Published February 11, 2014
EL PASO, Texas – The ongoing trial of a man accused of killing three U.S. Consulate workers and family members in Juarez is revealing the shocking depravity of one of Mexico’s most violent gangs, including the charge that it had a daily murder quota calibrated to instill fear in police and the public.
Jesus Ernesto Chavez Castillo, a star witness in the murder trial of Arturo Gallegos Castrellon, told jurors in an El Paso federal courtroom how the Barrio Azteca Gang Catrellon grew from a Texas jail gang into contract killers for the notorious Juarez cartel. Thousands of murders committed by the gang over a four-year period helped Juarez earn the dubious title of "Murder Capital of the World."
Chavez testified he stopped counting the number of people he killed at 800, and said he often beheaded and dismembered victims to impress his boss. The idea was "that it would be big news," he said.
“I feel I did the right thing, since I did so much wrong,” Chavez said in court, explaining why he was now testifying against his former boss.
Castrellon is accused of ordering the March 13, 2010, shootings of Lesley Enriquez, her husband, El Paso County Sheriff's Officer Arthur Redfels, and Jorge Alberto Salcido Ceniceros, husband of another consulate employee. Earlier this month, an FBI agent and another former gang member testified that the shootings may have been a case of mistaken identity.
The victims were driving in a white Honda Pilot and a Toyota SUV following the birthday party of a consulate co-worker’s child. The Pilot matched the description of a vehicle rival gang members had been spotted in, according to witnesses.
But the revelations about the Juarez cartel’s brutality in its long-running war with the rival Sinaloa cartel have cast a chilling pall over the trial. The Sinaloa cartel ultimately won control of the drug trade route into the El Paso region.
While it may not be possible to prove how many murders are attributable to the Barrio Azteca Gang or the cartel it worked for, what is certain is that after the arrests of 35 members for the 2010 killings, the murder rate in the violent city plummeted to 2,086 in 2011 from 3,622 a year earlier. In 2012, it declined to 751.
But the real reason for the decline in murders was that the Sinaloa cartel won the war, according to Stratfor Mexico Security Analyst Tristan Reed.
“The murder rate in Juarez persisted because you had two powerful criminal organizations providing the weaponry, money and illicit drugs to push gangs to kill one another,” Reed said.
With the Sinaloa cartel and its elusive leader, Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, unrivaled, the body count in Juarez has slowed, he said.
But the Barrio Aztecas, implicated in numerous high-profile El Paso murders in recent years, are still active on the Texas side.
“It is important to remember that Los Aztecas are still a very dangerous street gang operating in both Mexico and the United States,” Reed said. “However, their ability to carry out violence as seen in 2010 is no longer around.”