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The Mexican Drug War / December 28, 2009
By Pancho Montana

Don Arturo

On December 16th in the town of Cuernavaca, Mexican armed forced cornered and killed Don Arturo Beltran Leyva, the country’s most powerful drug boss and one of the top three capos of the trade. Some people still don’t believe he is dead, some do, but all agree that it’s going to unleash a shitstorm. He’s a mythical figure among his people, but Americans have no idea who he is. So allow me the honor to introduce you to the man and the legend of Don Arturo Beltran Leyva.

In Mexico, if you call someone “Don,” it means you respect him to the extreme, and even fear him. You’d be more than justified in using the title when referring to the “jefe de jefes” of the Mexican drug trade. Don Arturo Beltra Levya was without exaggeration the most powerful boss in the country. He had more power than Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, the drug cartel boss who was listed as Fobes’ #701 richest man of 2009. In Mexico, you won’t hear anyone referring to him as “Don Joaquin.”

Don Arturo died as he lived: immersed in extreme violence.

He was born on September 21, 1961 in the mythic “cradle of capos,” Badiraguato, Sinaloa. He was a poppy farmer and initiated the Forbes-listed “El Chapo” (“Shorty”) into the business of drug trafficking. Over time, Don Arturo worked his way up to becoming one of the most wanted men on the planet, his power and influence extending from Colombia all the way up into the Continental United States.

He was king of his domain: paying off government officials tasked with capturing him and bribing the highest ranking military officials. Many anti-drug czars in the PGR (which is Mexico’s version of  the FBI), the SSP (our Department of Defense) and even the SIEDO (an anti-narco intelligence service of sorts) were on the take. And anyone who wasn’t and stood in his way was executed.

Most of Sinaloa, Sonora and Durango—the tri-state region known as the Golden Triangle—was his. So was the entire state of Guerrero, especially the tourist-friendly zone of Acapulco, where he kept the streets safe and clean by killing off junkies, petty thieves, kidnappers, robbers and all other kinds of “undesirables.” He even ordered all tienditas to be protected by armed guards so clients wouldn’t be robbed by junkies after buying something. (They should do that at the top stairs of La Indepe here in Monterrey, where junkies swarm you like Somalis on a UN food delivery truck.)

People feared him more than the Devil himself. And like the Devil, Don Arturo had many names: “El Barbas” (“the Beard”), “El Botas Blancas” (“White Boots”) or “La Muerte” (“Death”). And he always traveled in a badass bullet-proof SUV called “El Satanica.”

Don Arturo grew in notoriety even more last year, after he became convinced that his brother’s arrest was a result of the betrayal of his one-time friend and apprentice, “El Chapo,” and proceeded to wage all out war against his former allies. That’s how the most violent chapter of the current drug war started, and then spread in a trail of blood and bullet casings to Morelos, Sinaloa, Guerrero, Mexico State (Edomex) and Mexico City. Hell, they even fought for control of the Mexico City’s international airport, which caused some of the baggage handlers started to loose their heads, literally.

In the last couple of months his life, Don Arturo started fiercely hunting his rivals. It was a characterized by its extreme gore and violence: dozens of decapitated and dismembered bodies signed with “Jefe de Jefes”.


The manhunt that finally brought the Don down lasted six days, beginning with the information that he would be attending a three-day Christmas party thrown by his sicarios in Tepoztlan, Morelos (close to Cuernavaca. The entertainment included several norteño bands and the services of 24 high class prostitutes flown in from Acapulco. The navy made their move while the party was raging, but he evaded them thanks the defensive capabilities of his many bodyguards. The Marines only managed to kill three hombres and capture 23 women (sadly one of the hookers died on the line of duty).

A few days later, the Navy located Don Arturo in a luxury apartment/upscale shopping mall complex, hiding out with 5 of his bodyguards. According to the government, they obtained the intel from a man (a sicario most likely) they found in a hospital getting his gunshot wounds bandaged up. But that’s their word, I’m more inclined to believe that the goddamn musicians gave him up, let’s hope they don’t lose their heads over this.


