troops searched mourners leaving his wake for weapons yesterday before a private family burial at his mother's ranch. Some appeared to be drug lords, dressed in snakeskin cowboy boots and stetsons. Others were local farmers who insisted Carrillo Fuentes was a good man, a kind of Robin Hood, who had built a school, a church and volleyball court and who had helped them out when they needed money.
Earlier, the family had allowed journalists into the ranch, making no bones about the fact the journalists were being used as human shields in case of an army raid. Relatives recalled the last time Carrillo Fuentes was at the ranch, in January, for the wedding of his younger sister, Aurora. The army launched a massive raid on the wedding but the drug lord escaped.Reuse content