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Mexican Drug War Dispatch: The Life and Death of Kingpin Don Arturo Beltran Leyva

In Mexico, if you call someone "Don," it means you respect him to the extreme, and even fear him. Some people still don't believe he's dead.

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”.

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