Once they located the Don, they surrounded the complex with enough firepower to turn to whole block into rubble. For hours, the area was filled with the sound of constant automatic fire, interrupted only by grenade explosions and the shouts of Marines telling the entrenched narcos to surrender.

It was a weird scene for such an upscale neighborhood inhabited by the rich and the powerful. Hell, even the Governor lived a couple hundred meters away from the apartment complex being shelled Lebanon-style.

But the Don had nowhere to go. More than a hundred Marines guarded the complex, and sixty more had rappelled down onto the roof from choppers.  The narcos were outnumbered maybe 100 to 1, but they still kept the Marines at bay for several hours. One by one, Don Arturo’s protection ring fell dead. One even preferred to jump from a window to his death rather than be captured. It was a crazed way to go, doing a bonzai jump out a window in the middle of firefight. The Marines didn’t leave shit to chance, though, shooting him in the back mid-air. And I don’t think this would count as mercy-killing.

As the hours went by and the capo ran out of grenades, he made a mad dash for the elevator hoping to make it to the basement where  “La Satanica” waited warming its engine. With an R-15 in hand, he opened the front door, intending to shoot his way through the Marines. But the Don didn’t make it very far. The Marines shot him full of holes right at the entrance to his apartment, blowing a huge hole in shoulder. He fell to the ground with about 30 grenade pins all around his body. It was a grizzly scene, and strikingly similar to that last bit in Scarface.


The Don was found with $40,000 dollars, and various religious objects: a protection cocktail of sorts that included a golden rosary, two Chinese talismans (a dragon and a serpent) and a velvet bag of santeria. Many narcos (including a few of my friends) believe in these kinds of things, even if they aren’t religions not practitioners. They do it just to be safe. They’ll use anything that might give them an edge.

On the table they found bowls of fruit, a plate of ham & eggs with guacamole, a bag of good-looking weed, what looked like about 2 ounces of pure cocaine straight from the FARC fields, and an unmistakable (to me at least) package of good´ol rivotrils (aka roofies) to calm the nerves, keep a steady head and banish the fear.

In his bedroom, which was full of bullet holes, the Marines found brand new Hugo Boss clothes, some still with the price tags, a bible, many family pictures, images of the Virgen de Guadalupe, and some badass green crocodile-skin boots.

“They could have lived, because from the beginning we told him to surrender and he didn’t accept it. He fought to the death,” said a Marine who participated in the raid.

Don Arturo was photographed with his pants below his knees and his body covered in both Mexican and American bills. The Marines did this to “discredit” him and make an example of him, I guess. (This already is creating problems for the Government, which is being accused of exhibiting the body of the drug lord as a propaganda trophy.) They were acting all tough, but everyone was still shit-scared about the possibility that a backup squadron of sicarios would attempt to rescue the body of “el jefe de jefes.” So even after they killed him, something like 500 additional units arrived to guard the bodies!

The body was claimed by his 3 sisters so he can receive a proper burial, probably in his birthplace in Sinaloa. Expect a big-ass mausoleum worthy of a goddamn Persian Shah.

The only question that stands after this events is: why did they REALLY kill him? Some would say it was a result of President Calderon´s war on drugs, others would say that he wasn’t captured alive because of the names of government people he could reveal. Which is all true, but the real question is WHO benefits from his death? Not the Mexican people; it was well known that he was the only narco that the government could “deal” with, even the Mexican armed forces come out losers. Power will shift and restructure, and like tectonic plates shifting and settling, it’s gonna cause a lot of tremors. There might even be a volcanic eruption or two.

The Beltran cartel will restructure itself according to the strength of its top operators: Edgar Valdes Villarreal “La Barbie”, a Laredo Texan with talent for the killing; Mario Beltran Leyva “El General”, most likely the next in line to lead the cartel; and Sergio Villarreal “El Grande,” a two-meter-tall guy who referred to Don Arturo as apá (or dad). All itching to pull the cuernos (AK47) and make the erres (R15) roar. Let’s hope that cooler heads prevail and they don’t go pointing their guns at a Navy Admiral or something counterproductive like that.

