Border Epidemic

As narco-on-narco crimes escalate, police ask: Who's next?


     "The fourth day, somebody turned the radio way up, really loud," he says. "They told me, ‘We're going to leave for an hour and when we get back, if you're still here, we're going to kill you.' "

     Still tied to the chair, Andrade wavered between painful reality and unconsciousness. A shuffle of boots, then voices, "He's here! He's here!"

     The police had come.

     "The officer just stared at me," he said. "I didn't know what I looked like."

     Every time the kidnappers called Ocegueda demanding money, they'd make Andrade scream. They stabbed his hands, used a blowtorch and cigarettes to burn him on his back and scissors to try and cut off his fingers and ears. Ocegueda's father wired $5,000 from Mexico; it wasn't enough.

     The kidnappers cut him open and forced a thick rod into him, rupturing his colon.

     On the fourth day, Ocegueda and police had reached a deal with the kidnappers: $10,000 cash and the title to the Ford Expedition they had stolen when they kidnapped Andrade. Police went to the drop and caught some of the kidnappers there.

     After the arrests, the nightmare followed Ocegueda and Andrade to Mexico, where they moved. The lead suspect's mother was recorded on a wiretap telling her son not to plead out; that the couple was going to die.

     "He never believed we were going to testify," Ocegueda says.

Who's next?

     "We can't turn a blind eye to these [incidents]," Richard says. "It's like a skin cancer; how long before these kidnappers begin to hit legitimate businessmen?"

     It's not a point of view that border officials like to subscribe to. Last month, the mayor of Nogales, Arizona, told a newspaper that the violence is only occurring between drug cartels and not involving "ordinary people."

     Most Mexican politicians, when pressed, will express the same view, arguing that normal people are not the target.

     Maybe.

     Tijuana, across the border from San Diego, could be an example of what happens when the situation is allowed to spawn.

     The hometown of the Arellano Felix cartel has fallen into chaos; kidnappings of low-level business owners, doctors, lawyers and U.S. citizens have increased to alarming rates. Twenty-six people from San Diego were kidnapped in Mexico and held for ransom last year. Which were legitimate businessmen and which weren't, nobody will say.

     To Richard, it doesn't matter: "You have people using human beings as commodities. We can't allow that to flourish here."

     Michel Marizco is an organized crime reporter in Arizona and northern Mexico. He runs the news and intelligence Web site, BorderReporter.com, in Tucson. He can be reached at marizco@borderreporter.com.

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