09/14/12 – The Tijuana-based Arellano Felix Organization (AFO) took another serious hit this month when Eduardo Arellano Felix (55) was extradited to the United States on August 31. Four days later he appeared in a San Diego federal court under legal representation from Attorney Bryan Funk and pled not guilty to charges of drug trafficking, money laundering, and criminal activity. If convicted, Eduardo could face over 100 years in prison and join his brothers, Benjamin and Francisco Javier, who are serving 25 years and life sentences, respectively, in the United States.
Eduardo was considered one of the kingpins of the once powerful Arellano Felix Organization, allegedly one of the masterminds behind the group’s dominance in the 1980s and 1990s. Although he was known for his advising role within the cartel, Eduardo was also thought to be the main negotiator for trafficking tons of Colombian cocaine through Mexico and into the United States. Unlike his brothers, Eduardo had been able to evade authorities until 2008 when he was captured in Tijuana during a shootout with authorities. In 2010, he was sentenced to extradition, a decision he appealed. Nevertheless, Eduardo arrived in San Diego at the end of August, just months after his brother, Benjamin, was sentenced to 25 years in a San Diego federal court for similar charges. (Read more about Benjamin’s sentencing here).
U.S. authorities involved in bringing down Eduardo and his brothers took the opportunity to tout the importance of the events this month. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) had led the decades-long operation to nab the brothers, including Ramon who was killed in 2002. Agent William Sherman of the San Diego-based DEA office noted that Eduardo’s extradition marked the end of their operation against the Arellano Felix Organization, while U.S. Attorney Laura Duffy, looking at the bigger picture, added that it was another “milestone in [their] fight against Mexican drug trafficking cartels.” Federal Bureau of Investigation Agent Daphne Hearn acknowledged the bi-national collaborative efforts that have gone into dismantling the AFO over the years, saying, that this “spirit of cooperation [between the United States and Mexico] is a powerful force that can put an end to these groups’ criminal activities, groups that sow fear and threaten the safety of the citizens living in border regions.”
While U.S. officials have acknowledged the weakening of the AFO over the past few years with the loss of its key leaders, the San Diego-based magazine The Reader pointed out that the AFO should not be discredited quite yet. Although Benjamin, Francisco Javier, and now Eduardo have all been extradited, and Ramon killed, brother Francisco Rafael and sister Enedina are allegedly still in Mexico, the latter suspected of playing a large role in leading what is left of the AFO. However, it is Enedina’s son, Luis Fernando Sánchez Arellano, who is widely believed to be in charge of the operation, putting to use his tutelage under Eduardo before his uncle’s 2008 arrest. Nevertheless, the once dominant AFO has undeniably been weakened over the years with the loss of key leadership. Experts now believe that the Sinaloa Cartel has become the dominant force in Mexico’s northwestern border region, displacing the AFO and seizing control of the Tijuana plaza. As Mexican security expert Edgardo Buscaglia was quoted in Reuters, “The drugs continue flowing, without a doubt. What has diminished is violence between criminal groups.” The ITAM professor added, “Organized crime continues… but it’s under a consolidated group (Sinaloa).”