But however the Beltran cartel achieves its corporate restructuring, the two biggest beneficiaries of Don Arturo’s demise are a) his allies, the Zetas; and b) his enemy “El Chapo.”

So buckle up, it’s going to be a bumpy ride in 2010.

PS: The death of Arturo Beltran doesn’t serve as an example to society that you shouldn’t follow his path, because when all doors are locked and one has to choose between dying of hunger in a fucked up situation or becoming a millionaire for even a brief time, they will always choose the second option. That’s exactly the feeling that many Mexicans share: one would rather die rich than live being poor.

The King is dead, long live the King.


Pancho Montana is an eXiled Special Mexican War on Drugs Correspondent. Check out more of his stuff.

As a native of Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, located in northern Mexico, Mr. Montana lives in Gulf Cartel territory. That means the streets belong to the Zetas, a paramilitary organization trained by the Yankees and hired by the Gulf Cartel to keep things civilized and business booming.

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Add your own

  • 1. az  |  December 28th, 2009 at 11:38 am

    There’s a saying in Russia, the way you meet the New Year is the way you’ll spend it. Mexicans should appropriate that, at least for this situation.

  • 2. Expat in BY  |  December 28th, 2009 at 12:58 pm

    “I’m more inclined to believe that the goddamn musicians gave him up, let’s hope they don’t lose their heads over this.”

    Is this the real El Mariachi?

  • 3. mx?  |  December 28th, 2009 at 2:25 pm

    haha yeah only that this one is asking the human rights commission for protection

  • 4. jc  |  December 28th, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    Revenge attack — they murdered the mother, sister & I think another relative of Mexican Marine killed in the attack… could you imagine this shit going down in US?

  • 5. tver hui  |  December 28th, 2009 at 6:25 pm

    Just curious, why was the Navy involved in the raid?

  • 6. jc  |  December 28th, 2009 at 8:07 pm

  • 7. mx?  |  December 28th, 2009 at 8:55 pm

    the army was corrupted by arturo beltran´s counterintelligence operators, particularly the 24 ZONA militar, a general and other high-ranking officers were suppossed to have lunch with el barbas when the raid took place.

  • 8. Joe Blow  |  December 29th, 2009 at 8:16 am

    “doing a bonzai jump out a window in the middle of firefight. ”

    heh heh….. maybe “BANZAI!!!” was more you were looking for? and not a miniature tree?

  • 9. la  |  December 29th, 2009 at 9:19 am

    Very compelling last moments portrait of a mostly 20th century corporate icon. I can’t shed a tear for people like this as the reporter does in the end, with perhaps the dark adulation of a vicarious sycophant–though I don’t claim to get into his brain, just the emotional root of his words. The equation that produces the love of a pair of bad-ass green crocodile boots in exchange for the multiplication of severed heads by rivers of needle blood in faraway shitholes is exponentially flawed and violent. Duende is alive and well, long live Duende.

  • 10. angela  |  December 29th, 2009 at 9:28 am

    I love Mexicans, but Mexico is f*cked. TJ is 5 miles south from where I live, but no one goes down there any more for fear of getting caught in the crossfires. What a shame!

  • 11. ohsgim  |  December 29th, 2009 at 10:05 am

    tver hui:
    The navy was involved because the police and the feds do not have the force (neither in numbers nor firepower) to match those of the Narcos… Since president Calderon’s war started the Army and Navy are fully involved in it.

  • 12. Allen  |  December 30th, 2009 at 5:32 am

    I’ve been waiting to see if “Pancho” would have anything to say about this. Good stuff, but it would be cool to kind of get even more Leyva background — like a “greatest hits” or something, which such a man is bound to have.

