MEXICO CITY – The young marine received the highest military honors the Mexican state could offer. Killed in a raid that ended the life of a notorious drug lord, the marine was buried a hero, ushered to his grave by an honor guard of commandos in camouflage, his mother awarded a folded flag.
Hours later, the grieving mother, the marine’s sister, his brother and an aunt were wiped out by gunmen in a revenge attack that sent a chilling message to the Mexican military combating drug traffickers.
The slaughter of Melquisedet Angulo Cordova’s family early Tuesday horrified Mexicans seemingly inured to a drug-war brutality that has claimed more than 15,000 lives in three years amid spectacular violence. The killing, especially, of a mother, seemed to violate the most basic code of conduct that even cold-blooded hit men and traffickers obeyed.
Was it a mistake to have so publicly identified the family of the felled combatant? Military commandos carry out their dangerous and risky missions with their faces covered by masks and no hint at personal identity.
By contrast, the Angulo family had been seen in newspaper pictures and on television, first during an elaborate memorial ceremony at navy headquarters over the weekend and then at his funeral in his home state of Tabasco on Monday. By all appearance, no special protection was provided the family.
Angulo, 30, died in a fierce gunbattle a week ago in the city of Cuernavaca when navy special forces attacked the hide-out of Arturo Beltran Leyva, head of a major narco-trafficking organization. Beltran Leyva and six of his gunmen were killed in what the government immediately hailed as an important victory in the war on organized crime – and one it was eager to celebrate.
Officials at the time also predicted more violence as Beltran Leyva’s lieutenants might fight for control of the organization and other cartels would push to seize pieces of Beltran Leyva’s empire. Instead, the first blow appears to have been an act of revenge and intimidation.
The decision by officials to show off pictures of Beltran Leyva’s body – half undressed and covered in peso bills – may also have goaded the dead trafficker’s allies into such depraved retaliation, several experts said.
President Felipe Calderon condemned the killings as “cowardly, barbaric” acts that showed a complete “lack of scruples” by criminal gangs. But he vowed to press ahead with the military-led offensive that has deployed some 45,000 troops across the nation.
Critics said the slaying of the Angulo family also exposed a serious security lapse emblematic of the government’s troubled offensive against powerful drug cartels, which Calderon launched shortly after taking office in December 2006. The gunmen evidently had no trouble locating his home, suggesting they benefited from inside information.