  • 13. internal exile  |  December 31st, 2009 at 12:17 am

    I would like a grisly anal thrashing

  • 14. internal exile  |  December 31st, 2009 at 1:13 am

    No, no, I wanted an anal thrashing from grizzlys. I am a “bear”.

  • 15. motorfirebox  |  January 3rd, 2010 at 2:56 am

    Carlos just got arrested. the cops knew the alias he was using and picked him up on the road. isn’t Beltran-Leyva supposed to have lots and lots of guys inside the government and police? how are they losing control like this?

  • 16. mx?  |  January 3rd, 2010 at 4:30 pm

    “dedos”, everyone is snitching on everyone. narcos are getting paranoid and the army does have a “way” of getting solid intel.

  • 17. john  |  January 4th, 2010 at 5:51 pm

    Shoddy article–you need to get your details straight. The golden triangle is Sinaloa, Durango, and Chihuahua, not Sonora. The PGR is the equivalent of the Attorney General, not the FBI. The SSP is similar to the FBI (overlapping with the PF). And he wasn’t captured alive because there was a fucking shootout, not because they were scared he’d reveal names. The Navy would love to make public some of those names.

    And you glorify this piece of shit human being while ignoring the one Marine who was killed in the shootout, whose name was released afterward, and whose family was murdered by a hit squad mere hours after his burial. Fuck you. This is the type of person–scum who kills normal Mexican citizens–that Arturo Beltran Leyva was.

    Furthermore, thanks for narrowing the options down for the average Mexican citizen for us: either starvation or trying to become a millionaire by killing people and trafficking drugs, like Arturo Beltran Leyva. That you make no mention of any of the middle options makes me wonder if you even fucking live in Mexico.

    It’s not a fucking video game or Hollywood movie for you to write about on your counter-culture website after you smoke some pot–it’s real and the people who have been murdered are real. Pull your head out of your ass.

  • 18. Expat in BY  |  January 5th, 2010 at 3:25 am

    17. John

    Ummm… the people that are really there starving to death are real too. That you pretend that most of them have a middle option to choose tells me that you are one of those assholes that keeps thinking the American dream is alive and well. In the words of Douglas Adams, may you be the first against the wall when the revolution comes.

  • 19. chugs  |  January 5th, 2010 at 2:03 pm

    What does it matter, another violent criminal will simply take his place (and money).

    If Arturo fellow was the last of the drug lords then fair enough, use the navy, a force to design to fight another country, to hunt down a single man and kill him.

    However since that’s not the case it would seem to me that the most likely explanation for the decision to change the power structure in Mexico was born from power playing politics.

    kinda seems pointless.

  • 20. Pizza de Oveja  |  January 7th, 2010 at 1:26 am

    Well the trap with the PS is obvious…of the tens of thousands of people that try to live rich 99,9% of them die poor, and die, much sooner and much more brutally than they would if they lived poor(which acording to the author is inevitable, also a classic reduction to the absurd), becoming sicarios, drug dealers(most of them earn crap only the guys on top get a lot of money). But that’s the trap these powerfull druglords like, a fresh new batch of uneducated grunts that think they will be rich and accept really poor “working conditions”. It’s the classic piramid scam that will always attract people that dont understand economics.

    That being said…great article!

  • 21. ToNYC  |  January 22nd, 2010 at 3:26 am

    Economics 101: Supply and Demand.
    Personalities are neither Supply nor Demand. The Ocean will still reach the shore. One or more sharks removed from the Ocean doesn’t make swimming with blood in the water any safer. Why all the drama? King Canute redux.

  • 22. Jason  |  February 17th, 2010 at 4:01 pm

    Well said John, not sure about the details but this article went from a really interesting read to making the writer look like a fucking ignorant romantascist who thinks hes just one of the hombres. and if u are, read below..

    they kill their families and u honor them..

    And you glorify this piece of shit human being while ignoring the one Marine who was killed in the shootout, whose name was released afterward, and whose family was murdered by a hit squad mere hours after his burial. Fuck you. This is the type of person–scum who kills normal Mexican citizens–that Arturo Beltran Leyva was.

    Furthermore, thanks for narrowing the options down for the average Mexican citizen for us: either starvation or trying to become a millionaire by killing people and trafficking drugs, like Arturo Beltran Leyva. That you make no mention of any of the middle options makes me wonder if you even fucking live in Mexico.

    It’s not a fucking video game or Hollywood movie for you to write about on your counter-culture website after you smoke some pot–it’s real and the people who have been murdered are real. Pull your head out of your ass.

  • 23. Jorge  |  March 4th, 2010 at 11:11 am

    I totatally agree with John, this sort of idolizing of drug dealers is the same that brings mentality that gives more meat for the cartels to recruit, as if a life of murder and crime makes you a better person. Fuck that.

  • 24. selfhatingbean  |  March 6th, 2010 at 11:44 pm

    i think this pretty much sums the failed drug war nicely, the hypocrisy of American capitalism, the personality of cult, and the fact that Americans, or humans in general love their drugs!

  • 25. yorkiedad  |  July 20th, 2010 at 4:04 pm

    Sort of reminds one of Don Pablo Escobar of the Medellin Cartel. Wonder who was nastier, Don Arturo or Don Pablo? Their deaths are also sort of similar.

    Lets have a vote: who killed more people, Don Pablo or Don Arturo? And why do you think your choice killed more people?

  • 26. Amparo  |  July 20th, 2010 at 4:10 pm

    I vote for Pablo Escobar. Don’t forget the Avianca airliner that he had blown up because he though presidential candidate César Gaviria was on it. I don’t believe Arturo Beltán-Leyva ever had an airliner blown up. Also, Pablo Escobar had more money and was more colorful than Arturo Beltrán-Leyva.

  • 27. Zane Swanson  |  February 5th, 2011 at 7:28 am

    1st off who cares what force was used in the raid that killed Leyva. As mentioned above, one reason was that he had penetrated other security forces. Also, it depends how the intel was obtained.
    On that note, I think Leyva was betrayed by his chief sicario, “la Barbie” I am a stoner, so I can’t remember how the rumor went. But it sounded plausible.
    After events made me believe the hunch was right because it was Barbie who took control of the cartel, other than Hector & his loyalists, who broke away to form the Independant Cartel of Acapulco , which is basically a Sinaloan proxy.

  • 28. alexa meza  |  April 9th, 2011 at 1:27 pm

    he is my uncle u guys shouldnt have done that he may be a drug dealer bt he is still a human everybody makes mistakes

  • 29. Marmuro  |  May 11th, 2011 at 12:09 pm

    John and Jason are right on this… first of all, the info is not accurate, besides every mistake on your article, the women who claimed the Jefe de Jefes’ body weren’t all his sisters, there was only one and the rest were a cousin and a friend.

    It’s a shame how someone can actually feel proud of knowing these monsters, it’s nonsense, I am mexican, I live in México and used to live in Italy for a long time… now I am back and feel these idiots are destroying our people, our future, our youth, not through supplying drugs, no… but more so when they sign up these young kids and make them believe that living is easy, living is La Vida Loca and they buy it… I don’t think you should write anymore about this if you are not objective.

  • 30. Oscoe  |  May 5th, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    This is what happens when you make something that people really want illegal. Just like the repeal of prohibition: legalize all drugs, and most of the drug gangs and associated violence will cease within days – if not hours – after the repeal goes into effect. Obviously, there will continue to be some level of gang involvement and violence as they try to compensate by focusing on other, lucrative rackets – such as prostitution and extortion – but it will not be nearly what it is now. I understand there is a growing movement both within Mexican society and its political establishments to do precisely this; however, it will never happen unless this goes into effect concurrently in both US and Canada.

    I realize legalization will probably never happen, since society, in general, is still terrified by the potential consequences. But at some point, you have to wonder whether the alternative could be any worse?

  • 31. ya  |  March 22nd, 2014 at 4:01 am

    rivotrils aren’t roofies. ruphnyols are roofies.

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